The trekkers walked on eastwards and as they climbed, the snowy mountains made themselves known from time to time behind the lesser mountains that bore on their backs the trails they were trudging along.
“Sherpa houses!” Ungel exclaimed proudly, pointing at a village set on the side of a ruddy coloured flank of mountain that came round to meet them. They were now in Sherpa territory. They stood and examined the houses. They were made of stone rather than adobe bricks or mud and wattle, and so looked very sturdy. The roofs were covered in slate or wood tiles. On the poorer houses, the tiles were not fixed, but were weighed down with rocks to stop them blowing away.
They stopped at a chang
-house and had a drink, sucking the milky coloured liquid with bamboo straws stuck in the chang
sodden millet. Before leaving, they bought some barley flour, called tsampa
They walked on for another couple of hours, until they reached Ungel's chosen destination for the day, a small cluster of houses that comprised a village. Dogs barked at them menacingly as they walked along. In one compound they saw a wolf-like beast with fierce yellow eyes. Ungel said it would be let loose at night.
He found them a household for the night. Frank looked around in the darkness at his first Sherpa house. Everything, except the walls which were made of stone plastered with mud, was made of wood giving the house, to a European eye, an expensive antique feel. The shelves bore great brass water containers, and under the beds and in spare corners, lay several large trunks, secured with impressive padlocks. Anpoorba explained that they contained such important items as religious objects, clothes and money, and biscuits.
Once more, there was nothing to eat but potatoes, so Frank decided to open one of their precious tins of tuna. He hacked at it with a kukhuri
to no avail. In frustration, he threw the knife down saying to Hamish: “I can't get the bloody thing open.” A member of the household, a man, got up and started shouting at him. They couldn’t understand what he was saying. Frank looked at him quizzically, as if to say: ‘What do you mean? What’s wrong?’, but this seemed to make matters worse. He picked up the kukhuri
, and threatened him with it. This was becoming alarming. They got to their feet, and backed away. The tirade continued. Everyone else in the household was watching in the shadows.
“He’s a bloody maniac!” Frank whispered to Hamish. “We’d better get out of here!” The man obviously overheard this and said something which included the words: “…Blairy! Blairy!…..”. It dawned on Frank that he was objecting to his use of the word ‘bloody’. He didn’t speak a word of English, but he must have heard some foreigner use this word in a violent or unpleasant context. They had no way of assuaging his fury, so picking up their possessions they backed out of the house, and they were pleased that Anpoorba followed them.
,” he said, shaking his head, as they walked through the village looking for somewhere else to stay.
“What do you mean?”
“Man very angry. Angry is sin. Make bad karma
. If man do sin, bad things come later.”
is the consequence of an action?” Anpoorba looked blank. Frank tried to find a way of re-phrasing that, but couldn't and so had to assume that he had understood the concept. “I was angry too,” Frank said. “In fact, I still am. Am I making bad karma
“Yes,” he said, giving him an apologetic glance.
“And the thief last night? Does stealing make bad karma
“Of course,” he said, surprised at the question.
“Presumably, you can have good karma
“Yes, yes!” he said. “Good action, good karma. Bad action, bad karma
. Follow the Buddha's teachings: Right thinking. Right action. Right speaking. Make good karma
carries over into another life?”
Fortunately, they found another household that would take them in, late as it was. A couple of crones sat against the wall between the fire and the door, and gossiped and giggled and whispered like a couple of school girls. Three young girls sat around the fire and cooked the evening meal on a simple stove resembling a mud tripod. The youngest sat still by the fire, and every now and again would put something in a pot with a graceful, perfectly controlled movement. She had a round face, and even in the gloom Frank noticed she had rosy cheeks, like so many other Sherpa children. All the girls were snivelling with colds.
The rest of the company shifted their positions to let Frank and Hamish and their companions get closer to the fire. It was too cold to sit anywhere else, and the only other light in the room was a tiny oil lamp and a candle. The windows were made small to keep out the cold, but the main door of the living room was the front door, and an icy blast blew in whenever anyone went out to collect wood, or relieve themselves. No-one felt an urgent need to shut the door if it was left open.
Some young villagers galumphed in, and the room was suddenly filled with chatter and laughter. The girls in the party made it their duty to get the boys to drink chang
. The boys made a big show of refusing, compelling the girls to use physical force to get them to co-operate. After the boys had conceded defeat, and had been softened up by the chang
, the girls pulled them up from the floor to dance, but, once more, not without a struggle involving a good deal of physical contact. A line was formed by linking arms over shoulders or around waists. Ungel was pulled up by one of the girls and he was tacked on to the end of the line in spite of his protests.
There’s nothing graceful about a Sherpa dance, but it’s good thumping fun. Their faces beamed in the fire-light, and they sang for all they were worth: backwards, then charging forwards, heads down like a rugby scrum, then back and upright, and swaying from side to side, keeping to an intricate rhythm of shuffling and thumping with the feet: clomp, clomp, clomp. The strange high-pitched song fell silent for a few bars between the verses, but the footwork had to continue. Some of the dancers hissed to keep time. During a pause in the proceedings, Ungel encouraged Frank and Hamish to join them. The footwork was harder than it looked and their futile efforts added to the general hilarity. The room no longer felt cold.
Having enlivened the household, the exhausted dancers finally departed. The cold returned, and the sahibs
got into their sleeping bags. Since the previous night’s burglary attempt, Frank was using his rucksack as a pillow, to block any attempt to raid its contents, including, most importantly, the wad of precious one rupee notes that lay at the very bottom.
Their hosts were still chatting at midnight when Frank got up to relieve himself of the chang. He was worried about the wolf-dog belonging to the ‘blairy’ household, and moved warily in the freezing night. He was struck by the weird beauty of the moonlight. The streaks of snow on the great wall of rock to the east of the village radiated an intense, cold and rather menacing glow, as if lit from within. He hoped this was not a bad omen.
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