Archive for October 13th, 2009

October 13, 2009 Phakding – Namche Bazar

“Look asshole, just because people are poor and it may appear they don’t care, you don’t pee on the wall of someone’s home. You also don’t snap your fingers at the people who are trying, with limited resources, to meet your wimpy (myself included) needs”.  The bad behavior is isolated and most people are fantastic but occasionally a few have tempted my walking stick to end up against their arrogant colonial heads.  We often hear about the justly named ugly American traveler, and I certainly witnessed this previously in Paris, and to a lesser extent New Zealand, but the American crowd here are mostly the outdoor type and they are representing the stars and stripes rather well.  In fact, my friend Martin who is Polish but lives in Sweden said: “Not to be rude and please take no offense, but if the Americans here in Nepal, yourself included I would add, would show up more often abroad and in the media, you guys would have a much better world reputation”. The big groups seems to cause the most consternation and I guess some is understandable. They paid a lot of money for this trip (about double what I paid by booking local), they have unrealistic high expectations (the operators have some responsibility – as they over promise and under deliver), and large group dynamics create a feeding frenzy of “Us first, us first, we are German after all”. The best “You have got to be flipping kidding me story” was the French guy I witnessed who wanted to buy bottled water.  Now bottled water is carried up these mountains by man and/or beast and it is dusty out here.  So while the proprietor hands this snob. bottle after bottle of water (after wiping each top as is customary) he continues to reject them for being “dirty”.  After 12-15 bottles, the owner sends her son to another tea house and he brings back more bottles of water; again “disgusting – dirty”. Finally, she starts speaking in Nepalese and the boy disappears; I see him outside polishing the plastic water bottles out of sight of the French guy.  When presented with the sparkling plastic bottle this pin-head Parisian says: “finally, clean water”;  he then wants to negotiate the price. My hiking pole almost went through his spleen with a “No, you eat cake” comment from Versailles.
jax with load


We followed many Yakow trains out of Lukla and up to Namche Bazar.  These sturdy beast are a cross between a Yak and a cow and are used at lower elevations.  Yaks, apparently do not feel good below 3000m and actually start loosing their hair if they get to much oxygen. Yakows on the other hand like thick air and work hard; they are no match for the size and strength of the big male Yaks up high however. Now at home, I give things weighing about a ton with attached horns a wide berth, and this has, to the annoyance of locals, been my practice here.  When I see these buffalo looking things coming, I get the hell out of their way while little school kids walk right by them and slap-em, silly if they get out of line.

We stay at a lovely tea house for a day of acclimation in Namche Bazar where I enjoy talking to the owner about his holiness the Dali Lama.  She has several photos of her family with the exiled leader of Tibet and her husband has traveled with the great monk to the United States and I believe elsewhere. I visit the local monastery and witness the local monks continually chanting their mantras in order to bring focus and quiet to their minds.

mt above namcheMt. above Namche Bazar

I got off to a good start with this tea house owner when I requested a shower. She gave me the keys and I went into the small closet that was the shower room.  On the wall was a propane instant hot water heater.  I got naked, turned on the water, and waited for the heat.  Instead, I found myself bathing in the fumes of highly explosive gas.  I turned off the water, threw on my skivvies and got the hell out of there.  I call for help and this traditionally dressed Tibetan women with a huge smile shows up and turns the water back on and laughs hysterically when the not so small explosion ultimate happens as the unit lights. “Happens every time, you pay me extra, I pay to have fixed”. She then looks at me standing in my briefs and starts laughing uncontrollably while shaking her head. About an hour later a British fellow runs up the stairs half naked complaining of a “gas” smell in the shower and a possibility of “real danger”.  The Tibetan women looks at me and I say to this poor chap: “Happens all the time, you pay her extra and she will have fixed, otherwise just wait for the explosion”.

jax hanging

Yakows hanging out

I was very happy,  to the point of smugness, with my performance on the way to Namche; I beat the porter with the plywood to the top of the hill! I was carrying Angin’s small day pack while he carried my full pack. The plywood guy was hauling 4 full sheets of our U.S equivalent (4X8X¾) laminated wood. To be clear, I can not carry one of these sheets from the rack at Home Depot to my truck in the parking lot.  This guy walked, bent over to nearly 70 degrees, with this wood on his nearly flat back.  He was wearing flip flops, had to cross several narrow suspension bridges, and walk up a trail that was effectively a boulder strewn staircase.  It took me about 5 hours, but I beat him by over 20 meters: Go America! Later in the week I would see another porter carrying 7 (4X4X7is) post in the same manor; he would beat me easily and walked out of sight within an hour.

Below the tea house two men are making the foundation material for structures I will see throughout this region.  The are making blocks out of solid granite that they have exposed beneath the earths surface. One man swings a huge sledge hammer while the other holds a short handled tool that has a spike on the end of it. After several blow, the a small hole begins to appear and water is added to the hole as a lubricant. Ultimately a big piece of granite is broke free and the men turn their attention to the more careful work of forming very uniform rectangular blocks. They utilize the natural crack lines in the rock and during my two day stay they hand chisel about 12 blocks.  When I returned 10 plus days later, the underlying granite had been completely transformed into a stack of nearly a hundred perfect blocks.

making boards
Making boards
Beyond building blocks, timbers are hand made throughout Nepal also.  A tree is felled and a platform structure is built out over a ledge.  This allows for one person to stand about 4 feet above his partner sawyer. A long saw is drawn up with a “touch down” motion from the upper person and drawn down with the opposite motion from the person below.  In doing this the four bark sides are carefully sawn away leaving a square timber.  I watched several men perform this task and it looks to take about a half a day to make one 4x4x8 post.  If you need a 2×4, well that naturally takes one more long and careful cut.

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