When I thought of visiting Mount Everest I truly thought I was headed to the peak. Oh yeah, I had my Aussie flag packed to stick into the summit. I was even concerned about whether my camera would work in such harsh conditions.
Alas, I did some further reading and realised that journey would require a better jacket and infinitely greater experience. I would not be getting so deep in the snow.
My expectations of the hike to Everest base camp and the Cho-Las Pass nearby were limited by my ignorance and lack of research. Looking back, it was definitely the hardest, most gruelling physical challenge I have ever taken part in. That was not superbly surprising.
There were a feww surprises. The enthusiasm the porters showed for shovelling snow was top of my list.
The porters in the Khumbu (Everest) region blew my mind. Originally I had planned to carry my own backpack, but I struggled to get it off the conveyor belt and through customs and I didn’t rate my chances of getting it up a mountain. Reluctantly, I decided to particiapte in the Nepalese systems which demands the men and women carry huge loads on their back and heads, often wrecking their spines. I saw one sturdy young chap carrying 116kgs. In thongs!
I’m still not sure of the moralities and wonder whether I made the right decision to hire a porter. What I am happy about is that I met Manbadhur. He was a real character with a twinkle in his cheeky eyes, a penchant for the local rice wine, a very handy sense of direction, a deviousness with cards and a bag of roasted corn that he’d share.
Often the porters help out at the lodges. I’m not sure if this was community spirit or to earn their keep. But, on day seven, the snow shovelling that was entertaining the rabble of porters enticed me. It seemed a good team-building exercise.
It’s a suprisingly satisfying activity, if a little precarious in thongs. An honest day’s work, Shorn Lowry would probably say.
Nepalese people are habitually hospitable, I reckon. I passed one sign in Kathmandu that read “Tourist is God.”
I was not entirely comfortable with the approach. My egalitarian nature took over and produced some interesting results. Manbadhur and I had a ball with some shovels and a decent patch of snow that needed to be moved. We might as well have been slugging back tequila shots and eating tacos, it was that fun.
But, the owner was quite embarassed and begged me to stop helping. Naturally, I obliged, at least once the good photo opportunities were exhausted and the bottoms of my last pair of fresh pants were sopping wet.
And, with all the snow gone, the next day Manbadhur joined us for the day hike up the Gokyo Ri, a spectacular mountain overlooking the world’s highest freshwater lakes (at least that’s what the sign says).
I enquired about taking a dip in the lake, but our conservative guide informed me that’s it’s Holy and swimming, of course, would contaminate that Holiness. I guess I can get my hypothermia fix elsewhere.
And, even though I did not stand atop the mighty Everest, I did glimpse it a few times. The first was after the gruelling pre-dawn, pre-breakfast hike up Gokyo Ri.
The surprise here was how close it looked. And how barren Everest is compared to its close neighbours.
Of course, Manbadhur was by our side. He may have forgotten his shovel, but could still pose like a Playboy model.