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I met an Internet café manager, Santos Adhikar, who recounted how business bottomed out during the conflict. “When I came here in 2003, Namche would hardly see 150 people a day,” he told me. “Now that has gone to 700.” Last October was the busiest month that anybody could remember; some guesthouses were so packed that trekkers were sleeping on dining room tables and in caves. “The bottom line is we don’t care who rules the place,” he said. “All we need is peace so that people aren’t afraid to travel.”

At the Namche Inn, manager P.K. Tamang was more opinionated about which side had prevailed. The “people’s war” had succeeded because it was genuinely popular, he said. In a country controlled by landed elites, the rebels promised to promote equality. Women, who suffer much higher rates of illiteracy and poverty than men, now hold a third of the seats in the new Constituent Assembly. Ethnic minorities have also increased their share of seats. “I like that everybody can get food, everybody can get job, everybody can get to hospital, everybody can get happy,” Tamang said.

From Namche almost every trekker was heading the same way: to Everest Base Camp and the overlook at Kala Patthar. That’s an excellent walk, but I was hiking up the next valley to the west, which has far fewer people. A three-day hike from Namche would bring me to the top of Gokyo peak, from which even more of Everest was visible. McGuinness had promised that it was one of the finest vistas in Nepal.

He was right.

The summit was narrow, rocky, and crisscrossed by strings of prayer flags. Ducking between them, I climbed atop a boulder that overlooked the world. The Ngozumpa Glacier spilled down a broad valley like a frozen version of the Nile. The glittering waters of Dudh Pokhari lay to the south. And four of the world’s six highest mountains reared into the sky.

The dome of Cho Oyu crowned a long, white wall. Makalu jutted skyward like a knife. Lhotse looked like a stub only because it stood beside the black rock pyramid of Everest. Clouds, fiery in the setting sun, streamed from its top like lava from a volcano. The site of so much striving and tragedy, Everest had a look of dignity and endurance. As a national icon, it is as good as any for Nepal today.

On one of my last days in Nepal, the morning after scaling Gokyo, I was hiking in the darkness, the water in my bottle frozen, my headlamp illuminating little more than white breath in front of my face. After a couple of hours the sky turned gray, then pale rose. Finally the sun crested the mountains and the world burst into life.

After reaching Cho La, a pass at 17,487 feet, I fell into step with my guide, Phurba Sherpa. The fairy tale pinnacle of Ama Dablam filled the sky before us; a river glinted in the valley below. I talked about my family, he talked about his. It turned out that we were nearly the same age. He had three children, the oldest of whom was almost 20; I had only just celebrated my first wedding anniversary and hadn’t yet started a family. He was born in a small Sherpa village of lower Khumbu; I was from the Bay Area. Our lives were as different as could be, but that didn’t matter. We spent an hour scheming how we could arrange for him to visit me in the United States.

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  • at the time of civil war
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