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Nepal travel report, part II

One of the most beautiful spectacles in nature is a lonely yak, wandering serenely up a steep mountain slope. I wanted to film it, but it was too far away. You will have to take my word for it.

Yaks



Urban cows
These are urban cows, supreme rulers of traffic. By day, they are slow-moving ruminators that doze in the sun. By night, they are fearless scavengers of rubbish and grime.

Cow at abyss
Cow by the abyss.

I was crouching by the edge to take a picture of the abyss when suddenly the cow emerged from behind the house. So I took a picture of the cow instead.

Into the void
After the cow had gone, the humans had a good look at the void.

Horned Cerberus
The Horned Guardian of the Path. Like Cerberus, in a way.

Donkey fuel line
Rural traffic.

Donkey pipeline
Urban traffic.

Or, as my dad put it: portable gas pipeline.

Lizard
Not a bovine, nor a ruminator, not even so much as an artiodactyl, but it fits the animal theme of this post. Plus, we encountered this lizard in the same place where I smashed in the weasel’s skull with a rock. Which is irrelevant, but too good a story to not get mentioned over and over again.

Goat eats tree
A goat, seeking something to ruminate with later.

Sete, Sherpa Guide Lodge
I hate sheep, but goats are somehow cool. These guys here are about to be fed. Guess from which direction the human with the feeding bucket is about to appear.

Goat day trip
These guys, on the other hand, great fun though they are, are doomed, I fear.

Last exit for goats
I really do.

Dzo, frolicking
Our first encounter with dzos. Everyone whips out their cameras stat.

A dzo is a yak/cow hybrid, and we saw plenty of them on our way uphill (as well as cows and water buffalos; real yaks didn’t show up until we reached a higher altitude).

Joe (the Australian who joined us for the Jiri-Namche part of the trek) insisted that a better name for them would be “yowls” or “caks”. Apparently, there is an official English portmanteau term already, namely “yakow”. According to Wiki, anyway.

Dzo, walking
A dzo on its way up. I wonder how long it takes the average European to think of Hitler here.

Okay, I might just as well admit that I was itching to poke one of these guys with my trekking pole. I finally dared do it on the very last day up in the mountains, just before we flew back to Kathmandu.

It sort of half-jumped and kicked out with its hind leg.

In conclusion: I poked a dzo with a pole. Have you?

Portable kiosk
Yaks, cows, donkey, oxen, buffalo - none of them comes even close to a human with regard to carrying heavy loads up the mountains. The person carrying this portable kiosk on their back is a young woman. I was told that children as young as 13 may legally carry up to 30kg. A yak – that’s the large, heavy-set, furry, four-legged beast, perfectly adapted to living in high altitudes – is capable of carrying a mere 60kg. (I bet it could carry more. But something tells me that it’s not all that easy to make a yak do any chores for which it is not in the mood.)

In one of the lodges in the higher mountains (Dole, 4200m), R. and I got chatting to two Belgian guys. One of them told us that he had damaged his knee the previous day and that, as a result, he had been forced to hire a porter. “That would be this little girl there,” said he, the tall, wiry man in his 40s, pointing at a little girl. This bit of information made our day. R. and I cracked up completely, and even on the next day, the thought of the tall, wiry Belgian guy having his undies and socks carried up a mountain by a young woman half his size and weight had us in fits of giggles.

These are the things you laugh about when struggling, lightheaded, through thin air.

Child labour
Here they are, the kids, making themselves useful by carrying goods that can be then sold to tourists.

Smoking sherpas
Two non-children porters, having a smoke on their way up. It’s not like they needed all the oxygen they can get. My theory is that the inner organs of people who work as porters in the Nepalese mountains have degenerated and mutated into lung tissue so that the inside of their entire chests and abdominal cavities house lungs and lungs alone. Spleen? Pancreas? Nobody knows what these are for anyway.

The degeneration of the stomach would also explain why they have a meal only twice a day. (How do they not collapse? How??)

Everest View Point Namche
The gang at the Everest View Point above Namche Bazaar, looking at the Everest for what felt like hours and hours: Dipak, Ram, and R., flanked by Joe and Al (not their real names).

Nepali mounts
Whilst everyone else was looking at the Everest, I was looking at the yaks.

Riding yak
They’re much funnier and furrier than the Everest.

I know it seems kinda heartless – and pointless, considering that it took me a lot of money and effort to get there – but I honestly wasn’t all that much into the whole Everest-watching business. Everyone got so excited about it, and I just couldn’t. It’s just a big lump of rocks, my brain kept saying, covered in snow.

Or, as Eddie Izzard put it:

"Rock, Neil? I don't know whether you looked at the planet, but it's made of fucking rock."

"But this is moon rock."

"This is earth rock, Neil, come on. Earth rock with special minerals. It's rock, isn't it? Have you heard? On the stock market, rock's gone up three points...! No, it hasn't, has it? Cos it's fucking rock. We wanted diamonds or sherbet, or a squirrel with a gun."

So on the moon they found rock. They've found ice as well.

Rock and ice. What an exciting planet.

Obviously a party planet.


In conclusion: I don’t mind walking up and down mountains, but I just can’t bring myself to adoring them.

That... sounds like there’s a horrible life philosophy in there somewhere.

Konditorei Hermann Hellmers Namche
Fortunately, after Everest watching, we went to the German pastry bakery “Bäckerei und Konditorei Hermann Hellmers” in Namche Bazaar and had coffee and cake. And watched some more rocks going on about their business of being covered in ice and snow.

Namche Bazaar is a fairly large town at 3440m, and everyone heading for the Everest region passes through it. It is cram-full with souvenir and tack shops where you can buy gifts for your loved ones back home, Internet cafés, lodges and proper hotels. I had my first hot shower in Namche Bazaar – 10 days after arriving in Nepal; it was lovely, even though you couldn’t lock the bathroom door. (You couldn’t lock the door of the bathroom in Gokyo, either, where I had my second hot shower. I also had a couple of lukecold drizzles, an icy cold non-shower and a warm bucket.)

I also had my first steak in Namche Bazaar. The menu said “Yak sizzler”, but, apparently, it was water buffalo. I so didn’t care. It came on a hot plate, and it sizzled and billowed smoke all the way from the kitchen to my table, and then it sizzled some more. It was amazing.

Apart from the sizzlers, my diet consisted mainly of the following: in the first days daal bhat – rice with a helping of curry vegetables and a bowl of lentil soup. If it’s good, it’s very good; unfortunately, in most of the lodges it was extremely bland – presumably to suit the palates of Western tourists with stomach complaints.

I gave up on daal bhat fairly quickly. R. and Joe proved rather more persistant.

And so I ended up eating potatoes and eggs in various combinations: omelette for breakfast, fried potatoes with fried egg for lunch, rice with vegetables for dinner, fried egg on toast for breakfast, potatoes with vegetables for lunch, rice with fried egg for dinner etc. etc. ad nauseam, so to speak. I was wolfing down those carbs and proteins all the way up to the mountains.

But back to yaks.

Yak head
This is an ex-yak.

Yak head plus lodge
It was hanging on the wall of the first lodge we stayed in with sub-zero conditions in the bedroom (i.e. bloody freezing cold).

Baby yak
Unlike high mountains, yaks are useful against cold. Pictured here: a young yak in the process of fuel production.

This furry little creature belonged to a young couple in whose lodge we stayed on our penultimate night on our way up. It was a cold night, and it was a cold lodge. They used yak pats to fuel the oven in the dining room. Our hostess spent some time in the afternoon turning over the yak pats that were spread out in the paddock to dry. She then brought some in, tossed them into the oven – her husband quite obviously tried to explain to her that they were not dry enough yet – and then she shoved a huge, fuckoff oven pipe into a wicker basket, slung it over her shoulders and took off for Gokyo (two hours walking distance, it was getting dusk already), leaving dear hubby alone to deal with the oven and with us.

It took the combined efforts of several people as well as many litres of kerosene and ethyl alcohol to get the thing started, after just three futile hours. By that time it was past seven and it was bedtime anyway. (Warning to all who want to travel to Nepal: the curfews in the lodges are insane. Your hosts go to bed at, like, 7.30, and you have to go to bed too, because it would be immensely impolite and inconsiderate to keep them up. In the lodge in Gokyo, the bossy lady who ran the place fucking knocked on people’s doors at 8.30 telling them to switch off the lights. I’m not making this up.)

Yaks
There were compensations. Watching yaks wander through unreal landscapes is one of them.

Rocks
...“Rock, Neil?”

These rocks, however, I liked. Even though I felt distinctly lightheaded by the time we walked past them (4800m).

Gokyo lake
One of the Gokyo lakes: that would be glacier lakes at 4800m. Beautiful and amazing, I give them that.

Gokyo Ri
That’s the Gokyo Ri: the mountain at the end of the universe route that you’re supposed to climb to look at other mountains, such as the Everest. (I didn’t climb it, because I had been feeling decidedly lightheaded and non-surefooted on the way there already. Climbing an additional 600m without a proper rest and in a hurry to get there before the clouds seemed rather reckless under the circumstances. Plus, I am lazy.)

Gokyo
At last! The safe haven. The promised land: Gokyo.

Gokyo lake with yak
This made it all totally worth it.
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