Tuesday, October 3 (Tengboche)
The trail started in a rhododendron forest. It continued through pine forests, down, down, down to the Dudh Kosi River. We crossed the river on another suspension bridge, swaying to the rhythm of the wind. Lunch was in a small paddock/café.
Yaks and horses wandered through the village with or without burdens to bear. People from all over the world floated by—spirits of adventure from Dana Hall, Harvard, Nepal, Iran, Seattle, France, the UK, Belgium, Australia and mostly Germany. I shared a way too salty ball of Yak cheese with an Iranian man and promptly chucked the remains of it down the cliff when he wasn’t looking. We were all hearty souls on the same path.
The porters can carry up to 80 kilos—burdens that weigh far more than they do. They trek in anything from crocs and flip-flops to worn out sneakers and hiking shoes. Their dark brown feet are black around the edges, cracked and hardened by miles of treading this path to Everest. It reminds me of a grand pilgrimage.
The yak is a stately man. He looks outwards from each eye. His horns curl upward and back non-threateningly. His hooves splay with each step it takes on the hard rock. His shepherds threaten a beating with a light rope that never strikes. They drive their yaks with their voices and the yaks listen. People move aside as a team of yaks pushes up a mountain at the same delicate pace. They walk together through the street—splayed feet and eyes—not seeing but feeling the steps below them. Bells crafted for making music swing beneath their necks from far away at night.
4,000 Meter Break at the Shomare Hilltop Lodge—October 4
The silence is complete with only the soft sizzling of our lunch over a yak dung fire. The woman running this lodge is the widow of a Sherpa who died when so many others died in 1996. My silence is inspired by the awe I hold for this land. We all agree that if I take off my shoes, the smell will ruin the perfection of this quiet rest, so I park them outside to wait for me there.
The tourists who did not make it to Everest Base Camp
One half a million people make the pilgrimage to Everest Base Camp every year. Chinese tourists with tripods and selfie sticks busy themselves and their photographic impressions and Facebook status. Meanwhile, a thundering river surrounds them. Its waves suck under and over, under and over, carving the way from Mt. Everest and Island Peak.
A Nepalese man sings a song with a broad smile. The sun gives way to fog and the tree line disappears outside of the rhododendron forest where strings of moss hang lazily from bloomless, yellow-leaved branches.
The pressure in my ears tightens as we climb higher and I carry a dull headache with me for the rest of the trip, especially at night when my brain, craving oxygen, pulses to the point of pushing me to pray, which is not something I do, but the repetition of the serenity prayer soothes the blood path and diverts my attention elsewhere. At this point, we are inching up the trail in a shuffle.
Yaks grunt in unison with bells clanging beneath their necks. Stacks of white rock dropped by the glacier splatter across the landscape. Tidy rock walls contain the yaks who do not have the luxury of grazing that day. The yak pens are clear of their dung, which is collected and dried by women wearing yellow rubber gloves. They slap the dung into patties for burning or plugging holes in their stone structures to keep the wind out.
Is living on the subsistence level a hardship, or do we who have everything look down on a good life that has less?