Holy tea on top of the mountain

I am awake and somewhat refreshed and ready to take on today’s challenge. Big climbs don’t stress me out. Not anymore. I have a new menace. Lack of oxygen. Today this menace will be tested. On the way to Dengboche. At 14,500 feet.

I am sitting with Dawa Tenzing one last time before we depart The Everest Overlook Tea House. How many Everest summits has he done. Eight. Were they all successful. Yes. Why does he only do the north side. Less snow. The south side has too many avalanches. The north side is not too hard except for the wind. Seriously dude!

We take a few selfies. We wave our goodbyes. And begin another day of climbing. My wheezing and shortness of breath is noticeable. It’s pretty high up here. Macha Pichu high. And my body is working harder with less.

My general lack of sleep and nutrition is not helping. The food here is devoid of much protein. And my appetite is dropping. Choices are limited. Supplies are hard to get. There are no roads. Just trails. And dicey ones at that. They go up up up. And come down down down. They use yaks and donkeys (depending on altitude) to transport goods between the tiny villages. And they use porters.

This is also the beginning of summit season. Which means that the porters are setting up camp for the summiteers. They carry everything including the kitchen sink. Literally. I saw one carrying a sink heading to Base Camp.

The porters. The good ones carry their own weight or significantly more for miles. Up to 100 kilos. About 220 lbs. Which gives me a sense of relief. Since this is how much I weigh. And it’s likely some unlucky porter may have to carry me out of here.

We are passing potato fields. An open valley with moon like rocks. And clumps of bushy vegetation. Tall birch trees. Many stone altars. Some inscribed with Buddhist prayer. Yak caravans. And helicopters dropping off supplies. Their whirring sound above overwhelms the roar of Milk River below. It’s a constant stream of back and forth. They bring the major supplies from Kathmandu. Like fuel and Building materials. It’s amazing to watch. They hover above a landing pad and lower the supplies to an awaiting recipient below. Within seconds they peel right off. They sometimes do double duty. Continuing up the mountain to rescue injured climbers.

We are climbing the final ridge before we reach Dengboche. Today’s destination. There, at the very top, sits the oldest Buddhist monastery in Nepal. It takes up a large part of the mountain top. You can see it from miles away. Inside the stone wall surrounding it is a whole world. A large temple with a center courtyard. Benches to meditate on. Lots of open space. A bakery. Copper drum wheels. hundreds of fluttering shrouds and flags. There are signs with rules of behavior. No filming. Talk only in whispers. No shoes when entering the temple. There is also a handful of monks milling about.

Dawa approaches one and asks for permission to enter the temple. It is granted. At the entrance we take off our boots and push past a cloth door cover and enter the temple. It’s ornate with tons of symbols and portraits of lamas including The Dali Lama. Dawa takes his hat off. I follow. I am careful and want to be respectful. We take our place in one corner of the temple and sit cross legged next to one another. My knees are not cooperating, so I sit with legs stretched out. Dawa holds his hands in prayer. Again I follow. We are the only outsiders there.

A ceremony commemorating the passing of an important Lama is in progress. Two elderly monks are seated in the center. They are chanting and ringing brass bells. A younger monk is busily arranging things for them and lighting incense. They gesture order to him and he responds with eagerness.

He pours holy tea from a large colorful thermos into copper chalices for the elderly monks. They drink the tea and continue chanting. He then walks across the room, hands us 2 styrofoam cups and fills them with holy tea.

Styrofoam aside, I am moved by the pageantry. I sip the tea slowly holding the cup in both hands. I am pretending its a chalice. The warm smell of the tea is relaxing. Dawa is deep into prayer. I feel safe and protected. Moments later, Dawa abruptly turns to me and says. Ready to go. In the most American accent he’s exhibited this whole time. We put our hats on. Lace up our boots. Strap on our gear. And somewhere past these gates Dengboche awaits us.

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