I hear the alarm, but it feels like a dream. I open my eyes and surprise, surprise. I am not dreaming at all. We are in Syabrubesi, our first village on the Tamang Heritage Trek. Come on, Vlad, wake up! Can’t you hear the mountains calling us? I am pretty sure he hears them, but won’t admit it. Half-awake he looks at me: How did you sleep? Now that he asks, I realize I haven’t had a perfect sleep. I woke up a couple of times, either by nervousness, either by my sleeping bag. Oh, my sleeping bag! It will take some time to get used to each other. I look at it and I know that we will spend a lot of nights together in the following year. So I’d better learn how to love it!
We start packing. And I cannot help thinking. So this is how it’s going to be like every day? We unpack in the evening just to pack everything back the following morning. We will probably become masters in the art of packing. With our backpacks set and the walking poles ready to launch, we head for breakfast. And there is Pradip, waiting for us all smiles. Our dear friend and guide for a couple of days. You have to eat well! Look what’s on today’s agenda! And with a prankish smile, he points out the window. Where I get to see the not so friendly ascent waiting for us. We eat some porridge and pancakes, enjoy our tea and get started!
The first ascent in the Tamang trek
But it’s only our first day of the Tamang trek. I guess it cannot be that hard. We are fresh and with a high level of excitement. However, after only a couple of minutes, I start hearing my pulse. And it’s not calm at all. Where the heck are all the hours that I spent running in the last year? Should we have got a porter? Come on, we are young, we shouldn’t let others carry our burden.
What was that thing that those Buddhists were telling me? Oh yes, mind over body. They must know something if they preach it so intensely. I look up trying to encourage myself. And nothing. Where are all the peaks? Where are all the mesmerizing views? All I can see is this steep hill. But I hear Pradip, who seems to read my mind. Come on, be brave! On top, we have great views over the Ganesh Himal range and the Gosaikunda Valley. Ok, let’s do this. I start counting and focusing on my breath and this helps a lot.
Peaks, locals, and sign language
After two long hours of only going up, I hear those sweet words. We’ve made it, it’s tea time now! Oh yes, I feel like Rocky! I defeated that nasty hill. From here on there will be no more going up (for today at least). I look desperately around me for the peaks. But nothing, it’s way too cloudy. I hear people talking. They sound like they are arguing but that is because of the high pitches. But they must have heard our voices because all of a sudden they stop talking and peek their shy heads out to greet us. They start talking to Pradip. We smile and utter some Namaste, the only greeting we’ve learned so far.
We find a table outside and wait patiently for our teas. An older and curious villager comes and joins us. Vlad tries to have a conversation. But he only gets back smiles and some nodding. So we stick to sign language and it seems that it works much better. He points to our teas. Yes, yes, we love tea. We feel silly and hope that we guessed correctly what he is implying by pointing to our cups. He smiles and then points to our camera. We gladly snap a portrait.
But our silent chitchat is suddenly interrupted. I hear Pradip calling for us. We quickly jump off our chairs and go to check him. Oh well, the clouds have decided to spoil us. And they have offered us two lofty peaks. My heart is pumping joy and excitement. I actually feel like on a first date. A first date with snow-capped peaks! I wonder what sort of magic these mountains do that they manage to stir so many emotions in me? I simply cannot take my eyes off them. But after a couple of minutes, the clouds claim back their territory. However, I now feel more alive. And I am pretty sure it’s not the tea.
Life through the eyes of a Tamang
We start our way to Gatlang. Thank God it’s only down from here. Now I can question Pradip freely. I also interviewed him, you will read it soon. But I really cannot hold myself from pumping him for curiosities. We talk about him, his family, and his childhood. He smiles and tells me that he got his first pair of sandals at the age of 12. Everybody used to walk around barefooted. In fact, his grandpa used to walk barefoot on a trail of two weeks. Only to get to the border with Tibet to get some salt.
It’s amazing how easily he talks to me about his difficulties. He makes my problems seem so small and insignificant. He doesn’t complain, I don’t feel sadness in his voice. Pradip just tells me with a smile on his face that this is how life is and we have to appreciate it no matter what. Now he really makes me feel small. Not that I am any giant myself, but this is how I always feel when I get life lessons from people who had and still have a hard life. I smile back and think how lucky we are to have him with us. We talk freely and I feel we’ve known each other for ever.
Are there any animals in this area? I try to whisper to Pradip, making sure that Vlad, who is a couple of feet behind, cannot hear me. Otherwise, he will surely start making fun of my fear of bears. The truth is I am actually curious of what animals could lurk near us. (OK, fine, maybe I also want to make sure that our bears haven’t followed us so far). Now I do feel sadness in Pradip’s voice. He tells me that some while back you had chances of spotting a red panda. But now it’s getting more and more difficult. They have big problems with poaching. A lot of locals hunt the animals, which unfortunately are now almost extinct. And they do it to sell them on China’s black market.
Gatlang Village – a Nepali hidden gem
We stop to enjoy the view. Gatlang village is now in our sight. Without realizing, I speed up. Having seen it, the houses surrounded by greenery, I now want to get there faster to have enough time to explore it. Gatlang is an authentic village, inhabited by people belonging to the Tamang minority. They say that the Tamangs have Tibetan origins, coming from South Tibet. Actually, in Tibetan Ta means horse and Mang means trader. So Tamang actually means horse traders.
We enter the village and I instantly fall in love. I look at people’s faces and yes, they don’t look like the majority we saw in Kathmandu. We can see the Tibetan features, the closeness to Tibet (we are at only 15 km away from the border). We look at houses and cannot get enough of them. I try to figure out their orientation because they all seem to be looking in the same direction. But given that my sense of orientation is pretty much non-existent, Vlad comes to the rescue. Did you notice that all the houses have the Eastern wall made of wood? Oh, well, what can I say?! For sure I had noticed the wooden wall, but without being able to tell it’s facing east.
So all houses face east, towards the mighty Sun. Most of the houses have the Eastern wall with wooden decorations and the other walls made of stones. They look like piles of stones. And don’t look solid at all, so I start to understand why there are so many earthquake traces. Some of the houses were completely ruined, while others only partially. At one of the houses, a bunch of young boys work hard but with high spirits and smiles on their faces. I finally get to feel we are in the countryside. It even smells rural. Kids play around and run in their loose sandals. Roosters and chicken wander around unhindered. Every once in a while we spot a baby yak or a sheep. The fresh air stings our noses.
Pradip explains to us the houses’ structure. At ground level, they keep the cattle. Because they give heat during winter and thus provide some warmth to the upper level, where the living areas are. But he stops to talk to some women. They seem to ask a lot of questions. He smiles, says goodbye and turns to us giggling. He tells me that he fooled the ladies. Because he replied to them in Tamang, a dialect he speaks fluently given that he is also a Tamang himself. The ladies were surprised to hear him talk so well, so asked Pradip where did he learn it. And he, to tease them, told them he went to a foreign languages center.
It’s time for some dhal baat
Finally, we get to our homestay. Our stomachs are desperately demanding some food. We have our lunch with Pradip and carry on our stories. We are having vegetable momos with rice, and Pradip some boiled potatoes, which he soaks in a mix of green chili, Himalayan pepper, and salt. I find strange his choice of food. So I am thinking that it must be something from the Tamang culture (But by the end of our trek I will understand how good boiled potatoes are and what a useful snack they can be).
I don’t feel like wasting any time so I take the boys out for another stroll. I try not to get affected by the houses hit by the 2015 earthquake. When we see the plastic and metal sheeting we know that they hide holes. But the people don’t have the earthquake on their faces. They smile each time we pass them and greet us warmly.
But soon we start to feel the day and decide to go back to our Tamang homestay. It’s only 6 pm and it’s already pitch dark. We each order a delicious dhal baat, their traditional meal: A healthy mix of rice, vegetables, lentils soup and spicy pickles. The mountain air gets us tired. I feel I can barely keep my eyes opened. I explain this to Pradip and he starts laughing. There is no mountain air here, it’s only hills. The mountains begin from 4000m. But I am used to our mountain hills back home.
We go to our room all smiles. I get my sleeping bag and sneak inside. I look at the watch and I start laughing. It’s only 20:12. But my laughter gets defeated by a deep and sound sleep.