Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

August #BlogBattle: "Everest: One Step at a Time"

Image by mdhondt at Pixabay

 Allen paid an extra $2 for a private room when he checked into the WanderLust Hostel on his first night in Kathmandu. All he wanted was to sleep for twenty-four hours straight. Instead, he wandered downstairs to the open air patio for a snack. A few young men sat on cushioned benches, talking about how to best hike to Mount Everest. Allen took his plate of momos, delicate thumb-sized dumplings drizzled with a tangy sauce, and nodded hello to the group.

Most of the hikers were young. One man, about Allen’s age, leaned back against the wall, listening to the day hikers and adding bits of what he knew with a British accent. He might make a good hiking partner, Allen thought.

The next morning, Allen wasn’t surprised to see John at an early breakfast at 6:30 am, balancing a cup of tea with a rolled crepe filled with goat cheese and greens. 

     “Want to travel together today?” asked Allen. “Even if I’m American?”

     “I forgive you.” John nodded. “After I finish my tea, I’m ready.” He pointed to his pack by the door.

     Allen nodded – his fifty-pound pack also by the door. 

     Just outside the hostel, they caught a local bus, crowded with families with crying babies and vendors carrying racks of weaving. Live chickens, tethered together with string, squawked. Allen and John sat on their packs in the aisle for the nine-hour ride to Lukla that marked the beginning of the trail to the Everest Base Camp.

     “You travel much?” asked John.

     “My goal is to travel the world. So far, so good.” Allen didn’t talk about what pushed him away from the United States, the sense of claustrophobia he had since Viet Nam.

     “How many hours do you hike?” asked John.

     “The usual. Five, maybe six a day. That okay?”

     “Righto,” said John.

     They hopped off the bus at Lukla.

     “Time to stretch our legs. We got a short, five hour walk if we move out,” said John. 

     “Yeah. With fifty pounds on my back, I’m sure we can make it before dark – if we run.”

     As the sun edged down, Allen nodded to John. “Hey, pal. Looks like we didn’t have to run, and we get to sleep at a hostel.”

     “At this altitude, and this temperature, I didn’t think we’d be sweating so much,” said John.

     “Better wipe it off with a towel. I bet we don’t get a shower up here,” said Allen.

     At Namche, they took several days off to acclimate. Grateful for the respite from hiking, they simply napped, ate, and chatted with the locals. 

     Three days later, they strapped on their packs, anticipating each day’s climb to a higher elevation, with a brief break when the trail took them down through a valley. 

     “I don’t actually want to climb Mt. Everest,” said Allen.

     “Me either. Not at over 8,000 meters,” said John.

     “That’s 29,000 feet. I don’t think I can do that, but I want to see the mountains.” 

     John took a deep breath. “And I wouldn’t mind a cuppa.”

     They hiked past a Sherpa guide organizing a small group of tourists. Two Sherpas used a band to wrap two and three backpacks together, then loaded the packs on their backs, twisting the band around their foreheads. A fourth Sherpa loaded the remaining packs onto three gaily decorated yaks. 

     “If we hear bells when we’re on the trail, look out for yaks . . .” began Allen.

     “I know. Jump off the trail away from the downslope.” They began to laugh. Both had heard stories about hikers being brushed off the trail into the ravine below.

     “I like the sound of the bells,” said Allen. “Mostly. Especially if they’re on stupas.” Allen pointed out a small stupa beside the trail, surrounded by painted stones. “That’s a mani stone. The letters and the colors form an important mantra to Buddhists all over the world. If I remember correctly, it reads Om Mani Padme Hum.”

     “Well, what does it mean?” asked John.

     “Its meaning depends on where you are. Essentially, the saying reminds us to move from like where we are, that is not meditating, to focus on purity and how to wake up our souls. In a way, we’re then constantly on a journey to enlightenment.”

     “Sounds difficult to achieve.”

     “Yeah, but like this hike we’re on, one step leads us closer. Om Mani Padme Hum,” Allen intoned in a low voice. “Each step. Om Mani Padme Hum.”

     John struggled between laughing and trying to breathe. “Okay, Om. I’ll just say Om.”

     As they staggered closer to Base Camp, they come across a small tea house. 

     “I want some real tea,” said John. “Not those dried out bags of Tetley I’ve been carrying for months.”

     “This may be your last chance,” said Allen. 

     They stared at the little hut. “You’re sure this is a tea house?” asked John.

     “I don’t know, but I’m ready for a little coffee.”
 
     “Come in, come in,” called a little old woman, nearly bent in half and standing as high as their elbows. The two men stooped down to enter and sat by a rickety table on tiny home-made chairs. The old woman ladled their beverage from a boiling pot into two tin cups.

     Allen took a sip. “Tastes just like coffee.” 

     John stared at his cup. “What’s this white stuff on top?” 

     “No English.” The woman pointed at the white layer on top of the tea. “Curdled yak’s milk.”

     Allen drank his down. “Really good coffee.” He bowed his head to thank the old woman. 

     She nodded back and watched John as he tentatively sniffed at his cup and finally took a sip. 

     John’s face eased into a blissful smile. “That’s lovely tea. Now I’m ready to climb mountains. Om. One sip at a time.” 

Mani Stone (Wikipedia)

 Afterword: This story (967 words, just under the challenge limit of 1,000), was inspired by #BlogBattle’s challenge word for August, “tea,” and by Allen’s tales of trekking in Nepal back in the early 1970s. Today, that is, before the pandemic, about 40,000 people take the trail to Mt. Everest Base Camp each year, a sharp contrast to those less travelled times back in the 1970s. 

Both Allen and I love to travel, and in these days of stay-at-home, I enjoyed researching Nepal. Maybe someday, we’ll travel again, in search for that perfect cup of tea – and perhaps enlightenment!

Learn more about the #BlogBattle Challenge, and the rules for this month's #BlogBattle (challenge prompt = tea). Post your story by the end of this month to join in!  


14 comments:

  1. Beautiful story, Beth. I felt like I was there, with Allen, in the mountains. One day, I might be, but I would never hike any further than base camp. How far did he and John get? But, if it’s as busy as before Covid, forget it. That being said, I would like to do the Annapurna Trail or at least, visit Nepal.

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    1. I hope you are able to travel to Nepal one day. This trip was a highlight for Allen -- and writing this challenge gave me the chance to 'fictionalize' parts of his travels. He did travel alone at times and with friends along the way, and he actually did hike through those rhododendron forests and meet the local people. I would like to go to Nepal too one day. Thank you for stopping by!

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  2. Such a marvelous adventure. I'll bet you both have had adventures. Perhaps you next book should be centered upon you and Allen's travels.

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    1. Thank you, Sally. I'm glad you enjoyed this story based on Allen's adventures as he traveled around the world. Maybe someday we'll have the chance to go to Japan, a place he's never been (or me either!).

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  3. I'd say this story is enlightening! Interesting to read through with colorful little details, and I enjoyed the bit toward the end when the old woman showed she apparently knows five words of English. John's comment about one sip at a time was a great way to wrap it up!

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    1. Thank you. Allen told me about that little detail of the two hikers being invited inside because hospitality is very, very important to the Sherpas.

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  4. Fascinating journey around Katmandu and the Everest trail. Have you been there Beth? A local ex landlord here ran a restaurant there many moons ago. In fact he met his wife there... I digress...

    Yaks milk sounds like it should be a bit dubious. Not sure why, except social programming maybe. Thought the same about smoked eel until I tried it though....hmm, that was done by the restaurant chap I mentioned above.

    The dialogue brings the actual story closer to the expedition too. Very stereotypical too, John on tea and the American on coffee. Nice touch really as tea is indeed a brew that features here...although, stereotypical suggests the writer in me devours coffee too... also true ha, ha!

    I had to have a wry smile at the limited English speaking little old woman. You may not know Joshua Insole yet (Good friend I met via BlogBattle), but I had him in mind with her beckoning them into the tea hut. Except he writes horror so part of me was expecting a sinister outcome! Thankfully not though, although I hear ice loss is producing a few horror stories on Everest though sadly.

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    1. Hello, Gary. Yes, sadly, that ice is melting everywhere. Allen didn't recognize the photos I showed him of that mountain valley today. In reality, Allen drinks tea as well and hates coffee (but that's my favorite brew), so I changed the 'facts' to fit the prompt. No, I've never been to India or Nepal, and my hopes to go one day seem far out of reach. Allen did say that the yak's milk was delicious! See you around at #BlogChallenge! Have a good month.

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  5. What a great story! Hopefully we will all be traveling again soon.

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    1. Hello, Chris. Thank you! Yes, I still am hoping our worlds will return to 'normal' and we can all heal.

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  6. That was delightful. What a vacation (and more)--to hike Everest or any number of other trails. I enjoyed your story.

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    1. Thank you! May we soon be able to walk those trails and re-appreciate nature!

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  7. Lovely story, we were in Katmandu for several days and saw Everest above the clouds. A sight I will never forget.

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    1. Thank you, Donna. I may never be able to travel to Kathmandu, but that's one of the pleasures of reading and researching -- and listening to others who have! What a wonderful experience you've shared. May you continue to journey!

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