Festive Fun and Games in the Himalaya
I thought this time rather than try and write about all the twists and turns of an autumn's trekking and festivalling I'd bring you a slightly different style of blog: an adaptation of a tale you'll probably know well; something seasonal; something jovial but definitely distinctly Nepali.
If you're sitting comfortably, then I'll begin...
This is the tale of Kumar, fit and handsome, a respected and well loved climbing sirdar, and Pemba, a canny Sherpa lass, the proprietor of Namche Bazaar's most successful emporium of delicious and delectable baked goods (and also, alas for her waistline if not the bottom line, their chief consumer).
Our tale takes place in the valleys of the Solo Khumbu some time one wintery month. Kumar has just returned to his village after leading a team of Britishers to the top of Ama Dablam (and back down again). He's looking forward to gambling long nights away with his mates - all in the name of the goddess Laxmi over the Tihar celebrations and generally having a stress-free existence for a while. However his parents have had other ideas: in his absence they have arranged for his marriage to the fragrant Pemba. It was time, they said. Marriage - it's not quite what he had in mind but well it was going to happen sooner or later.
Pemba arrives soon after. They meet for a moment, exchange a smile and then the pujas begin. The families pray and drink and party and eat and dance for several days. They bless the new couple, Kumar drinks too much, Pemba overeats and so they are married.
The next day a local official comes to the party. You must go up to Lukla to fill in ‘very important forms' and make payments and ‘official declarations' at the Government District HQ. They set off at once walking up through green valleys to the chilly mists of Lukla. It's mayhem! No flights have been in or out for day after day; trekkers and climbers are crushing in from the mountains; the bars are overflowing; the cafes stuffed to the brim and there are no rooms in the lodges, even for a man of such high esteem and long connections such as Kumar. Pemba is despairing, Kumar is fraught: just when it all looks hopeless the lovely Shyam comes to the rescue. ‘You can sleep in a kitchen at Budda lodge' he says and points them to a small but clean shed in a garden below where they gratefully spread out their sleeping mats and rest.
Hours later their slumber is interrupted: three KE Leaders burst through the door, they have brought their flocks of clients down from the hills at the end of various treks and are now waiting for planes along with the rest of the mountain world. Our happy team of three has heard Kumar is in town - a married man - and have come to celebrate.
Kumar and our client-less three head off to the Wave Bar for beers and men's talk, Pemba still tired, and now not feeling ‘very-good-at-all', stays back in the shed.
There's a rumour flying around (the only thing that IS flying) of an important arrival that night. Tired and smelly trekkers imagine it must be a huge helicopter come to take them out, the drunk and wasted dream of a teleportation machine, the leaders - a more cynical lot - think Pemba must be up the duff. Lukla awaits ...........
Meanwhile in an office in KTM, three wise men are sitting around having a tot or two, discussing profits for the season, the state of the economy and the failure of the entire political system to find a new PM. One is the MD of a large local trekking agency, one owns the only Nepali helicopter company and one is a banker.
A call comes through from the Minister of Tourism - at that hour, it's most peculiar! The Minister has wind of the arrival of a very important new figure for Nepal. The person will be coming into Lukla and he urges the three to get over there post-haste and ensure the new one feels the warmth of the Congress party welcome. ‘Is he mad?' they mutter to themselves. ‘No one but no one is getting in and out of Lukla at the moment.' Things get odder as, over the course of the evening, the leaders of all the major political parties call (that's all 26 - it's a long evening) with various versions of the exact same story. Spurred on by curiosity and the potential of large and lifetime financial gain the three call in the chopper and set off to the helipad.
As they are about to depart a saddhu appears ‘no we don't want a bloody good luck tikka' the three amigos chime, but the saddhu is not put off.
‘Gentlemen hear my words: a child has been born tonight: she will have ultimate powers and foresight. This child will bring the country together; she will install radar at the airports, build roads and bridges (that will be unwashawayable in the monsoons) and bring an end to the accursed loadshedding. You must protect her from the Maoists, the Congress, the UCML, the YCL, the UCPLM, the.....'
‘Yeh, yeh we get it' the powerful three reply not having the willpower to go through the endless list of all the fractions.
Now most decidedly excited, they hop into the chopper and whirlybird it up to the cloud drenched mountain resort where they quickly locate Kumar, Pemba and the three KE leaders in their small but cosy shed. After exchanging names and business cards (this is Nepal) the three find a perch on upturned dhokos, hardly believing this could be the start of a new era in leadership. The boys are all there, returned from the pub. Pemba is in some pain, clutching her tummy and moaning a great deal. The three leaders reach for their extensive med kits and are thrusting packets of cipro, immodium and flagyl at the poor woman. ‘No, no it's not the apple pie' she shrieks and moments later a baby's head appears on the pile of thermarests at her feet.
Kumar faints - how did this happen? They'd only held hands............
‘Pemba, Kumar - it is as the saddhu (and the 26 other political leaders) told; this is the saviour of our country. Bless this child - at long last there will be an end to the fruitless Priministerial elections. We have a leader' the wise men say ‘even if she is a girl'. And they present the new babe with their gifts of Frankincense, tiger balm and knock off mountaineering gear.
What to do in this history-changing moment? ‘Bring me chocolate brownies and a cappucino' groans Pemba. ‘Let's wet the babies head! Bring us Everest beers by the case' call the KE leaders. ‘Flippin eck this could be the end of my climbing career' thinks Kumar ‘bring me rum!' he calls, as visions of nappies and school fees float past his dazed eyes.
Luckily the wise men remember the word of the saddhu - we must protect her! ‘To the chopper, let us away.' At first light as the sun glints over the mountains they bundle the new family off into their chopper. ‘What about us and our clients?' call the bemused and slightly hungover leaders. ‘The clouds have gone, today you'll fly - first round I promise' replies the MD and with that they disappear off to the fogs of Tribhuvan airport (they lied about the planes flying alas).
But what to do with the child? She couldn't stay in the capital, not with the Party hounds baying for ownership. Not to India or China, too close. In a moment of inspiration, the banker cried ‘ah' and spilled forth his ‘great idea'.
So the small family of great people jumped onto a motorbike, Kumar driving, Pemba perched and new baby saviour wedged tightly between them wrapped in scarves and blankets. Their pockets were stuffed with money, tickets, visas and the itinerary for a complex route that would take many days in planes and boats and trains. Off they went weaving and dodging through the traffic choked roads on their way to a far away land. A land where the child could grow in peace and love (albeit with heavy taxation, a crumbling health service and iffy coalition at the reigns), one day to return and guide the Nepalese to prosperity and uninterrupted travel opportunities.
To a far away land, to Keswickstan.....................
I'll be back up the Khumbu for another carry-on during the festive period so a very Merry Christmas and a Happy adventure filled New Year to you all!