Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jiri – Gateway to Mount Everest

Jiri, Nepal
Photo by Krish Dulal
Last week, our guest blogger, Tracy Tyson, wrote about her road trip from Suspa to Jiri, Nepal. This week, she continues the adventure with an account of her visit to the town and surrounding area at the foot of Mount Everest. You can read Part I here.

Now that I’d reached Jiri, I decided there was no rush in finding a room. Maybe it was because after six months among the Nepalis I had absorbed some of their “things-always-work-out-somehow-in-the-end-so-why-stress-yourself?” attitude.

Fifteen minutes later, a man approached and handed me a business card for his guesthouse. We set off to take a look at the rooms. The place was nice, but when he told me the price—100 rupees—I nearly fell over. Not because the amount was a lot but because it was so little (not even $1.50). Sometimes you can bargain the cost of a room down a bit, but I've never been given such a cheap quote initially.

We’d spoken Nepali on the walk to the guesthouse, so maybe he decided to give me a discount for attempting the language. In Kathmandu, I paid four times as much for a room that wasn't nearly as comfortable.

Because I was in no rush, I decided to check out a few other places before committing myself. The next guesthouse was even nicer, and the room cost only 50 rupees. Once again, I’d spoken Nepali with the owner. Too bad my efforts to speak the language don't have the same effect on Kathmandu landlords.

Stupa in Jiri
Photo by Sundar1
All the rooms in the second guesthouse were named after Nepali mountains, and mine was called Everest, which is the closest I ever got to the real thing on this trip to Nepal. Fortunately the name didn't reflect the room's elevation and I only had to climb two flights of stairs to get to it. Leaving my backpack in my new room, I decided to take a walk while there was still daylight.

My first stop was a huge stupa, a shrine shaped like an upside-down bowl with a steeple-shaped peak on top. The bowl part is usually painted white, and the top of the peak is gold. The lower part is white and has four sides, at least two of which display a pair of painted eyes that represent the Buddha’s all-seeing gaze. Between the eyes there's a long squiggle that resembles a nose, although it's actually the symbol for the number 1. I'm pretty sure it represents the unity of all things, a belief central to Buddhism. Stupas come in all sizes. Some are small, just a few feet in diameter and others are quite large and can be over 100 feet. The Jiri stupa is around 30 to 40 feet in diameter.

After sitting by the stupa for a bit, I climbed to the top of a nearby hill, mounting a staircase to the summit. On the way down, I followed a path that led through an evergreen forest clinging to the side of the hill. After a 45-minute walk through a lovely landscape, I came to a small stream with a huge yellow raspberry bush growing on its banks. Luckily, it stood on the side of a hill, so I could climb up behind it in order to reach those high-placed berries. I scratched my arms up getting to them, but the snack was worth every thorn prick.

Main street in Jiri
Photo by Sundar1
The berries did little to take the edge of the appetite I’d worked up on the hike, so I returned to the guesthouse for some dinner. While perusing the menu, I noticed an “Other Items” heading, which contained “Toilet Paper” for 40 Rupees and “Hot Shower” for 50 Rupees. I wondered how you got a hot shower on a plate, but the fact that hot water cost as much as the room explained why I'd found only cold water in the shower earlier in the day. After a tasty dinner of momos (a Tibetan dumpling) and vegetable thukpa (a Tibetan noodle soup), I hit the hay so I could catch the early bus for the trip home.

I may never have gotten closer to Mount Everest than the name on my hotel room, but the moments of contemplation at the Buddhist stupa, followed by a comfortable hike through the forest and a Tibetan meal at the end of the day, made for a memorable experience.

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