Winston Aldworth

Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Bar/fly: Nepal

Winston Aldworth stays (fairly) sober while getting high

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

We are drinking at the highest Irish pub in the world.

Like many an Irish pub outside of the Emerald Isles, this one didn't look promising when we first walked into the dimly lit den.

This pub, tucked away in the tight, winding alleyways of Namche Bazaar, is 3440m above sea level, high in the Everest region.

Me and my mate have doubled the attendance figures. Two young Western trekkers are playing pool on a wobbly table as a bloke in the corner does sit ups. The music is awful backpacker-rock.

The visage of Che Guevara looks down from the graffiti-marked walls as Sit-Up Guy grunts through his workout.

We stand at the bar and look about for a barman. "Surely that's not the barman working on his abs," I mutter.

Sit-Up Guy grunts in our direction, barely missing a rep.

"That'll be him," says my friend.

Finishing his set, Sit-Up Guy, a handsome long-haired Sherpa, gets up, flicks his hair back off his shoulders and makes his way over to us.

"What do you mumble-mumble-mumble," he asks.

"Two Guinness, thanks."

"We don't have Guinness," says Sit-Up Guy - the barman in the highest Irish Pub in the world that doesn't stock Guinness. "We've got cans of mumble-mumble-mumble."

"Er, two of those, thanks mate."

Turns out "cans of mumble-mumble-mumble" translates as "big cans of warm, disgusting San Miguel". Ah, warm San Miguel, the tipple of James Joyce, t'be sure, t'be sure. Still, Irish pubs have never been about Gaelic authenticity - the best of them revel in their fakeness - and Namche Bazaar is a long way from Dublin.

A can of Everest lager.
A can of Everest lager.

The Everest region has its own drinking traditions and cans of San Miguel are a common sight in cafes and lodges along the way, which is unfortunate because the Nepali-brewed Everest Lager is a good, knockabout tinnie deserving of attention from visitors. Yes, I knocked one of the bastards off.

Each one of those cans has been carried up the hill by a porter who probably earned less than $20 for a day of lugging material up steep tracks in thin oxygen. There are no roads around here. The pool table - mercifully with a wooden base, not slate - also came up as pieces strapped to some poor joker's back.

Further down the hillside at Monjo (2850m), our group pops into a local teahouse. They've just finished brewing rice wine (raksi) - the true local grog. Our Sherpa guide buys 25 litres of it, which is served in something that looks like it once held (and will someday once again hold) petrol. He pays about $15 for it and shares it among the hikers and porters in the group.

I worry - quite reasonably - that it will match the aesthetics of the container and taste like it should be powering a lawnmower, but the rice wine is delicious. Families will brew a batch and throw in wild flowers and fruit for aroma and flavour. The one we try tastes of apple and is better than a commercially produced variety we had in a Kathmandu restaurant.

"How strong would this be?" I ask the Sherpa guide.

"Huh?"

"What percentage alcohol?"

"Um, they don't really measure that. But I think quite strong."

It has a bit of bite, but nothing too severe. Still it's strong enough to induce a hangover.

The old rule about drinking in moderation applies in force at altitude.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Cathay Pacific flies daily between Auckland and Hong Kong. Its partner airline, DragonAir, connects to Kathmandu.

Details: World Expeditions runs guided trekking and tour groups throughout the Everest region staying at permanent camp sites.

Winston Aldworth travelled as a guest of World Expeditions and Cathay Pacific and with kit assistance from Kathmandu.

- NZ Herald

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