As we went east
across Nepal, our route gradually turned north. The valleys became higher, the
ridges cold and bare. The people changed from the lowland tribesmen to the more
Mongoloid Tibetan-Sherpa stock, and the culture changed. As we climbed higher,
the Tibetan influence was clearly visible in the food and dress of the people,
and especially in their religion. They were Buddhist almost to a man, and the
trails were lined with carved rocks inscribed with Tibetan-Buddhist prayers.
The houses were no longer the mud brick and straw roofs of the lower tribesmen,
but the sturdy stone and wooden beams of the Sherpas.
Even with clear
weather we saw little of the high mountains before we arrived at Namche Bazar,
the last large village before Everest. Each pass got colder and higher—13,000
feet now—and we could sometimes see a flash of white or a high, rocky ridge.
But that was all. The beauty of the high Himalayas is well hidden. Most often
it is hidden by distance, but even when you are close the clouds or the
surrounding ridges veil the splendor of those peaks.
At Namche Bazar
we paid off the lowland porters, whom we had finally learned to live with in a
rough, unpleasant kind of truce. In their place we hired more Sherpas, better
suited to the cold. They turned out to be Lackpa's family—mother, brothers,
sisters, and a dog or two for good measure. They brought along some rice
liquor, which tasted a little like the saki of Japan. Since the march from
Namche Bazar to Thyangboche was a short one—only a few miles—we went along with
the game and made a picnic out of it.
We left Namche
Bazar, picking our way up the trail, climbing steeply in the early-morning
cold. The sun in an icy-blue sky hadn't warmed us when we pulled up over a
knoll and stopped short. The highest mountains in the world were spread out
before us. After days of walking we could see our goal. On both sides of the
steep canyon of the Dudh Kosi were peaks slightly over 20,000 feet, more
spectacular than any in the world. Hillary once called the walk from Namche
Bazar to Thyangboche the most beautiful in the world, and we could see what he
Ama Dablam, a
giant tower, dominated the valley. Tamserku, a cold, icy-blue triangle, was on
our right. Everest, the biggest of them all, was straight ahead, still
partially hidden by peaks. In the middle of all of this was a ridge about
13,500 feet high. On it was a small white dot—the great Buddhist monastery of
Thyangboche. We quickened the pace, leaving the Sherpas to drink their rakshi,
and we sang as we walked the final few miles.
The monastery was
an important one, and we knew it was desirable to establish good relations with
the people. With this in mind, we put on clean shirts, tried to comb our hair
and unpacked a heavy woolen blanket that we had brought as a gift. With Lackpa
to act as interpreter, we crossed the last few hundred feet of meadow to the
doors of the monastery, blanket held out as an offering.
The guards, two
huge Tibetans with black Tibetan mastiffs on tethers, had seen us coming.
Lackpa told them our plans and that we wanted to see the High Lama. Shortly
thereafter we were admitted, and, ducking our heads, we went through the low
first floor of the High Lama's private quarters. A creaky flight of stairs took
us to an open courtyard. Along the sides were stacked Tibetan holy books, large
sheets of beautifully inscribed parchment held unbound between two boards. A
few rose bushes in tin cans were next to the Lama's chair.
The High Lama of
Thyangboche entered, and we stood up. Lackpa bowed, and the Lama touched his
forehead. We held our hands in front of us, as if to pray, and said what we
hoped was a proper greeting, "Namaste, Lama." He was pleased with the
blanket, lifting it to feel its weight and saying something in Tibetan to
Lackpa. The formality ebbed and, with the help of Lackpa and many cups of
Tibetan yak-butter tea, we had a friendly visit.
We spent the next
day trying to clean up. It was impossible and we knew it, but we tried. I
borrowed a yak watering trough and tried to take a bath. Gary and David got
some laughs, and I nearly got pneumonia, plus several interesting kinds of
lice. And some monk got back a much cleaner watering trough.
The rest at
Thyangboche did us good. Our record for the march in had been remarkable, we
thought. More than 175 miles in a strange land, living on native food as well
as our own and putting in a steady eight hours of trekking every day, and we
hadn't had a single blister, case of dysentery, cut finger or even sunburn. Our
diet had been good, and we were in high spirits. The heavy packs had made us
fit. We could jog across the meadow at 13,500 feet, and, although we would
breathe heavily, we could feel the kind of strength needed if we were to
attempt a climb.