Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Friday, March 4, 2011

Manaslu Part 21

Krishna took our gastrointestinal health as a matter of pride and though I felt, as Brian described it, “a little drippy,” I was keeping my food down and feeling fit. Krishna wasn’t some hack who one day decided to become a base camp cook, instead he was highly trained, extremely sanitary and as finicky as a French chef. Krishna was a trekking sirdar and an expedition chef and he had been in the business long enough to know the value of return customers and word of mouth advertising. He also worked as hard as an Iowa hog farmer; here is how his day went:

4:30 AM: Wake up, light the kerosene stoves and begin heating water.
5:00 AM: Breakfast and tea for Ngawang and sherpas.
5:30 AM: Set the breakfast table.
6:00 AM: Send Preem out to each tent with hot tea.
6:00-7:00 AM: Cook full breakfast of porridge, Spam, eggs, fried potatoes, flatbread
7:00-7:30 AM: Try to please Americans, boil water for water bottles and washing.
7:30-8:30 AM: Clean dishes and cooking utensils, disassemble and pack kitchen.
8:30-11:00 AM: Run on the trail in order to pass Americans and to set up and begin lunch.
11:00-12:00: Cook two hot lunches: one for staff (dhal bhat) and one for Americans. Carry water from stream to kitchen.
12:00-12:30 PM: Serve lunch, boil water for water bottles and clean up.
12:30-1:00 PM: Clean dishes and pack up.
1:00-4:00 PM: Run on the trail in order to pass Americans, arrive at destination and set up kitchen.
4:00-5:00 PM: Set up dining tent, prepare teatime for Americans and procure some local food.
5:00-7:30 PM: Cook two dinners: one for staff (dhal bhat) and one for Americans.
7:30-8:00 PM: Boil water for clean up and put finishing touches on some sort of spectacular desert.
8:00-9:30 PM: Clean up, ferry water from the village tap or local stream, and get ready to do it all over again.

One thing I should clarify regarding the aforementioned schedule, when I write that Krishna and his staff “ran” up the trail I use the word “ran” literally. Because they had to clean up after breakfast and lunch the kitchen crew began their morning and afternoon hikes more than an hour behind, but they always managed to pass us and have Tang ready when we arrived for lunch or at our stopover village. One of my favorite memories of the trek is hearing Myla’s clear singing accompanied by the clang and rattle of the mobile kitchen as Krishna and his staff jogged on by.

Myla was a nineteen-year-old Tamung on his second mountaineering expedition. Myla didn’t want to spend his life as a kitchen boy and was attending a sherpa training school organized by Nepalese Mountaineering Association. It was no coincidence that Myla had taken employment in a company owned by Tashi Sherpa, the director of the NMA. Myla was the son of a farmer and came from a village near Mt. Everest and before his arrival in Kathmandu he had never seen an electric light nor enjoyed indoor plumbing. Back in Kathmandu Brain and I met Myla waiting on the curb outside of the Kathmandu Guest House. He had left base camp early in order to accompany and cook for Shiva who decided to evacuate due to an increased Maoist threat, so when Myla learned that we had returned he went to our hotel, sat on the curb and waited. We took him out to dinner that night and when the waiter handed him a menu he whispered to Brian “what is for Brian sir?”

When Brian asked Kusang, our strongest sherpa, if any of his four sons were going to become sherpas, he said emphatically, “No! My children go to school.” The income he made as a high altitude mountaineering sherpa financed the education of his children. Myla was one generation behind. Every member of our staff bent their back so their sons and daughters wouldn’t have to.

You will not find a fat man or woman in rural Nepal. As I’ve written earlier I believe that both our staff and our porters saw us as very soft and in need of pampering. The best way to reinforce the presumption of laziness is to sleep late, so I made it my goal to be out of the tent before Preem could shove that hot cup of six o-clock tea through the zippered doorway. Being surrounded by such strong and loyal people made it easy to adopt a “great white hunter” attitude – “say boy fetch me my boots,” but I think that would have only diminished us in the eyes of our sherpa co-climbers. Summits are expensive, not simply financially, but also in terms of time, pain and risk, but one price I was unwilling to pay was the respect of my fellow climbers. I was determined to win the respect of our staff though a continual demonstration of strength, commitment, loyalty and competence. At one point during the climb I confided in Brian that I didn’t care as much about the summit as I did about earning the respect of Kusang, Ki Kami and Kha Cha.

Being out of the tent by five thirty allowed me to witness and photograph the packing and departure of our porters. Low in the valley the afternoon temperature often exceeded one hundred degrees – on one occasion my thermometer read one hundred and eleven Fahrenheit - so the porters, wanting to make as much distance in the cool air as possible, were on the trail by six, and didn’t eat their first meal until nine.

We wouldn’t get on the trail till seven thirty, our stomachs bulging after a breakfast of porridge, fresh eggs, flatbread and Spam. Two hours later we’d catch up with the porters as they gathered in groups of three or four around twig-fed cooking fires. Men and women shared equally in the preparation of dhal bhat. Dhal is a thin spicy stew made primarily of lentils while bhat is steamed white rice; the combination is standard fare in rural Nepal. Krishna prepared dhal bhat twice a day for the staff, but was convinced that no American would tolerate the stuff. It was delicious, especially with a little goat, yak or water buffalo meat, but it took considerable begging to get a little for ourselves.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides: and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Tennyson, Ulysses

No comments: