From the Temples of Kathmandu to the Peaks of the Himalayas
I have had the good fortune to travel to Nepal and hike the Khumbhu region several times, all very exhilarating, exhausting, and wonderfully beautiful! The first impressions of the majestic Himalayan Mountains breaking through the clouds, the easy clamor of a yak procession and the soft wind blowing down the river valleys are all extraordinarily poignant and memorable. The cacophony of Kathmandu is quickly forgotten up in the high mountains, and I relish my trips to this remote part of the world.
My last trip there was made all the more special because of Don Kumar.
Don Kumar was a young boy, the son of one of the yak herders. He was no older than six or seven, and was innocently curious about me and my group. He had the most genuinely infectious energy, innocence and enthusiasm. In sum he was a beautiful, spirited young boy who instantly became my travel companion for the next ten days.
Officially Don Kumar had a role to play as a sherpa’s son and yak herder. As we winded our way along the busy footpath from village to village, ascending toward Mt. Everest, he helped shepherd the yaks along the path. He nudged the big animal and he ran in front of them, constantly on the go and never wilting from exhaustion. Our caravan was led by his enthusiasm and I was inspired by his kindness and innocence. I was moved by his love of life and the gift he enjoyed of being outdoors with his father and nature. There were no trappings of the West, no smart phones, no computers, no clutter; it was a refreshingly true experience of a son and father working together, in the majesty of the high peaks.
The days passed and Don Kumar and I shared more time together. His reticence and reserve melted away, and we often walked together on the trails. He spoke no English and yet we communicated well, through nods, inflections laughs and gentle nudges. Often when he was way ahead leading a pack of yaks he would look back making sure I was alright, and we would wave at each other. In the evenings we would sit near each other and he would listen to foreign sounds as the group talked about the day. He was always attentive and made sure we had tea, and especially watched over my cup.
When we reached Namache Bazaar, I went to the local market and bought a warm down coat for Don Kumar. I imagine he never had a down coat, and it would last him a very long time. It was a small token of my affection for him, and it was my hope to keep him warm for a few years. Hence I bought a larger size than he was….
His eyes lit up the next morning when I gave the coat to him, and he wore it proudly the remaining days we had together. On my departure from the Lukla we hugged, not knowing if I would ever see him again. As the plane lifted off, Don Kumar was at the end of the runway, waving good-bye in his new coat.