A Call For Tourists


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, October 12, 2004 was originally posted on October 22, 2004.

DAY 360:  “My friend tells me you are a journalist,” said a Nepali man at the table in the dining hall.  He was all excited to meet me.

“Well, freelance,” I told him.  “I’m not a staff reporter.  I still have to sell stories.”

He was excited anyway that anyone even remotely connected to foreign press was in Nepal at the current time.  He wasn’t just some random guy, he was Mr. Rammani Bhattarai, the Section Officer of the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation.  His office worked to fix the distribution problem of tourism money coming in — most money went right to the rich companies, leaving little to the Sherpas and villages that did all the hard labor for about $2 (USD)/day.  The office was also concerned with the promotion of tourism in Nepal to the rest of the worlds, despite the overactive news media blowing all violence out of proportion. 

“It’s good that you came here because they say it’s a problem,” Mr. Rammani said.  “But do you see any problem here?”

“No, it’s just cold.”

The temperature warmed up as the sun came up over the eastern peaks to slowly illuminate the ones out west.  Tilak and I packed up our bags and head off for our second day on the trail.  Behind were Mr. Rammani and his guide, followed by Team Portland with their 29 yaks and Sherpa support team.

We weren’t the only ones on the trail.  Dozens of others were on their way down or up like we were.  Tilak and I ended up pairing up with another solo trekker, Nariko, a Japanese-American from New York City on her first “big trek,” who was with her guide Chabi.  We continued along the undulating trail with its mani rocks, stupas and cabins along the way, over bridges and passed waterfalls.  That seemed to be the theme of the day:  bridges and cascading water.  We walked through forests in the shadows of snowy peaks as some village kids walked miles to get to the regional school while other ones stayed home

“Tired?” Tilak asked me.

“No, you?”


I was just a bit strained in the back because in an attempt to catch up on Blog entries, I was lugging me laptop computer of all things, in hopes that I could get some work down in my acclimatization days.  We all went at a leisurely pace, and I was fine.  “Once we hit the park, it’s all uphill,” I told Nariko.

“I hope I can make it.”

“SAGARMATHA” IS THE ORIGINAL NAME OF MOUNT EVEREST — which was renamed to the Western World after George Everest,  Surveyor General of India at the time of its discovery — and it’s original name lives on in the national park it is a part of, Sagarmatha National Park.  There was a small international traffic jam of trekkers at the entry gate — I heard German, French, Spanish, English and Nepali — as people stopped in to register and pay park fees and use the outhouse.  A sign posted on the board alerted everyone of a missing person, a guy who had gone into the park presumably alone and had never returned. 

From the entrance we walked the short way to the village of Jorsale, where we stopped in for lunch at a teahouse before ascending for most of the rest of the day.  Nariko and I sat at a table over waters and food.

“So do your friends think you’re crazy for coming here?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.  “But I love to travel.  Most Americans just go to Europe or the Caribbean, but you have to go to these places now, while you’re young.”  (Point taken, but that wasn’t necessarily true; a lot of the people on the trail were gray-haired, and not in a young Steve Martin kind of way.)  Both of us had ignored the US travel advisory to go to Nepal and had no regrets; around us was the big beautiful natural world, a sight more magnificent than I’d seen before. 

I heard an American accent coming from a woman on the other side of the room and I invited her into the conversation with the ice breaker, “Going up or coming down?”

“Coming down.”

“How is it?”

“Oh, it’s beautiful!  You’ll have a good time.”

She too was cued into the issue of Americans in Nepal and I told her, “The American embassy here is surprised how many [Americans] are here.”

“That’s great.  That’s good to hear.”

“No, I mean, they’re surprised because they say we’re not supposed to be here.”  I told her about all the info I got from Paul the other day.  Suddenly she got all angry and vocal.

“That is so stupid,” she said.  She said that she knew of the Maoist threat but knew that encounters with them were civil; one American she met had encountered one and was given a receipt.  “You better frame that receipt!” she told him.  She continued by saying that the administration before was in tune with the reality of the situation, whereas, “This administration is so stupid!”  (Coincidentally, she was from Texas.)  “Well, I’m glad there are a lot of Americans here,” she said.

“There are about twenty coming this way.”

“That’s what I want to hear!”

PERHAPS WE ALL SPOKE TOO SOON because when we left Jorsale and headed up through the Khumbu Valley we were soon approached by a group of guys coming down the trail in plain clothes, armed with automatic weapons.  One guy was holding a shiny new rifle with a shiny new sniper scope. 

Uh oh.

“Are they Maoists?” I whispered to Tilak.

“Either Maoist or army,” he answered in a low tone as to not attract attention.  “But I think army.”

“Shouldn’t they be in uniform if they are in the army?”

“I don’t know.”

“[Something something!!!]”  One of the armed men turned around and scolded me angrily in Nepali.

“He says no pictures.”

Okay, I’ll put this away now.

“So is it Maoist or army?” I asked again.

“Well, we can’t ask them, ‘Are you army?’”  True, they had guns.  I’m sure that sniper could get me with a headshot at 50 meters back.

The armed guys kept on marching through.  We saw more of them as we proceeded uphill, each with some sort of automatic weapon — more and more of them had a uniform on, which answered my question.  With the threat of Maoists on the trail, the army patrolled the park to protect the trekking tourists.

WE CONTINUED ON, over the river on more suspension bridges (some not as sturdy as others), passed more porters (carrying things like yak meat) and yaks (and their yak herders that slapped and yelled at them to move on so they didn’t become yak meat), all in the spectacular Himalayas.  At one point, we even got a glimpse of Everest summit itself.  We continued on a path that hugged the curves of the mountain (picture above) and eventually reached one of the army checkpoints where they routinely conducted bag searches for Nepalis, not tourists.  I almost had to be searched until Tilak explained to them that I was not in fact, his brother like they thought.

The checkpoint was a breeze and soon we were in Namche Bazar, a fairly big mountain town at 3450m. ASL, bigger than any of the villages we had passed through, the one last main outpost before Everest Base Camp or any of the other spectacular peaks in the area that trekkers preferred to go to instead.  Namche Bazar’s main street was lined with teahouses, small bookstores, and a few satellite internet cafes (for about $12 USD/hr).  In Namche, one could get everything a trekker would need if for some reason s/he made it there with absolutely no mountain gear.  You could also get dental work done at “the world’s highest dental clinic.”  Down below the main strip, flanked by the tremendous snowy Thamserku peak, was the local market, where I picked up a fake (but comparable) The North Face shell jacket for the trek ahead. 

The Khumbu Lodge was where we’d base ourselves for a couple of nights, so that I might chill out, eat yak steak and acclimatize to the altitude — it was the same place that the crew of the IMAX Everest film crew did.  On the wall in the dining hall I saw that it was a pretty popular place for prominent Americans who had listened to their hearts and gone to Nepal:  Robert Redford, Bonnie Raitt and former president Jimmy Carter

I lost track of Mr. Rammani from the Ministry of Culture Tourism along the way to Namche, but wherever he was, I’m sure he didn’t have to worry; through the years, people haven’t been afraid to go to Nepal at all, no matter what people may have said.  They must have come for the yak steak; it’s really tasty.

Next entry: The Mysterious Yeti

Previous entry: In The Footsteps of Tenzing Norgay

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Comments for “A Call For Tourists”


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  07:35 PM

  • mmmmmmmm, yak meat.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  07:56 PM

  • Erik, I thought it was really interesting that you posted a picture of missing person Gareth Koch. on the Lonely Planet forums, there is one dedicated to missing travellers, and he’s been the main one discussed. Very small world, kind of strange to have read about him on there, and then you to see his missing poster.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  08:16 PM

  • Great pic of the cascading stream - I’m making it my desktop!

    Posted by Liz  on  10/21  at  09:26 PM

  • wow, they even got a kerry/edwards poster out there. nice. that’s what i call good campaigning.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  10:25 PM

  • alice: i totally forgot to comment about the kerry/edwards poster… turns out colorado might be a swing state! i’ll do my part, we’ll see what happens Nov. 2

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  11:16 PM

  • LIZ - haha…i made that my new desktop too!!!

    yaks rule!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/22  at  06:13 PM

  • MARKYT - you know what they say about great minds… wink

    Posted by Liz  on  10/22  at  07:54 PM

  • That Yak steak does look good!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  06:50 AM

  • KIRSTEN:  Welcome aboard!  Yes, a very small world—and yet there’s still too much to see in a lifetime, let alone 16 months…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  01:32 PM

  • Yes, CO has become a swing state - it’s getting closer and closer…

    I love the Kerry/Edwards sign!!

    Your pictures are beautiful - maybe the land lends itself to it…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  08:32 AM

  • sorry for voting no on nepal. i should have known better.  when i was in macedonia in 2001, there were lots of warnings, but i never felt in danger. the only time i felt nervous was reading the embassy’s handout.
    other than that one “incident”, glad nepal’s turned out great.

    Posted by Alyson  on  10/28  at  09:49 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
The Mysterious Yeti

Previous entry:
In The Footsteps of Tenzing Norgay


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