Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…

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Cultural exchanges

When I first joined this trip I felt a little out of place in an overwhelmingly American group. Ten days down the line, having got to know everyone, I’m much more at ease but my ears nevertheless pricked up when a new trekking group arrived at our lodge in Debouche sporting familiar accents: fellow Brits!

They settled at the table next to ours and it was not long before ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ floated across the common area from their iPod speaker. One member of the group squeezed past our table with a cheery ‘sorry mate’ – an expression that’s formed the wallpaper of my life but now suddenly struck me as extremely British. Another sported a fine example of vibrantly-colored comedy head-gear. ‘Are those hats popular in the UK?’ one of the Americans asked. I confessed that, yes, for cold weather holidays, such as trekking and skiing, they were.

As dinner was served a blow-up doll (fortunately in surprisingly seemly attire) joined the party, the stimulus for a sumptuous array of risqué jokes. As it was cleared away, the group fortified themselves with cans of lager and a bottle of rum, and embarked with great gusto on a drinking game. We retreated to bed at 8pm, but their party lasted late into the night (or at least, 10pm, which is impressive by trekking standards).

I assumed at this point that they had a rest day, and hence a lie in, the following morning but no – at 7:50am they were mustered at the front of the lodge, ready to trek. Including the blow up doll.

Ten days in something of an American bubble had given me a fresh perspective on my compatriots. They seemed to be having an absolute blast, but as they set off up the path ahead of us I counted myself fortunate to be trekking with my largely American friends – I don’t think I could keep up with the Brits!


Religious observances

As yesterday was a rest day some of us walked back up to Tengboche after lunch to listen to the monks at prayer. Tengboche is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, the largest in the area. It’s a building with a chequered past: founded in 1916 it was rebuilt once after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1934, and again after being destroyed by fire in 1989. Third time lucky…

Despite the loss of many precious books and paintings in the fire the restored monastery is an impressive building, and the splendour of the prayer hall (and the large compliment of some 60 monks) reflects its wealth.

The prayer hall at Tengboche Gompa.

The prayer hall at Tengboche Gompa.

Only six monks were at prayer during our visit but their dissonant chants were rich and other-worldly despite their small number. Although attempting to muster an appropriately spiritual frame of mind I was more than a little envious of both their thick red cloaks and the regular top-ups of tea from a seventh monk, as my breath steamed white in the unheated hall.

If only the other tourists, who outnumbered by monks by around 10:1, had shared their discipline. Our group was in place 10 minutes before the prayers started, sat quietly throughout and refrained from fiddling with distracting gadgets, as the notices had politely requested us. Many of the others, however, arrived up to 25 minutes after the prayers had started, walked about and fidgeted creating a background static of Goretex rustles, and provided an unwelcome accompaniment of clicks, chimes and beeps from an assortment of cameras. Lacking a monkish discipline myself, my irritation at this behaviour (which seemed a poor return for the privilege of observing the ceremony) disturbed my inner peace very sadly.

Fortunately, the peacefulness of this area, and the good company of friends old and new, restored me. With such a wonderful view from my bedroom window this morning, it’s hard to stay cross for long.

The soothing view from my bedroom window.

The soothing view from my bedroom window.