~Chandra Prasad Bhattarai~
Trans : Tejendra Sherchan
Lhakpa Phuti impatiently waited for the whole day today too in the hope of hearing the news of her husband. The eleven o’clock night news broadcast from Radio Nepal, the last for the day, also didn’t air any news of the success or failure of her husband’s expedition team. She had been desperately restless and worried for three days. If it continued for few more days, her flesh would be halved because of worries.
It had been almost two months that Pasang Nuru Sherpa joined the Mount Everest Expedition of the American Alpine Club. He had spent first three weeks for its preparation in Kathmandu. Then, he flew to Lukla with the expedition team and commenced the trek. The forty-two membered team comprising of five American male mountaineers, two ladies – the wives of the team leader and another man, the liaison officer, Sirdar, cook and porters had walked through Pangboche village up toward the base camp a month ago. Since four of the expedition team members including Pasang Nuru were from this village, one night camp was set up at the open field just above his house.
While allowing them to spend the night with their families, Sirdar Dawa Nuru had said, “You should not be late tomorrow morning. Come early. You already know how the leader goes mad if we don’t start our trek on time.” The Sirdar is a distant brother-in-law of Pasang Nuru.
Pasang Nuru had come to sleep at his own house. He had had long conversation with his wife and their three children- twelve-year-old Ang Phurba, eight-year-old Ngimi and six-year-old Mingma Nuru till late night. The kids had been excited as he gave warm shirts to each of them. He had bought them from a Tibetan trader in Namche bazar on the way from Lukla.
However, he had brought a light blue Korean sweater for Lhakpa Phuti from Kathmandu. Handing it to her, he said, “It’s for you.” Phuti gladly took it. This is a routine thing for her, every time he visits home, he brings something for her. She is assured that her husband loves her very much.
“Mummy, shall I wear it when I go to Dumji?” Ngimi tried to confirm with Phuti, after the girl opened the present, tried it on and liked it. Then she folded it gently as if it would get damaged. The children would wear new clothes in special occasions such as Dumji, Manirimdu and Lhosars, and attending weddings. They even would wear new clothes while going to see Sir Edmund Hillary landing in Khumbu by a helicopter. Sir Edmund’s love for this Himalayan village never faded away. The more he gets older, the more his love for this region and people grows stronger. He will always love this village and people. He visits this village at least once a year even if he would have to fly by a helicopter.
The husband and wife stayed up late into the night even after the children went to beds. They talked about their relatives and friends in Kathmandu. The wife raised the possibility of enrolling their eldest son in an English boarding school in Kathmandu. The husband shared the hard reality of working in a mountaineering company when the competition within the industry is tough.
“The trekking companies owned by people from our own villages get richer by exploiting employees like us.” Pasang Nuru couldn’t hold the frustration and shared with Lhakpa Phuti. It is commonly discussed topic among the trekking guides and the climbing Sherpas. “We climb the peaks by risking our lives, but they are the ones to earn lots of money, build big houses in Kathmandu and drive expensive cars.”
They also talked about alternative earning sources in Kathmandu during off-season in trekking.
“Please save some money from this expedition. We’ll open a restaurant in Kathmandu, shalln’t we?” Lhakpa Phuti implored. While in Kathmandu, she had noticed a busy restaurant at Kalopul. It was managed by Tendi and his wife Ang Doma, also from Pangboche. She knew that couple could afford to live in Kathmandu and send their three children to schools with the income from the restaurant and some money saved by Tendi from trekkings and expeditions.
It has been fourteen years that Pasang Nuru and Lhakpa Phuti got married. Pasang’s father, Danuru, had joined French Mt. Everest Expedition of 1978 and had succeeded to the top with three French mountaineers. Sonam Tsering, a member of the same team, from Lobuche, also had reached to the top. Intimacy flourished between the two summiteers and their families. Lhakpa Phuti, the young and pretty daughter of Sonam Tsering, fell in love with the handsome and well-built Pasang Nuru, son of Danuru. So did Pasang as he couldn’t resist the beauty of Phuti. After meeting each other a few times in about five months, they got married.
Lhakpa Phuti is the youngest among the three daughters of her parents. The eldest got married in Thame. The second daughter was liked by one of the mountaineers from the same 1978 French Everest Expedition while he came to trek in 1980, and took her to France. They live in a village about a hundred miles southwest of Paris. She, born and brought up in a remote mountain village of Nepal, is the only to know whether she is really happy in a different culture at a far-away place though full of amenities. She never shared this with her parents. The youngest Lhakpa Phuti was overly loved daughter. The parents didn’t want to send her away like they did to the second daughter and decided to give in marriage to Pasang Nuru of a nearby village. Virtually there is no distance between Pangboche and Lobuche. Even Ang Phurba, the elder son of Lhakpa Phuti, can walk on his own from his home to Lobuche and return the same day.
Up late in the night, they fondly chatted.
“I won’t be able to stop you from going early morning tomorrow. I don’t know when shall you return. I know I can’t sleep tonight. I would rather talk with you all night.” Phuti expressed with Pasang at around one in the night.
“This time, I will certainly bring the top.” Pasang Nuru had confidently said to his dear wife, caressing her hair. In this region, to scale any Himalayan peak is commonly said to ‘bring the top’ by local people around here. He had already received the blessings of Guru Rinpoche when he visited him at the Tengboche Monastery earlier. He was assured of his success more than ever before.
“In case the weather is not in our favour, don’t force yourself up to the top.” Lhakpa Phuti cautioned Pasang. Anybody could feel her deepest love for him. “You have already made up to Sascol twice. I’m happy with that.” South Col is usually pronounced as Sascol by the porters and local people. It is just four hundred meters below the top of Mt. Everest.
She continued, “What shall I do if misfortune befalls like on Mingmar?” Mingmar was the cousin brother of Lhakpa Phuti. He had joined the Korean Ama Dablam Expedition as the Sirdar two years ago. Despite knowing that there would be heavy snowstorm, he stubbornly had led the climbing team up toward the top. Alas, he got vanished in the snowstorm. Nobody knows where his dead body is. At least, the dead bodies of the three Koreans were found.
“If luck favours us, the weather will be good. If not, we have no other choice but to descend from Sascol. There is nothing we can do. “Pasang shared the uncertainty of mountaineering. To return from South Col is to return from four hundred meters down from the top of Mt. Everest. In other words, it is like a soldier leaving the battlefield, defeated, after his bullets run out though one was still winning the battle. Pasang Nuru had already experienced twice the bitterness of returning from the South Col.
“The company will pay me better if I bring the top.” Pasang was more encouraged with the thought of fame and money. In the last winter, Angphuri had scaled the top with the German Mountaineering Team. The team leader had awarded him with a brand new transistor radio, and a jumbo-sized sleeping bag of best quality for his wife. One of the German ladies had even given her warmest sweater to his wife by pulling right out of her body.
“Mummy, if our father brings the top, will presents like those given to us as well?” Ang Phurba, Lhakpa Phuti’s elder son had asked her in his innocence. He had imagined a sleeping bag as big as the one presented to Angphuri’s house. He also thought he would sleep with his brother and sister in the same sleeping bag together.
In fact, the mention of financial benefit by Pasang didn’t draw Lhakpa Phuti’s attention. She knew it’s only the talk for the family. Expenses run high while living in Kathmandu for six months without work. Then only, Pasang could find work in a mountaineering company for three months. Besides the room rent and food expenses, he spent money on beers up to nine bottles a day while hanging out with friends. It’s normal when one drinks three or four bottles of beer in a day. Pasang often loses the sense of being in Kathmandu or Base Camp while drinking beer. One bottle of beer costs sixty or seventy rupees in Kathmandu. When trek starts up from Lukla to Base Camp through many villages including Pangboche, the cost of the bottle also hikes up to four hundred rupees. Sherpas like Pasang do climbings by lavishly spending money on beer and other drinks. He had hardly saved enough money for his family.
“You sleep. You will have to leave earlier in the morning,” Lhakpa Phuti said, “If I fall asleep, that’s fine. If I don’t, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to leave for anywhere.” In no time, Pasang Nuru started snoring. Lhakpa Phuti kept on looking at his face, burnt by frostbites and cold weather while climbing Himalayas in the past years. Shortly she also fell asleep.
Next morning, Lhakpa Phuti got up earlier than Pasang did. She cooked Syakpa, which was Pasang’s favorite food. Despite sleepless night virtually, she was still energetic. After a while, she woke Pasang up. He dragged himself up to the fireside.
“In fact, I’m thinking of making some Rhildok. I know you love it. Is it okay if you go a bit late?” Lhakpa Phuti told him.
“I’m afraid, I will be in hurry. The Sirdar Dawa Nuru will be upset. I’ll eat Rhildok when I come back. Syakpa was really good.” Pasang complimented.
At the time of farewell, Lhakpa Phuti offered him a glass of Chhyang and some Phemar. She then put a Khada on him. She kept watching him walk up to the camp until he was out of her sight. The melodious sounds of Sangdung and Gelling streaming from the monastery nearby were heard. Then, she gazed up at the Himalayan peaks, somewhat lost.
From their house is seen the Mount Ama Dablam shining in the sunrays in the morning. It’s too tempting to watch the chains of Mount Ama Dablam, Lhostse, Lhotsesar and so on as the sun rises.
It has been exactly one month that Pasang Nuru took Lhakpa Phuti’s leave and headed up to base camp with the American mountaineers. Four days ago, Phuti received the news that three expedition members had left Camp Four for the top. God knows, she believed that one of three climbers was her husband even though she was not sure. This time, Pasang was determined to scale the top. She had never noticed his enthusiasm in the past years like he showed this time.
Even the eleven o’clock night Radio Nepal news broadcast didn’t say anything about Pasang Nuru and his expedition team. She didn’t have other choice but to sleep. However, she was having trouble falling sleep. She thought of the seven o’clock morning radio news of successful climb by Pasang tomorrow. The villagers would throng to her house to congratulate her. If Ang Phurba goes to school, he would proudly tell all in the school that his father brought the top. He could be concerned about if the children will attend his school. For last four months, since two teachers have gone to their homes, the school ground has been used for play, not for studies. What could possibly be the best reason for the children to come to school when the teachers are absent?
Lhakpa Phuti couldn’t sleep although she was trying hard. Again, she thought of the seven
o’clock radio news tomorrow. It possibly could be the bad one, too. She analyzed the situation in her own terms. Lives of young climbing Sherpas are always at risk after they leave the base camp. Anytime, the snowstorm can sweep them off. Or they could slip off and fall down hundreds metre below. Their bodies could be scattered into pieces and would require to be collected with metal tongs. Many climbing Sherpas have died in the snow because of low temperatures. She had been hearing frequently that even the mountaineers make to the top, it’s often equally dangerous for them to climb down. Late Pasang Lhamu Sherpa had met the same tragic fate. What if her husband also slips off the trail in the snow? Tomorrow morning, villagers will throng to her house to express condolence instead.
What if it really happens? What shall she do? Her cousin Tsering Doma had to meet similar fate some time before. Luckily, she met an Austrian mountaineer and went to Austria and lives happily with him. She could go with him because she didn’t have children like hers. Lhakpa Phuti couldn’t even think of abandoning her three children. She thought of opening a restaurant with the insurance money she would get of her husband and would take care of her children.
She landed in real world after having bad thought. She composed herself. She looked scared. “Oh, my God! Why am I having bad thought like this?” She muttered. She found herself wet with the sweat. She looked at her three children who were sleeping without any trace of worry. She clearly saw them even in the darkness. Still she couldn’t stop worrying. Then, she wiped her dry lips. She was thirsty. She drank a glass of water. Then she grabbed a torchlight put beside her pillow and looked up on the wall. A colour photo of Pasang and her was hanging there for long time. She went closer. She brought the frame down and looked at it. Lhakpa Phuti felt weird about all these things. She had never felt like this before. She pressed the photo hard on her chest with it and carried it to her bed.
The fear had not vanished from Lhakpa Phuti’s mind yet although sweating lessened a bit. Suddenly her eyes caught the sight of transistor radio nearby. She began to fear even from the radio. She decided not to listen to the seven o’clock morning news tomorrow. She lied down on her bed, and closed her eyes trying to forget everything.
Dumji, Manirimdu, Lhosar: Festivals in the Sherpa community.
Syakpa, Rhildok, Chhyang, Phemar: Traditional foods and drink of the Sherpas.
Khada: A scarf presented respectfully.
Sangdung, Gelling: Musical instruments, generally played in the monasteries.
(Source : English Samakalinsahitya)