It’s about time that I wrote to all of you about my time here in Nepal so far. Life is good. I’m good. Nepal is Nepal. I had forgotten the things that are so obviously different – the dirt and smog, trash in the streets, the mad rush of cars and motorbikes and bicycles and people. The colors and smells and so forth.
So very very much. I feel that there is so very much to tell, but perhaps I shall go back a week or so to my dad’s visit and our trip to the mountains.
It’s amazing how good it feels to land up somewhere so different from the place I’ve been living and to know my way around, to be able to navigate taxi drivers and know which hotel I’m going to at 10:45 pm after a day plus of travel. It feels so good to wake up and know how to get around the city – where to go for bus tickets or iodine solution or postcards and stamps. And Kathmandu was like that for me right away. As I said, the crowds and smells and dirt were a bit of a shock to the system, but at least I knew how to navigate my and my dad’s way around in them.
Let me jump ahead quite a bit. Briefly, two nights in Kathmandu then a very very long bus ride to the east to Singaati, the end of the road. My dad and I spent a night in a tiny room in a hotel that I had stayed in before. For dinner, morning tea and the night it cost us all of rs200 (about $3.50). We awoke early the next morning and set out on the path to Simigaau. Much has changed since the last time I was here, and the narrow paths in the forest that I had walked before have largely become road construction area, where people and machines have cut into the hillsides leaving rake marks as of teeth and nails, wounds that will eventually heal into a scar/tattoo/vein that is a road. It is a beautiful day, and we take it relatively easy. We have a long ways to walk but we make it all the way, walking the last uphill (a very steep, mainly staircased climb) in an hour and a half instead of two or two and a half hours. It feels wonderful to arrive in the home of friends and acquaintances in Simi Gaau. I feel that I have come home.
My dad and I spend two nights in Simi Gaau arranging someone to go with us to Tsho Rolpa, to help us find the trail, help us keep pace and assist us carrying a bag. Tshiring, the younger brother of a neighbor, is to come with us. He is small and wiry but clearly much stronger and much more acclimatized to all of this than my dad and I. He is quiet but will occasionally burst into a wide smile of pleasure and delight. He also picks up quickly how excited my dad and I are by animals and birds, and he is rapid to point out any special sightings he makes. I had forgotten how much work it is to wash clothes and get them really clean. But clean they come despite my hands being out of practice. My hair gets rinsed and friends and neighbors visited. My dad and I drink countless cups of chiyaa, mostly black and sweet, but the occasional cup has milk AND sugar, a real luxury.
Anyway, I want to tell the story of our third day on the trail without making this into a book. I am feeling pretty crook, my throat aches and when I swallow it feels as though someone is sticking me with needles. My nose and eyes oozed through the night, and I have been developing a cough also. But I try not to complain. The day is beautiful, the most beautiful yet, and Tod (my Dad), Tshiring (our guide) and I are ready to go pretty early.
We make it to Na, our destination for the day, by 10:30 or 11:00 and decide to put our bags down and have some solid food before we set off for Tsho Rolpa, the glacial lake and our final destination. The home we will stay in is built of dry fit stone and is two floors, the bottom for storage and the top, level with the upper part of the hill, is where the family and we will sleep. A fireplace keeps the house warm inside, but the sun feels good outside despite the dusting of yesterday’s snow that still covers the ground. The house is well stocked inside, everything carried at least two days from the road: packets of noodles and biscuits, candles, clothes-washing soap, even some beer boxes although I do not know whether the beer is still in existence or not. The only things not brought in are potatoes, which the community grows here at 4300 meters, and the animals that the community raises, mostly goats and cows with coats so thick they could almost be something else. It’s hard to believe people live and survive in this thin air with rocks and snow-covered peaks in all directions. The river that flows through this valley is cold even to look at; I have rapidly forgotten how appealing the aquamarine waters looked 3000 meters lower when I walked in the hot sun.
We eat potatoes with salt and chilllis accompanied by sweet tea for lunch. Having satisfied our bellies, we again tighten our boots, gather sunglasses, camera, jackets and snacks and head out once more. The sky is blue as the river flowing beneath it, the ridges of the mountains disappear in the glare of sun on snow, and I squint my eyes as we set off up the valley. The trail is level enough at first. We cross the river and continue among rocks and boulders. Tshiring sets a good pace, slow enough to let our lungs feel strong even in this thin air. Gradually we cover ground. Tod and I admire the tiny flowers along the trail, tiny blue and purple blossoms, smaller than the nail on my smallest finger, hardly specks on the rocky ground. I look back and notice we have climbed more than I realized and I see some clouds coming up the valley behind us. I wonder how soon they will be upon us. We continue to climb, and soon my lungs are working hard, my legs have grown heavier as we gain elevation. I focus on putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward one step at a time. I feel warm inside my jacket, but the air nips my exposed skin.
After some time, I stop. Tshiring, I call ahead of me, who’s burning incense? I ask. He looks at me. Do you smell that incense? He sniffs at the air, then a knowing expression passes over his face. It’s not incense, it’s this plant. Tshiring motions beside me and picks a few leaves from the plant beside me. He crushes it between his fingers and gives me some to do the same. The scent is marvellous, exactly like that which emanates from so many Buddhist homes and monasteries. This is the plant from which the incense is made. They make oil out of this, Tshiring tells me. You put a little bit on your hair and you smell so good for a LONG time! I smile, smelling my fingers and we continue up the trail.
The clouds have come in upon us and the wind begins to pick up. Small circular pieces of snow begin to fall around us. We continue to walk ever upwards, our lungs working to have their fill of the lessening oxygen. The clouds close in around us and I begin to wonder whether perhaps we should go back. But it feels like we have come this far. Why go home now simply to come back tomorrow morning? We exchange thoughts and decide to keep going. The trail is steep now and the snow-covering has become several inches. We are stepping up and up, climbing a staircase to a body of water floating in a white world with nothing but clouds and wind and snow all around.
At last we make it to the top. you cannot even see to the bottom of the climb we have just done much less to the mountains around us, but there is the lake, gray and smooth, still and still in the motion of air and snow. No one is here although there are a couple of buildings, one with a large machine of some sort or other. We pause on some rocks by the water side and I pull out the power bars that Tod has carried all the way to San Francisco. They are frozen in odd shapes, and are difficult to break or bite. We manage to both savor the goodness of the food and energy while also keeping track of our own warmth and need to head back down the mountain again. As we finish, I look out over the frozen water and think, who would ever have dreamed that I would come to this place? Then I turn my back on it and follow my dad and Tshiring as we lower our heads in the snow-swirling wind and dig our feet into the snow that has fallen and make our way back down to the promise of a warm fire, hot tea and good food below us.
This is but a snapshot of our trip. And the “summit” snapshot at that. There is so much more – the meals we shared with people. Playing with some of the children. Being in Simi Gaau, the blessing of my father willing and ready to adventure with me. And then of course all that is here for me now in Kathmandu. This email has turned epic, but I am happy and well and hope the same is true of each of you.
Much love and peace,