The high altitude tracks, trails, passes and teahouses of Nepal offer each traveller with a wealth of experiences. In a country and region which is well-known for it’s remoteness every step of the rocky trail provides encounters which are fascinating and exciting insights into the culture.
Trekkers pass each other travelling in opposite directions to and from Everest Base Camp or some other famous hike. They struggle with the altitude, where even lightweight daypacks can seem filled with lead in the thin air of the high Himalaya. Gasping in disbelief and staring in awe at the wiry Sherpa porters, that carry unbelievably large loads up and down the steep, energy sapping slopes. Loads are often precariously balanced, stacks of solid, hardwood planks, baskets of firewood and a variety of other heavy goods, transported between villages for less than the price of a Starbucks coffee. They rest momentarily on roughly carved walking sticks before carefully placing sandaled foot in front of sandaled foot and scaling the rough paths to their distant destination.
Every few minutes it is necessary to stand aside to allow hybrid yakows or donkeys the space to pass, they actually have right of way throughout the Khumbu region. Once in the higher altitudes yaks, which are better suited to the height take over as the beasts of burden. It’s even more important they are given a wide berth, a cantankerous creäture and those horns can certainly do some damage.
The trails are also shared with the Buddhist monks travelling between monasteries, often wearing their traditional robes under goose down or softshell climbing jackets, their feet adorned in fluorescent coloured training shoes.
There is so much of interest and plenty to keep the average photographer busy snapping but the most beguiling encounters are with children. Exploring any of the villages along the route soon provides a couple of opportunities to meet the tiny Sherpas of tomorrow.
They are usually wearing doll-size mountain wear, fake Mammut or Mountain Hardwear down jackets with wool hats with big smiles that are infectious. Some are a little shy at first but they are all usually happy to pose for a picture and when shown the results their grin just widens, running off laughing.
The youngest appear as little beacons of happiness, rosy cheeks and big smiles and a stark contrast to their older brothers and sisters who if old enough will probably have already begun to shift heavy loads through high passes from village to village.
Poverty is commonplace and yet they never seem to pester travellers as children in other developing countries do. Pale skinned passers-by are surely perceived as being wealthy, as they are in any other poor countries and yet begging at least outside Kathmandu is not common. Occasionally a small group may ask for sweets but this was actually quite rare and is more mischief than genuine begging.
The children probably see hundreds of trekkers pass through their villages during the season but they seem as intrigued by our presence as we are by the Sherpa porters and monks along the route. They seem grubby little urchins, with dirty faces but they are as bright as buttons, their curiosity and obvious glee a joy to behold.
I do not have any children and do not envision them appearing in my near future. It is impossible however, not to be positively affected by these young bundles of innocence. Spending a few moments with any of them was a highlight of this trip and one I feel compelled to share.
Nepal is a country which inspires and stirs imaginations, a land filled with rows of still growing Himalayan giants stretching as far as the eye can see and where powerful rivers cut through the mightiest ranges in search of the fastest route to the sea. A place shaped by the forces of nature; giant irresistible glaciers, the retreat of which ably demonstrates their ability to sculpt the landscape into submission, or massive, earth pounding avalanches which destroy everything in their path.
It is a country formed by the clashing of geological titans, the process of continental drift continues even today as India still crashes deeper into Asia. Despite being the showcase for the majesty of nature, it is still the people who strike the lasting chord. Especially the children, which are the future of any country; Nepal’s seems set for a happy future, based on my experience in this inspiring destination.