Let me take you back to Christmas morning 1990. It was 3am and I could hear voices outside my tent. Lots of male voices, all speaking softly. Questions, and hesitant answers.
I lifted the zip of my tent a few inches and peeped through. The snow storm which had made us set up camp early on Christmas Eve had intensified. Through the blanket of falling snow I could make out a group of figures, all dressed in traditional Nepalese clothes. One of them noticed me and flashed a smile, like lightning through the dark night.
I’d joined the trek a couple of weeks earlier. We were 12 women, all unknown to one another, with a common wish to avoid Christmas in the UK, and to absorb the beauty of Nepal instead. And so far it had been great.
But what on earth were all these men doing here, chatting to our guides before dawn?
Jenny, the trek organiser trudged over to us, almost unrecognisable in a huge down jacket and hat. Back to sleep guys, she chuckled. The local men from the village at the foot of the mountain realised the storm was getting really bad, so they had walked for over an hour, wearing flip-flops, to ask if we needed help. We would have been welcome to sleep in their homes if needed.
Snuggling into my cosy tent, as I fell asleep, I reflected on the cultural differences between our countries.
If I had seen a group of foreigners camping in the snow in the open spaces of the West Midlands, would I have gone out in the early hours to check on their safety and offer them a place in my home?
Not an easy question to answer.
Christmas in Nepal
Dawn broke on Christmas Day, and the chefs had performed magic. Sitting on groundsheets wearing full weatherproof clothing, we tucked into hot potato cakes covered in jam, and drank mugs of steaming tea.
How do they manage, I wondered, cooking on just those calor gas burners? No one mentioned Christmas, but we all gasped as the snow cleared to give us a magnificent view of the snow-covered mountain.
Back home I knew that friends and family would be opening presents and eating and drinking. Just this once, I had allowed myself to escape.
We trekked behind the laden mules and tried to join in with the singing of the porters, most of whom were Nepali, but some were Tibetan.
Gradually, as we moved across the mountain, we became quieter. There is a limit to how many times you can shout “WOW” but the beauty of the landscape that day has never left me.
The evening meal of garlic soup and steamed mo-mos (dumplings), was followed by an iced cake – once again made over the gas burners!
As we sank into the tiredness which always follows a good day’s trekking, the guides and porters announced they had a Christmas present for us. They were going to sing their three favourite songs.
Watching and listening, with the flakes of snow slowly falling again, I had a feeling deep inside me that they had given us the most wonderful present I had ever had and, for me, the most joyful Christmas ever.