Sunday, August 31, 2008

Concerto: Basan Part 12

The headache is back with a vengeance. Eleanor, Genevieve and Jeff have already washed and are having breakfast. I feel like a hammer is pounding my head faster and faster as I get up. I shove some cold medicine and several vitamin C pills down my throat and grit my teeth as I get up to join the others. Over the roofs of the small houses, Qomolangma is completely covered by thick mountain fog. The sun is out, but the fog that bounces red and purple all over the surrounding mountains also hides the yellow ball - or maybe I'm just too high in the world for the sun to be out at this time.
After a breakfast of flour pancakes and butter tea, we drive the first kilometer to the base camp. Mud green tents form a large rectangle. In front of each tent are signs identifying the tents -"Happy Hotel," "Everest Hotel," "Yak Hotel," "Qomolangma Tacky Hotel" - along with rings of heavily tanned Tibetans drinking butter tea. The locals stare at us as we pass through. The base camp seems like a tourist trap for people to say that they "slept at the base camp," but I see no actual climber.
After Laba parks the car, we begin our trek to the base camp and the mountain. The clouds begin to clear as the sun rises higher. I walk up ahead with Laba to avoid scowling at everyone - the pressure of the headache is beginning to lighten, but the lack of oxygen makes talking and breathing painful, which Laba seems to do comfortably as I struggle to keep up with him. He lights a cigarette, the fumes thankfully blowing to his right and not over me.
"Laba, you're almost forty, but not only are you kicking my ass on this hike, you're also smoking," I exasperate.
"Haha, your body isn't too bad," Laba replies, blowing out a swirling whirl of smoke. "You have a headache, but you're still walking ahead of everybody else."
"How do you know I have a headache? I didn't tell you."
"You're not the first tourist that I've taken to Qomolangma."
By the fourth kilometer, we reach a small plateau. To our right a river roars, the pure water saturated by the mountain dirt. I stand up straight to breathe more deeply. Laba lights another cigarette. While waiting for Eleanor and Jeff to catch up, I browse through the pictures of Qomolangma that I have taken on my camera. How is it that the mountain looks exactly the same in my pictures no matter where I take the picture?
We reach the final checkpoint to get closer to the mountain. Unfortunately, we need yet another permit to get closer - this one costs about $1000 per person. Instead, we climb the closest prayer flag and rock stupa covered hill to gaze at Everest. The clouds have almost completely cleared save for a few lingering white strips. On a nearby rock, I see a Sanskrit phrase carved into a rock.
"Tsekey, what does this mean?" I ask.
Our tour guide walks over and glances at the script. "In Chinese, that says '六字真言 (Six True Words),' or in Tibetan 'Ah Mane Padme Hong.' It is repeated by pilgrims and all prayers to prevent pain, death and punishment, to live longer and to get rich."
"I've seen this phrase written on mountainsides and all over Lhasa."
"Yes, it is written everywhere, like ceilings, stone utensils, mountains and doors. It's like 'Ahmitofo' in Chinese Buddhism - to say it will bring it will comfort you and others, to repeat it will bring fortune and good luck."
The monastery across the guesthouse runs this business, using the income to pay for more butter to worship Buddha and more food for new guests. The only locals that visit the girls are young teenage soldiers stationed at small checkpoints along the road to Everest. The soldiers gather around the windows that let in sunlight, slapping playing cards onto the table, yelling "Wo Cao (Fuck)" or "Chi ba (Eat some)" every now and then. The guesthouse that is maintained by two teenage girls, who prepare our meals and keep the bedrooms tidy. The girls are by the other window that lets in sunlight, knotting each others' hair into tidy braids. They have worked here for about three years, taking care of travelers that come and go. Their lives remind me of my experiences as a waiter in San Francisco - they cannot travel, but the world comes to their doorsteps seeking food and shelter while it takes in the local scenery.

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Anonymous said...

好奇,过来看一眼。原来你学会了说wo cao,而且去了西藏。

NorieNC said...

Wish I could write in Chinese characters too here. I have to get the key board stickers and software. I was in China from 1981-1982. And in Taiwan in 1979. I linked to this post from I know you recognize the blog name. : )

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