It’s day 51 of our trekking adventure and I am desperate for diversion. I long for a day without six hours of mesmerizing mountain vistas, one after another after another.
In short, I crave a couple of hours of concentrated consumerism. After weeks of rambling through a mercantile wasteland dotted with rickety trailside emporiums selling lukewarm Fanta, coconut biscuits and endless rolls of overpriced toilet paper, a day of proper shopping would be a perk.
After breakfast, I scurry from the Everest Hotel into the November chill. Five hairy, long-horned yaks are standing tethered across the only path to town. Docile creatures, they barely notice as I tiptoe around them, reckless in my pursuit of a suitable souvenir to reward my two months of herculean hiking efforts.
Namche Bazaar is the main trading centre for Khumbu region merchants. For trekkers, it is an enchanting, bustling hillside village at 3,440 metres, a place to acclimatize, the gateway to the high Himalaya. For browsers, it’s heaven.
I descend to the Tibetan open-air market, a gathering of turquoise tents defining a maze of stone walkways. Scraggly haired vendors squat on tarps among mountains of cheap Chinese running shoes, garishly coloured clothing and velvety blankets. These dusty Tibetan traders have walked for weeks over high passes, driving yaks hauling their wares, hoping for the chance to sell to Westerners and wealthy Nepalis. Reluctantly, as my gaze rests covetously on the rich burgundy hues of the traditional Tibetan carpets, I recall the weight restrictions for my porter. It wouldn’t be fair to overburden poor Khil. I move on in search of that one perfect, light memento.
I head higher up the hillside, eager to explore the warren of slanted street-side stalls and dimly lit shops of Namche proper. As I clamber up time-worn dung-dotted stone stairs, my trail-weary thighs protest every step.
Momentarily overwhelmed by sharing the claustrophobic incense-scented alleyways with mobs of aimlessly wandering cows, shaggy yaks and fellow trekkers, I dodge into a less frenetic corner. From behind a table piled high with hand-knit Nepali woollen hats I hear the jingle of pony bells, a daily companion to life on Himalayan trails, and I’m inspired. I think I know what I want to bring home. A run-down string of mangy beasts scrambles past and I duck through the door of a dusky boutique nearby. “ Namaste,” the vendor says. I reply with “ tashi delek” (meaning, “may everything be well”), guessing his Tibetan ancestry. He smiles in recognition, then proudly displays his extensive inventory of pony bells, ringing each to demonstrate tone and quality, while we discuss his refugee status.
He escaped Tibet as a child and is thankful for his education in the Dharamsala Tibetan Children’s Village. He devours my stories of a recent trip to his forbidden homeland. We laugh as we chase the price – his to astral altitudes, mine descending to rock bottom – then settle. I’ve bought a small black, solid brass bell adorned with a golden Om sign for less than the price of a Tim’s double-double. The high point of the day.