Why am I listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall at 2016 meters in Phakding, Nepal? I am five baby hands away from Mount Everest on the map. People with souls burrowed deep in their black brown eyes flow by to the tune of Pink Floyd and Bob Marley. My companions chatter in and out of Malay and English. I sit nestled in the Himalayas, a baby cries in the silence between the next 60’s hit song. Children with smooth dark skin covered with bright red patches of weathered skin hold hands and skitter along the cobbled path. I can imagine growing up here where there are no cars and the silence is as deep as the river carved under mountains 5,000 meters high smeared with snow – towering nodules amongst swirling clouds.
This morning I spotted the Himalayas through the spinning propellers of our tiny plane as we rose to 3,600 meters. Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Wind, Sand, and Stars writes about how when you fly you see a part of the world that no one else gets a chance to see – the land that can only be seen from a birds’ eye view.
We threaded our way through town in a light rain, four fluorescent figures cloaked in Gortex. We crisscrossed the Milky River twice on wire suspension bridges, marching across canyons on air. The sweet smell of balsam and other evergreens clinging to the cliffs at 3,440 meters reminded me of home. The path is a well-worn stream of yaks, tourists, and porters stretching in front of me for as far as I can see, which would be the next destination, Panboche. On this day, it pleased me to know that I would be able to tread this path again on the way back to gain a new perspective on the majesty of the world.
The next suspension bridge that we came to hung over another one about 30 feet below. Another 100 feet below that the river merged with the Khumbu Glacier. Frayed prayer flags flew perpendicular in the wind as my steps floated with the bounce of everyone else’s step. Suspended, I wanted to capture everything around me in one breath.
Porters, permanently stooped by loads twice their weight, sidled their way through German and Chinese tourists. They carry smooth wooden stools to prop under their butts when they need a quick rest without having to release their carefully balanced load. There is a code on the trail that those who make it all the way learn quickly: always make way for the porters out of sheer respect; move to the inside of the trail when a yak train approaches you for they too have heavy burdens to bear and little sense of doing anything else than moving forward. Young porters take on the stooped posture of their grandfathers, but you can still see the younger boys looking on with respect as their older brothers and fathers bear extreme weight for 20 dollars a day.
These heavy loads propel beasts and men forward. The yak’s feet flex with each careful step they take. Porters take sure-footed steps in flip flops, crocks, knock off hiking boots or sneakers.
The Yaks are the only traffic in town. They take the stairs like retired ballet dancers with heavy bells clanking beneath the necks. We walked up the stone path out of town at seven in the morning over-dressed in thermal underwear, which I promptly removed. A woman was sending her naks (female yaks) out to pasture. When she left them alone to make the rest of the trek up the hill, they took to nibbling the plant life on their own with little encouragement from a swinging rope and an occasional pebble missile aimed at their back end.
Waiting for the Mountain above Namche Bazar
To acclimatize, we walked up to 3,860 meters to catch a glimpse of Everest. These tall mountains are finicky about when they want to peek out from the clouds. The more you wait, the less likely they are to pop out for a moment. I feared that if I went to the toilet, I would lose the chance to see the mountain.
The trees got low and sparse leaving room for bluebells and fire red leaf flowers to grown. The snow-capped mountains seemed to get bigger and higher with every step that we took. Occasionally, a gust of wind revealed a rock-faced mountain so high that it was hard to tell whether or not is was a part of the sky itself. The sky was true azure and the quiet was as soft as the air was fresh. I felt the steady nature essence that never ceases to center me — so close to the mountains and sky that I could touch them if I stretched my soul far enough. My lungs burst wide open to let the hollow space inside of me leak out slowly while the clouds brushed up the mountainside.
We headed to 3,800 meters to a Japanese hotel with a view of Everest if it felt like revealing itself. Everyone waited for a peek at the infamous mountain. Some people got impatient and left, others just left. I propped my feet on the rocks, and drank in the sun. What was out there behind the clouds was so vast and beyond me that I did not really care if I saw the mountain or not. There is something intriguing about the idea of these magic monsters hiding behind the clouds as you tromp along. Sometimes the snow on the mountain and the clouds merge and you have to look hard to confirm whether or not you really saw that mountain. I was grateful that the mountains revealed themselves to me as slowly as they did.