Namche Baazar (11,286′) to Phortse (12,598′)
Nepalise society doesn’t treat widows with compassion. Before 1970, a woman left alone was required to dress in white, drained of color and life. She becomes invisible and of the untouchable class. Of course, a man is allowed to remarry, a woman is not. Today, if a single man were to fall in love with a widow, his family would force them apart. In the moment of her greatest despair, any marital property can be taken away, unless she has a male child to inherit. With few resources for survival, many widows become prostitutes.
I am a widow and this abuse of women rips me apart. I want to scream from the mountain tops in anger. From the moment we are born until the day we die–everyone deserves to be wrapped in love. Today’s trek to the widows village of Phortse is very important to me and I’m so thankful that Himalayan Wonders arranged this stop.
Leaving Namche and walking uphill, I am rock solid and steady. My body rebounded overnight from yesterday’s altitude problems. Pacing is slow, more to take in the glorious views of Kongde Ri, Ama Dabiam, Taboche, and brilliant views of Mount Everest, Thamserku, and Nupste.
This is my church. This is pure meditation, as the route changes from rock cut steps to winding dirt paths. We arrive at a beautiful stupa, and I raise my hands, chanting om mani padme hum. Transform my impure body, speech and mind.
Unfortunetly, the place is crowded with trekkers and the holy epiphany I crave blows away on the wind. Turning my back I step down the trail, but glance over my shoulder. That’s when I see the partial sun-dog, a rare natural occurance that always makes me gasp with delight. God heard me.
The only disconcerting noise comes from endless clacking of helicopters as they zip past like pests in the narrow valley next to me. Every switchback holds joy. Eagles soar overhead and long haired Thar (Himalayan mountain goats) cling to steep hillsides. Yaks look on with blatant curiousity.
Our tea and pee break is at Kyangjuma and lunch at the packed Kulung teahouse, perched high above the snaking river with surrounding views of icecaps.
Far below, I can see Phortse and after lunch we will decend 1,300′ to cross the river….and then climb back up to the village. By now, we are resigned to the Nepalise fate of continual gain and loss. Sounds like life, right? The Buddhist lesson is vulnerability, perserverance, acceptance and grace.
Phortse is a Sherpa village of great importance. The world’s best climbing school as well as the greatest expedition climbers come from this Khumbu region of Nepal. How did this place become the village of widows? Because 3 times as many Sherpas die in mountain accidents rather than their clients. In 2014, sixteen Sherpas died at Everest. In 2015, another seventeen perished. That’s a lot of widows struggling to survive alone in a daily avalanche of hardship. Everest isn’t the most dangerous mounain in Nepal. It’s simply the one you hear blaring from international media.
Because Phortse is internationally recognized, these widows have been protected and charitable funds were gifted to help build trekkers tea houses and accomodations. This community has been given a beneficial hand.
Reaching the stone walls of town, I see several women planting their most famous and yummy potatoes– the best in the entire world. They look at me, and I become cognizent of their freedom and space. I observe them, confused by the projected negative emotions flooding over me. Tourists are a blessing and a curse. Right now, my intuition tells me that their patience is worn thin with daily disrespect. My camera remains anchored in the holder strapped across my chest. They are too far away to ask permission and I have too much respect for them.