Supplementary Soup



During the eighties and nineties I worked  and lived in Nepal. In October 2013 I returned  for  a visit with my Nepalese husband, Ongchhu Sherpa.

The familiarity  of the inefficiency  at Kathmandu airport welcomes me back to Nepal. There is one official at the immigration counter as three plane loads of tourists arrive.  The Nepalese  do not care for the Western habits  of  frustration and impatience. There is no alternative but to relax.

Back at the airport  on day 2, to fly to Ongchhu’s home district of Solu,  the domestic terminal resembles an evacuation centre. Bags and bodies are sprawled everywhere waiting for flights. It’s early October and the monsoon has yet to end. There are many cancellations.  Our helicopter has been diverted to retrieve bodies from a mountaineering accident in the west and cannot return due to the weather. Typically we meet a relative of one of the climbers who tells us about the accident.

We return the next day and after several hours  of waiting, finally board a six seater helicopter to fly to Phaplu in the lower Everest region.  The alternative to flying in is a day long bus ride followed by 6 days of walking.

Upon landing  on the side of the airstrip  which is ‘undergoing maintenance’, we’re met by our slender niece Nima, who immediately takes the biggest pack. We stroll down the track to the nearby town of Salleri, the administrative capital of Solu, to stay with friends.

And so the catching up begins.The Sherpa people are renowned for their good humour, hospitality and story telling. It is considered rude to refuse food or drink. I look upon it as an endurance test which  must be blissfully embraced in order to survive.

The familiar sound of Radio Nepal charms me. There have been huge technological changes in Nepal in the last decade. Some homes have televisions and the children sit glued to them. Intentionally I’m without a phone or  a camera leaving the gadgetry to Ongchhu. His two phones ring often.  Everyone seems to know we are here. Old friends have walked up from their village homes to catch up with us.

The following day we set off  on the walk to the family home in the village of Nam. It’s straight up hill to the top of the ridge, around 10,000ft and  we savour a welcome  rest at the well situated  tea shop. The clouds still hover but on a clear day the view north to Everest can be seen. Refreshed, as light rain falls we descend   into the forest  which is dripping with monsoon greenery . Trees, flowers, berries, ferns and waterfalls  delight us as we walk down the  slippery moss covered trail.  After five and  a half hours we arrive at the traditional  whitewashed stone  Sherpa house which sits at 7,400ft. I’m pleased to see the tea garden on the terrace below the house  still thriving.  Flowers  and bamboo grow  nearby. Two milking buffaloes are tethered behind the house, the dog under the house.

There is electricity in the village now.  This village organised it’s own small hydro scheme to provide  electricity for light. Mobile phones can be charged  but  for cooking firewood is still used. Of course there are now electricity bills.

We sleep on wooden benches covered with carpet mats. As in many households the children have gone and the ageing adults are left to carry out the physical chores.

My appetite is stimulated by the exercise and fresh air  hence the taste of the home grown food is a sensory delight. The potatoes,  grains and  vegetables, including ‘sisnu’- stinging nettle soup  is delicious. Timbour , (Himalayan pepper) and a touch of chilli is added to the nettles. My husband  has raved about  stinging nettle soup for years, telling me that it’s full of vitamins and that I should eat more of it. (I would if he didn’t overdose it with so much chilli) Apparently the nettles are loaded with iron. It makes sense when you think about the rich green colour.

Next morning  two bleary eyed  men drop in to chat after spending the night awake watching for black bears that have been coming down  from the forest to eat the corn . The men drink rakshi ( home made whisky)  and tea whilst  recounting previous bear stories, including one where  a man and bear both toppled off a cliff and ended up landing in the same tree!

Nima sets off for a village four hours away up on the ridge. She is carrying a  traditional woven basket loaded with rakshi  to sell.

On days when the rakshi is made I’m able to have a warm wash , using the leftover water from the  process. The open air bathroom is conveniently right next to the rakshi room.

After delicious tsampa ( roasted barley flour) and the usual gallons of tea for breakfast we visit the local school to deliver books and pencils. Some children are given only one book for the year and when they fill it up their parents ask why they have used it so quickly.

On a trip to the outdoor toilet disaster almost strikes as I fall through a floor board. Luckily  I manage to grab hold of the rock ledge step  on the way down and avoid falling right through . However I’ve scraped my side on the rocks.  After hauling myself up and returning to the house I  discover that I’ve scraped  a large amount of skin off  my right hip. Typically the household find the tale and sight of my raw flesh hilarious. Thankfully there are no deep gashes requiring stitches.  I wash  my skin and apply some antiseptic. Expecting the cuts to heal in a few days, the following day as  I’m about to apply some paw paw  ointment I’m stunned to see that the skin has virtually healed .  All the rawness is gone and I don’t need to put anything on it. I seriously can’t believe my eyes and decide  that the stinging nettle soup must indeed be full of vitamins.

As light rain falls I sit by the upstairs window watching the clouds moving up the tranquil valleys. When they clear I spot  the distant  terraces, settlements and monasteries. I’m inspired by the rugged beauty and serenity of the landscape and the resilience of people who live here.

We pay  obligatory visits to the other village houses and consume more delicious tea and food.  Between houses Ongchhu picks small blue berries, which are also apparently ‘good’  and savours the return to his favourite childhood places .


After  a few days at Nam we head to the charming village  of Junbesi.  Along the trail we see a cobra snake, not native to Nepal .  Ongchhu is naturally fascinated by it and gets close enough to take photos of it. The snake becomes a talking point for the rest of the trip. The locals deducing that it must have come from India via the pipes and tin carried in during  the winter.

From Junbesi  we  savour the view of the pine forests  as we walk up the valley to Thubten Choling monastery where I recall fond memories of delicious potato pancakes  and blissful deep sleeps. After visiting the head Lama  and the ornate monastery building with niece Dali who lives there,  Ongchhu decides to go paragliding while Nima, Dali and I walk around the valley to the Pungmoche monastery where I had previously taught English. Whilst Dali and the head Lama chat about the roads being built in Solu I watch the young monks splashing each other with the lime whitewash that they are supposed to be applying to the building.

We return to Junbesi and wait for Ongchhu . He turns up hours later having landed in a friend’s paddock and spent the rest of the day there threshing wheat in between drinking chang (home made beer). He’s delightfully happy.

Returning to Phaplu  we embark on the process of booking   flights  as we have a wedding in Kathmandu to attend. Nima  is  also coming to Kathmandu to enrol in an English and computer course. The procedure for procuring tickets is as mystifying as ever. Ongchhu kindly helps organise tickets for an exhausted looking  Australian man and his teenage daughter but then finds himself unable to get a flight on the same day.  Westerners pay twice the local price for flights  hence are given preference . There are sick people and monks also waiting for flights. We watch flights return with empty seats whilst  we wait and wait until finally our flight comes.  But Ongchhu has to wait another day.

From the air the view of the Himalayas is awe inspiring and Everest is truly stunning.  Absorbing every  detail of the vista will provide me with sustenance until next time.

On returning  home to the Snowy Mountains in  Australia  as I water the stinging nettle patch that Ongchhu  has nurtured in the vegie garden over the years I ponder whether I should send the recipe for stinging nettle soup  to James Hird.










  1. Wow.You never cease to amaze Pam. What a wonderful story. Reminds me of Africa. Tomorrow tomorrow.James would have been on the stinging nettle for sure
    Thanks for sharing

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Brilliant Pam the diversity of stories and experiences told and shared on this brilliant site continue to surprise and delight me Thanks Pam !

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