Stories / Asia / Nepal

Where does the cheese come from? Yaks.

The Great Namche Pizza Conspiracy

In a remote mountain village in the heart of Nepal, Martin discovers that things aren’t always as they seem when he inadvertently uncovers an international conspiracy.

by Martin Wierzbicki

Namche is known for many things. To mountaineers, it’s the gateway to the Everest region of Nepal, a village that every climber must pass on his journey to the summit of the world’s highest mountain. For the local Sherpa people, Namche hosts the famous Saturday Bazaar, which brings together people from the entire region to buy and sell otherwise hard-to-find supplies in this remote mountain area. But to me, Namche will always be remembered for its pizza.

I had been to Namche twice before, but it wasn’t until my third time that I uncovered the Great Namche Pizza Conspiracy. After three weeks of trekking in the Himalayas, I was on my way down from Everest base camp. High altitude trekking had taken a toll on me. For days, I’d been living on a basic diet of rice and vegetables, walking up to twenty miles a day, and at 15,000 feet, breathing only half the oxygen of sea level. My body ached, my stomach groaned, and as I approached Namche, I was already thinking about the incredible pizza I had eaten there on the ascent. That made it the logical place to stop for the night.

I checked into the Khumbu Lodge, the same lodge where President Jimmy Carter stayed when he climbed to Everest base camp in 1985. Of course, his expedition was somewhat more elaborate than mine. I was traveling on my own, with a backpack, guidebook, and a basic trail map I’d bought in Kathmandu. He arrived with a legion of secret service agents, porters, his wife, and a Nepali guide named Pasang Kami Sherpa. Rumor has it that Carter was the only one who finished the trek. The young agents dropped off one-by-one as they succumbed to altitude sickness, while the 61-year-old president continued all the way into base camp at 5400m. A faded photograph of Carter still hangs in the lobby of the Khumbu Lodge.

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Sherpa village on the trek

The daughter of Pasang Kami Sherpa led me up a steep wooden staircase to my room on the second floor of the Khumbu Lodge. A bronze plaque above the door read “Jimmy Carter Slept Here 1985.” As luck would have it, she offered me the former president’s room. It was anything but presidential: a small wooden bed, thin plywood walls, and barely enough floor space to set down my backpack. Through the grimy window I could just make out the silhouette of a high peak across the valley.

I unpacked my sleeping bag and walked downstairs to the lobby where a handful of people sat reading, eating, and talking about their experiences on the trek. A group of Spanish mountaineers had just returned from climbing Everest. Their black sunburned faces, gaunt bodies and tired eyes told the story of their journey. An Australian on a commercial expedition sat alone at a corner table. He had paid $50,000 to climb Everest and was forced to turn back just hours from the summit. At another table, a suspicious older man was recounting his alleged success on Everest to two American high school girls. (Later, they told me he had invited them on a new “mystery expedition.”)

I hadn’t climbed Everest, and I definitely wasn’t a mountaineer, so I took my place at a table with a group of trekkers. Mike had just returned from the Gokyo valley. We talked for a while about the trek and his work as a geologist in Canada before the conversation turned to the inevitable topic of food.

[ next page | Martin uncovers the conspiracy ]

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