This is the sixth in a series of monthly stories by travel writers from EPIC Group Writers, an Edmonds non-profit organization whose mission is to support those who create, communicate and connect through cultural and artistic endeavors, especially the literary arts.
What are my dearest memories of my trip to Nepal? Not the enormous jagged mountains, although they served as a glorious backdrop of wild natural beauty as my group trekked along an ancient trade route. Not the old tea houses where we slept along the trail, often on hard wooden beds in unheated rooms. Not soaking in Tatapani Hot Springs or showering—infrequently– in tepid or downright frigid water. Not the stunning views in every direction, day after day. And certainly not the posh hotel in Kathmandu, where I felt the least comfortable of anywhere on the trip—an American tourist in a Third World country, lodging regally a couple of city blocks from abject poverty.
For most travelers—if they are paying attention—it is the people of a land who make the most lasting impressions. So it’s no surprise that the people of Nepal were the treasures I brought home in my heart: Shy mothers sitting in the sun cradling babies, young girls squatting to wash tin plates and cookware at community faucets, saffron-robed Buddhist monks strolling together along Kathmandu streets, dusty tradesmen urging strings of brightly decorated pack ponies along steep narrow trails, smiling children rushing to the edge of their village to meet us—and our Sherpa porters ending the day drumming and dancing and laughing under starry skies.
The 14 Didis! That was our label. Pronounced DeeDees, the word means Big Sisters. It was quite something to have the reputation of the 14 Didis preceding us from village to village– the 14 Big Sisters, trekking in the Annapurna Himal, ranging in age from 53 to 67, led by a young woman who had invited her mother to gather a “Mommy Trek” group for a trek in Nepal.
The 14 Didis trudged up rocky steps, along dry river beds and across derelict swinging bridges—accompanied by a group of Sherpas, including a smart and funny guide named Dawa (whose sweet toothless father came along!) and an assortment of porters who carried stacks of our 25-pound duffel bags on their backs, along with other provisions. We quickly grew to appreciate our “boys,” who were as easy to enjoy as our own teen-aged sons.
Kunga Sherpa was a handsome 23-year-old with a dark crew cut; he often dressed in a T-shirt and black Spandex biking shorts—no doubt the gift of a previous trekker! He wore rubber flip-flops every day, on any terrain. Often we walked together. Sometimes in the evenings he would practice his English by reading aloud to me.
On the trail, when I was too hot to move another uphill step, I would turn wordlessly so my day pack was facing Kunga, and he would dig out my water bottle and watch me gratefully chugging warm chemical-infused water.
“You OK now, Joanne?” Kunga would ask. Yes. I was OK. Better than OK.
— By Joanne B Peterson