In 2004 I had the first opportunity to confront Everest from a very near distance even though I was born a Nepalese. I know it’s a shame!!!
I reached Salleri airport from Kathmandu, a morning flight with scary turbulence/s, a cheap 20$ ticket. I had plans for a week there, doing a research for a women rights organization. On the way to Salleri, I confronted Everest, even though I should have gone to Namche for a real audience of the roof of the world.
I had been warned of increasing Maoist activity in that region especially since the whole Salleri, headquarter of Solukhumbu, came under the largest attack of Maoist insurgents in November 2001, leaving 50 brutally shot security personnel and numerous Maoists. Maoists had won and left the place unrecognizable! Soon the government was successful in driving them away through aerial shooting. Yes, I had feelings somewhere inside me, real bad feelings!
Rooms in the only hotel were excellent, smelling fresh wood. Everything was made of wood and it looked awesome. Weather changed and we had excellent reason to drink the local apple, orange and lime based liquor ‘Marfa’ and the traditional Tibetan drink ‘Tongba’.
The next morning, I visited the security office to notify them of our objectives and the places we would like to visit. They respected our humanitarian vision but suggested not to conduct our research except than in the headquarter. Only headquarter Salleri, a small town 2 miles x 3miles (seriously) was guarded with nearly 700 security personnel and they did not take the responsibility of security in other areas, not even 50 meters from where their posts were. I told the Chief District Officer, CDO about my plans to visit some villages which he ruled out straight away.
Next, I was on my own. I took his advice not to visit one of the villages, I had in my mind, given the fact that it was totally under the Maoists control and they would not welcome outsiders. Besides, my project was funded by a US INGO and it was offensive for them.
I left for Tingla, my first destination on foot, a 4 hour trek crossing six 4000 meters hills and two rivers. Two local activists and my companion were with me. No obstruction anywhere but no sign of human life too. We reached there at two in the afternoon. The first house was a small tea and meal shop. We were welcomed and heavily questioned by the lady, who owned the place and also warned about the Maoists. She offered to cook for us while we did our work and gave us large glasses of Himalayan tea, good taste!
As we were drinking, three local teachers and a postman joined us. We greeted each other, introduced and then two boys 14-15 years of age came in. They looked innocent yet bold. Suddenly, the chatter inside the room came to a complete halt and it was only me who was talking. The lady warned me through her eyes as if to say ’shut up!’
The boys then asked for my name and my companions. We replied, they did not. They asked for our objective and I answered. They asked for documents related to our research and identity cards. I surrendered quietly. While I was doing this, I could clearly see the hand made pistols and revolver both had carried under their belt.
Then begun a tiresome job of explaining them every question which I knew they had no idea about. I tried to convince them and then the question came, who funds it? I lied covering with the name of my local organization which had provided me with a supportive letter. I said we were not funded and worked on our own resources. They informed me of their recent high level decision of banning activities related to imperialist America and India. After an hour they nodded and approved our research but only for an hour and not a minute longer. We were suddenly in full action and completed our research in an hour, of interviewing 5 widows, 5 married women, 5 unmarried and 5 separated left women followed by 5 men’s’ point of view on issue related to ‘right to provide citizenship of women to their children and husband’.
They were actually supportive towards the issue and claimed that the old regime (government) has been discriminating women and that the new regime (Maoist’s people government) was non-discriminatory in nature.
We left the place without eating the food but paying for it, packing whatever was possible. We reached Salleri one hour ahead may be because our life had been spared. After listening to the example they had put forth of capital punishment given to a NGO activist a month ago, who did not comply with their rule; I did not want to take any chance before they changed their mind.
The next two days were easier in terms of nearby villages. The fifth day, we decided to take the trail to Everest which was a three days trek from their. We started our trek but had to give up the same evening when a trekker returning suggested us not to take chances as Maoist activist was increasing in that route and that anything could happen. We took the advice. We had a return ticket after two days.
On the returning day, we reached airport in time. It was the plane that could not land due to adverse weather. The weather remained unfriendly for next three days. On the final day, a plane from a different company arrived and I was amazed to know that they had a syndicate system of ‘first come first serve’ basis. We boarded the plane and it took off.
This time, even though the turbulence/s were worse than before, I was not worried because I had overcome the worst turbulence of my life: being shot by two under-age arrogant insurgents, who knew nothing about ballet but bullet!
There is yet another incident of June 2005, which I will share later, if you guys like this one. Please feel free to comment and question.