A TRIP TO SOLUKHUMBU
We waited long for the plane to arrive. While half of our group, including myself, had already landed in Lukla, half were supposed to come in the next flight. The clouds would not allow the plane to pass through, and with flying more dependent on the vision and intelligence of the pilot rather than on technology, we had no option but to wander around the airport keeping a constant lookout on the clouds. Waiting alongside were a group of Russian tourists who also had some friends arriving in the same flight. Thanks to the changed political scenario in the country, the runway was the place where we all stood, staring up at the skies for the clouds to open up. Previously, certain places used to be out of bounds, but now, in the name of freedom, suddenly every place is accessible, and every action doable.
As if to spur up the otherwise dull atmosphere, a stray dog began running across the sloped runway, and soon two more joined the party. A policeman guarding the airport attempted to drive them away, on his senior’s orders. The dogs ran aimlessly, almost in circles, and refused to leave a little outlet in the fenced runway of the uniquely built Lukla airport. The policeman picked up some stones and started hitting the dogs. A couple of his throws missed the dogs before a stone hit one of them right on the back. The dog made a loud squeaking noise and managed to draw everyone’s attention. Almost instantaneously, the Russians thronged into the heart of the runway. They almost attempted to bring the policeman down by overpowering him. A girl screamed right in his face “Isn’t non- violence something that your country preaches?” The policeman just stood calmly. I am not quite sure whether he even understood whatever was said to him, as he just kept mum, even daring to smile after some time. Or it could be that he disagreed with the question. Whatever the case be, the trip to the mountains started on a memorable note.
It turned out to be perfect.
After having breakfast began the walk. It was magnificent. One was invariably reminded of the phrase ‘far from the madding crowd’. The feeling that for the next couple of days I could dedicate my life to myself, was overwhelming. The breath of fresh air and clean, open environment was a harsh reminder of the fact that life in the city, in most ways, had very little to offer, even though we always harp about ‘development’. As I walked, I saw hundreds of trekkers pass by, who never failed to say ‘Namaste’ once they got close. With each group of trekkers was a group of porters who walked almost silently, carrying heavy luggage on dokos. One could only imagine the strength of their shoulders and necks, for often the sheer size of their luggage appeared almost too much to carry, even for a taxi in the city.
For a moment, I must admit, it just did not feel nice. While the tourists walked around savoring the beauty of the hills and the air, along walked a group of people who seemed to have no right to enjoy the place they were fortunate to have been born in. To cut the story short, I felt like I was an audience to modern-day slavery. But then, this was something that gave many Nepalis a means to livelihood, and the porters were employed in their profession not by design, but by choice. If only we were not this poor, I thought, and walked on.
We rested for a night in a place called Phakding, which lies on the bank of one of the tributaries of Saptakoshi. There were some Australian couples, a retired army general from Indian army with his grandchildren, and a group of Slovak students at the big dinner table of the hotel’s restaurant. We all had managed to get introduced with each other while we waited for dinner, sipping beers at 400 rupees per bottle.
As we got to know each other better, soon everyone began sharing their travel experiences, which seemed to cover almost two-thirds of the globe. And the funny part of the whole conversation, at least to me, was that except for the four Nepalis in that room, everyone else had already been to this place before. The Australians had been here almost six times, and over the last twelve years, had succeeded in bringing along 25-30 people residing in the suburban area of Perth. It was then that realization dawned upon us that the Himalaya is not just a numerical value of 8848. And while Jim explained the trail over the spread-out map on the table, the signs of embarrassment on our faces got more prominent.
Except for the four Nepalis in that room, everyone else, including the children, had already been to this place before.
The next morning, we walked up to Namche Bazar. The place somehow took me by surprise, I had imagined that Namche lay atop a hill from where you could see Everest. Rather, it lay on the slopes of a hill, almost like a baby in a mother’s cuddle. After a heavy duty meal and a light nap, we readied ourselves for a walk over the trail encircling Namche. After a couple of hours, we found ourselves in one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to, Khumjung.
The village of Khumjung, nestled in the lap of the divine Khumbila Mountain, was also referred to as Edmund village. The picturesque settings of the village were perfect, to say the least. As my colleague put it, if any Nepali were to be directly air dropped in this particular village and told that this was Switzerland, chances were there that the person would believe it. It had almost everything that any human habitation required. One had to pause and remind oneself that here was a place completely inaccessible by roads, and yet had each and every thing that one could think of. And yet, there are a number of places in the country accessible by every possible route (highways/airports) where the facilities are still bare minimum. There was a lesson to be learnt here, although I am not sure what exactly. ‘Commitment’, for one, crossed my mind.
By the time we returned to the hotel in Namche, it was almost pitch dark. The day had certainly been an eye opener in many ways. With a plan of sipping our morning coffee looking at the mighty Everest, we all headed to our rooms.
It was not even 36 hours, and yet it felt like I had learnt the lesson of my lifetime.