Mostly, if you want to go someplace in Nepal, you walk. If we had walked to Tumlingtar village from Kathmandu, it would have taken us four days of trekking and three nights of tenting.
Once we landed, we walked from the grass runway to the village restaurant and bar. As we drank Cokes, the village people unloaded our luggage and the medical supplies to be used in the clinic for the next two weeks. They had hired Sherpas, who are seasoned pack men, to carry the luggage and medical goods up the long trail to Khandibari village. The Sherpas had baskets they had woven out of young bamboo shoots. They were oblong at the top opening, measuring about two feet by one foot. They tapered down in a wedge fashion so they rested right below the tailbone of a Sherpa. Two homemade straps went over a Sherpa’s shoulders, and one strap went around his forehead for balance. It is my understanding that the loads they can carry are legendary. That is all they do their entire lifetime—carry heavy loads up and down the terribly steep mountain trails.
I winced as I saw them take my soft-side luggage and jam it down into one of their baskets. In that suitcase is my best black-striped wool suit; my white-and-blue, starched dress shirts; my expensive blue wool blazer with brass buttons; my dress slacks; and everything else I am going to need to meet the heads of state once I arrive in Bucharest, Romania. I winced again as I saw them jam additional items into the Sherpa’s toting basket. Oh well, I thought, we play this game one move at a time. Maybe I’ll start a new Project C.U.R.E. trend and go naked in Romania.
We left the village and made our way to the mountain. The trail led us through the villagers’ fields of maize and millet. It led us within a few feet of the farmhouses and barns. Outside the village we began to gain altitude. Then the rocky road went almost vertical. Steps had been cut into the rocky mountain over the years to aid in the climb.
About one hour into the trek, the wind began to blow. The sky had turned increasingly dark. I was walking just behind Narayan. He pointed to a high mountain ridge in the far distance. “When it gets dark on that point, we are guaranteed to get rain here. It’s just a matter of a little time.”
The wind was now kicking up dust from the trail and bending the bamboo and maize stalks. As we rounded a bend in the trail, we came upon a rural farmhouse. It was two stories in height with a thatched roof and wooden shutters and doors. On the front porch area, a crowd of people had gathered. By now the wind was howling, and pieces of thatch from the barn and a neighbor’s house flew like kites. We hurried onto the porch, and at the center of the crowd a man was lying on a canvas stretcher, covered by a handwoven blanket. He was moaning with pain. His friends were on their way to try to take him to the hospital in Kathmandu—four days away.
Three of the registered nurses were walking close behind us. They moved in and began surveying the situation. At first they were afraid it might be an appendicitis attack. Then the nurses got the moaning man to turn over on his back and point to the area of most pain. The man’s friends told the nurses that the fellow had just vomited several times. Quite quickly the nurses ruled out the appendix theory and eventually settled on an acute urinary tract infection that had moved into his bladder and kidneys. Lucky for the man the nurses just happened to be able to stop the Sherpa who had some pain medicine and some real stout antibiotic pills in his basket.
Everyone was so concerned about the patient that the impending storm had been completely ignored. But the storm had not gone away just because we had ignored it. By that time it was thundering and the lightning was cracking and the wind was howling even louder. The rain clouds had begun to douse us with bucketfuls of water. The water didn’t really come down on us, but rather because of the unchecked wind, the torrents of rain came at us. In true Nepalese hospitality, the farm family on whose porch we had all suddenly congregated, opened the doors to their house and invited the whole mob to come in out of the storm. The rogue storm lasted for another thirty minutes. Then, in a fashion that reminded me of mountain storms in my valley of Colorado, everything stopped, a calm settled in, and the sun came out.
As we opened the doors of the little farmhouse, we discovered that it had not just rained, but the ground in front of the farmhouse and as far up the mountain pass as you could see was covered with a blanket of hailstones. The thrill and excitement of the storm passed quickly when everyone realized that just across the mountain trail, the fields of millet, maize, and rice lay in ruins. Trees in the yard had been blown over, and stands of bamboo were now flat. We extended our sympathy to the farmers, bade farewell to the moaning urinary patient, and headed back up the mountain range toward Narayan’s ancestral village.
Water was by that time coming down the trail as if it were a riverbed. The red dirt of the mountain had turned into a gooey-slimy-slick mess. The trail was slippery and treacherous, but darkness was coming soon, and we had to make it to Khandibari village. I glanced down at Bob Jackson’s walking boots. They were covered with the red mud, and I had red mud nearly up to the knees of my pants. I was happy that I was not wearing my “city shoes” as Bob had called them, but I felt guilty that his boots were taking such a beating. Then the thought hit me, The Sherpas carrying the luggage didn’t make it to the farmhouse by the time the fury of the storm landed. They were caught out in the mountain downpour. My poor canvas soft-side luggage is by now soaked with rain and hail. Oh! My wool suit and blazer!
Some hours later we made it to the outskirts of Khandibari village. On several occasions the residents of the houses came out to the road and insisted we stop and receive the seasonal blessing. They were all part of Narayan’s family. So we would stand in line as they draped us with mala necklaces of flowers and placed red dried rice on our foreheads. Eventually we made it though the village and up on top of a mountain where it was relatively flat. As we came over the top of the mountain, the arrangement of two rows of green canvas tents burst into sight. There were about twelve tents in all, and at the end of the tent line was a round eating area constructed with a metal roof.
It was almost completely dark, and as the Sherpas began to unload their baskets, we were dished up a hot meal of goat meat, rice, potatoes, and mountain vegetables. The dinner was topped off with good hot tea with milk—I presume goat milk.
It was not a figment of my imagination … I am going to be sleeping on the ground under a green canvas tent. Somehow they had managed to throw a sleeping bag for me into one of the Sherpa’s baskets, but—you guessed it—it was wet. I found my luggage, opened it, and took out my sweater and leather jacket, which had been folded into the inside layer of the packed things. The night was very chilly, and the sweater and leather jacket felt very good. I pulled my belongings into my assigned tent and unrolled my sleeping bag.
What in the wide world am I doing here? I wondered.
I’m not a fan of camping out, and I really do have a nice, comfortable king-size bed back home in Evergreen. If I were there, I would have someone to snuggle to boot! But right now, in the heart of the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal, there is no one to complain to, and survival is the name of the game.
I took Bob’s boots off outside the tent and climbed into the wet sleeping bag with all the rest of my clothes on, including my sweater and my leather jacket. I was exhausted from the four-hour trek, and my stomach was full of hot meal and tea. I created a warm spot and quickly drifted off to sleep.
Next Week: Nepal five years later
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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