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Nepal Chapter 2

Namche to Lungdhen

The trek continues

The trek from Namche to Thame was fairly mellow, again with gorgeous views and very few tourists.

In general, the route is easy to follow, but at one point while singing aloud to myself I took a wrong turn, down a long staircase into the valley below.

I was not excited about having to hike back up, but it did afford me a beautiful morning vantage straight down the valley.

Two nights in Thame

Thame is beautifully situated in a valley with a loud cascading turquoise river running through the center.

Looking past town up the valley, you can see dozens of waterfalls—each several hundred feet tall—pouring into the valley. Each stream finds its own unique path of least resistance until ultimately converging to form the Thame Khola River.

Despite being around 40F, my shirt, pants and socks were pretty sweaty, so the first thing I did when arriving to my teahouse was change into dry clothes and hang my wet ones up to dry.

Not a bad place to hang laundry...

There was just one other person staying at the teahouse that night, an Austrian man named Gerald. We ate dinner in the dining room and went to bed early.

Rest day in Thame

In the morning, Gerald and I ate breakfast then set out for a hike; to a local monastery and another acclimitization hike, up 2,200 ft to 14,665 ft—almost to the Sunder Peak false summit.

A Buddhist ceremony

While admiring the ornate architecture of the monastery, we noticed monks gathering and entering the sanctuary.

This is Gerald, with the Thame monastery in the background. We had to leave our things outside, so I don't have any pictures of the inside.

They motioned for us to come in. We dropped our packs, removed our shoes, pushed aside a large heavy tapestry and stepped inside.

What I experienced next is a little difficult to articulate, but I'll do my best.

The room

The room was of modest size, damp, dark and cool. Colorful religious paintings covered every square inch and beautiful tapestries hung from the ceiling, blocking out the light from the windows. The only exception being narrow lines of sunlight that crept around their edges.

Two walls were covered with small cubbies from floor to ceiling, filled with what I believe were prayer flag cloths. Above each stack of cloth was a wooden block (perhaps the blocks used for printing).

Smoke from burning incense created a haze that swirled in the skinny streams of light.

Musical instruments I've never before seen and religious relics were placed around the room, with a large tabernacle-looking structure at the center.

The monks

There were about twenty monks, each dressed in red and wrapped in a large luxurious maroon cloak.

They sat cross-legged on rows of low wooden platforms that faced the center of the room from two sides.

The men ranged in size and age, all with buzzed hair and some with mustaches or goatees.

The monks also had instruments; bells, horns, conchs, drums etc.

In front of each of them was a rectangular wooden box with hundreds of rectangular loose papers inside, containing lines of music and words.

The ceremony

As they quietly settled into their places, a young monk--all of maybe nine years old--poured a glass of milk tea for each of the elders.

And then the chanting began.

It was mesmerizing and repetitive. Low of the octave scale and perfectly in unison.

Every ten minutes or so, it seemed to morph into a different chant, with the various bells rung, horns blown and drums banged according to the music sheets in front of them.

I was sitting on the ground nearest a large drum and could feel the sound waves reverberate off my chest, cheeks and arms.

Gerald, on the other hand, was sitting directly in front of a couple of young monks who were all too excited to blow loudly into large conch shells.

He must have been seeing stars by the end.


At one point, one of the young monks walked around to everyone--including Gerald and I--and poured a liquid into our cupped hands. Not sure what to do, Gerald rubbed it on his face and I drank it.

It tasted like liquid Vicks Vapo Rub. I'm not sure I was supposed to drink it.

Maybe fifteen minutes later a young monk walked around, offering another mysterious liquid to each of us.

Again, for whatever reason, I decided to slurp it from my hands. This one tasted like sour beer and had particles that can only best be described as "the mother" which remained stuck on my palm.

I wasn't about to lick that off.

(I later learned it was chhaang)

Finally, the first young monk walked around with a small orange disc. Each monk pressed their middle finger into the middle, where a dark orange wax was, then smeared the orange on their forehead or neck.

Gerald and I elected to press it onto our necks.

Oh boys

In all, it was an incredibly surreal experience—otherwordly, perhaps. And the seriousness of the religious tradition was not lost on me. It was deeply moving.

Yet at one point, when the leader had his hands held together in prayer at his chin, I noticed one of the young monks also held his hands together, but had brought them up so that his index finger went right up his nose.

It reminded me of the universally familiar humanity in it all.

An awkward escape

With no idea how long the ceremony was going to last, and now shivering because I only had a light baselayer shirt on, I had to plan a very public, perhaps rude exit that included standing up and walking across the room—right in front of the leader—and a very large donations box.

I did have a 1,000 rupee on me, which was a lot for someone on a fixed cash budget for this remote trip (no credit card machines or ATMs deep in the Himalayas, it turns out).

I briefly considered whether I could make change to donate 500 rupees, but that seemed more an insult than not donating anything at all. Note to self for next time: bring extra cash.

I still feel conflicted about this. I might make the trek back, or just be sure to donate to future monasteries I visit when I'm back near Namche/Kathmandu.

Onward to Lungdhen

The next day I had another relatively short trek to the village of Lungdhen.

It was beautiful and at one point took me through a fragrant juniper forest and past a small herd of yaks.

Correction: I'm pretty sure these were hill cows, not yaks.

I got a little lost at one point, gingerly navigating up a sprawling icy waterfall. A quick look on my GPS and I realized I was about twenty yards off course.

I tried to bushwack across the waterways but the rocks were too icy and unstable and the water too deep and fast, so I ended up hiking all the way back down to where I originally lost the trail.

Lungdhen will be my launching point tomorrow up my first pass, Renjo La Pass, a 3,500 ft climb to an elevation over 17,500 ft.

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