Freya Stark, writer, Arabist explorer and eccentric, was one of the first to stay at the Shangri~la. Already in her 80s, and a little forgetful she declared vaguely “I feel we must be somewhere east of the Euphrates” as I helped her check-in. We arranged two treks for her in the early 1980s, with her favourite hill pony named ‘Red Balls’. She much admired the muscle-bound legs of the Nepali porters, and professed a desire to die in the Himalaya. Thankfully, she was not successful. On leaving Nepal for the last time, Dame Freya wrote in the Shangri~la guest book: ‘This is the finest hotel I have ever stayed in with the nicest people in it.’
Desmond Doig left us in 1983 but he lives on in his gardens, in our memory, in his books and in his paintings which adorn the hotel walls. I was leading one of the first treks permitted in Tibet that October day when Desmond succumbed to a massive heart attack on the road from Pokhara.
I lit oil lamps for him, finding solace in the dim, musty prayer halls of all the surviving monasteries from Rongbuk to Lhasa, knowing how these powerful places would have appealed to him. My group of intrepid European clients included Roman Polanski. It was a stressful trip for me amidst the victim mentality and fragile egos, travelling together in an old truck grinding along the dusty tracks to the north side of Everest, perched precariously on our luggage, food supplies and heaps of camping equipment. Once back in Nepal, I relished introducing Roman to the American Ambassador.