The road to Rongbuk was treacherous, and even the Jeep’s heavily chained tires occasionally had difficulty finding traction. There were several times Brig thought he would have to abandon the vehicle and walk the rest of the distance to the monastery, but each time the jeep dug in, and Brig was able to continue.
The storm had lessened significantly in the last hour, but Brig could still only see a few hundred feet through the Jeep’s windshield. He had to be getting close, and indeed a few minutes later the blurred lines of a building gradually came into view as if in a dream. Brig hoped it wasn’t his eyes playing tricks on him.
Brig eased the Jeep to a stop, just in front of what he hoped was a place to stay for his last night on earth. The same single story, Tibetan stone buildings lined the snow-covered roadway. There was nobody in sight. Old rusted out oil drums stood sentry to an ornately adorned red door that caught Brig’s attention. Brig knocked on the door, and a few seconds later a Buddhist monk appeared.
“Welcome! Welcome!” uttered the bald cenobite.
“Thank you,” Brig responded. “Sorry to bother you. Is this a hotel?”
“Welcome! Welcome!” the man repeated. Or was it a woman? Brig couldn’t tell. He named the gender-ambiguous host Pat after the androgynous fictional character on Saturday Night Live. Pat’s English seemed limited to the one word.
“Um. Is…there…anybody…else…here…I…can…speak…to?” Brig asked slowly and extra loudly, hoping the pace, clarity, and volume would help his greeter better understand what he was saying.
“Welcome! Welcome!” the monk replied, equally slowly, and loudly, and pointed to a sign that Brig had failed to notice when he entered.
The sign read, “Welcome to the Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse! Foreigners welcome! We greatly honor your most hospitable visit! May Buddha bless you with safety and happiness!” The room rate was published below. “1 Room/1 Adult/1 Night/¥100.”
Brig reached into his pocket and withdrew his remaining renminbi. He gave his host two red, ¥100 yuan, and thanked Pat again.
“Welcome! Welcome!” Pat repeated, pointing and shuffling back towards the door that they had entered. He assumed he was being shown to his room. Upon exiting the “lobby,” Pat pointed to the right, saying, “Eat! Eat!” miming the action of shoveling food into his/her mouth with his/her hands. Brig nodded that he understood. They moved to another door to their left. Pat stepped aside to let Brig enter.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Brig stuck his tongue out at Pat, who laughed hysterically, returned the gesture, and closed the door behind her/him as he/she left.
“Thank Buddha,” Brig said aloud as he laid his pack down on one of the ten beds spread throughout the room. There was no sign that any other guest would share the room with him tonight. Thank Buddha twice, Brig thought. Perhaps he would finally get a good night’s sleep. Brig laid down on one of the filthy beds, and though this time he remembered he threw caution to the wind and put his head down on the unprotected dirty pillow.