Pine Forest

Later, when the snow let up everything is quiet. It feels sacred.

Day 6 ... 15k from Chame at 2600m to Dugra Phudi at 3700m
I'm laying in bed as it becomes light. The day has begun. It looks a bit gray out though. I reach over, locate and apply my glasses. Yep, it is a gray day. Then I focus. I can see something falling. Oh no, Snow! It is snowing! What is it doing snowing? After going out for a pee I find myself in the kitchen cuddling the stove. The main fellow and a helper have begun the day. The day will begin with tea. Every kitchen has a big piece of bamboo ... they are all black. Into the receptacle they pour hot water or maybe hot tea. Then, with a plunger, they plunge it up and down ... the contents going slurch and gurgle. What it is, is the making of Tibetan tea. Inside the bamboo is rancid butter and maybe something else. I had my first taste a couple of days ago. I'd stoppled for breakfast at a wee joint where the local folk were plunging in and out. Nice. The tea is bizarre, with a sour, oily butter taste. I learned the secret though ... multiple cups. There we were in the kitchen, making sure the stove stays warm, and the cups are always full. I was really getting to like it about the time the kettle ran dry.
In that ever dark kitchen, as I'm having my first cup of tea, I'm watching as tens of thousands of rupees are counted and passed round to different people The men have wallets they fill, while the women roll the bills up and tuck them into a fold of material at their waist. The local economy doesn't't look too bleak! The baby is sick and the young mother is worried. Two old bottles of medicine are unearthed and handed to me for advice. One was an antibiotic, the other who knows! I encouraged them to take the baby to a local physician but they didn't seem so inclined. Probably mom wanted to take something and pass it on through her milk.
So, I'm hangin' in the kitchen thinking about a rest day and watching it snow. Other folk are coming in and having breakfast. The main fellow remains unphased as he churns out the food ... chipatti, porridge, eggs, momos, tea, and every order gets recorded under the correct room number. The Aussies were actively canvassing for a departure. I was vacillating up to the last minute. I'd had a couple of major soaks and the idea of plodding along in wet snow was unappealing. There was another Canadian about to hold up for the day, and he had a backgammon board. But, I decided to go and that was a fine thing to do.
Moving along through the snow as nostalgic. Walking along through a pine forest with a few inches of new snow, I've experienced that before. Later, when the snow let up everything is quiet, everything is blanketed in white. It feels sacred. The snow muffles the noise ... the constant river sound disappears. The night was completely quiet. For the first time in a week I could not hear the river. And what were the noises before ... people vehicles, radios. Now there is nothing. Perfect.
Two events give me pause. Walking along we meet an American. He has decided this is too silly, he has turned around. He has also planted a new seed in my head: turning around. The next event is a bit more hair raising. As we leave a village where we've had lunch with a big pot of coals under the table to keep us warm, we see some folk in another dark, smokey, cold kitchen. They say an avalanche just came down and two of their number had to run for it. I guess we'd heard it. We'd stopped talking but thought it was the river. But a couple of minutes later the river was way quieter. The avalanche had been the roar of noise. I don't think those folk were in that much danger, the avalanche happened on the other side of the river valley. We'd seen earlier avalanches. They'd come down and block up the river. Massive amounts of snow ... huge piles. The river, being dammed up, had backed up and saturated the banks. Then the banks, with it's path, had given way leaving new landslides to move across. Slippery. In one place - a clay ledge one foot wide - I look up and there is a wall of wet gravel towering above me. We push on.
From a distance these villages look uninhabited ... it looks as if the mountain has become blocky. But there is life here ... old drunks, young men, women, and children. There are fields and crows and cows and yaks - yep, yaks, and horses and maybe we see a Himalayan griffin. I've also seen a flock of partridge-like birds, and this morning mine, were not the first tracks in the snow.
The stone houses, often three stories with a flat roof, are the very same colour as the hills. The houses are built into the mountains, like stacks of blocks on top of each other ... here, the animals have the first level, people the next. I hope lots of cow heat comes up to me. The children and their clothes are the same colour as the earth and the houses. Adults prefer black. That is one reason the villages look deserted - there is no colour. Any bit of paint that stands out belongs to a guest house. The horses and the hairy cows are brown and dirty white as well. All of the landscape, even the pine trees, seem to be a dirty green with hints of red and yellow.
As I go higher the Buddhist influence increases. At the entrance to a town there will be a small narrow roofed structure. Inside are parallel lines of prayer wheels. You walk by on the left and spin the wheels - hence they turn clockwise. These structures often have carved tablets of magnificent calligraphy or images of Buddha - occasionally in colour. A couple of villages have huge prayer wheels enshrined. More creative was a water wheel which powered a Big prayer wheel ... someone's karma was really being uplifted.
I'm at around 3700m. That is pretty high. One starts to be conscious of altitude sickness up here. Yesterday I met a woman returning from Pisang (3200m) where the headache and vomiting had set in. Now any ache in my head must be considered. I have a wee one now, but I'm sure it is more because of walking in a sun-snow environment. My head is wrapped in a longi to minimize the exposed flesh. I am in Ngaual. Even from a distance you know there is life in this village ... a big new monastery above town with whitewashed walls, orange and ochre roof. Prayer flags snap in the wind. There are four or five flags on each building ... a forest of prayer flags. Flags on naked poles even march along the impossibly high ridges. And a hundred meters above town ... a shrine.
Late in the afternoon I'm watching the village. I make a friend of a young boy who points my way to Manang, and we climb up to the Gampa - monastery. The lovely new building was all locked and barred so we just sat in its lee, out of the wind, and kicked stones ... a fine game for young boys. Later, alone, I'm still looking down at the village of flat roofs. I see a group of young boys playing guns. They run and scamper in filthy clothes that could hardly be keeping them warm. They are oblivious to the cares of the world ... so beautiful in their innocence. I watch as the horses and the cows are brought up from the lower pasture. Lines of shaggy horses file into the watering zone, then into their respective stables. An old man has just dropped some straw down to his stock. He is dressed in a narrow brimmed hat with a discoloured band, sunglasses, a jean jacket with fake wool inside, dirty pants and big black boots. The sun has set and it is immediately cold. Soon I will learn the disadvantages of sleeping above that stable where all the animals have bells on. There will be a steady tolling of bells. Pleasant enough out on the trail but not when I want to fall asleep.
I spend the evening around the fire. I'm in the neatest of homes. The cupboards are all stocked, all provisioned for the season ... rows of bottled water, boxes of noodle soups, beer, vodka, two tins of cocoa mix, powdered milk, everything they will need. The husband is a policeman, stationed 400m down the mountainside. The wife has some sort of respiratory ailment, probably from cooking over the quasi open fire and from the cold. Karl, an Irishman, and I step up onto the roof a couple of times. The night is the first clear one and the stars are coming out fast. The big dipper is now visible. I've come far enough north. Later, just as Karl and I are saying goodnight to the stars the moon slips up from behind a mountain. Amazing. Before the spot light came up we were marveling at the mountains, already bathed in moonlight. Now all is a black of rock and shadow, and a dead, cold white of snow. More amazing.
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