28 August 2008

Letter 3.16

One morning I set out in glimmering lifting mist for the Monkey Temple, The cold night gave way to a warm, sunny day as I walked across the sacred river which flows through the valley. Buffalo were cooling themselves in the water. Ancient wooden houses, with overhanging second floors, decorated and painted, lined the banks on one side, pagodas and temples were amidst the trees on the other shore. In the farthest distance, as always, the amazing mountains loomed above everything. Even clouds seldom rose to obscure them but huddled lower, sometimes as low as the valley itself. Hard lines and deep shadows hid parts of the peaks.

I passed a beautiful rooster and a man weaving; shuttles, feet, and hands working and moving in fast complex patterns. The rooster watched sternly, now and then pecking at himself. No sidewalks. Few cars. Little unnatural noise. Past a statue of the god Kali, where the Ghurkas hold their annual cow-chopping rites, beheading cows with one blow of their swords. Finally reached a huge hill forest. Steps went way way up, steep but perhaps 1000 feet long with a double railing down the center. Monkeys were everywhere, doing everything: Fighting, eating, staring, scratching; showing very human emotions. They enjoyed sliding down the railing and the ridedid look like fun: a bannister a 1/5 mile long is certainly tempting. Monkeys helped defend this temple against invaders, and so earned perpetual rights.

I attended the afternoon services, where monks chanted texts in rhythmic accord; strong, deep voices in a vertiginous wave; and played drums, cymbals, conch shells, trumpets, and a fantastic clarinet-like instrument, and altogether the music and chanting produced a striking impression, the weird wailing overpowering everything until I became weak and slid to the floor only to find myself on the ceiling. It was the sort of sound that can be neither recorded nor replayed, only felt, intuitively, like a vivid dream.

A couple days later I got a trekking permit and set out for Namche Bazaar, near Everest and the Tibet border. Walked 2½ days out -- it's a 10 day trek -- and 2 days back. It got too much for me. The leeches, mosquitos, dysentery, cold all contributed, and finally 10 miles from the towering 24,000 feet range, 14,000 feet above me, I gave up and turned back. But the sight of those mountains made it all worth while, even fording the icy rivers, and they'll loom large in memory for a long long time.

Today is Saturday: the 'Shabbat' hereabouts. Nepali numbers look like Hebrew script. Another Lost Tribe? (I've lost count.) I'm recovering from my trek with apple-pie. Although some might consider this just the sort of anti-American calumny they'd expect from me, I must declare: the best apple-pie is made in Nepal. Yep, it's as Nepali as apple-pie.

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