Walking Between Kathmandu & Tibet – Day Four
DAY FOUR: FINDING THE LAMA HOTEL
Our night visitor was back the next day and once again imploring me to take a walk with him and help in some manner. I couldn’t refuse his pleas and besides I was stone out of my mind and paranoid. Whew. What a relief.
It seem that the whole village had gathered in the room of the farm house where I was lead to see the poor woman who indeed had a nasty gash in her head.
I asked how it had happened and they told me they throw stones at a barking dog. Seemed reasonable enough, but what a tragic result.
No soon had I look at the wound (what the hell was I doing here?) and turned to give my same advise,…. that it happened. Almost on cue, as is orchestrated and choreographed by a great directed,….. the man who had taken me to the poor women looked me in the eye and said: “We need money to go to hospital in Kathmandu. Can you help?” Simultaneously every doe eyed, tearful, and desperate looking villager looked at me in concert. I was alone in this small room as everyone waited for my reply.
Was I on the spot??? This seemed a little too well timed, so I used a time honored excuse,…”Let me ask my wife.” Although Kirsten and I were not married, for simplicity we pretended to be when traveling in traditional cultures. It saved a lot of explaining and made them feel better.
The entire village followed me back to the tea house. Rob & Julie had already come down to join Kirsten and I for breakfast. I must have looked like quite a site arriving with the entire village at my elbow.
We made a little conference. Rob rationalized that even if it was a scam you could in good conscience not help out. It was possible that that woman really need emergency care and we were her only hope. As an experienced Asian traveler, I took a harder line, but in the end relented. Everything seemed a bit suspicious.
In the end we decided to help. I asked what they needed and they told me 400 Rupees. This amount was about $8. at the time. I was shocked. I was expecting a very high figure and realized that the economic disparity between us and villagers was vast. It was a humbling experience. I only hoped that this small amount would really be used for the injured lady.
A heavy breakfast was enjoyed of Tibetan bread which is like as very dense pancake. Ordinarily that dense of food would give me wicked indigestion, but with 6 hours of hiking ahead it would all be burned up for fuel.
We saddled up with our back packs and bid farewell to our hosts and the dramatic events of that village. The ridge was a great choice as the views were outstanding.
As I stuffed my things into the backpack a young village boy stuck his head in to watch. I was compelled to take a picture looking at his silhouette in the doorway. He invibbed the village watching silently, an aura of innocence and curiosity with his hat and smock on. I didn’t have much in the way of gifts, but gave him a stick of Nag Champa incense to reward him for the photo.
Standing behind in the road his father jumped up for a gift also. In these telling moments you begin to grasp the poverty of such a village. It’s not that they are suffering from it. It’s just the stark realization that they have nothing extra, not even a stick of incense. In times like this your realize what you have and what you don’t need.
We were going to try to make it down through Chongong Village to pick up the main trail and then up the mountain valley to a guest house called Lama Hotel to spend the night.
Lama Hotel was a famous stopping point and naturally the name held some fascination. It was a long walk, but we could make it by dark if we moved steadily. Also, on these treks you don’t stop for lunch. There’s no time really. The big breakfast is meant to last you until dinner.
One of the facts of life in these villages is that meals are all made on a one burner propane stove. They are simple and they take about two hours to make. There is no one cooking in the midday. It is not their tradition. The most you can get is tea and some bland biscuits when you take a break at a tea house.
Also, you can only hike about six hours a day so you have to make the most of it. As it is, at that high elevation it is bitter cold in the mornings and evenings. On the ridge, we had plenty of light, but the rest of the journey would be along the Langtang Khole (river) and in the valley you can only hike between 10 AM and 4 PM. After that the sun is behind the mountain.
The Himalayan Villages are connected by paths that are the equivalent to roads in the Kathmandu valley. Everything is traveling on those roads. Goods and supplies are hauled by men and women who hold enormous woven reed baskets on their back with a strap to their forehead. It looks uncomfortable and yet they have smiling eyes and greet you cheerfully with “Namaste” when you pass.
Namaste is the traditional greeting of Nepal and translates to mean: “I salute the God within you.” It is all said with hands in prayer position and a slight bow. What a wonderful tradition. I enjoyed greeting people like this very much. It was a great cultural traditions.
Another feature of these Himalayan highways were the unbelievable quantity and variety of animal excretions (a nice way of saying shit). Oh well, I tried. My God, it was a challenge to walk on the paths between the Yaks, Cows, Dzo (half yak & cow), horses, sheep, goats, and unknown do-do makers littering the path. Sorry to ruin the romance, but really this is what a Himalayan trek is like! Better that I tell you now before you find out at the beginning of a month long trek in the Himalayan mountains!
Small obstacles aside, the trek was unfolding into a wonderland of delight. The were rows of Mani stones with carved mantras on them marking different holy sites. These stones were carved as gesture to the Gods to gain merit for a future rebirth.
I don’t know if the God’s were impressed, but for me the added a magic that was immeasurable. Imagine, every trail adorned with ancient art to bring you to higher consciousness. It kinda made up for all the do-do. Also, it was a perfect illustration of the balance of all things. Such beauty along side of it’s opposite.
The trail was by no means tame. Sometimes the path narrowed with sharp inclines and other times narrow rope & plank bridges crossed deep valleys. It took some steady nerves at times. Rule number one: Don’t look down! The vegetation was lush with unusual flora and fauna.
Various small no name villages were scattered along the way. Many of these were primitive tea house for travelers to take a break. At midday we stopped at one of these to have some Chia (milk-spice-tea) and simple sweet biscuits. The ridge trail we had chosen was so rarely traveled that a foreigner was too much temptation.
We weren’t so sure about the whole rock episode the night before. Was it for real or a scam? Now comes the tea episode.
It typically takes about 10 minutes to make Chai. In a sad rude gesture the man at the tea house decided to delay the tea and send his son out to beg for one rupee during the entire time we waited.
It’s frustrating sometimes. You have sympathy for the poverty in Nepal and disdain for the manipulation and tricks that are often used just to milk alittle more money out of you. The problem is you have to go through alittle soul searching with each event to try and figure out if it’s a real need or a scam and you know,….. it’s impossible to know.
Onward and upward. We left the teahouse with a bad taste in out mouths. Teahouses are generally sanctuaries of peace and shelter. This one was just an emotional drain. Ah, more fodder for practice of Buddhist non-attachment. Not all of the Himalayas is a Tibetan fantasy. Sometimes reality intrudes.
At one point, we were crossing an entire mountain of marijuana plants. I was stunned. There was a billion dollar crop growing wild without inspiring any harvest. Things were different up here.
Another big surprise as we hiked out of the Sherpa tribal area and into the Tamang Tribe were the difference in dress. The Tamang shepherds wore a red turban like head dress and a thick wool lungi (wrap for pants) with a red sash and long machete.
The first time we came across one of these sheep herders rounding a a switch back tail I was shocked. One look at that long machete in his belt and I thought: “Oh no! We’re Dead!” With almost perfect delivery of comic relief the Tamang man asks: “You want hashish?”
Oh my God, what a relief I felt. I thanked him and said no. My last foray into getting high had unexpected results and I didn’t feel a need to liven up my evenings any more.
He moved on down the trail with a dozen or so sheep. As we encountered more people here and there it became evident that selling hashish was lively cottage industries for the locals. A lot of trekkers like to mellow out this way on a long hike.
It was also legal in Kathmandu until 1975 and there were many hashish and ganja (marijuana) shops in an area of town called “Freak Street”. (You can guess how it got it’s name.)
Eventually, we got to the main trail in a place called Chongong. One lone Guest House was at the junction with quite noble Tibetan family. The friendly host offered us lodging, but we had been eager to stay in the Lama Hotel not far ahead. He shrugged his shoulders and pointed the direction. He had a simple resolve of mountain nobility or Buddhist acceptance. I’m not sure which.
We arrived in a narrow valley by a stream to discover a dozen small rock and log shacks with various homemade signs saying: “Lama Hotel”. Apparently word had gotten out and in typical Asian style everybody had cooped the same name.
With alittle scouting we settled for the Lama Hotel that had a pot bellied stove. As we had gained altitude the nights had decreased in temperature. What was bitter cold before was now decidedly frigid!
Everything seemed to be going well. We made it to a decent lodge with a warm fire. Our nourishing meal of Dhal Bhat was heartily consumed and we were now surrounded with interesting fellow travelers from all over the world.
While listening to stories and adventures around the wood plank table near the warm hearth it hit me with a great suddenness. A sharp cramp gripped my abdomen. It was like getting punched in the stomach.
I gingerly started to stand weak from the wrenching in my gut. Oh my God, I needed to get to a toilet and in a hurry!
Unfortunately, the Himalayan adventure does not end with the daily hike. There is always the challenge of the toilet. It is a concept that Western travelers have taken for granted and that many Himalayan villages have never heard of.
For example, we were passing through one village and asked for a toilet. The man we ask kept pointing over there,…. the only problem is that there was nothing “over there”. Eventually we figured it out. People just went in the field. More or less in plain view. This prompted an immediate lifestyle change for my traveling companion Kirsten. She adopted a long skirt for attire and privacy from then on.
All of the Tibetan women wore long skirts and thus afforded a certain amount of privacy when doing their duty. Naturally building a separate little smelly structure had never been necessary for toilet.
On the other extreme some industrious villagers had built a toilet just for westerners to us at the price of 5 Rupees. The price wasn’t the problem. It was the view. The toilet was built overhanging a thousand foot drop on the side of a cliff, in order not to have to clean up the mess. This might sound exciting if you are imagining something built in the west, but in the Himalayas carpenters did not have to build to code. Hence these little hanging out houses felt as if could at any moment become airborne.
Now back to my predicament. First I was in an extreme hurry without a moment to spare to get my bearings. Second it was pitch black and snowing outside and my flashlight had no batteries. Third the was only one outhouse for the whole village around Lama Hotel and it was some distance away. If that were not enough, there was the fact that no one maintained this little shit shack and it has long since deteriorated into something that I won’t describe here.
In a moment of luck Rob was coming in as I was exiting the guesthouse and I tensely asked to borrow his flashlight. He also pointed me in the direction of the outhouse with and odd grimace on his face of dark resolve. I expected the worst and was not disappointed.
To my utter horror, I did not make it to the out house at all. My GI track fired away mercilessly and left my long underwear coated with warm mud. This was a moment of desperation and my survivor mind just had to deal with it.
I went to the stream slightly downhill from the outhouse and took off my clothes in the frigid icy wind. There in the dark with the flashlight in my mouth I pealed away the disgusting mess while shivering violently.
To complicate my problem I had to perch on a rock out in the stream as I still having a bad case of the runs. It was here while trying to wash my long underwear in the dark naked in the cold Himalayan night that on a rock that the fun escalated even further.
Everything I had, my money, my passport and my clothes were hastily strew around a disgusting outhouse in the dark as I had run for the stream in desperation. Now as fait would have it a group of people with flashlights were headed my way.
God what could be worse. Being discovered naked on a rock in a stream during a snowstorm at night or losing all my worldly possession on a turdy bank near an outhouse. I was time for action. I leaped off the rock and hastily tried to reassemble my belongings.
My mind goes blank at this point. I remember only later sitting by the fire and drying off my stream washed long underwear. It was a blazing fire, but still inadequate to keep out the nights frigid winds.
The guess house owner filled our canteens with hot water that we used for bed warmers in the night. I slept the deep exhausted sleep of a survivor and put the night events behind me. It’s all just a dream within a dream as the philosophers say. A dream. Just a dream,……
Look for day five, coming soon!