Over the coming weeks, I’m going to be transferring my 2008 Island Peak Nepal trip over to globaljunkie.net from its current home on TravBuddy. Looking back on the trip now, as incredible as it was to stand on the top of a snow covered 6000m peak in the shadow of Everest, there were a few objectively smaller moments lodged in the memory with just as much resonance and this is one of them. Having flown into the famous Lukla Airport, the first part of the trip was a long looping trek in almost exactly the opposite direction of our first objective - the 6476m high Mera Peak. This counter-intuitive route allowed vital time to acclimatise as we moved up from Lukla at (just) 2600m - slow walking, but great fun as we learned more about life in Eastern Nepal.
Three days out from Lukla, the path finally began to turn back towards Mera Peak, snaking up a beautiful, fir-forested ridgeline between the Dudh Khosi and Hinku Khola river valleys. Staring early, it was steady, enjoyable walking, using the same trails as the locals between villages and over minor mountain passes. By now, we were maybe a week’s walking from the nearest sealed road, so these tracks were vital communication arteries for the locals who smiled and chatted with our porters as we passed them - there’s no FedEx next-day rush round here - you want something? - Then carry it in on your back.
Our destination that night was Chalem Kharka, which sits on the ridge at about 3600m. We arrived mid-afternoon, setting up camp as a low mist closed in around us for the night. I laid my mat and sleeping bag out for the night and tried to read, but was still small-child excited about where I was, so set out to explore the camp instead. Below our cooking hut a handful of porters had gathered around a low stone wall, their attention on a small, smiling Nepali man in his 50s. We’d passed him earlier in the day, exchanging waves and smiles as he stopped to rest. He was hard at work now - this was a travelling butcher’s store and the shop was open.
With three big trekking groups on the circuit that day, he’d obviously planned to catch up with us just as our porters had finished work and was ready for them to turn their attentions to their evening meal. The shop consisted of a plastic sheet draped over a drystone wall, a block of wood and, most importantly, that most iconic of Nepali symbols - a curved, menacing-looking Kukri knife. Dealing with each porter in turn, he’d first cut the meat into manageable chunks using the Kukri cleaver style, then flip it over and, balancing the knife between his stomach and the wall, would then saw the meat into smaller pieces, ready to be handed over to the customer.
I was, sadly, a spectator here. The meat was vividly bloody without almost any scent - obviously fresh and delicious looking but, once again, I’d be eating vegetarian tonight - no meat and no alcohol until after summit day... I sign-language asked if I could take some pictures, and the answering big smile and enthusiastic nodding allowed me to capture a little slice of local life - a perfect little insight into the rhythms of trade on the trails of the Khumbu.
After snapping a few pics and my video clip, I showed him the results and waved my goodbyes, on my way to a depressingly meat-free dinner. Looking back, Chalem Kharka was the end of the “fun” part of the trip - the following morning we crossed the 4000m level, and the first signs of altitude sickness surfaced in the group, so things started to get serious. But, I won’t forget the little guy with the big knife and the bigger smile.