Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Of Yaks and Jokes

In 2011 three of us made a trip to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. 

Rather than writing a travelogue – there are quite enough of those – I noted down themes; some amusing or poignant, some personal and emotional, and some just silly.  This means they do not have to be read (or written) in any particular order- which is a luxury for the writer and places no sense of obligation on the reader to start from page one and wade slavishly through page after page (or post after post) to the end. Rather dip in and enjoy!

Extract from fictional Trekking Guide - 
DAY 6 Namche Bazaar (3 440m) to Tengboche (3 860m) Phunki Tenga (3 250m), a little village located in the valley just below Tengboche for lunch. At this point the river which you bridge just prior to the two hour steep path to Tengboche is the colour of fresh peppermint.  The paths and the bridges are shared with Yaks carrying supplies and equipment north and returning to Lukla. You are advised to keep to the mountain side of the path when passing Yak trains.
On the route to Namche Bazaar the air is getting light in oxygen but heavy with Yak jokes. These are prompted by a mistaken explanation about a Sherpani lady carrying a cot on her back, Lavern thinking that the explanation was that she was carrying a baby Yak, and not a baby Sherpa. While we obviously did not check out the truth by stopping the lady and lifting the blanket off the cot, sense prevailed and it was admitted that a baby Sherpa was a more likely candidate than a baby Yak.

At the time I found this hysterically funny, and this potentially convoluted story demonstrates three important points.
  • Sherpa’s seem to carry their young on their backs in rudimentary timber travelling cots slung from headbands, in stark contrast to the more familiar possum like blanket technique common for babies at home.
  • Jokes about Yaks are a sorely untapped source of humour.
  • As the air gets thinner stupid jokes are initially bone-shakingly funny but lose their zest very quickly

"The air is getting light in oxygen but heavy with Yak jokes." 
Lavern sees the funny side of a Yak 

Trawling my oxygen starved mind for possible Yaks allusions I wonder if female Yaks should be called  Yakettes, admittedly a tad misogynous - and anyway female Yaks are actually called “Naks” which is itself is another massively untapped source of humour. The fact that a Yak is not female provides an interesting frisson to ones enjoyment of Yak cheese, until you realise that Yak is in this sense used generically and that it really is Nak milk that is used to make the cheese and not other fluids . . . . and this is not a discourse that bares expanding upon.

Gratuitous picture if a handsome Yak passing in front 
of Tengboche Monastery

Juvenile Yaks should be called Yaklettes, but what one calls baby Yaks carried in wooden cribs on the back of Sherpa women is open to question. Yakines?

Unfortunately petty western commercialism has invaded the trinket industry (there should be no surprise there!), or rather the tee-shirt industry – which is as good as the same thing. This has meant that aside from the inevitable tee-shirts proclaiming “Nepal”, “Everest Base Camp”, or “Kathmandu” in a triumphalist been-there-done-that-got-the-tee-shirt sort of tone there are also acres of cloth that play on various Yak themes. “Yakkity Yak” is one that was no doubt screamingly funny when first heard, but when displayed in a variety of colours and in sizes ranging from BB (barely born) to EO (excessively obese) becomes just plain daft.
Another gratuitous picture of a contemplative 
Yak. The one behind , half out of the picture 
was wearing a baseball  hat with "Kiss-me-quick" 
embroidered on it.
We actually stayed in a Yak joke.

The well known Yak and Yeti Hotel is situated somewhere in deepest Kathmandu. It is very smart with an imposing lobby and many rooms. It boasts an outside swimming pool, underground gymnasium, clay tennis courts, an imposing baronial dining hall, a beauty salon, an expensive shopping precinct, and monotonous soporific music in the elevators. It is staffed by uniformed and delightfully obsequious doormen, attentive waiters, helpful porters and incredibly rude night desk staff. In short it is everything that you would expect from a world class 4½ star hotel. So why give it such a daft, not to say coy, name - The Yak and Yeti Hotel? To add insult to injured sensibilities someone has even etched a large footprint onto a rock near the garden entrance to the foyer and screwed a brass plaque to the rock explaining that this mysterious footprint had been “discovered” during the construction of the hotel extension. 
"We actually stayed in a Yak Joke". Daft Yeti footprint
Really! Stick to the “Empire”, or the “Grand”, even the “Sobbing Sherpa” – but please, not the “Yak and Yeti”!

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