The restaurant, Anini’s best, was a single room with four tables and a huge poster of Lhasa covering one wall. Two young Idu men sat at one table, daos strapped across their backs, shovelling spoonfuls of fried rice into their mouths with one hand and playing computer games on their mobile phones with the other. At another, two teenage girls were slumped over the table, fiddling with their mobiles. We ate chow mein, our voices drowned out by the reverberant thud of helicopters taking off, then stocked up on essentials for the trip: Maggi noodles, ‘Good Day’ biscuits and two bottles of the finest Royal Stag whisky. At 500 rupees a bottle it was the Rolls-Royce of local blends and even came in its own cardboard box. Just in case we ran out, we bought a bottle of McDowell’s No.1 Rum too. Lastly I had to register with the police.
“Where John?” queried the fat, jolly Singpho commander-in-chief, as he copied the details of my permit into a yellowing ledger.
I asked him how many foreigners registered here each year and he paused, tapped his mouth thoughtfully with his index finger and replied: “Four, maybe five.”
We rode out of town on a rough tarmac road that threaded its way along the side of the hills. It was a drab day and the sky was smeared with hoary clo