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The Old Man and the Mountain MAG
After what seemed to be ages of blind strolling in the dark, Rohan finally admitted that we were lost, vulnerable to danger, and in desperate need of help. “Alright, guys,” he said with a sigh. “It seems we are lost, vulnerable to danger, and in desperate need of help.”
Arushi, who had been holding her anger in for a while, suddenly burst. “Well, good luck finding help on this freaking hill in the freaking middle of nowhere, Einstein!”
Despite their arguing, I noticed the faint red glow appearing in the east. We’d begun our trek at 4 a.m., hoping to catch the sunrise from the summit of the Sarangkot hill. When Rohan suggested taking the “road less traveled,” we were all focused on the adventure. Rohan had never before failed to persuade us with his buttery voice as he playfully implored, “What could possibly go wrong?”
A lot, as we later found out through Arushi’s little book, Trekking in the Himalayas: A Complete Guide. “Possible causes of death,” Arushi read, her pitch wavy like the hilly horizon. “Uh, hypothermia … dehydration … falling off a cliff.” The book even claimed that snow leopards roamed freely. “So don’t wear anything too colorful,” she recited, the book held tightly in her pink, furry gloves. There wasn’t a single map inside.
Rohan pointed abruptly toward a small bamboo structure behind some pine trees a few yards away. All three of us took a confirmatory glance at each other before making a frantic dash toward it.
The house was made of bamboo and mud, a typical sight. The floor and bottom half of the walls were painted orange, while the rest was whitewashed. Beneath the thatched roof was a space for travelers to rest, a feature common to many houses in the hills of Nepal. The faint flickering of an oil lamp glowed inside.
Hearing us, an old man appeared at the carved door, murmuring Sanskrit prayers. Clad in Daura Suruwal, he had a traditional Dhaka topi on his head and a black scarf wrapped around his neck in the careless fashion only the elderly seem to enjoy.
“Baje Namaskar!” we excitedly greeted him, unable to contain our joy at having found another human being.
“Oho, babuharu! Namaskar, namaskar!” he replied, equally cheerful to have these eccentric teenage strangers in his front yard. “Ani katabata aaunubhayo?” he asked. “How did you reach here, children?”
We caught our breath and explained everything from the school trip to getting lost to finally reaching his beautiful house.
He burst out laughing as we thanked him for saving our lives. “Oh, city kids these days!” he giggled, making absolutely no attempt to hold back his amusement. “A few moments without your phones and suddenly you think you’re lost! You should know you’ve stumbled across a shortcut, rather! It takes half the time to reach the peak this way,” he continued. “In fact, this was the original trekking route before the touri.”
The tinkling sound of an woman’s bangles interrupted him. She was wearing a red sari, a traditional green pote, and large gold earrings visibly heavy for her ears. Baje explained everything to his wife; thankfully, she did not laugh. Instead, she looked at us with a candid smile. “Just wait here,” she said. “I’ll bring you tea. You must be tired.”
We weren’t in the mood for tea, and we were already late. But rejecting the offering of a simple cup of tea, would show disrespect.
“Our grandson must be about your age,” Baje continued. “He lives with his father in London. He does some sort of a job there, he’s a soft … uh, what was the name now?”
“A software engineer?”
“Yes, that! He’s been living there for two decades.”
I looked at the fields below, green with barley and wheat, and a straw-roofed shed. I could see the cattle chewing their cuds with carefree expressions and lambs running around. A baby goat came over to Arushi and made delightful noises as she petted it. Meanwhile, it was now bright enough to see the giant lake glisten below the hills.
Our son is in London … The old man’s voice echoed within me. Everybody seems to be leaving these days. Europe. Canada. Australia. The U.S. Anywhere but here. The sight left me wondering how anyone could leave something so beautiful and heart-warming merely for the promise of something supposedly better.
“People have grown very materialistic these days,” Baje said, as though he’d read my mind. “I have been waking up to the same view for 72 years, and I am not tired of it yet. These mountains offer much more than the view. And, lo, there you have your sunrise!”
Indeed, the sun was offering the most beautiful view we had ever seen. The great mountain range, which had been invisible against the dark sky, was now lit in a majestic aura of gold as its reflection floated on the glistening lake below. We watched, spellbound.
After enjoying the tea, we bade farewell to the couple and took the path Baje had shown us; it was just a matter of moments before we reached the summit.
The hilltop was crowded with tourists frantically taking pictures of a moment that could only be felt.
“Where have you been?” our guide asked frowning. “You won’t believe what you missed.”
As we were leaving for Kathmandu a week later, I couldn’t help but think about this encounter with the man and his little world in the hills. He was right, the mountains could indeed offer much more than a view.