Himalayan Fawlty Towers

The worst hotel in town happens to be the only hotel in town. Expect fireworks.

A tired and hungry bunch of snow leopard researchers arrive at their accommodation after seven hours of exhausting hiking in the baking sun. What they don’t realise is that they have arrived at the NarPhu valley’s version of Fawlty Towers, staffed by the venerable manager (let’s call him Basil) and his hapless assistant (let’s call him Manuel). The scene is set for a memorable stay.

Scene 1: ‘I know nothing’

‘What do you mean he doesn’t know whether we can stay here or not?’

Outrage after a tiring day of walking – the next guesthouse was at least an hour’s walk away, uphill. We had been greeted by Manuel on arrival but so far our requests had mostly drawn blanks. We finally agreed that we could, in fact, stay the night. Then:

‘What do you mean he doesn’t know how much it will cost for a room?’

‘He doesn’t know and his boss is asleep.’

‘Well tell him to go and wake his boss, or we’ll wake him for him. We’ve got two emergency whistles that we’re itching to use. That should do the trick.’

Basil eventually appears, disgruntled and disheveled, and we get quotes and keys for our rooms.

Scene 2: ‘A gin and tonic, a scotch on the rocks and a lemonade’

‘What do you mean there’s no menu? How on earth are we supposed to know what we can eat and how much it will cost?’

Manuel was on kitchen duty and we fancied a few hot drinks to unwind and heat-up.

‘Just order and we’ll sort out the prices later.’

‘Ok. We’ll have one hot lemon, one hot chocolate and one coffee with milk, please’.

Manuel looked sheepish.

‘He says there’s no hot lemon but there’s hot mango. There isn’t any hot chocolate. And the coffee might take some time so it really would be better if you ordered black tea instead.’

‘Ok, ok. Anything for an easy life.’

Two black teas turned up, followed by a hot mango. But sounds of great industry still emanated from the kitchen. Niki was dispatched to check on Manuel; she eventually reappeared, carrying a cup of steaming liquid.

‘Bless him but he was trying to make instant coffee with filter coffee granules. They don’t have any means of making filter coffee but they do have filter coffee granules! Anyway, here’s your coffee with milk, made from instant coffee granules.

Scene 3: ‘Don’t mention the war…I mean cooking’

A night passed. We had ordered breakfast the evening before, explained in great detail precisely what we wanted and stressed that it should be ready for 06:30. Then, at 06:40:

‘Where’s breakfast?’

Ah sorry, they’re just getting started – lighting the fire and rolling the dough for the bread.’


After a lengthy delay breakfast appeared. It didn’t go down well.

‘This egg has been frazzled to a crisp. This side has never seen the sun in its life. And it’s completely saturated in salt.’

‘This bread tastes like my shoe.’

‘This porridge isn’t even cooked properly – it’s just raw oats immersed in hot water.’

The porridge was sent packing back to the kitchen. Basil didn’t look pleased. Noodle soup was the next best option. Surely that couldn’t go wrong – it only needed some hot water. Alas:

‘These noodles are a bit rubbery. And why are there four green chillies in my bowl?’

Was that a vengeful smirk we glimpsed on Basil’s face through the serving hatch to the kitchen? We’ll never know.

Scene 4: ‘I weel git your vill’

Already behind schedule after the breakfast fiasco:

‘Can we get the bill please?’

Manuel looked perplexed.

‘Oh that’s right – there is no menu so we can’t get our bill without one.’

But Basil managed to procure a menu from somewhere, with prices a good bit higher than we’d been led to believe. We waited for our bill. And waited. And waited some more. From the kitchen, the sound of cogs whirring, pistons churning. Great thoughts being thinked [sic]. Desperate glances through the serving hatch.

‘Rinzin, could you please help them with the bill?’

Ten minutes later we were paid up, saddled up and on the road. Goodbye Fawlty Towers and good riddance.


3 responses to “Himalayan Fawlty Towers

  1. Marcel

    Love this hilarious story. Really reminds me of similar experiences, travelling through off road africa.

  2. Mirriam Schutgens

    Good story en very well put into scenery. You can go onto stage with it!
    Ps, ben via Marcel weer ingelogd, kan ik jullie blijven volgen op jullie volgende reis?
    Prachtige foto’ weer en interessante beschrijvingen.
    Veel liefs en goede voortzetting van de reis

  3. Reblogged this on Dr Jonny Hanson and commented:

    In Snow Leopard Fieldwork Diaries 16, Jonny and the team experience the Himalaya’s very own version of Fawlty Towers, and live to tell the tale. There’s never a dull moment in conservation social science research…

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