After climbing to the top of Kyanjin Ri at 15,659 feet, Kate and I spend one more night in Kyanjin Gompa before beginning our trek back down the mountains. We set out after a breakfast of strangely salty oatmeal and made it back to Langtang Village in time for lunch. The sun is high in the sky, as are our spirits. We’ve just planned our route to reach Gosaikund Lake for the November full moon. We’ll be there in three days, we figure, as we make our way down the trail, back through the field of menacing-looking yaks. We have lunch in Langtang, where I have meat for the first time on our trek. The Tamang people that inhabit most of the region we have been trekking in are Buddhists and do not butcher animals. If someone of another caste is in the area and butchers an animal, however, they’ll happily eat it up.
Kate opts out of the sheep meat, and instead visits the Langtang Village Dairy, where she feasts on a tomato and cheese sandwich on a baguette, proclaiming Langtang cheese far superior to the Kyanjin Gompa cheese I had been eating the previous few days. While we tour the cheese factory, we meet two Japanese women also looking for an alternative to dal bhat.
After lunch, the trail down to Lama Hotel increases in grade, and we begin pounding down stone step after stone step, bracing ourselves with newly acquired walking sticks. A sharp pain creeps up in the outside of my knee, so I begin to slow down and take more breaks. We reach Rimche, our destination, at dusk and I happily put my pack down for the night. Without the extra weight, the pain eases out of my knee and I sleep well.
The next morning, walking down the staircase to breakfast, however, the pain reappears, and I let Kate know that I’ll be moving slowly again today. Ever the affable traveling companion, Kate assures me that we’ll get there when we get there. By lunchtime, though, I am in tears. Our guide has taken my pack by now, but with each step still comes a shot up the outside of my leg.
The reality that we will not be able to continue to Gosaikund begins to set in.
“Liz, I don’t see you continuing to walk like this,” Kate tells me, and makes the decision for us to return to our origination point of Syaphru Besi. This decision is at odds with our guide’s interests, though. If we cut the trek short, he will earn less money, so he tries to get me to press on. Kate insists that it’s not possible, and I see an immediate shift in our guide’s demeanor. I ask him how long it will take us to reach Landslide, where we’ve decided we will stay the night.
“For you, it will take three hours. For other people, it takes only 45 minutes,” he says. He no longer walks alongside us, but gains at least a 30-minute lead, reaching Landslide and having tea long before we get there. He no longer refers to me as his little sister.
The final day of our trek is a slow one. We descend in altitude, and it is again hot in the sun. We peel layers off as we cross the final suspension bridge over the Langtang River and return to Syaphru Besi. The Buddha Lodge, where we were one of only two parties staying the week before, is now bustling with activity. An expedition of Japanese climbers has arrived after scaling Yala Peak, and by 4 p.m. the dining room tables are already littered with whiskey bottles.
We see the women from the cheese factory in Langtang, and they invite us to join them in their celebration. Before long, the whole lodge is laughing together, jokes being translated from Japanese to Nepali to English. By the end of the night, I have invitations to stay with three different families in Southern Japan and these new friends have mastered the pronunciation of my name.
We awake the next morning to the sound the bus horn, serving as an alarm clock for the whole village. The Japanese have gone ahead of us in a private bus, while Kate and I once again journey by local bus. Despite the early morning cold, Kate and I perch atop the roof of the bus for our journey home. I will stop again in Gerkhutar, and Kate and our guide will continue on to Kathmandu. After passing through the worst of the landslide-strewn road, we stop in Dhunche for tea and bus maintenance. The next stop is two hours later in Kalikasthan, where we will show the area Maoists our receipts for their tax that we paid on our way up. The Japanese bus has been stopped there for some time, and our friends wait idly by on the side of the road. When our bus goes by, they see us on the roof and begin waving madly, snapping pictures of the crazy American girls on the roof of the bus.
One more hour and I disembark in Gerkhutar. I toss my pack down from the roof first, and climb down after it. The bus continues on in a cloud of fine red dust, and I begin walking back up to the Pandeys’ home. When I reach the house, I set my bags down in the rear breezeway and step into the kitchen, where one of the Bhaujus (sisters-in-law) is preparing tea for a neighbor who has stopped by.
“Namaste,” I say.
“Arko pahuna ayechha,” the neighbor says. “I see another guest has come.”
Bhauju looks at me and smiles, squeezing my hand. “Pahuna haina. Yo hamro chhori ho.”
“This is not a guest. This is our daughter.”
I am home.