Didi? You like tea?’
Som, my Nepalese guide of
many years, knows me well. The lodge is cosy and warm, with flasks
glowing on the shelves, salted tea, butter tea, milk tea, lemon tea. I
settle for the latter under the inquisitive glare of the resident goat.
Blackened pots bubble in the hearth, chicken heads and scraps of buffalo
meat hang from the rafters.
‘Only five days walk to my
native village,’ babbles Som, ‘and we will meet older sister.’
its back on the Everest trail, the Solu Khumbu nestles down valley, off
the beaten track. Mint and violets grow among blue pines and as we climb
through scattered villages with no beginning or end, we find wild
strawberries, monkeys, a 'white snake' flying across the path and
luminous terraces chiselled out of the earth.
Progress is delightfully
slow. Som knows everyone, the lady on a week’s hike to Paphlu to phone
her son , the boy monks preparing to master the sacred horns, by blowing
bubbles in plastic bowls. the pretty Sherpani who gives us lumps of
mashed potato drying in the yard, the lama, the cowherd, the 'walking
haystack', the schoolchildren who will deliver the letters we brought
from relatives in Kathmandu.
lady’, the word spreads fast. We are invited in smoky homes and all day
long, plied with tea and potatoes straight from the embers. In Bitakarga,
the whole village comes to greet us. Cold nettle soup is passed around
and soon the party is on, singing and dancing under the stars. Two days
later it’s a wedding and another potato feast. The groom is 26, the
bride 12, a sad little thing who will be whizzed away to Kathmandu next
morning. Her grandfather, who claims to be 101, watches from his bed in
the corner, mumbling as he spins a rag prayer wheel.
Most nights, we stay in
people’s homes. ‘Can we cook on your fire?’ asks Som, ‘can we rest here
tonight?’ Everyone sleeps on benches, head to toe along the walls.
wake up with a start. A huge shadow lurks at my feet, groaning in the
dark. Can’t find my torch, Som jumps to the rescue.
‘Didi,’ he giggles, ‘it’s
only the buffalo tied to your bed. Keeps him safe after dark!’ I dive
into my sleeping bag and return to uneasy dreams.
comes in shades of pink and gold and at a humble 3000 metres, the trail
winds through open land, past chortens and mani walls and tall flags
which scatter their prayers to the wind.
‘The apple tree, Didi,
look. I planted it when I was a boy.’ The tree is in full bloom and Som
twitters like a bird. His native house has long gone but he has built a
shrine for his parents and hung ram’s horns in his Kathmandu home to
honour his father who was a shepherd.
plan to stop mid-afternoon but news travel fast. A little boy comes
running down the hill: ‘Please, Uncle, come and stay with us tonight. My
Mother is so happy.’ The child picks up my bag and gambols like a goat.
His is the last house in Dzughe at the top of the trail.
Maita has not seen her
brother for four years. Wearing her coral necklace and best nose ring,
she offers many ‘Namaste’ and beams at my photos of Som’s wife and
children. Later we have a feast, with meat in the curry pot and much
laughing and hugging and sharing of news. We stay up late, gazing into
the fire, wishing the evening would never end. The sky is full of stars
and now and then, the haunting sound of a bamboo flute echoes in the
valley. But that night, the buffalo stays out in the field.
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The Holiday Magazine