Gourmet ketchup anyone?
The Sunrise Tea House serves the best French fries I’ve had. Real potatoes fried and sprinkled with Himalayan salt and gourmet ketchup. The thick dark kind made of real tomatoes with a hint of plums (I am making up the plums, but it sure tasted delicious).
I ask for Wifi. The owner summons her teenage son (some things are universal). He appears from nowhere within seconds. He tells me in a super polite non teenage way that he needs to take my phone and go outside to get the signal. I give it to him without hesitation. Moments later he has me hooked up, with one caveat. I have to stand outside in the corner of the courtyard to get the best signal. Actually the only signal which comes with one bar if I turn just so. I don’t complain and besides I didn’t want to make him look bad in front of his mom, so I thank him and pay him 500 Rupees, about $4.50.
I am in bed by 8:30 pm. My plan tonight is to get at least 4 hours of real sleep. By morning I wake up refreshed having seemingly slept the requisite hours albeit intermittently. I am making progress. Yay! I pack quickly and head to the dining room. Dawa and Ngima are already there. It is 7 am. I order Muesli with hot milk and its prefect for what’s ahead. I devour it like a starved warrior on leave.
We are on the trail by 8:15. Today is the day I was promised that my ass gets handed to me. And boy does it ever. We leave the picturesque tea house and walk past a few more tea houses and cafes with names like Mustang Inn, The Irish Pub and Sam’s. There are prayer wheels at every corner. Which I turn for good luck. I will need it. There are stupas (Buddhist shrines), prayer flags galore, prayer shawls and a smiling Dali Lama anywhere you stop.
No sooner we leave the tiny town of Phakting the ass handing begins. The path is narrow with high cliffs and sharp turns. It is a scramble. It is giant 2 foot high steps that never end and make your knees swear like sailors. It is dirt and rocks and stones that slip and slide. It is boulders the size of refrigerators. And it’s a relentless straight up into the heavens. And it is magnificently, stunningly gorgeous, hugging that Milky River almost the entire way.
We are climbing to 11,300 feet today and it’s taking its toll on my body and my mind. Along the way we stop by for lunch at The Jarsale Tea House in Moju overlooking, what else, Milky River. This stop came in the nick of time. Just moments before I was ready to turn around and lose Dawa. There, I drink lots of tea and milk. Recharge my phone. I wolf down some Dal Bhat and drink lots of hot water. I’ll need it for the altitude change. Before leaving I ask the owner if I could buy water and he apologizes that government officials have banned the selling of expired bottled water and that they have yet to get the newest shipment. What the hell?!! First of all I was impressed by his honesty. Second, government officials actually check expired water bottles in these remote villages? That was impressive too. But then it begged the third and most important question, if these said officials have time to check expired water in the remotest of villages, which probably won’t kill you, how is it that they let a leaky plane with duct tape fly next to mountains day in and day out?
The owner of Jarsale offers to boil water for me. I accept. He then sets it on the patio to cool off and seeing that it may take time, he gets another pot to pour it back and forth to cool it faster. What a prince. I fill my water camel-back and reluctantly sling on my backpack which now weighs even more and we are on our way to Namche Bazzar. A mere 4 hours of constant grueling climbing. Along the way, I develop a relationship with the crows, I learn a lesson from a donkey and I let myself dissolve into the mountains surrounding me.