Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Cell Phone Central: Himalaya
I was co-leading a group to Mustang in October 2010, and we were doing the acclimatization hike from Kagbeni (9100') to the pilgrimage site of Muktinath (12,100') and back. It was hot, sun beating down, my boots were tight, feet sweating, and a half hour short of Muktinath I decided the group really didn't need me to go with them all the way up. I was walking at the back of the pack, as is my custom, and turned to the sherpa accompanying me and asked him if he wouldn't mind running ahead and telling my Nepali co-leader that I was heading back down to our lodge and he shouldn't worry about my whereabouts. To my surprise, he whipped out his sleek flip phone and speed dialed the leader at the front of the pack, a half hour's walk away, passed along my message and hung up. "Anything else?" he inquired. The entire walk back down to the lodge I thought back on what trekking was like in 1972 when I first walked these trails, and how the world had changed. Even here, in one of the last corners of the world where roads have not fully penetrated, cell phones have seemingly become ubiquitous.
A year later I was co-leading a group to the remote village of Laya in Bhutan. Several of our group brought satellite phones with them to stay in touch with family and to assist with getting help in case of an emergency. But virtually every member of the trek staff was outfitted with cell phones, and those had much better reception than the sat phones at a small fraction of the cost. At one point we stopped to photograph some horses drinking from a natural spring, and there, in the background, their owner, gabbing away on his pink flip cell phone. Little old ladies, dressed very traditionally, casually pull them out of the folds in their saris (Nepal) or kiras (Bhutan). Bhutanese men, wearing their traditional robe called a gho, carry seemingly everything including the kitchen sink in the gho's ample front fold, including, now, the new IT phone in Bhutan, their iPhone.
Above the Clouds