Walk in the Mountains
We kept on waiting for the plane to arrive. While half of the group including myself had already landed in this beautiful place, half were supposed to come in the next flight and hence the wait in the runway. The clouds would not just allow the flying machine pass through it and with flying much dependent on the vision and human self of the pilot rather than on technology; we had no option but to wander around the airport keeping a constant close look of the clouds. Waiting, alongside, were a group of Russian tourists. They too had some of their friends arriving in the same flight.
Thanks to the open political scene in the country, the runway was the place where we all stood staring at the clouds to open up. I say this because certain places used to be out of bounds area in the days gone by and in the name of freedom, suddenly everyplace is accessible and every action doable. To spur up the otherwise dull atmosphere, a stray dog began running across the sloped runway and soon two more joined the party. A policeman guarding the airport got some order from his senior and started his efforts to drive them away. The dogs ran but aimlessly, almost in circles. They would not get out of the little outlet in the otherwise fenced runway of the uniquely built Lukla airport. He picked up a stone and started hitting the dogs. A couple of his hits missed the dogs before one hit right on its back. The dog made a very loud squeaking noise and managed to draw everyone’s attention. Almost instantaneously, the Russians thronged into the heart of runway. It did not make sense at first before they almost attempted to bring the policeman down by overpowering him. A girl screamed right on his face “Isn’t non- violence something that your country preaches’. Being a good nepali, he just shied away. I am not quite sure whether he understood whatever was said to him but he just kept mum, even dared to smile. Or could it be that he disagreed with the question. Whatever the case be, the trip to mountains had started in somewhat memorable note.
It was perfect – as it later turned out.
After having a breakfast began the walk. It was magnificent. One could invariably be reminded of ‘far from the maddening crowd’ and the feeling that for the next couple of days I could dedicate my life to my own self was too overwhelming. The breath of fresh air and clean open environment was a harsh reminder of the fact that life in the city, in most ways, had very little to offer even though one always harped about ‘development’. I walked watching hundreds of trekkers pass by, some en route and some on their way back, who hardly failed to say ‘Namaste’ once the distance got closer. And with each group of trekkers were a group of porters who walked almost silently carrying huge luggage on a doko. One could only imagine the strength of their shoulders and the neck for often times the sheer size of it all appeared almost too much to carry even for a taxi back in the city.
For a moment, and I must admit it, it just did not feel nice. While the tourists walked around savoring the beauty of the hills and the air, along walked a group of people who as if had no right to enjoy the place they were so fortunate to have been born. To cut it short I just felt as if I was being an audience to modern day slavery. But then, I am sure what you are thinking, this was something that gave us our means to livelihood and the whole thing was not by design but by our own doing. If only we were not this poor – that was precisely the feeling that I had in me then. I walked on.
We rested for a night in a place called Phakding which rested along on the bank of one of the tributaries of ‘sapta-koshi’. There were a couple of Australian couples, a retired army general from Indian army with his grandchildren and a group of Slovak students at the big dinner table in the restaurant of the hotel. We all had managed to introduce each other while we all waited for dinner sipping 400 rupees per bottle beers.
And as we got to know each other better, soon everyone began sharing their travel experiences which seemed to cover almost two thirds of the globe. And the funny part of the whole conversation, well at least to me it appeared funny, was that except for four of us Nepalese in that room everyone had already been to this place before. The Australians, as they told us, have been here almost six times and they had succeeded in bringing 25-30 people residing in the suburban area of Perth over the last twelve years. It was almost as if the realization dawned upon us that Himalaya is not just some numerical value of 8848. And while Jim began explaining the trail over the spread out map on the table, we realized two things. Nepal is not just the two ends of Mahendra highway and there was much more to know about this country.
Next morning we walked up to Namche bazar. The place somehow took me by surprise for I had this picture in my mind that Namche lay atop a hill from where you could see Everest. Rather it lay on the slopes of a hill like almost like a baby in a mother’s cuddle. A heavy duty meal and a light snap, we readied ourselves for a walk in the trail encircling the Namche. After couple of hours we found ourselves in one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to, the Khumjung village.
The village of Khumjung nestled in the lap of divine Khumbila Mountain, as I learned, was also referred as Edmund village. The village with its picturesque settings was perfect, to say the least. As my colleague travelling put it, if any Nepali were to be directly air dropped in this particular village and were told that this was one particular place in Switzerland, chances were there that the person would tend to think along the same lines. It had almost everything that any human habitat would look for. One had to, almost forcibly, take a pause and think for a moment that here was a place completely inaccessible by roads and yet had each and everything that one could think of vis-à-vis development. And yet there are n numbers of places in the country accessible through every possible means (highways/airports) and yet life continues at its basic minimum. There was a lesson to be learnt although I am not sure what exactly. ‘Commitment’, for one, seemed to cross my mind.
By the time we returned back to hotel in Namche it was almost pitch dark. The day had certainly been an eye opener in many ways. With a plan of sipping our morning coffee at the Everest View hotel, we all headed to our respective $10 / night rooms.
The thirty six hours experience had already turned out be the one to carry along for a long time. Also begging was a prospect of even more exciting tomorrow.
Unedited version of the article published in the Sunday edition of the Kathmandu Post, 29th June.