“You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.” ― Tom Hiddleston
We went deep into Sherpa territory when we visited Nepal last time. “People are so focussed on Everest that they overlook the other beautiful peaks in the area,” Suman sighs. He points down at the pass that would take adventurers to the start of the trail to Everest base camp before they build an airfield high up in the mountains, one of the most challenging landing zones in the world. “Everyone just gets on a plane to Lukla nowadays, the pass forgotten.” I look at the trail, a small stripe of grey in a muddy landscape, far down the mountain we are ascending on our way to Pique. Typical. We’re all so focused on reaching our destination that the journey there hardly matters anymore. A plane flies by in the distance, it is way below us; we watch it until the sound of the engine dies out.
Winter started setting in this high up the mountains, or maybe it had never left here in the first place; eternal snow leaking its way through our boots when we cross the frozen pastures where the yaks graze. We encountered only one up close so far, and the effort it took Nima to get rid of it so we could continue our way had made my heart beat a little faster. It was an enormous male with a dark coat and massive horns. It was resting when we bumped into it. I remembered the encounter we had with another four legged tank on my first trip to Nepal; a buffalo in Chitwan, which I had apparently offended deeply by mimicking its behaviour. We ended up running from it while hoping for the farmer to wake up and work some magic with his stick. The yak in front of us now was twice the size of that pissed off buffalo in Chitwan and this time I was less cocky, grabbing Rob by the arm and telling him to be still while Nima dealt with the animal in a sensible way.
“My flatland lungs are not made for this,” I complain, waving my hand at my companions who stopped again to wait for me. “Please just continue, I will get there when I get there.” I looked up at Rob’s slightly concerned face when he mumbled: “You’re ill.” He had a point. I had just finished a course of antibiotics, tablets which I had bought for 70 rupees by handing over a piece of paper with the name of the prescribed drugs they pump into me back home in England. A self diagnosed UTI, yet again. I was already stressed on the flight here, trying not to let Rob know. Rob was the seasoned traveler of the two of us. Whenever I named a place on my to go list he had already been there.
By the end of the day Nima and Suman go ahead. The last stretch was uphill only and I could no longer keep up with them. Rob stayed behind with me, keeping an eye out by supposedly taking a picture of a half dark forest every two seconds. It started drizzling. The forest looked magical, surrounded by these giants of mountains. We can’t believe our luck. It is absolutely quiet except for the rustling of the trees and the falling of the rain. The sun was going down and we are both silent by the magic that surrounds us. After a little while Nima came back looking for us and after some negotiations he takes my backpack. This is the thing with Nima and Suman, they are always there, looking out for us, but never making it obvious, never denting our dignity or pride, like the good parent you only read about in fairytales.
We stay with Ratna and Amrita that night. The two women are mother and daughter and they opened their home to us, 3000+ meters above sea level and fairly close to Pique. The facilities for the tourists are there, considering the close proximity to the old Everest trail, but there are simply no tourists any more. We don’t speak their language, but we communicate with them anyway, we are all the same after all. We laugh about the same things, are in awe about the same things, share food and drink. Suman is entertaining. He is playing songs on his phone. They are a mix of Eastern and Western. He is the gateway to another world for many of the Nepalese we meet. He brings the tourists, the money, the exposure. Everywhere he goes he is treated like a respected elder, but he is only 31 years old, born in the same year I was born, 1984, and worlds apart. I remember when I first met him, we were with a small group of random Dutchmen. Suman and me were the only ones that stayed behind in the bar in Pokhara after our travel companions all headed back to the hotel after one drink. We jumped on Nepalese and English music and ended our evening on the roof of our hotel, with the stars hovering over our heads, sharing one last cigarette. He told me something that I carry with me always. He said: “You see the richness of my country, and this is why you are my sathi. You see the emotional wealth, the community spirit. I’ve been to the West and I was relieved to come home. I was relieved to see the valleys of Kathmandu again.” We talked about politics, about corruption, about brotherhood that night. We discussed it all.
It is another starry night in Nepal. Rob and I accompany each other to the toilet outside, a mere hole in the ground, with a million stars over our head. We light each other’s way with the flashlight on our phones, each taking our turns to hover over the hole. On our way back we bump into Nima. “Did you notice the falling stars?” he asks, the little light on his head shining bright, his accent thick and accompanied by an ever present giggle. “They fall so beautifully.” I blow some hot air inside my hands, and then follow his gaze up, a shooting star, and another. “Make a wish,” Nima says. “I did, a long time ago,” I replied, killing the light on my phone, “and here we are my friend, and I have nothing left to wish for.”