Porters

Now the trail is seriously climbing! Whenever I think of it as a bit tough, about then I'll peel up beside a porter. Well, when the going gets tough, those incredibly tough people show it. They are most certainly labouring.

Day 3 ... 15k from Chamje at 1436m to Tal at 2070m
Today is a different and wonderful day. It was cloudy almost all day, which is perfect for a heliophobe like me. The umbrella is a bit of a novelty. I was wondering if it would be accepted, but then I saw a monk with one, a nice black one against his red-ocher robes, very stylish. With the down jacket tied on top of the bag, the umbrella doesn't rest easily on my shoulder. Yesterday I tried to tie the umbrella onto my pack. It sorta worked, and it certainly attracted the glances. Anyway, today the valley has seriously narrowed and the banks are cliffs that rise steeply. In places there are towers that rise to fine pinnacles. Crags there are! It is quite wonderful. The sparse trees, the stone villages perched way up. What are those people doing living up there? They are far away from the river, there is no flat ground. And then there are one or two homes even higher, way way up .. eagles' nests.
So many waterfalls ... cascading noisily into glorious pools. At one point the river disappears. There it is, I can still hear it rushing, but there are a huge jumble of boulders over top. Wild. Now the trail is seriously climbing! Whenever I think of it as a bit tough, about then I'll peel up beside a porter. Well, when the going gets tough, those incredibly tough people show it. They are most certainly labouring. I have another thought about the trump line as well. They don't have it on the forehead, but more in the middle of the head. That way the force is probably borne straight down the spine. The problem, as I see it, is that the weight does not then pass straight onto the legs as the person is not upright.
And of course the horses continue to pass, though again there seems to be less. Most every horse has a bell, and they make a pleasant enough noise tinkling along as a group. The lead couple of horses often have head pieces with a bit of mirror set between their eyes. The cloth is woven, the light glints off the mirror in the early morning, the horse is navigating down a steep section. Steep enough that we all switch back along the switch-backing path. The droppings of these horses must be collected, for only in some places have they accumulated. They'd form a precious fertilizer or fuel. I'd guess the ownership of the droppings along a stretch of path is an established thing, probably at times hotly disputed.
I see a couple good things. First, I see a mill. The miller is fixing the stones. A tiny building set over a stream, a little sluice, water wheel, and the two large stone wheels ... real simple, basic, helpful technology. From the remains on the wheel it looks as if the'd been grinding corn. I have some fine cornbread with my meal ... squash, potatoes, beans, and a green. My kind of meal. I've gone a whole day without rice. Noodle soup is my current favorite treat. The noodles come right out of a package. I've had some Tibetan bread as well ... fried flower and water. For a couple of days I've wondered what the oil was they are using. I believe now it is ghee, which explains why things taste quite different from in India where coconut oil is the ticket.
The other bit of life I see is a smithy. A coal pit is being heated to reshape a digging tool. A small hut made of woven bamboo mats is the building. The bellows are the impressive unit. I think they were the bottom half of a bear skin, fur attached. The waist gives on to the coals, the legs have wooden shutters, and a woman raises a leg, opens the shutter, closes it, lowers the leg. As she opens her hand the leg of the bear opens, and then down she pushes. With this fur in her hand and the rhythm, it looks amazing. The stuff I see!
So, I'm walking up to Tal. Up, up, up, and "more up" I've been told. Then, I come around a corner ... Tal. The narrow gorge has ballooned out. I love when the mountains do that. A pocket of light and welcome flat fields. The town sits beside a flat wide river. Tal, meaning lake, is wonderfully situated. I swoop down and have a flat approach over gravel bars. The shear mountains are still here, just pushed back a bit. To the east a series of waterfalls, narrow chutes, and a whole flock of sheep coming down a path, a path that ends in a vertical mountain and yet the sheep continue to appear. Its that kind of place .. a touch of magic, of everyday wonders. The main street is paved with stones and lined with hotels. I feel the proprietors' eyes on me. Maybe 40 people will come to town, maybe half will stay the night, most will eat a meal, but there are 10 hotels that line the one street in this tiny village.
The people who host me are changing. Last night they were Garong. Once dinner comes the evening becomes quite intimate. I'm here at the New Chinese Rainbow, and the dahl baht is being served up. The owner and I are each having a glass of raxshi. The German who is a week-long guest emerges, the wife and amma (owner's mom) are crouched near by. We eat and talk. The home village is up on the other side of the river, way up on the other side. Their culture is a synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism. They are pleasant. Amma is staying over for a couple of days taking a healthcare delivery course at the local medical center. She has her nametag on. Vitamins and polio vaccinations are the topics related to us over the meal. Vitamin A is repeated by many people.
It is dark. Though there are electrical fixtures, candles are the light source. The man tells how his restaurant was burnt down by competition last year. The coming of the easy money has not made life any easier! When it is bedtime I turn in, and the family does all around. My room is partitioned off from the kitchen, where grandma beds down. The owners lay their bedding in the large, but empty, front room where we ate. I wake them when I get up to do my toilet before I leave. That was how the trekking, or simply the mountain travel scene, was ... really staying with the family after they fed you. I depart to pass through a Tibetan area for the next few nights.
I'm excited to go and snuggle into my bag ... the wonderful lullaby of rain to fall asleep to. Have I mentioned that the Nepali people, in contrast to their land, are fertile? There are so many young people. Families of five are really unusual, that being such a small number of children to have. Woe be to Nepal, they have a tough row to hoe. In one guide book I read an enumeration of the negatives of trekking, but it concluded with: "But don't not come, the fragile Nepali economy needs every $ it can get."
I'm spending considerably more time going up. I gained 600 meters today. The progress is slow, primarily for social reasons ... distracting but fun. I'm piecing together the group that are going up at the same time. Today I checked the register at the checkpoint, 39 people passed through today. In just one day! Again there were many coming the other way, maybe less than yesterday though. It will be a good when I don't see anyone coming back down.
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