Last Day of the Everest Base Camp Trail Trek
I lost my group. As we left the double suspension bridge, we took a different path simply because it went down. The idea of going up was not something any of us was willing to do if we had a choice. Peri had gone ahead at his steadfast pace. Ganesan and I were staying with Danya who was sick with fever, vomiting, and delirium. I went ahead to relieve myself after a yak team passed by us, and that was the last I saw of my group for most of that day.
The trail was empty, which is unheard of, especially this far down when the faint-of-heart have not yet given up. I ran into one more yak team and their driver, which did not surprise me because I was walking in a mire of Yak shit. I ran into an Australian coming from Lukla, so I knew I would eventually end up in the right place.
The trail was beautiful and woodsy, interrupted by waterfalls flowing through it. At the next suspension bridge, I looked down at the way I should have come–a bright, flat trail that ran along the river. This was not the first time that I had opted for the more challenging path in my life. Perry was not there, so I assumed I must have fallen quite far behind because of my detour, which seemed much longer than the pleasant river stroll, which I could have opted for. I waited at the bridge for about 20 minutes to confirm my conclusion.
I happened upon a town five minutes from the bridge and peered into every tea house and café along the way to find my compadres. Then I stopped to take some tea on a wall outside of a little hovel where a woman and her daughter said they would deliver some tea. It was so warm and sunny there that I forgot to think of the yaks.
Yaks have the right of way—always. When a team of them approached me while I sat on the wall drinking milk tea, I dodged into the doorway so as not to be pushed off of my perch. The head yak stopped to take a lick out of the sugar bowl next to my tea. I threw an almond at it to get it to move on with little effect. With a whistle from his master, the yak moved on without getting a sweet taste of my tea.
I still had a residual fear that my group would be angry with me for dashing ahead if I was ahead, so I started telling people if they saw an Indian man and a woman in green coats walking along, they should tell them the American was ahead of them.
The more I thought about it, I realized that there was no way that Danya could have gotten that far ahead of me in her condition, so I took a pit stop, ordered some potatoes and two cups of tea and waited. I noted where I was: Solukhumba – Riverview Lodge. And waited. And waited for two hours before I saw Perry’s green jacket and Ganesan’s orange pants bobbing down the trail.
We put Danya on a horse to Lukla and continued well behind her on foot.
Bouncing from Namche Bazar to Lukla
It felt good to breathe more easily with each meter that I descended. I danced across suspension bridges without trepidation, managed to piss without hitting my shoes or socks, made way for yaks and porters. I experienced my journey in reverse.
My favorite parts of the trek were below the tree line in the Rhododendron Forest where I could peek through the trees and the clouds to see Everest once on the way up and once on the way down.
On the way down, the sky was the most brilliant and clear it had been on the entire trip. When we got to Tengboche, the sky blew open and free of clouds. I could see the monastery where we had attended a prayer and tea drinking ceremony in a thick fog on our way up. I could see the bakery where we had eaten some of the best apple pie that I have ever tasted. AND I could see Everest in all of its majesty. Everest is almighty because it is Everest, but I found its sister and brother mountains to be just as spectacular. The unpredictable cloud cover made the mountains grander because I never knew if, or when, they would reveal themselves. When they did, they were awe-inspiring.
While I danced down the mountain as people trudged up, I understood the lightness I had seen in people coming down as I had trudged toward base camp. Now I weaved among the yaks knowingly. I plunged through their dung and felt charged by my ever-increasing supply of oxygen.
Have I changed? Of course. Would I ever do it again? NEVER—well, probably never.
The third world continues to overwhelm me, but it is easier to digest in the mountains where beautiful people move in sync with the earth using every resource they can find — the river to wash their clothes, grass to cover the fertile soil, yak dung for warmth, tourists for profit.
Men work as porters bearing burdens exceeding their body weight. Women run tea houses. They also take the time to plant colorful gardens with marigolds and bright red flowers that peer over the stone walls that line the trail. The poverty is clean and quiet, unseemly and home grown. It is a subsistence lifestyle.
In Kathmandu, women and children buzz recklessly in dusty clouds on motorbikes, tooting their horns at nothing, cows amble through the city not knowing which trash heap to lick. At the temple beggars with amputated everything lie twitching in the sun, and I wonder who placed them there so strategically. The beauty of a temple turns into a scam. I didn’t notice any prayer flags flapping in Kathmandu. Is there nothing to pray for in this wretched contrast to where I have been?
I wonder what the great Buddha thinks. The same Buddha whose eyes scan the peaks of the Himalayas from pale stone shrines along the Everest Base Camp trail watching people from all over the world make their pilgrimage to the great mother mountain.