A long, long time ago, the great public intellectual Bob Seger once issued a powerful manifesto. He was fed up, he said, with “paying dues,” and also tired of “the TV news.” And it just so happened that those societal ills rhymed with Mr. Seger’s rousing call to action: “K-K-K-K-KATMANDU! That’s really, really where I’m going to.” The resulting hit single helped Detroit’s greatest visionary achieve his first of ten platinum albums.
Now, thirty years later, it appears those of Mr. Seger’s generation are now following his advice, and in droves. Judging by the decidedly senior appearance of most of the Western tourists stepping (slowly) out of the souvenir shops here, anyway. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked across the little road bridge from Tibet into Nepal. But I never would have imagined that eight hours later (more on that to come), I’d be standing in line at an ATM with an almost-retired couple from upstate New York who’d just taken two weeks to walk the Annapurna Circuit. Continue reading
Back in Shigatse, while killing some time in the hotel room before bed, I’d picked up the courtesy travel magazine that came in the room. The power was out, the temperature was making its evening plummet, and I was putting off a decision on whether to take a quick cold shower while I at least had water available. Tilting my head slightly to shine my headlamp on the glossy pages, I saw that the feature article was on Zhangmu, the Chinese border town adjacent to Nepal. Interested, I read the first couple paragraphs. The lengthy intro basically highlighted two things: the existence of sherpas (夏尔巴), and the town’s (of course) booming economy. Cool, I thought. Sherpas.
Two days later (I never did take that shower), I remembered what I’d read and asked Norbu. Is Zhangmu (Zham in Tibetan) a Sherpa town? We were on the Friendship Highway, winding our way down towards the crack in the Himalayas that links Tibet and Nepal. Depending on how long things would take at the next checkpoint (where the Everest question was sure to be asked, one last time, just in case it was our lucky day), we’d be in Zhangmu by early afternoon. Norbu replied that there were no Sherpas in Zhangmu. None? None. Not even one.
I guessed all I had to look forward to was that booming economy. At least there’d be a shower.