Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Manaslu Part 15

I’ve lived in four countries, and my passport holds the stamps of over two-dozen sovereign nations, but never before had I seen anything like Kathmandu. Scott who, on the other hand, had never before traveled outside of North America seemed to take the chaos dust and grime of Nepal’s capitol city in stride, as though this is what you should expect when leaving the home shores.

Brian had honeymooned in Nepal, and had warned me about the Kathmandu street hawkers, but I must say they were second rate compared to the wizards who worked the streets of Istanbul. When my wife and I visited Turkey we weren’t five hours into the country when we found ourselves in a dingy upstairs warehouse haggling over the price of a hand-knotted rug. The boys cruising the streets of Kathmandu were just that – boys – and you could buy whatever they were selling for less than the price of an American hamburger. I came home with a modest pile of trinkets. Dan, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well, I think he had to purchase an extra bag just to carry home all of his curbside purchases. Dan’s big heart and natural kindness towards children made him a standout target. Jerome, on the other hand, has no kids and didn’t lose his good sense when confronted with big brown eyes; he is also a politician. Often one of us would return to the hotel proud of a deal we had struck with a particularly tenacious vendor only to find Jerome sitting behind a Diet Coke holding a similar or better item for which he had paid half.

On the morning of our second day in Kathmandu Tashi, Khan Cha, Ki Kami and Kusang arrived at the hotel as we were having breakfast. In Kathmandu morning is the best time. You can eat breakfast outside, dressed in shorts and a light shirt, but the air is cool enough to appreciate a warm mug of coffee between your palms. Tashi sat down and accepted our offer of coffee while the three sherpas stood off to the side like bodyguards. “I will take you to the Bodnath,” he said, before adding, “we should go quickly.”

The Bodnath is one of Kathmandu’s great Buddhist temples, or Gampas. The structure is a white hemisphere roughly one hundred feet in diameter with what at first appears to be a chimney jutting up from its center, painted onto this chimney, which isn’t a chimney, are the ever watchful eyes of Buddha. The morning sun shinning through the loosely woven prayer flags and the burgundy-robed monks threw me into a frenzy of cameras, lenses, filters and film – many of my most sacred travel experiences have been seen through the lens of my Nikon. I looked up after slipping in a new roll of film to discover that I had become separated from Tashi and my teammates, I spun around and there fifteen yards away stood Kusang, hands behind his back a patient grin on his face. He motioned me in the correct direction and together we caught up with the group.

Mere university economics could not explain the dedication shown to us by our staff. You can’t buy a man’s heart, but that’s what they gave. Time and hardship expose us for what we are, and what I learned about every man we hired - Ki Kami, Kusang, Khan Cha, Ngawang, Krishna and our three kitchen boys: Preem, Potem and Myla - was that not only were they dedicated, loyal, and hardworking, but more importantly by the end of the trip I counted each one as my friend. You can fake a lot in life, but you can’t fake a friend during a mountaineering expedition.

Though their actions didn’t betray this, I felt as though our three sherpas viewed us naïve and somewhat silly. Together these three men had worked on over forty expeditions and to them we couldn’t have been more than another troop of spoiled Americans with no better way to spend our time and money. I am saying nothing disparaging when I say that I think our sherpas simply wanted to safely high mark us at around Camp 1 and then get back to their lives. Big talk and money might buy you respect in the United States, but it is muscle, resolve and action that earn you a place on the short list of these men. Later, during the trek, I told Brian that my greatest desire from this trip would be to come away with the respect of our sherpas.

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