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The Gokyo Trek – Leg III

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Day 9 – Thore to Phortse

I halted at a twist just above Phortse, walked out onto an outcrop and plonked myself down. Just for the view and all there was in it. In the terrible, murderously sharp ridges of Thamserku. The deep clefts running down to the rivers. The meagre settlements perched where these ridges eased out, their square gombas offering some solace in the midst of such giant wildness.

It was so overwhelming when one paused to really look, how could I have room for the mundane thoughts of the everyday, let alone the abstractions of the future? I just sat there and looked, crunching on some welcome Trekker’s Granola.

Then back down for a hot shower at the big, red-roofed, well-organised Peacefull Lodge in Phortse. After a week of sticky sleep and smelly socks, I cannot say just how cleansed and liberated I felt. Warming myself in the late afternoon sun, I chatted to an older porter. A Frenchman approached and asked me to ask the porter if he wanted some boxers and socks. He did. ‘Tell him they need to be washed first,’ he warned as he handed over his gifts, smiling benevolently. You fool, I thought. But it was not my privilege to be offended.

As I sat there, the porters complained about their treatment at the hands of the locals. I felt vaguely uncomfortable, as one of the few Nepalis paying from the menu, and, it was implied, being treated decently only because of it. Still, they argued, compared to ten years ago it’s like heaven.

Day 10 – Phortse via Tengboche to Naamche Bazaar



After a foolish detour from Phortse that had me backtracking almost all the way from Pangboche (and rewarded with gorgeous full frontals of Ama Dablam), I got to Tengboche past midday. I pushed into the jam-packed, square gomba courtyard, where unfolded the masked dances one by one. As the venerables presided with chants, drums, cymbals and longhorns, skeletons and demons took their turn to dip and twirl across the flagstones. Old Man came out with his stick and proceeded to harass the crowd, picking out two tourists for special mistreatment which they bore admirably. They scuttled up rickety ladders to receive their scarves from the lamas after a extended run of slapstick kicks and random humiliations. And why not? The audience must get its due.




A plate of sour curd and an assortment of snacks later, handed out generously by the gomba, a fearsome octet emerged to solemn blares. Bhairab-like demons, wide-eyed feminine visages with huge, carved grins and disconcerting blind-eyed horrors arrayed in a fantastic spectrum of colours and armed with voodoo dolls, a half-skull, spears and knives went about their business when whooomphh! A sigh of horror sprang up from the very stones and we turned to see a lanky white-haired tourist splayed out on the ground, the women and children shrinking away as if he were an abomination. His friends rushed in. The fool had fallen 10 feet from the balcony into the courtyard, almost onto the women. While he lay fainting I watched horrified, a chill in me as much to do with the demon dance, which didn’t miss a beat. But the dancers turned to look; they were human after all. Eventually, the unfortunate sat up with a cup of tea, and nervous laughter broke out. All was well. I left soon after for Naamche.


Day 11 & 12 – Naamche Bazaar to Lukla to Kathmandu

And back again. Naught of note except I was in a hurry, and had no time for the slow-moving yaks and trekkers going both ways. Or ignorant locals. Stopping at Phakding for a terribly bland plate of chowmein, I was irked more than usual when the proprietor wondered if I really was Nepali. Tapai ta same Indian, she added for good measure. If you went down to the south, you’d be same Chinese, I retorted, but my point was lost on her. Tapai ta same Indian, she insisted, wrapped up in her ethnocentrism.

It was a long, sweaty day back to Lukla. I had no time for this town of hotels. Last night in the Himalayas, cheered the banners inviting returnees to parties. All I wanted was to get back home. My day was done.

Thanks to my solitary stay at the very ordinary Base Camp Hotel, whose proprietor is also the main man in Yeti Airline’s Lukla office, the next morning was as smooth as silk. On a signal the chosen scampered down to the tarmac, where the flying Yeti disgorged a fresh set of eager beavers. Just as quickly, we were pushed onto the plane (quickly please, urged the stewardess) and I’d barely got my belt tightened before we were on-air, and (those of us on the right side) admiring the view we’d just spent the last fortnight in. An admiring hour later, we skimmed down through the blanket of fog that was the Kathmandu Valley. The dirty ramshackle familiarity of my hometown grinned crookedly up at me.

Off the plane, I could make out a near-translucent Langtang behind the hazy northern contours of the Valley. A world away, once again. The Himalaya may as well have been a mirage…had I not known the dust of the trails threading around its fresh valleys of ice and snow…where it is cold and much, much more.


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