What scares me about journeys is not knowing exactly what is on the road ahead. It's like devising a play, I guess. You know you have certain goals but you don't know what accidental twists of plot will happen - what amazing scenes, what points of tension will capture the imagination, what difficult uphill paths will break you down. You push yourself to just keep going until that goal in reached. That's what I think I've learnt about myself so far. No matter how hard it is and the tears are trembling just on the rim of my eyes like they do in Japanese cartoons, I just keep going. Despite the constant fear of not finding the next toilet before the next urge takes me, I keep going. Somehow it's easier to keep going the more I'm by myself. If I was with others a bit more I'd probably argue myself down off this mountain. For most of today I was trailing behind, not wanting to rush up the mountain. Today was going to be a 3-4 hour trek. Why are we going downhill? Not looking forward to the uphills anymore. More Downhill to go Uphill Frustrations. We found a bridge to hang the prayer flags from the schoolkids back in England. Reading some of them was mindblowing. These kids. Not about playstations or more toys. Not about World Peace either. But something more local to them. One flag asked for no more stabbings in the area, another asked to cure their dad's cancer. Simple. Basic. Pure. Now their payers are fluttering hundreds of feet above a river, thousands of feet above sea-level from a suspension bridge on the roof of the world
.After the bridge we start to make our ascent and it goes from quite rocky terrain near the valley to a lush greener terrain. Not that wooded but decidedly more deciduous than previous. Up the track on a grassy hill were the tealodges at Tengboche (Tyang Buche). Others were already putting their packs in rooms etc. I followed the ridge further to the other teahouse as the first one had already been occupied. Someone says to me to follow the 2nd tea lodge and walk past it. The guide I was with pointed to something in the distance. Something I thought I'd never get to see. In this amazing landscape, with more prayer flags flying high above our heads, a beautiful monastery to our right behind the tealodges, way, way in the distance. Behind the ridge of Lhotse in an almost cloudless early afternoon sky sitting protected. Serene. Invincible. Everest. I put on my sunglasses. I am crying. What a faggot.
After a while I stopped and thought, 'Where's Kirt? Where's my friend? I need a picture of this.'
After putting my stuff in a three-man room (I'm sharing with the Sharlands! Yayy, They're nice chaps. Don't take themselves too seriously, I like that) and getting some milky tea some of the players practice cricket just to see what it's like at this altitude. It's going to be harder when they get up another couple of thousand metres but might as well make the opportunity of the time and the altitude to get used to it. I go exploring the monastery. I can see the George and Wesley are there already and have tried to take photos of the acolytes and monks. I'm there to sketch. I took some film of the prayer wheels and some shots of the building. I was surprised that it wasn't as old as I thought but then one of the monks told me that the original was burnt in a fire and that it was rebuilt with money donated by the Himalayan Trust. I had a fun time sketching. Curiosity always gets the better of people when sketching and they will crowd around looking over your shoulder to see what you are doing. For some reason, I never get fazed by this, not that I sketch in public at all. Perhaps it's the art school brashness that I still retain. I doubt it. I can remain unattached from this. Especially since it's quite a technical drawing. One of the older monks comes up to me to see what I'm sketching and nods in slow approval. He asked to take my pad and looked through it with more nodding and saying 'Very good,' while looking at the sketches of the players in Phakding. I wish I could take a photo of him while he does that. but I guess that would be rude, while he's talking to me. I continue sketching. Some off the younger boys shuffle around me to get a better look at what I'm doing. I guess I'm waiting until 4pm when we are allowed in the monastery itself to witness the prayer session. One of them says that Mingmo is also a very good drawer and I'm introduced to Mingmo but he's too shy to show any of his drawings.
The doctors come up and take pictures of the monks around me while I have them distracted and talks to them up at the top of the steps. An acolyte remains by me, watching intently, silently as I measure the building with my pencil. I've not done that for years but it's good to be doing it now. Suddenly there's a low horn coming from somewhere. Up on the 3rd floor of the monastery two windows are open next to each other and two monks at either window are sounding the call to prayer with conch shells. Where do they get conch shells this high up the mountain?
We get ushered into the inner courtyard to wait for the monks to take their places inside the building. One of the monks is really old and has to be almost carried up the stairs. Inside, we take our shoes off, observe to 'No flash' signs (apart from Alex Fudda who manages to not stop her auto flash and is asked to leave. Ooops!) and we're greeted by loud music of various horns, cymbals and pipes. It's quite dark apart from the lights from the windows and the flicker of the electric lights which sometimes go off and we're plunged back into darkness.I get stuck into sketching the scene as the light is so low that I'm not getting a clear image. The sound of the monastery at prayers is amazing. It's the low drones of 30 voices all reciting the same verse at different points of their breath. Transfixing. I'm sat opposite the monk that looked through my sketchbook and sketched away. He reminds me of a friend's dad. I look up during sketching once and I see that he's looking directly at me, his lips moving, the sound of is voice mixed in with the other voices. He's noticed that it's him that I've been sketching a lot of. Oh shit, I've done it now, I've ruined his concentration. He smiles and starts to giggle but still maintains the chanting. Thank god. Must be all that meditation that they do. Either that or he's perfected the art of keeping his lips moving and it'll look like you're singing, as perfected by Jen Gladstone at school.
Outside in the now chilly evening air I bump into Mingmo and a rounder monk who want to see my sketchbook. I show them the sketch of the building and the monk during prayer. The get excited and point at it and they did tell me his name but I didn't write it down. Apparently it was correct. I managed to get his surly demeanor.
I must be slightly affected by the altitude. I was convinced after dinner that David Kirtley had a speech impediment. I just didn't understand what he was saying, or trying to say. We had only been given a serving and a half of food and were all still a bit hungry. David who was sat next to me, kept on saying that in the other lodge, the other lot had fiths. I was sure he was trying to say that they had fish (something I was missing greatly) and spent an amusing five minutes trying to decipher what he was actually trying to say. Perhaps I was going deaf and I needed to blow my ears out or something. But he kept on repeating it. I would perhaps have said it another way - 'The other lot had five helpings' pour l'example, but it amused me enough to think that Dave had a speech impediment. Even though I know he speaks very well.