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Joanna Lumley and Ed Cook.
BBC Kent's Ed Cook went to Nepal to cover the visit of Joanna Lumley, who spent the week meeting Gurkha veterans and their families. Read Ed's blog of the trip.
Friday 31st July:
Another incredible day and so varied. The plan is to visit Lumbini, the Buddist pilgrimage site, but when we get to Pokhara Airport we discover our plane isn't there! Instead, we fly to Kathmandu via the mountains. I manage to see Mount Everest through the plane window.
We're lucky as there isn't much cloud around. It's a beautiful site seeing it's snow-covered tip through the clouds.
After arriving back at the hotel in Kathmandu, I decide to take a taxi to a local gym, where teenagers are going through selection tests in the hope of becoming a Gurkha in the British Army. Across Nepal, about 13,000 people will do the tests this year, but only around 300 will be selected. The training is tough. I'm told they do an 8km run every day. I watch the hopefuls do pull-ups on a big wooden bar for several minutes. The instructor is the well-built Krishna Pun, who, it seems, won't tolerate any misbehaviour. 19-year-old Kush tells me he wants to join the Gurkhas to pay back his parents. For others it's a ticket out of poverty while some just want to carry on a family tradition.
Thursday 30th July:
The monsoon rain is so intense that much of the grass within the hotel grounds in Pokhara is under water. Earlier, I witness one of the most moving moments of the visit. The locals decide to change the name of a popular tourist area, the Mattikhan Hill, to 'Mattikhan Lumley View'. It's to say thank you to Joanna for her campaign work but also to remember her late father, Major James Rutherford Lumley, who served in a Gurkha regiment.
There's a ceremony inside City Hall in Pokhara. Joanna says she plans to visit the beauty spot next year.
I record an interview with Joanna's son, Jamie, who talks about his grandfather. I realise just how much he loved him. Jamie talks about receiving various bits of Gurkha memorabilia from his grandfather and how meeting veterans in Nepal has meant he can build up a better picture of him.
Later that day, I read an interesting article in the Nepali Times. Apparently last winter, the people of Nepal had to endure 18-hours of power cuts a day because the country can't generate enough electricity.
Wednesday 29th July:
Namaste! As I write this, all sorts of weird-looking insects are flying around my hotel room. Anyway, we fly into Pokhara, one of the biggest cities in the country, to find out more about the Gurkha Welfare Scheme, which is a network of support for retired soldiers and their families.
The highlight is a journey up the hills to a village called Pumdi Bhumdi to visit a school, which was re-built under the scheme. As it's the monsoon season, water is cascading down the hills and people are washing themselves and their clothes. We also dodge three water buffalo in the middle of a road. I feel a bit sick as the drive is a bumpy one. We reach the school and I'm told it can be common for kids to be taught in class sizes of up to 60.
As I'm travelling with the campaign team, I receive a gift of a hat, known as a 'dhaka topi'. I also speak to a couple of elderly Gurkha veterans. One of them rolls up his trouser leg to show me a war wound. It's hard to believe that a such a friendly and gentle group of people were once tough soldiers involved in fierce battles. Joanna Lumley gets mobbed again by crowds of people at Pokhara Airport.
Tuesday 28th July:
I see a wild monkey for the first time in Nepal, as I eat my breakfast in the hotel in Kathmandu. I think it might be a good idea to close my window at night. As travel out onto the streets of the city, I notice that rubbish is piling up. I read in the Kathmandu Post that some waste isn't being collected because of a dispute between locals and the Government. I fly with 'Buddha Air' to Jhapa, in eastern Nepal, close to the Indian border. Jhapa is an amazing place but also one of the poorest districts of Nepal. There are few shops, cows roaming free, people living in huts and farmers trying to rescue their monsoon-damaged crops. The people are so friendly.
It's an amazing day for Dhan Gurung, a former Gurkha now living in Folkestone. We visit the town where he grew up, Mechinagar. Some of his childhood friends turn up to see him. We then fly to an airport close to Dharan, a major city in eastern Nepal. Thousands of retired Gurkhas and their families are at City Hall to listen to speeches and see Joanna Lumley receive a number of gifts. Members of an ex-serviceman's group tell me the campaigning must continue to secure equal pension rights for retired soldiers.
Before we fly back to Kathmandu, I chat to Joanna Lumley. She says she wants to see the pension issue addressed.
Monday 27th July:
There's a packed schedule, with Joanna and the team off to meet the President of Nepal and the country's Prime Minister. First stop: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu to see the Foreign Minister, Sujata Koirala, who tells me that the successful campaign to secure UK residency rights for all Gurkha veterans demonstrates what countries can do if they work together.
Then it's off to the private offices of the Prime Minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal. The world's media pour in - there are photographers everywhere. Joanna gives a gift of a Cashmere scarf and a pen to the political leader. Peter Carroll hands him a letter from Kent County Council. It asks if the Nepal olympic team would consider using our county as a training base for the 2012 games. Then came the highlight of the day - a visit to city hall in Kathmandu. Hundreds of Gurkha veterans and their families are there to greet Joanna and the team. The event was organised by GAESO (the Gurkha Army Ex-Serviceman's Organisation). There are emotive speeches on the main stage by Joanna, Peter, Dhan Gurung (a former Gurkha soldier who's now a town councillor in Folkestone) and Martin Howe, who did much of the legal work for the campaign. They collect awards and Joanna meets two Burma veterans.
In the afternoon, there's a wreath-laying ceremony at the embassy to remember fallen soldiers and a meeting with the President, Ram Baran Yadav. I also have a look around the city of Kathmandu - it seems there are no traffic laws. There are people on bikes everywhere, stray dogs on the streets and we even see a cow in the middle of the road. A driver sounds his horn every second or two. One man was riding a bike in the middle of a monsoon - he had one hand on the handlebar, the other holding an umbrella. The architecture is beautiful though and the people are very friendly.
Sunday 26th July:
We touch down in Delhi before boarding a plane to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Joanna Lumley steps off the plane alongside her campaigners. They are flanked by police and security guards. Things seem relatively calm inside the terminal building. We get news that hundreds of well-wishers and the world's media are waiting outside.
When Joanna and Peter Carroll (the Folkestone businessman who founded the Gurkha Justice campaign) leave the building, there are chaotic scenes. Police have to break up the groups of photographers to get people through.
Joanna gives a famous shout of "Ayo Gurkhali" and the crowd goes wild. We learn that some people, many of them waving banners with both Joanna and Peter's names on, have travelled several miles to be there.
Eventually, the campaign team is bundled into a car and taken to their hotel. I rush outside to file a live piece into the midday news bulletin on BBC Radio Kent. Then I leave for the hotel and get to see bits of Kathmandu. It's a beautiful city with so much character, but also a lot of poverty.
Saturday 25th July:
Arrive at Heathrow Airport. A small group of Gurkhas are there to wave goodbye to Joanna Lumley and the campaign team. I get an early indication of just how important her visit to Nepal is, when I flick through an Asian newspaper in the Air India departure lounge. There's an article on Joanna's trip, saying it will be like a homecoming for her. I also can't sleep on the plane, and it's a night flight! We head for Delhi in India and will then take a second flight to Nepal.
last updated: 03/08/2009 at 13:22