The Himalayan mountain range is a terrestrial scar where the Earth’s crust has buckled so profoundly the landscape looks like giant waves on a frozen sea. Rumors have it an ancient paradise can be found there, a utopia for the few blessed souls whose fate allows them to enter it’s jeweled city; Shangra la.
For the rest of us poor souls the endless climbing means another thing altogether. Long days spent hiking up and down those rocky, vertical footpaths make it so that all you really want is a hot shower and a steaming cup of soup. Sore muscles and oxygen deprived minds take their toll on those who are not fortunate enough to live at the top of the world.
Not that I can’t appreciate the landscape’s majesty, but as I look up to see the underside of the Overlook Hotel* my hopes soar with the realization that in this underdeveloped nation we are going to be staying in what appears to be some evil mastermind’s secret lair, like the Piz Gloria in the James Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.
As it turned out, the hotel wouldn’t be our “home away from home”. Instead, we were given maps that led down several narrow footpaths to a series of ramshackle cabins. Other than suffering from a case of severe draftiness, they were decent enough and cleaner than other places we’d stayed in. They certainly would make very satisfactory overnight accommodations, except for one very disconcerting feature that was missing in our little, one room shack; a bathroom.
Upon further investigation I found that we were to share a communal bath in another cabin further down the path, around a corner, and up a short rise. The infamous Everest wind had picked up so I pulled up the collar of my coat and wrapped my scarf around my head until only my eyes could be seen before heading out into the blustery, cold evening.
Over the rocky, rutted path I traveled, fortifying my resolve with the thought of streams of liquid warmth washing over my aching limbs, but as I neared the bathroom my hopes fell into the chasm whose edge I’d been carefully circumnavigating.
The bathroom shack’s weather beaten door swung back and forth with the wildness of the wind, as if it was frantically waving me in from the cold. When I opened it and stepped inside a prophetic drop in temperature greeted me. There was no light switch, which was probably a good thing considering the bathroom was, in fact, a one room shower stall. A string hung from a box attached to the wall, and next to it was a sign with an arrow pointing skyward. Squinting into the shadows, I looked up to see a rusted, tin shower head swinging from the ceiling. I pulled the cord and waited a few seconds as the sound of water rattled through the pipes. When it reached the shower head it burst forth to baptize me in the glory of ancient melting glaciers.
And by that I mean it was cold. Ice cold. Shockingly cold. Fresh-from-the-melting-glacier cold. Shards of nearly frozen moisture raked my body, leaving my skin tingling painfully as it adjusted to the, until then, unknown temperature. It was the kind of cold that enters directly into your bones and stays there, like a waking nightmare, for several minutes, or hours, or maybe even days. The leisurely hot shower I’d imagined quickly shortened to a rough scrub at the dust that covered my limbs and face, then a vigorous swipe of my towel, and a very quick, and I must say, extremely energetic run back over that footpath to the relative warmth of my cabin.
And by that I mean there were ample blankets.
*The name of the hotel and a few of the details are fictional. The temperature of the water is true.