I left you a few days ago with the hope that a vehicle with at least six seat belts would be hired for our long drive to Khamding. I’m sure no one will be surprised to hear that at 5:45 a.m. our vehicle arrived with seat belts for driver and front seat passenger only. The math is fairly simple. We were five seatbelts short. Why this was presented as an option, after we each paid and additional US$35.00 for a vehicle with seatbelts for six passengers is beyond me.
Thus it is here.
Despite the extra payment and despite Binod spending over an hour on the phone the previous evening, a vehicle unsuited to holding a driver plus seven passengers – the six of us and Tendi – had appeared. The expectation was that we’d quietly climb in. Even without seatbelts, there was only adequate room for four passengers.
Where is the logic?
Four hours later we left in a vehicle somewhat better suited to the journey. There were seatbelts for four passengers. The back seat was seatbeltless and cramped without adequate head or leg room. We embarked on a twelve hour journey over rough, narrow, winding roads with Tendi, Brenda and I crammed into the back seat. Jim took the front seat and with that responsibility of co-driver. He helped our wonderful driver spot trucks and busses roaring around blind corners on our side of the road, encouraged a slightly more sedate speed and upon our return helped navigate through dense fog. Thank you Jim!
The trip from Kathmandu to Khamding is not for the faint of heart. We bounced along roads with broken edges that twisted above precipitous drops. The road is generally wide enough for one and a half vehicles. Passing oncoming traffic requires considerable skill from the drivers and elicits a degree of nervousness from the passengers.
Due to our late start we could not make the trip in one day. We stopped just before night fall in Okhaldhunga. This is an unattractive truck stop ramble-sham place with no redeeming qualities other than the kind and gentle hotel owner who welcomed us to his humble establishment with slippers and a roll of toilet paper for each of our three rooms.
The next morning before our departure, the owner wanted group photos and draped khatas around all our necks. Very lovely gesture.
We duly arrived in Khamding after enduring the final few kms along a wildly bumpy dirt track. We stopped on the way for some magnificent views of Mount Everest.
After the required cup of tea at Tendi’s brother’s place, we trooped down to Tendi and Lhamu’s farm. On the way I met Nawa, my porter from my first trek in Nepal a few years ago. He’s recently returned from working for three years in Malaysia in a kitchen. He now has a house, farm land and three cows and is very happy to be home with his wife and son.
Soon two tents were set up on Tendi and Lhamu’s front terrace for Doug and Joanne and Jim and Claire. Brenda and I are sharing the family’s accommodation in the dining room.
I popped down to the next farm house to visit with Tendi’s mum and dad. The others joined us and we sat in the sun of their courtyard while mama made us hard boiled eggs. Papa gave us each a blessing then we returned back up to Tendi and Lhamu’s for lunch.
Being served food and drink is an integral part of a visit to a Sherpa village.
After lunch we head up to the school for a ceremony. We have contributed the funds to purchase 85 back packs for the school children. Tendi has had them made and emblazoned with “Sponsored by Canadian Friends” by an organization supporting children with disabilities. We’ve also bought enough exercise books and pens for each child to receive three of each. Comox Avenue Dental Clinic has donated 250 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste so we will be handing those out as well. Friends of Jim’s and my friend Marianne have also made financial donations.
We arrive through a red and white arch and as we walk in we are showered with marigold petals. We take our seats. We have chairs. The dignitaries have chairs. The children and several parents sit in a large circle on benches.The speeches begin. They go on and on. We are all draped with khatas and marigold garlands until mounds of them are piled around our necks and heads. Then more speeches. And more speeches. And longer speeches. Between the speeches children sing and dance. Thankfully the sun shines warmly and it’s not windy so we sit comfortably and patiently wait for the speakers to run out of things to say. What they are on about is a mystery as we understand only a very few words. Every once in a while we here “Canada” and Tendi’s name is mentioned several times.
Finally it is time to give out the gifts.
We line up and hand out the gifts to every child in the village. Even the toddlers are getting backpacks. This is not quite as expected, but what is in Nepal?
We have enough toothbrushes and toothpaste to give to many parents as well. Dental hygiene here is generally really poor so this is a good thing! Jim and I make the financial donations at the end.
We remove our heavy loads of garlands and climb up to Uncle Lakpa’s smoke filled house for tea. Lakpa was our assistant guide on the trek. Various of our porters were also in attendance at the ceremony. Kumar’s Dad is the school principal. My guide, Puri, from previous treks came down and is now stoking the fire for boiling water.
We sit in the smoky room and drink tea until our eyes smart and we’re coughing, then head back to Lhamu and Tendi’s place.
Soon Pasang – Brenda’s porter – is cooking us dinner with Nima’s assistance. Nima is Tendi’s youngest son and was my porter.
Are you getting the sense that this is a village affair?
We’re all in bed pretty early and once they’ve got us Canadians safely out of the way, the family cooks their own dinner and gathers in the kitchen.
The next day we walk up to visit the village’s new Gompa. A Gompa is a monastery. It has a meeting room downstairs and the prayer room above. It was funded and built by the villagers. There is still some more interior painting to be done and the building is clearly a work of community cooperation and pride.
Our next stop is to see the new hospital which is being built on the other side of town. We were fascinated to see the cinder building bricks being made from scratch two at a time. Labour intensive. The hospital seems like it will be quite large once it’s complete but there are currently only cinder brick walls with door and window frames. Everyone seems to think it will be complete within a three months. I can’t see that happening.
We stop in at Lakpa for tea which becomes lunch – this time we’re sent upstairs in a smoke free room. Lakpa, Pasang, Nima, Tendi and Puri are all involved in the cooking and serving. As usual once we are dealt with, they look after their own needs.
This is always disconcerting. As guests, we are served first and separately. Nothing we can do can change this custom.
Our next stop is to the Medical clinic where I deliver a donation made by Marianne. This is gratefully received but with no ceremony as a woman awaits treatment for her crushed fingers.
On our way back to Tendi and Lhamu’s we make an impromptu stop at the school visiting a couple of class rooms and disrupting a class six English lesson. There are six of us and seven students.
Back at Tendi’s we take on the task of cutting fire wood for Lhamu. She has just received a smokeless stove. This is part of an initiative to decrease smoke in villages and homes. The idea is brilliant but the design not so. The stove is smaller than her old clay oven. She doesn’t have the familiar cooking surfaces to prepare food,she has less space and the wood needs to be half the already cut length.
It is labour intensive to gather enough wood for a cold winter. Now cutting all the wood for these new stoves will take twice as long as the pieces need to be shorter. Who figured that efficiency out? As I say – brilliant idea, lousy execution.
We have a fun wood sawing party and soon a new wood stack of shorter wood rises. This gift of doing something feels exactly right. We don’t get it all cut because Lhamu asks us to stop after a few hours but we’ve certainly saved her a lot of work.
We gather in the kitchen, drink tea and kibitz while Pasang, Nima, Lakpa and Tendi make us momos for dinner. This is labour intensive and takes considerable time. Tendi had asked us earlier if we wanted chicken and as some of us are vegetarian, we’ve said no to the chicken. He’s relayed this message to the potential provider of the bird.
We enjoy the best momos of the trip then the campers retire to their tents while Brenda and I play cards with Nima in the dining room.
Mysterious happenings take place outside. Suddenly Tendi opens his side door and retrieves a chicken carcass and enormous curved knife.
I’m so shocked I scream at the alarming sight of blood and bits dripping from the bird.
Tendi rushes it into the kitchen and there it is soon being chopped to bits by Lakpa and Pasang. We can hear the thumping as they do the butchering.
Tendi is not too happy. He keeps telling us he’s sorry for this terrible thing. Lhamu doesn’t eat meat, neither does Nima. Tendi doesn’t eat it on day of slaughter. Lakpa and Pasang seem to not want to eat it either, yet they spend some time cooking the thing in Lhamu’s pressure cooker. Later, Brenda and I are presented with bowls of chicken soup. She doesn’t eat meat, and is totally horrified as she looks into the bowl and sees the bony chunks of chicken floating around. I’m full from dinner and am still disturbed by the bloody and sudden arrival. We decline.
The chicken remains in the pressure cooker for the rest of the night and is still there when we leave the village at two p.m. the following day.
It seems a teacher wanted us to have a chicken and didn’t take our “no thanks” seriously. Now poor Lhamu is left with having to get rid of the mess and restore her dear rice cooker to its former greaseless state.
On our last day we go for a walk up to Pasang’s house – it takes about an hour to get there.
We enjoy a delicious lunch of dhal bhat – again in isolation from the family. It really is a different way of being entertained.
After walking back it’s time to leave. Soon we are up at the vehicle, more khatas are being draped around our necks and then we head back towards Kathmandu.
We stop in Okhaldhunga for the night and are in Kathmandu by 3:30 the next day. (Yesterday)
We celebrate our safe return with beers and french fries before going out for dinner.
Today Brenda, Doug and Joanne and I did some last bits of shopping then spent the afternoon relaxing in the serene Garden of Dreams. While there, I wrote this.
I’ve not proof read. It’s time to shower and pack last things before heading for dinner then to the airport for our journey home.
Apologies for the many typos – the iPad isn’t the easiest thing to write on!
I expect this will be the last missive from this trip.
I will try to send some pictures from Hong Kong if the internet is good enough.
By the way – I received an email this morning telling me that my book – Pomegranates at 4800 Metres is published and will be shipped for arrival on 23 November.
Yet an other adventure is about to begin! The owner of my favourite bookstore in Kathmandu told me today they will carry the books.
Good night from Kathmandu. Thank you for reading and for your comments. Apologies for not responding to them all. Poor internet has made it difficult to do so.