It has been a slow ascent from Phakding to Namche. There have been suspension bridges on metal cords, Tibetan prayer flags, horses and mules carrying food, checkpoints with tourists taking breaks, catching their breath, and sipping on coffee, and many, many rocks to step on as we climb upwards, towards Namche Bazaar, a small town where we are headed today.
It is spring. Rhododendrons trees are in bloom, and it is cold here. Probably below 0 Celsius degree early morning and night. Last night, a goose I never met saved my life. A down sleeping bag kept me warm overnight.
As we walk this morning, we hear Sherpa villagers speaking Nepali. They work as porters and guides. They walk by, with bags of food, pots, and pans for tourists and restaurant owners up the mountain. Some assist mountaineers by carrying their backpacks for them. Most impressive of all is a Sherpa man, of short stature, wearing flip-flops and socks, who carries 90 kilograms on his back. He climbs for a small pay that will give him enough food for a few weeks.
I gain so much respect for these men. They walk fast, faster than I, carrying so much, much more than my two friends, guide, and I combined. I wonder how many times they have climbed from valley to peak. How many steps, how many breaths, how many breaks, how many spoons of rice, bottles of water with sugary orange-flavored owder and milk tea to keep themselves warm. How many Nepali songs on their small set of speakers hanging down their shirt pockets, heading towards the small pay of 35 Nepali rupees per kilogram of stuff, just to give their family nourishment for the month, rice for dinner, and momos for lunch.
Mid-day, we stop for lunch. Dal Bhat (a Nepalese combination of lentils, rice and vegetables) is served, and the owner comes by often to ask if we would like more. My favorite type of restaurant. The hospitality, the wish to make sure we’ve had enough reminds me of grandma, of home.
Afternoon comes now, and there is plenty more to walk. Fatigue is saying hello to me now, and so have the effects of altitude. We are now above 3,000 meters above shore. I walk slowly. The air up here is thin, thinner than what I’m used to breathing. Time is a gift. Step by step, I proceed.
Then, moments of stillness. I hear the river, feel the sun on my skin and the cool breeze of the Himalayan valley blowing. The wind recites prayers from the Tibetan flags hanging off trees and suspension bridges that we cross. Bridges that keep us from falling, installed by people we never met. We humans continuously save each other’s lives and seldom realize.
At the end of the day, there it is. Our first glimpse of Everest before arriving at Namche, 3440m above shore The tallest mountain on earth is now at sight, standing tall above clouds, in front of the bluest sky I’ve ever seen in my life. Fatigue has been a close companion now, after over 6 hours of walking. but I’m glad to see what I see here. Finally, we arrive. There it is a warm cup of tea.