Recent news about the devastating earthquakes in Nepal is painful to hear. Knowing first-hand a little about the country’s infrastructure makes me shudder at how difficult rescue efforts must be. I wrote this blog to share my thoughts about the beauty of the Nepalese people. Photos posted here were taken by me in 1988. I used a “disposable” camera. It was long before hi-res smartphones and digital files.
Late in the 1980s, my cousin and I decided to see Mt Everest. We knew we weren’t going to summit the top or even climb part of the way up. Our plan was to hike another mountain close enough to gaze at the world’s highest mountain. Our experience was unique. I think everyone who has been to Nepal will say the same thing.
My cousin and I were young and crazy. Not young-young, but definitely not sane. I trained for a week before we left by walking to work with four books in a backpack. My cousin – nada. Of course, he did far better than me on the trek. That’s me at a desperate moment, and the other photo is the back of my cousin (on the left with the red baseball cap) doing just fine.
We flew from NYC to India and went to Siliguri, India. No big cities for us! From there, we took the “toy train” with switchback rail tracks up to Darjeeling at the foothills of the Himalayas. From my research, this train hasn’t been operational since 2010. I have tried to find out more, but I don’t know the current situation. It possibly could help get rescue supplies up the mountains, but I’m not second guessing any NGO.
I mention Darjeeling, India as we had a beautiful moment there. We were in a tea shop where locals were watching the movie Ghandi on TV. In the middle of the movie, Lord Mountbatten asks Ghandi something like “Do you expect the British to simply walk out of India?” Ghandi replies, “That is exactly what you should do.” Everyone in the tea shop clapped, as did my cousin and I.
Darjeeling, home to delicious tea, is nestled in the bottom of the Indian Himalayas and is where Norgay Tenzing and Edmund Hillary supposedly started their assent to Mt. Everest in 1938. They brought money to pay Himalayan village people as they climbed. Yaks carried the coins in saddlebags. I have not been able to confirm that this was the actual starting point and if yaks really carried tons of heavy coins, but it was what the Darjeeling locals told us 50 years later in 1988.
Our Nepal trek was arranged with paper money. A few yaks brought food and tenting.
From Darjeeling, we flew to Katmandu, Nepal. Katmandu is a Hindu city with amazing artwork and architecture dating back centuries. We hooked up with a local trekking company.
We flew from Katmandu up to 9,400 feet in Lukla, known as the “gateway of Mt. Everest.” The plane landed on a dirt runway. In 1988, it was called Lukla Airport. Now it is Tenzing-Hillary Airport with a paved runway. Current rescue efforts off Mt Everest have been coordinated here. Paved or unpaved, this airport is still considered one of the most terrifying landing strips in the world. My cousin and I didn’t bat an eyelash because we had no clue.
We were the only non-Nepalese on the plane and on the trek. Since we were foreigners, we were allowed more luggage than locals. We checked-in bags filled with wedding invitations and favors. On our trek we delivered the wedding invitations for our guide, Ang Tshering’s brother, Jo. We hiked a trail staying along the way with their family and friends.
We ate at houses on the trail, shared their food with the food we brought via yak, and pitched our tent in their yard. All food was shared with love and graciousness. Everyone had a sense of humor and most of all, resiliency. I am certain these unique Nepalese skills are helping in these difficult times.
My cousin and I huffed and puffed and made it up 2,200 more feet. Getting to Namche Bazaar was tough. Tiny Nepalese people carry 40 lbs. of goods without even losing a breath. A few of them had good-natured laughs at the gasping Americans. We had numerous jokes back and forth… just try navigating NYC streets, harumph!
At this bridge, I was out-of-breath. I couldn’t carry my backpack, which held only an extra shirt and a bag of lemon drops. I handed it to Ang Tshering with crocodile tears jumping off my cheeks.
I remember this place at the top of a hill or mountain. Never has a cup of hot tea with steaming milk tasted so delicious. Turn right and you are less than a mile from Namche Bazaar.
Early each morning, I peeked outside our tent. I have never seen such a bright navy-blue sky and twinkling stars. It was as if one could reach out and grab one. That’s how close they appear when you are over 11,000 feet. I have no photos, so you’ll have to trust me about the sky’s Disney-esque star brilliance.
Up in the Himalayas, the religion is Buddhism. We learned to walk to the left of Buddhist stones and flags, which are plentiful on the trails. We learned to turn bells in the monasteries from left to right.
We made it up another 500 feet and saw Mt. Everest. That’s me on the left, and on the right, my cousin and me. Mt. Everest is to the right. We did it! We saw it!
On the way down, in the village of one of Ang Tshering’s friends, our host asked us if we knew French. Since I do, he handed me a postcard that had been sent years before from Provence to thank him for the great group trek he had been on. I translated the easy French and felt like a scholar. Our host said to me, “I’ve been waiting for you for 5 years.”
My thoughts mean little in relation to the nightmare facing the Nepalese. The mountains are spectacular. The people are more spectacular, and I write about my memories as a tribute to them.
As I write, I pray. And wait for news.
The Witch </:)