Full Moon at Mani Rimdu (3 of 5)

The Hotel del Sherpa, our home base for the next six days, brought eclecticism to new heights of grandeur. A cross between a four star Swiss ski resort and a painstakingly frescoed Buddhist monastery, this lodge embraced the best of spiritual aura and creature comforts – woodburning stoves and a fireplace in the main living/dining room (no heat in bedrooms), steaming soups served in European china tureens, solar-powered showers with hot water (most of the time). Statues and myriad images of Lord Buddha watched over guests while Native American flute music played over the tape machine.

We dropped our bags in bedrooms decorated with bright Tibetan rugs. I noticed while looking out the window at two snowy mountain peaks, Mt. Numbur and Mt. Karolung, that something was missing: not a single car, motorbike, nor even a wagon. There were only two modes of transport in Phaplu – on foot or horseback. To return to Kathmandu, one had to fly – or walk.

“So how do we get back to Kathmandu if the airline goes out of business (there had been rumors)?” I asked Jim as he calmly sipped instant coffee in the late afternoon sun.

“You can walk for four or five days then catch a bus for a twelve hour ride into Kathmandu. But I wouldn’t advise taking buses in Nepal. I did it once….many Nepalis aren’t used to cars and buses. They tend to get carsick. If you have to ride in a bus, you’d be better off sitting on the upper deck.”

I decided to be optimistic about the airlines. They wouldn’t want to leave us here, would they? Jim assured me that tourists weren’t stranded in Phaplu.

The proprietor, R.P. Sherpa, brought out more hot tea and coffee for our welcoming refreshment. He had constructed his hotel in the seventies when trekkers passed through Phaplu enroute to Everest base camp. In recent years, trekkers had changed their route. Hotel management was R.P’s second career. He had already gained respect as a competent Everest guide from some world reknowned climbers. A modest and soft-spoken man, he hadn’t mentioned his accomplishments.

Perhaps more importantly, his family had helped construct the Chiwong monastery where the festivities would be held. Jim and R.P. had met several years ago and without too many words exchanged between them in our presence, I could sense the bond of enduring friendship. One thing I had learned since our arrival in Nepal, big gestures were not needed to express emotion.

“You don’t need to say, ‘Thank you’,” one guide explained. “If you enjoy a meal, for example, we can read it in your body language.”

I wondered if this was one of the reasons Jim kept coming back to Nepal, the fiery American, never afraid to voice his opinion. Perhaps, when the Sherpas read Jim’s body language, they knew immediately that his delight and respect for the mountains was genuine. That shared devotion created an instant bond.

The day before festivities commenced, Jim wanted to introduce us to some of the smaller monasteries (called gompas) in the Phaplu area. After breakfast, Migma Sherpa our Kathmandu-based Ecotrek guide joined us. Ecotrek had helped us get trekking permits. He would accompany us up to the Chiwong Monastary. His home village, he pointed out, lay over a hill, only about a three hour walk from Phaplu. I liked Migma because he was modest, yet he spoke candidly when I asked him questions. For example, he told me, “I never drink because I made a promise to my mother not to drink.” Or, “I don’t like the way that woman asks the lama so many questions.”

“But, Migma, I ask questions too!”
“She asks differently – like a journalist – political questions – and I don’t like politics,” he complained.

We were soon to discover that hiking from town to town with Migma meant many stops to greet friends along the path. He was a broadshouldered, wide-faced bachelor with an easy smile and bright eyes. No wonder women gravitated toward him, showering us with chatter and sweets. But Talking Lady (as we had nicknamed her) took the prize. She was already spoken for, the wife of another Sherpa guide and she exuded the confidence of a Chaucerian Wife of Bath, not afraid to speak her mind, from birth control to the price of onions.

“She talks too much,” Migma apologized, but we begged Migma to let her walk with us – her speech tripped along like a mountain stream – seeming to push us forward. Migma brushed pebbles out of her way with a walking stick. If I had begun to read body language correctly, perhaps he didn’t mind Talking Lady’s company.

Meanwhile, he quietly (along with Jim) watched my hesitant progress baby-stepping down rock-strewn paths that connected villages. My feet were getting educated.

Read Part 4

Chris Card Fuller blogs more about her travels in: Paris and Beyond