I first chanced upon the Plateau and its attendant Valley regions purely through my local guide; unpronounceable in his local dialect, he said Westerners called him Charles. Far be it from me to stand in the way of tradition! Me, Charles and a few peasants and their camels hired for the trek at the cost of less than a penny each, made our laggardly way.

I have drawn a rough sketch of the area and its topological detail; see overleaf. I shall detail the botanical and local inhabitants further below. Descriptively, the Plateau is roughly 10 miles in diameter and seems to make a perfect, or as damn near, flat circle. Around the edges lie the Valley regions, sprawling beneath the oddly hewed mountain. Locals apparently grow opium in some areas of this Valley. The climate being perfect for poppy.

For the Plateau lies within a range of mountains, yet this peculiar mountain appears to have been decapitated! My guide, Charles, tells me that the local legend is about a Goddess from ancient times, who when demanding that the mountain bow before Her, the mountain dare refuse. So, in anger She chopped off the mountain’s head! What utter rot, say I!

Charles, whilst proving an able guide; was a less than talkative chap and quite dull company. The peasants lagged behind often. I dare say…


He put the book down and rubbed his weary eyes. The old Officer was tired. The Westerners had no better luck than him when it came to taming the area. Now, the Country, the Government wanted the slums removing. The city close-by was being enveloped by slums from the Valley. There were robberies; drugs everywhere. Not that the Government cared about the people, they just weren’t getting enough of the money.

The Officer sat back into his creaking chair. He was told as a small boy that his great-great-great grandfather, on his mothers or fathers side, he can’t remember; was one of the peasants who guided the red headed Westerner to the Plateau. He spent days trying to dig around. He said there were graves there, ancient artifacts – perhaps even towns, under the snow and soil. The Officer’s relative lost a foot in the frostbite and it remained preserved. So they hung it in the home. It was meant to be lucky. Some luck, eh? Losing your foot for a fool’s errand.

The Officer looked at his feet. He liked still having feet. He turned back to the map, trying not to transpose the image of a desiccated foot over the heartlands and mountains; when the door knocked. Feet duly forgotten, he bade enter.

The Officer’s face, dimly lit, the light highlighting the pores in his skin; said nothing. The visitor left. Picking up his beret, he departed to guide the next visitors to the Valley; to explore and discover its secrets and mysteries. Just like his great-great-great-grandfather on his mother or father’s side did.

To Chapter Six – Beginning