I took a few more games from the Malaysian. Either he had gotten too stoned, or I was starting to understand his playing style.
“Tomorrow, we will play again?” he asked me as I stepped back from the board.
“Nah, I have to go trekking tomorrow,” I said. “Need to redeem your reputation, losing against this youngster?” I say, half-joking. He had handily taken the majority of games from me. I knew he was the better player.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” the Malaysian said, looking down. “You are not that young.”
“I’m only 23!” I protested.
“Exactly,” he said. “That is not that young.”
I stepped back, slightly offended. He was probably right. He seemed like the sort of man who was usually right about things.
I shrugged. “What is there to do, brother?” I asked.
I sat down next to the Welshman. The Welshman had been drinking alone the whole time, watching our chess games and smoking joints.
“Welcome mate,” he said.
“What’s up,” I responded, curtly.
“The sky, mate!” he said, cackling. “Know what’s down? The ground!” He spoke with a slurred, thick accent.
I rolled my eyes. “Where you from, mate?” I asked.
“Wales!” he said. That explained the alcoholism. “Although I spent most of my life growing up in India,” he added.
I took a second look at him when he said this. That actually made a little more sense. He was young, maybe thirty at the most, but he had the scruffy, dusty look of a very seasoned traveler. His hair was greasy and unwashed, a scarf hung loosely around his neck. His tunic was made of rough cloth—probably purchased in India— and he wore a pair of heavy-duty military boots on his feet.
He caught me eyeballing the boots. “British Army-issue,” he said. “Fucking indestructible.”
“They look like nice leather,” I said.
“Oh yeah, amazing leather in India,” he said. “British Army got a real taste for it while we were running the place.” I had no idea if this was true or not.
“Aren’t cows sacred in India?” I asked. “Seems kind of odd that they would make good leather.”
The Welshman laughed a big, gesturing laugh. He clapped me on the back, hard. “YES! You’re right mate! It IS fucking funny.” He laughed until he ran out of breath. I cast a look around the cafe, questioningly, but everyone else was absorbed in their own business. The Malaysian had found a new opponent, the Spaniard was sketching.
“They have really good beef, too,” he said. “Isn’t that funny? Fucking Indian beef.”
“Really?” I asked. “Like high-quality beef?”
“Yeah!” he said. “Some of the best in the world.”
“Well maybe there’s a marketing opportunity there,” I said. “You take that beef and export it to the US or the UK. Package it up all nice, sell it at a markup. Call it ‘Hindu Beef’ or some shit.”
My companion absolutely lost it at this suggestion. He started laughing so hard he almost fell out of his chair. Tears rolled from his eyes, as he was wracked with genuine mirth.
“Hind—Hind—Hindu Beef!!” He slapped me on the back again. “Holy shit mate, you don’t know how funny that is.”
I really didn’t. I just kind of sat there, while he was seized with a renewed fit of laughing.
He eventually calmed down. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he said: “You don’t understand, but that really put some things together for me. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome? I guess?” I said, hesitantly.
“Oh no, seriously, thank you very much,” he said. “Hindu fucking beef…” he trailed off, the wheels in his mind clearly spinning.
“I get a 10 percent fee from any money you make off that name,” I said.
“Fair enough my friend,” the Welshman said with a grin. “Fucking Hindu Beef…”
We sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the Malaysian play chess.
He leaned over next to me: “Fucking more boring than watching cricket, innit?”
“It’s a lot more interesting to play, definitely,” I said, diplomatically. I enjoyed watching chess.
He did have a point though—I was wasting my time watching two people play a game. Now that I finally had an interview arranged with Runtastic, I had a trek to arrange, gear to buy, and plans to make. I had 11 days to fill, and I wasn’t going to spend them all talking about Hindu Beef and watching chess.
“You been trekking in those?” I asked the Welshman.
“Oh yeah, loads of times,” he said, swigging his beer.
“I’ve got to book a trek today. Where should I go?”
“Oh man,” he said. “Today? How long do you have?”
“Ten days or so. I need to be back in Pokhara on the 14th,” I said.
“Why’s that?” he asked.
“I have a job interview.”
“Hmmm,” he pondered. He finished his beer. “They’re all fucking great man. Just depends what you’re looking for.” He flagged the owner of the cafe down.
“Another Everest?” the owner asked.
“Mmmm, let’s do a Nepal Ice,” the Welshman said. The owner nodded and came back with a tall can of beer.
“Higher alcohol content,” the Welshman said with a wink. He cracked it, listening to the “snap” of carbonation with obvious relish. He took a long drink.
“To your trekking question: I can’t choose. They’re all great, of course. Every step, like a fucking movie. But for me, it’s all the great memories I have with the people. The Sherpa, in the Everest region. Amazing people, so warm and welcoming. And the… fuck, I can’t remember the names of the tribes in the Annapurna area… but they’re amazing too,” he said. “So many great memories with those people.”
“Have you done Annapurna Base Camp?” I asked him.
“Yeah yeah,” he said. “Beautiful. The Circuit is great too, until they built that road.”
“I’m looking at ABC,” I told him.
“That’s cool, that’s cool,” he said, losing interest. “They’re all great. You’ll enjoy it.”
“So if you’re not here to trek,” I asked him, “why are you in Nepal?”
“Because they wouldn’t let me into Afghanistan,” he said without missing a beat.
I laughed, involuntarily. “What did you want to do in Afghanistan?!”
“I don’t know, have a look around?”
“Probably not the safest place for a white person to be ‘having a look around,’” I said.
“That’s the funny thing mate!” the Welshman exclaimed. “The whole fucking place is like an American colony. They asked me: ‘Do you have American passport?’ It’s like your 51st fucking state man.” He took another gulp from his beer. “Did you know ninety percent of the world’s heroin comes form Afghanistan?”
“The poppy fields, yeah,” I said.
“Why do you think the Americans invaded? It wasn’t about fucking freedom, I’ll tell you that much. Do you know how much money there is to be made there?”
I shook my head. “Not really. But I’d guess a lot.”
“We were there,” he said (referring to the British), “then the Russians were there in the ‘80s, and now the Americans are there. Why do you think all these great powers want this godforsaken land in the middle of the desert?
I started to respond but he yelled “It’s the drugs man!”
I shrugged my shoulders and sat back in my chair. “Place is an American colony, huh?”
“Yeah mate,” he said, mimicking my posture. “US Army at the border. Asking for US passports. More white people than locals. Insane man.” He shook his head.
It started pouring rain outside. The pitter-patter of raindrops on corrugated sheet metal got louder and louder, until we couldn’t even hear each other without shouting. A pair of cows walked through the street outside, hoofing it to shelter as quick as they could. I got up to take a better look. A sinkhole had opened near the corner of the cafe, and water was draining into it at a rapid rate. I had no idea where it went. Probably back to the lake, somehow.
I took out my phone to shoot a quick video. The Welshman laughed.
“Let me guess, for Facebook?” he said, derisively.
“No, Snapchat!” I responded. Feeling a little chastised, I posted my update, then put the phone away.
I waited for the rain to abate, said my goodbyes, and headed out to arrange a trek.
This is a nonfiction book I am writing. It is (unfortunately) all true. I’m posting it chapter-by-chapter. I’d be delighted to have you follow along. You can find Chapter 1 here, the Table of Contents here, and you can sign up for weekly e-mail reminders here.
Thanks for visiting!