Kathmandu to Helambu


Kathmandu is dust. Kathmandu is smoke and noise; Kathmandu is mud and shit on your boots; Kathmandu is steam in your face and the hot sun on your neck. Kathmandu is a maze; Kathmandu is a million eyes on you as you stumble through it. Kathmandu is a drain on your wallet, a shrill “Twenty rupee!” at a time. Kathmandu is laryngitis and a cough. Kathmandu is pushing against you; Kathmandu is shoving past you.

Kathmandu is Steve. Kathmandu is Steve picking you up from the airport, in the middle of the fucking night, for half of what a cabbie will do it for. Kathmandu is sleeping on Steve’s floor after a hugh mess of food, getting over the jetlag. Kathmandu is finding some shitty industrial estate in Patan in the noon heat and drinking tea with the guy who made your khukuri, his calloused hands dancing around the glass. Kathmandu is buying a Thanka shop’s finder a bag of rice. Kathmandu is a three hour delay. Kathmandu is three beers with Meagan.

Kathmandu is the immaculate smile of the fat guy at the tourist office who says you don’t need a permit, and saves you eight grand. Kathmandu is sitting on some dude’s lap in a suicide cab as our bags fly off the roof. Kathmandu is the guy on the bus next to you giving you his phone number in case of trouble, and inviting you to teach English at his school.

But all that’s gone. We’re in Helambu; the terraced rice paddies recede into the hills and haze. Women climb trees to chop dry wood from the top while cooing soothing songs. Ghurkas laugh at the size of my bag, then pat me on the back. Porters hustle past; we keep pace with them for a few minutes, but drop back soon. The heat is something, and we slow down – each step up the endless stairs a microcosm of the climb. We walk, we camp; the glowing red dusk makes the day. We wake up to see it again, pack up and set off. We get lost; the dust thickens, and we wave down a bus. The woman I almost spear with the ice axe laughs it off. We fly down to the river, to Melamchi.

Melamchi is an open sewer in a construction site. Melamchi is the shits. Melamchi is no power and jaded Frenchmen. But Melanchi is the guy selling Strepsils giving you two free ones, and a smile.

We’re eyeing Langtang next.

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