The Story of Khumbu, a Nepali Dog
Updated: Oct 5
On the afternoon of April 17th, 2009, my trekking friends and I had arrived in Lukla in Nepal. This Himalayan town at 9,500 feet is home to a small mountain airport. After a long and exciting trek, it was the night before our flight back to Kathmandu. We were feeling so good, amazed at ourselves and in awe of where we had been — fifteen days on the trail to Mt. Everest Base Camp and back.
It was a long arduous journey, on foot, through the world’s most awe inspiring mountainous terrain. We were proud to have reached our goal a few days earlier, at 18,000 feet, the top of Kalapathar, a small hill at the base of Mt. Everest known for amazing views. At this point, we were so ready for hot showers, fancy restaurant food, clean clothes and all the amenities of the modern world we would soon find in Kathmandu.
Little did I know this would be a memorable and special day for another reason.
At the Lodge where my group always stayed and where the owner, Pemba Nuru, was a friendly and familiar face, I was enjoying milk tea with some popcorn. Soon Pemba Nuru came into the dining room holding a little black puppy. "Look what I found," he said. He carried the little one toward me and placed this fuzzy, adorable boy into my lap. "You should take him to America!" he said with a big grin.
There was no possible way I was going to take a dog from the Himalayas back to Michigan with me. It was such a crazy thought it made me smile. Pemba Nuru was being silly! But he, this tiny little animal, was so soft and super cute. I wondered if he needed his mother. Although mostly black, his paws were white as snow, like four little white slippers. His tummy and chest had a splash of white fur, and the tip of his tail was white, a feather in his cap.
Pemba Nuru said he found this pup just down the main trail near the miniature mountain airport. He said the puppy was yowling. He noticed there was a ring of barbed-wire bent like a collar around the poor dog’s neck. Maybe someone had placed it there in an effort to protect him from the bite of another? He wasn’t sure, but obviously the little one needed help. Pemba Nuru removed the spiky collar and brought the puppy back to his guesthouse where I happened to be sipping hot milk tea.
My American trekking friends and I were flying back to Kathmandu early the next morning. There was zero time to consider transporting a dog, and surely the capitol city of Kathmandu did not need another homeless, unwanted puppy. It would be madness to think of taking responsibility and clearly impossible to take this dog around the world to America.
"I named him, Khumbu," Pemba Nuru said.
Solo Khumbu is the land of the Sherpa people and the region of Nepal that surrounds Mt. Everest. Khumbu is also the name of the glacier and treacherous icefall that climbers must traverse in order to climb Mt. Everest. The Khumbu Glacier is immense and flows at least five miles downward through the Himalayan valley below.
"Perfect," I thought. It was the best name for a little Sherpa doggie from the Himalayas. He was so cute, such a happy fuzz ball. His ears were especially soft. He was curled up on the bench beside me, then in my lap, then sniffing around for things to eat on the floor. Soon he was sniffing at a chair leg. Oops, he peed!
The next morning arrived. After petting the sweet little one most of the evening before, I had to bid him farewell. Suddenly, I was sad to leave this innocent, spirited animal. It appeared he was fully unaware of his predicament. The life of a stray in the Himalayas was full of hardship. The locals didn’t care much for dogs. To them they were dirty pests, desperate for food, shelter, warmth and kindness. Like the rats in town, the local dogs were a nuisance.
But taking this puppy to Kathmandu - how could I? My ticket was on a small 15-passenger plane. Forget it. It was nothing to consider. “Good-bye my little friend,” I said, petting his soft ears.
A few hours later, my trekking team and I found ourselves back in the bustling, smog filled city of Kathmandu. I showered at the hotel, first thing, of course. That shower was worth a complete two weeks of dirtiness. What a luxury a HOT shower was! We dined out every night enjoying global cuisines in lovely tourist-filled restaurants. Kathmandu was like home.
A few days later, my fellow travelers and I were sitting on the verandah at our hotel, chatting and enjoying happy hour drinks and snacks. On an unannounced visit, Nwang Puri, our trekking guide approached. At first he was a dark silhouette as the light of the open hallway was behind him. Very soon I could see he was holding that PUPPY — from Lukla. What?! Really?! Was this possible?! Was it Khumbu?! Was Khumbu in Kathmandu!?
Nwang Puri lifted the little being, paws flying, and nearly hurled him through the air. Again Khumbu was in my lap. "Take him to America!” Nwang Puri said. My surrounding friends laughed and agreed! “Take him to America!” they all said — as if now I must.
I was stuck. How would I ever get this little dog back to the mountains?? How could I return him to the remote airport town of Lukla? He needed to be home…and with his mother! I couldn't leave him in this overcrowded city! He was so tiny, so innocent. The capital would ruin him if not crush him. Kathmandu traffic was a mess.
Nwang Puri explained he had carried the dog, “hidden in his coat”, and no one saw him on the flight from Lukla! How was this even possible?!
My friends reminded me that my kitty had passed away two years earlier. After 18 years together, she left a giant hole in my heart. I missed her so much.
It was at this point that I reluctantly — and quite fearfully — became committed to the well being of this puppy. I could not leave Khumbu in Kathmandu.
First things first, I held the dog in my arms and went downstairs to the reception desk to ask if I could keep a dog in my hotel room. The answer was a definite ‘NO! Those are the rules,” they said, “no dogs allowed!”
I promised I would clean up after my pet. I would train the him. I would take good care that the room was spic-and-span. I pleaded and I promised, and finally they let him stay. They let me keep him.
My room was on the third floor, room 307. I put newspaper on the tile floor in the bathroom and encouraged Khumbu to "go pee pee" there! He did a few times and in other places a few other times... It was short carpet, easy to clean. I found myself on all fours sudsing up and scrubbing often.
When Khumbu went pee pee in the right place, it was easy to wad up the newspapers each morning and stuff them in the trash. There was no tub in the bathroom. Instead, the shower sprayed all over the floor and eventually the water swirled down a floor drain. I wore flip-flops when I showered and the shampoo and soap naturally cleaned the walls and tile to a shine. While I was at it, one morning I gave Khumbu a bath. The first couple days I noticed a slight oder about him.
Living in a hotel room with a puppy for two weeks was not easy. He had to accompany me everywhere. If I tried leaving him alone, even for a minute to grab breakfast in the dinning room downstairs, he would bark and scratch at the door incessantly.
Nwang Puri and friends babysat him one day while I raced to the fancy supermarket where the diplomats shop. I bought Pedigree dog food, treats and a leash. I found a small pet carrying case that looked like a purse. Maybe it was a toy for a toy stuffed animal? I bought it anyway at a hefty price. Khumbu fit inside perfectly.
I called the embassy for advice on bringing a dog home with me. They told me Khumbu needed a health certificate, rabies and distemper shots, de-worming pills, a ‘hard shell’ carrying case, a microchip in case he got lost in an airport, plus permission to fly from each of the three airlines I was on. In those days I a budget traveler. Rather than direct flights, I picked the least expensive ones. Inevitably there were a mix of airlines and long layovers. Needless to say, my last minute to-do list was growing longer.
Khumbu and I took a taxi to meet the vet the people at the American embassy used for their traveling dogs, cats and guinea pigs. Little Khumbu was fast becoming a very expensive mutt. Our bill was growing exponentially.
I had a few more days to get ready before our journey to America. Each day in Kathmandu, we were on a secret mission, searching the sprawling city, looking for green grass! We found a few green things, but every patch of grass and every bush was full of trash that had blown in over time. It was hard not to notice the garbage, like the trash piles that sometimes blocked the streets, but I had never really studied how much more trash there was tucked away in all the shrubbery!
Kathmandu is not as pristinely clean as Ann Arbor, Michigan, but couldn't they at least have one small patch of green grass for the dogs to run around and play in?! Nope. Nepal was a poor country. City maintenance services were disorganized, few and far between.
Khumbu and I discovered a dirt field not too far from our hotel. I took him there each morning to exercise and pee pee, to be a doggie for a while. Of course even though I found fancy dog food for him, his scavenging instincts were strong. He picked up every piece of trash, every gross, smelly, slimy thing he found! My fingers were constantly prying open his jaws, pulling out chicken bones and who knows what else. At one point he had ahold of a femur bone from a water buffalo!? It was huge, bigger than his head! Where did that come from? It seemed like here was some kind of animal bone under every leaf!
The morning of our first flight - of FIVE! - to America had arrived. We were finally packed and in a taxi on our way to the Kathmandu airport. In addition to my large and heavy suitcase, my big duffle bag, my carry-on case and my backpack, I hauled a little puppy in a heavy, hardshell pet carrier.
When we checked-in for the flight, I had to pay a fee for traveling with a dog. No one looked at any of his veterinary paperwork, his health certificate, his rabies certificate, his microchip number or any of the things I had worked so hard to get for him. Instead we made lots of friends, especially young kids and airline workers.
There were many opportunities for Khumbu to bark. The line to enter the airport was long and there was another line at security. Again, there was a line to pay the airport tax and a longer line to check-in for our flight. Then there was another line at passport control and one more for another security screening to enter our gate. I could see why they asked us to be at the airport three hours before this international flight. Finally, once we were at the gate, we had another long wait for our flight. Miraculously, Khumbu was silent the entire time. He knew, and I had been telling him for days, he HAD to behave!!!
Finally we boarded the plane to Thailand. The woman next to me on our first flight could not stop checking on Khumbu. “How is your dog? How is he doing?" she asked again and again. Khumbu was in his carrier which thankfully fit snuggly under the seat in front of me. He was extremely well behaved, unusually so. On the flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok, Khumbu did not bark once.
Finally, four hours later, we landed in Thailand. Our next flight departed late the next day! I was glad I could leave my big suitcase and duffle bag at the airport with China Airlines to be transferred to the next flight. But Khumbu and I would have to stay overnight in Bangkok. As I attempted to exit the baggage claim security doors, I learned that my puppy needed a "transit visa”. The authorities checked ALL his papers, and told me I must pay the "permit fee”. Oh no, and how much would that be?! 50 ‘bhat’? Really? Only one dollar!? That seemed ridiculous! I paid without complaining.
While on his leash, Khumbu had a little time to run around outside as we waited for the airport bus to take us downtown. The air was thick with humidity, and it was HOT outside. Khumbu sniffed the grey airport building, the wide concrete sidewalk, the large glass windows and a trash bin. The street was busy with taxis, busses and a few people. No green grass yet.
I had stashed the pet carrier with all Khumbu’s official papers taped to it, at the luggage storage service inside the airport. We traveled light for our overnight adventure. Khumbu was in the smaller, purse-like pet carrier as we boarded the airport bus. There were only a few passengers thankfully. No one seemed to notice there was a dog in my big fat purse. We sat in the back of the bus.
In minutes, we were speeding along a ten-lane highway on our way downtown. Just a few hours into our global journey, and already we were so far from Kathmandu and even further from Khumbu’s Himalayan hometown.
“They don't allow animals on the bus,” I told Khumbu. “You have to behave!” He listened. He was a good dog, even while we were stuck in a two-hour traffic jam!! I hesitated to let Khumbu out of his carrier, but I did. Thankfully, he slept quietly, curled up by the window beside me.
When we finally arrived in the center of Bangkok, the early evening streets were busy with pedestrians and the usual jammed traffic. I carried Khumbu in his case to keep him safe as we walked, not too far, to a familiar hotel where I had stayed before. The ladies at the front desk said “NO way!” to any animals in their hotel. I could not convince them. Oh no, oh drat. It was getting dark.
We walked along Khao San Road where there were hundreds of backpackers from all over the world congregating in the wide walking street. Open-air restaurants on both sides spread the crowds out. Street venders were busy serving culinary Thai surprises. After checking at two other hotels, which both had strict rules about ‘no pets’, we finally managed to find a place that let Khumbu stay!! It was late. We were happy we would not have to sleep outside on the street!
After putting our things down in the small hotel room, I lined the tiny bathroom floor with newspaper. I also figured out how to turn down the air-conditioning. The room was freezing!
Soon we were back out on the sidewalk on that very HOT night in Bangkok, backtracking to the air conditioned Seven-Eleven we had passed earlier. I had seen hotdogs cooking on metal rollers through the window. Being vegetarian the last 20 years, I hadn’t purchased a hotdog in a very long time. Pointing, I asked for one, no bun. With tongs the worker put the rubbery looking meat into a baggie. This was Khumbu’s dinner. I bought a wine cooler and potato chips for my dinner. We went back to our hotel room overlooking the busy street below. We were happy.
Khumbu devoured the hotdog in a single bite and washed it down with water and kibble. He spent the rest of his evening playing with a ball that rolled and bounced like crazy all over our room’s glassy porcelain floor. We were having a fun slumber party together, me and my new friend. We slept well.
The next morning, Khumbu and I took a walk to a nearby park along the Chao Phraya River. Miraculously, we found luscious, beautifully groomed GREEN grass! We jumped for joy. What a luxurious sight! All was well in the world!
Until a minute later, a blaring whistle came our way. I looked up to see two policemen marching toward us, pointing and shouting at Khumbu. “No dogs in the park!” one repeated in English with an accent. He pointed to a sign sticking out of a neatly trimmed row of bushes. On the sign was a schnauzer with a red line through it! I could not believe it. Were they booting us out? Yes, they were! No grass? No park!? What was a dog to do?!
I paid half price, $10, the late checkout fee, to keep our hotel room until 2PM that afternoon. Before heading back to the airport bus stop, my dog and I relaxed in the hotel room, lying on the bed, looking for English TV channels, revving ourselves up for the next FOUR flights to Detroit! Home was still very far away.
That afternoon we were back at the international airport. As we were checking-in for the next flight on China Airlines, the strict woman at the counter told me she could ‘not break the rules’! She said Khumbu could not fly in the cabin under the seat with me. OH no!!! Oh no.
Having learned from my sister, who traveled with three small children, that sometimes crying helps, I tried it. I held up the line. “Please,” I cried, “HELP me! I cannot let my dog go in the cargo hold with the suitcases. No…! I cannot!" I shouted.
Those employees for China Airlines were not nice. I could not change their minds. I tried and tried as the flight’s departure time fast approached!
"We cannot break the rules," the petite Chinese woman said loudly. "The pilot will turn on the heat for your dog.”
"But what if the pilot forgets?” I asked.
"It is the pilot's DUTY!” She yelled, almost loosing it. “He will not forget!”
Those were the last words spoken. I cried….good-bye my furry friend. We had not been separated for the last two-plus weeks, and now I had to trust China Airlines with my dog’s care and wellbeing. Khumbu would soon be tossed into the dungeon of a Boeing 747.
Our two flights on China Airlines were the longest of the five. From Bangkok it was four hours to Taipei where we had a one-hour layover. After that, it was another several hours crossing the Pacific to Los Angeles! My poor Khumbu. I hoped he slept. I could not bear the thought of him down in the loud, dark underbelly of the airplane where it was likely very cold! Poor little thing, stuck in that pet carrier for way too long.
During the layover in Taipei, the China Air steward promised he would give Khumbu some cheese laced with a sleeping pill, which had been prescribed by the expensive vet in Kathmandu. The steward also promised to give Khumbu some water. I had taped containers of water and dry dog food to the top of his carrier.
The next flight, the longest of all, Taipei, Taiwan to California, was ten hours. The time passed slowly. Finally, the plane landed in Los Angeles. It felt like we would never get there! Once off the plane, immigration and passport check points took forever. There were the usual long lines and passengers everywhere.
There was more waiting and confusion in the baggage claim area where a million foreigners converged on US soil. It was no-man’s land, suitcases piled on wobbly carts, more bags spilling out on endless conveyers, way too many people and all fashions of ethnic dress. How would I find Khumbu? Where could he be?? Would his carrier come out on the baggage carrousel?
Feeling frantic, I heard barking! Everyone in that globally sized room heard barking. Khumbu!! It must be. I followed in the direction of the barks to the corner of the room where the elevators were. There he was, my fluffy puppy, panting and madly yapping behind the metal gate of his plastic carrier. I was the only one there to claim him. A China Airlines worker handed the precious box over to me. Thank the Lord!
I immediately noticed that the containers on top of his carrier had been untouched. I worried the seemingly helpful steward in Taipei did not give Khumbu the medicine, the cheese or any water during the layover…. Oh no.
Khumbu and I cried joyfully. Doggie and I were together again — now in Los Angeles! My baby howled and barked and cried. I wanted to open the carrier to reach inside to pet him, to hold him, to console him, to hug and kiss him, but I feared he would burst out and run amuck through the legs and flowing fabrics of the other travelers. A crazed dog on the loose would have been awful! I kept the carrier shut and locked.
Still Khumbu was barking as I collected my luggage and loaded it onto a three-wheeled cart. I perched Khumbu’s carrier atop my suitcase tower. The lines were long. Everyone knew it was me who had the dog. People wanted to see him. I turned his cage this way and that way. He barked at each of the curious travelers.
I had a dog from Nepal in my possession! I had something to declare! I’d never been through that line at customs before. I broke away from the crowded Green Line, and raced to the quiet less chaotic Red Line. In a matter of seconds my customs form was stamped and cleared. A round, smiling woman waved me on.
"I can go?" I asked. “Are we done?”
“Yup,” she said. “Go through those doors, turn left and you’ll see a grassy little dog park,” she said. Americans knew what a puppy needed. “Your dog will love that,” she said.
With a huge sense of relief and feeling a wave of red, white and blue freedom, Khumbu and I rolled our luggage onward toward the expansive sliding glass doors. As if entering a palace, we stepped out and into the USA. Khumbu’s first automatic door — this was America.
No one even once looked at Khumbu’s papers, his health certificate, his rabies vaccine information nor his microchip number. These were still taped to his pet carrier like a decorative bow.
Outside, we were soon basking in green grass, at last! Holding his leash tightly, we danced a jig of happiness in that freshly mowed air. Doggie and I were in LA. Khumbu was in the United States of America! He became an American dog that day! He was so proud. I was so proud of him. Finally, he stopped barking. He lapped up his water and crunched gleefully on his doggie food.
However, we were not yet home. We still had exactly TWO more flights to go: Los Angeles to Minneapolis and then Minneapolis to Detroit. I cleaned out the pet carrier for the rest of the journey, adding fresh newspaper below the rubber mat. Thankfully, on both of the next flights Khumbu could fly in the cabin under the seat with me.
As soon as we took off from Los Angeles there was no more barking the whole way home. In Minnesota, we had a short layover. This was where I discovered the ingenious invention of the ‘family’ restroom. I could lock the bathroom door and let Khumbu out of his carrier. With newspaper spread out like a pee pee pad, Khumbu went potty. Good doggie!
Before boarding our very last flight from Minneapolis to Detroit, Khumbu could not believe we had one more takeoff and landing to go, but he said: “If this is what I have to do to be an American dog, I will do it!”
Khumbu is now home, HERE in Ann Arbor, Michigan, chewing to his heart's content. He is thoroughly enjoying all the lush green grass he could ever imagine, and he is having the time of his life being an American dog. The toys are unlimited, so many shoes to chew, dog food all day, five and six kinds of treats. He has tried rawhide (but ate too much and threw up). He is likely the first in his family to ever have a name and definitely the first in his family to have traveled the world. His mom must be proud.
I had met a woman in the lobby at the hotel back in Kathmandu. She asked me about Khumbu after seeing me carrying him around each day. When I told her his story, she said: "That's life.”