between the Nakvak and the Korok: an expedition to the Torngat mountains. Hiking through the Valley of the cirques, climbing Mont d'Iberville, fishing in the Nakvak Valley, Canada, Torngat Mountains, northern Québec, trek, Nakvak, Korok, icefield, caribou trail, summit, travelogue, trip, travel, hike


Krishna's family


Sunday, November 23

In the early morning, there were 2 or 3 more tremors, but shorter in duration and not as intense. I wasn't sure whether the second one was real or just a dream. I got up about 5:30 and started organizing my pack for the trip back, which would start the following day. We had the traditional breakfast of porridge and coffee. Then Krishna showed up with a taxi van and we drove out of Pokhara to the foot of the trail up the mountain to his village, where his family home was located. I had put some band aids on my 2 blood blisters, but one of them was pretty deep. Normal walking did not bother it, but I thought the climbing up and down the mountain might. I took one of my walking sticks as a walking cane, which helped. Rob was not feeling that well, having caught the cold that I had had and Andy was getting over.

It was maybe a 45 minute climb, stone steps and grades. As we walked, I asked Krishna if they have snakes there, and he told me a story about his next youngest brother, Prem, when he was a young boy. There are poisonous snakes that lurk in trees, and apparently Prem climbed a tree and got bitten several times. He was on the verge of death and they called upon a folk healer, an old woman who used herbs and such, and eventually he recovered. We kept our eyes in the trees for a while, but Krishna said the snakes usually appear in the rainy season.

After reaching the top, we followed a trail along the crest. There were some farmhouses along the trail, but there was no road. On the other side of the mountain, it plunged steeply down into a valley. In some places where the mountainside leveled out were terraced fields. Beyond the valley below was a spectacular view of the white Annapurnas, even though it was not a particularly clear day.

His father was on a stone patio on the valley side of the house, where the entrance to the house was. His father was using carpentry hand tools and some wood from the forest to fashion a new yoke for the ox. His mother came out to greet us, a woman who smiled and laughed a lot and made us feel welcome, despite the language barrier. Krishna's parents had beautiful faces, leathery and expressive. The house was a story and a half. In a shed connected to the house was a water buffalo, a couple of young goats, with chickens and a rooster running free. The house was basically 2 rooms. The main room for living and cooking had a loft where the parents slept. There was one of the wood burning clay stoves I described before. The water supply was rain run off from the mountain, which was gravity fed and stored in a large black plastic tank with a faucet.

They brought out some small, hand made wooden stools, and we sat out on the patio and had some tea. They brought out plates of some tasty cooked home grown field peas. Krishna's youngest son and Andy had great fun sword fighting with dried corn stalks. Krishna explained more about his responsibilities as oldest son. Krishna, being the oldest son, was responsible for the financial solvency of the family. His father certainly contributed with his farming skills. It was an immense responsibility, I thought, yet Krishna was a very good natured guy who never seemed stressed.

Krishna's mother, speaking through him, invited us into the house for dahl bat with turnip greens, which was very good. I used all of my Nepali words, including mitha, which means tasty. His parents, especially his mother, were delighted and amused by my attempts at speaking Nepali. After talking for a while, we decided we needed to head back. I gave his mom some packets of English tea and she tucked them into her sash. And wished I had thought to buy a bottle of apple brandy for his father. They had bought 2 liters of it in Marpha, but half had gone to Krishna's father in law, and we learned that there was some shrinkage of the contents of the other bottle, which had been intended for Krishna's father.

To be invited into their home was an honor. To sit together with them there in the shelter that housed so many experiences for this family, sharing their food, much of which was the direct product of their labor, made me realize how much we have in common, despite the language and cultural differences. Our lives in the west come dressed with many more things, but the fundamentals of shelter and food and love of family are the same. These parents had raised a wonderful family with their labor, and they were obviously proud of the four sons who were there, and surely as proud of the daughter who didn't live with them. Three of those sons had wives who were there, and Krishna had three sons of his own. And Prem's wife was expecting. The fulfillment of life surrounded us there on that farm, with family and food and the beautiful Annapurnas in the distance.

We took some photos of the family and said our good byes. Pheri bhetaunla, I told his mother. I hope to meet you again. She cracked up. We hiked back down the mountain, and were overheated by the time we got to the bottom, to the highway. There was a little shop there that had sodas, so I got a lemon Fanta. But it was warm and provided little relief. Andy had two and probably could have had four.

How to get back to Pokhara was the issue of the moment. We were far from the city and it could be a long wait until an empty taxi happened by. A nearly empty bus like the one I had ridden the day before stopped in front of the shop. Krishna said we could ride it to where we could get a taxi, but Andy flatly refused to ride in any bus. He said he would wait for a taxi. The other three of us were not happy about it. After the bus left, Rob said if another one came before a taxi showed up, he would take it whether or not Andy was willing. We stood by the side of the road in the shade of a tree, beside a river and farm fields, watching the traffic go by.

Eventually a very beat up, worn taxi going the wrong way stopped. Krishna talked with the driver and he said for us to get in and he would take us down the road to where his friend had a taxi and would take us to Pokhara. We crammed in. It was dirty and smelly, and I thought about how much less grungy the bus had looked. But the plan succeeded. We changed to a newer and smaller taxi a few miles down the road in the wrong direction, and rode in it back to our hotel. Along the way we passed a place where the river was shallow and they droved buses down into the shallow water. Along the banks were simple houses where people lived who made their living washing the busses there. Coming into town we passed through an old section with aged brick buildings that had storefronts of exquisitely carved wood, now dilapidated.

I walked down the road along the lake to an internet café, where I ordered a cup of good coffee and sat at a PC connected over a slow phone line, and spent the next hour deleting junk from my email account. And I answered a few. Rob had admired the broom I had bought in Mindapul so I had offered to get him one. I walked toward Mindapul until I found a shop selling them and picked out the best one for him. Then I went to a little food store and bought packets of spices. I didn't know that they were and there was no shared language whereby the shopkeeper could tell me, but they smelled good.

Back at the hotel, the three of us discussed our admiration for Krishna. As the oldest son, he seemed to have a lot of responsibility. He was the leader of the family in the world outside the farm. He was the one who became the guide and was most responsible for the shop and the cash income. From our perspective, the family responsibility could be more evenly spread among the four brothers. But the other brothers might do a lot more to support the family than was evident to us. And we realized that our visit to their home, and indeed our entire journey was both a window on their world and also a mirror that showed us about ourselves. By seeing how people face the problems that we all face in life, but with some different solutions from ours, our own cultural biases were revealed. For example, it seemed like a lot of people living in that one small house, but then, who were we to judge? What works in our culture might not work in Nepal, where opportunities are so different. I thought of one day on the trek, when we had passed a tiny woman on the rocky, windblown riverbed, miles from any settlement, who wore no shoes. Her feet looked like leather, like maybe she had never worn a pair of shoes in her life. And she walked at a good clip. You would have trouble finding any person who had no shoes in our countries. Look at our huge packs for the trek, so many things that we couldn't carry them ourselves, when so many people here get by with so little. Look at how we longed for a hot shower after one day without it, contrasted to the countless families that bathe at a public faucet. Look at all the rich food we eat and complain about our weight. Look at all they accomplish with a few simple tools. Look at our houses and our amusements compared to theirs. And look at all that we are missing by being so self-absorbed and possession oriented, The glimpse of their lives certainly gave me a different view of myself and made me think about how much we take for granted. And I realized that so many things are different in Nepal, and we might misinterpret and/or misunderstand them. For example, the trek.

I asked Rob why Krishna had shortened our trek by a day when it was a bit of a rush and they could have made an additional $75. He said that Krishna felt that we were more like friends than the average customer, so he felt more comfortable with sharing his own problems with us. Krishna's work kept him away from home if business was good, and he wanted to return home as soon as possible because he didn't want to be away from his wife and children any longer than necessary. Krishna was caught between competing responsibilities. He believed that we were capable of covering the trek in six days and he thought we would enjoy the challenge. But he also thought of us as friends more than clients, friends who would understand his need to minimize his absence at this time.

I suppose the poor in any country are, in some ways, stuck in the past compared to the wealthy. And this is especially true in Nepal. Even though we do not think of ourselves as wealthy because others in our cultures are so much more so, we are accustomed to health care and education and material wealth. We are addicted to and influenced by the electronic media, the internet, MP3 downloads, DVDs, and advertisers telling us that we are not satisfied and what we can buy to fix it. We are connected by cell phones and televisions and email and chatrooms. And though these things are true also of the wealthy in Nepal, there are so many poor whose lives are in a different age almost. Almost, but not quite, because these things are in their world, too, even if they cannot reach them. I tried to see myself through their eyes, to imagine what it is like to be that person and see me passing through with all my possessions, attitudes, and freedoms. It made me understand Rob's quest for worthwhile charities to support, and to plan for more of my own contributions. And it made me better understand why there are Maoist rebels, even if I don't agree with their methods any more than Rob did.

Back at the hotel, I read some more of Into Thin Air, and discovered that a lot of the major figures in the book had stayed at the Hotel Garuda in Kathmandu. These were guys whose profession was taking reasonably fit but inexperienced people to summit Everest. I remembered seeing the photos on the walls in the stairwell and mentioned it to Rob. He hadn't made the connection but agreed that we needed to look more carefully at the photos when we returned.

Krishna had wanted us to come to the shop where he would cook us dahl bat for dinner. None of the three of us was up for that, so we suggested that we take him and his family out to dinner instead. It was quite a festive event in the best restaurant we had found, the one with really good Indian food where we had been dining nightly since our return from the trek. Krishna said the owner was a former Ghurka (soldiers of the elite India Ghurka Regiment in the British army). They put some tables together to seat the three of us, Krishna, his two older boys, and Prem. We kept a steady supply coming of delicious garlic naan and other appetizers and drinks to keep the boys from getting fidgety. Everyone had a wonderful time and the food was good. Walking back to the shop, one of the boys rode on Andy's shoulders as if riding a camel. Andy and the boys got along famously.

Once we reached the shop, Krishna surprised us with gifts. A colorful toque for Andy, bedspreads for Rob and Kay and one for Susan and I, plus a scarf for Susan. We were floored, having not expected this at all. It was a merry good night. Krishna said he would arrange a taxi to take us to the airport the next morning.

The next day

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