A Hit in the Himalayas by Scott Morley

The descent from Tibet into Nepal is doubtless the most breathtaking truck ride one could ever experience. After a brief trip to Everest’s Rongbuk Monastery, days meandering across the dusty steppe surrounding Shigatse, Tibet, a crescent-shaped descent resembling half of an enormous funnel opens. The Land Rover plunges straight into it. Eventually you come to a dirt road that switchbacks over and over, down down down, what seems like fifteen sets of Rocky Mountains, and then back up again, and then back down, back up. Up and down over pass after pass, for more than twelve hours, before reaching Kathmandu.
As you descend, you cross narrow waterfalls plummeting into ravines less than a meter wide, yet so much deeper than the imagination. Next another waterfall and another ravine, only this time the Land Rover crosses a bamboo bridge into a misty emerald ravine of moss and fern gullies.

            The pungent perfume of damp dirt replaces the dry dust and dung of Tibet, and your driver pulls over for a drag on his Kukri cigarette just before the short ride through an old avalanche with snow so dense it’s turned to an aqua ice. The truck moves through the rutted chasm with walls creaking against the sides of the truck, and your thankful there’s a back door on this machine. If you’re stuck that will be the one way out.

            Swarthy Aryan looking Nepalese, small slender men with big brown eyes, curly lashes and aquiline noses replace the dung-dreadlocked, snot-encrusted goat herders of the plateau. They wear plaid pill hats and long scarves that cover their mouths and shoulders, and flutter gallantly in the glacial winds. Pretty soon you notice the goats here don’t munch clover like back home or barley like back in Tibet. Instead, it seems they’re eating marijuana. Whole forests of marijuana, as tall as Christmas trees.

Down below a curvy maiden with an ample brown bosom bathes naked in a silvery silted river gushing straight out of a hole in the hill, a hill with lovely little trails meandering this way and that over a panorama that just couldn’t get any more bucolic, Don Quixote be damned. You wait for Frodo to appear, barefoot and skipping along out of the glade with Merry and Pippin, or maybe Tom and Huck, or Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear. You look straight up and see an entire sky sparkling with icy diamond peaks that almost blind you in this high altitude sun. You think to yourself that you’ve truly found heaven on earth, and you’re so proud of yourself for making this trip, and you vow to never leave. You’ll marry a Gurkha girl, have big strong half-Asian children whom eventually you’ll send to the States – but you’ll never leave. Why leave? Everything is so perfect, after all.

Then you arrive in the no-man’s land, a kilometer-wide little town called Zhangmu. You load into the back of a pickup truck carrying men with red mustachios and women with gold chains hooked into their impressive Indian nostrils. You smell the garlic and curry and can’t wait to see the rest of this incredible country, Nepal.

At the end of the line, right before you line up for your honorary tourist visa, you notice a new song you’ve never heard before. A white rapper singing a song, “Without Me,” and you chuckle that the first time you get to hear Eminem is here, practically on top of the world really, so far from Los Angeles or Detroit. So far away from the world of hip-hop and everything else you once knew. The guy playing the music is selling Tupac and Biggie shirts. A young girl of about fifteen sells Bob and Ziggy Marley shirts.

A gust of wind blows one of the salesman’s shirts into the dirt and the Marley salesgirl goes to pick it up. But as she leans in to get it, the man comes up behind her at a full run and cold-cocks her directly in the jaw, knocking her unconscious, face down in the dirt. This doesn’t sit right with you so you grab the man’s shoulder. But as small as he is you can still feel the dense electricity of his musculature, the Gurkha musculature, and as he turns to you snarling you decide discretion is the better part of tourism.

Line up for your passport stamp. Nothing to see here.

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Scott Morely has a MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. He earns his living teaching English in Busan, South Korea. Prior to returning to Busan, he taught in the United States, China, Turkey and Vietnam. He most recently published his short story “The Spittle Express” in
Traveler’s Tales; Wake up and Smell the Shit.


"A Hit in the Himalayas" won third place in the 2017 I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition. The judge, Graham Mercer, had the following to say about the piece:


'There is something raw and unpolished about this “warts and all” article. It is, to be fair, about a raw and unpolished part of the world. But it holds the reader’s attention and some of the imagery is striking (though the “dung-dreadlocked, snot-encrusted goat herders” of Tibet might not be too impressed).


'The “dry dust and dung of Tibet” have already been mentioned, suggesting that the writer is not too unhappy about descending from the plateau “into a misty emerald ravine of moss and fern gullies”. But just as he (rightly or wrongly I imagine a young man) is thinking that he has “truly found heaven on earth” he discovers, as so many travellers do, that the grass on the other side of a border is not necessarily greener.

'“Grass” is appropriate, perhaps, for even the goats in Nepal feed on “whole forests of marijuana, as tall as Christmas trees”. And there is violence in this promised land, even before his passport has been stamped; good travel writing isn’t always about good experiences.'

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