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"The old man breathed heavily as he and Neel rested beneath a rocky overhang on the mountain trail. Eight hours of climbing and they were not even halfway to the temple. The others were right, thought Neel. We should have waited for better weather. How did this day get so off track, when it started out so hopefully?"
The character of Neel, whose name means 'sapphire blue' in Hindi, was inspired by a real man named Dhauliya whom my friend Raj and I hired to carry our luggage down the mountain from the Kedarnath temple in the Himalayas. As we walked and talked with Dhauliya, we learned that he and his brother, who owned a tea stall that we stopped at, were saving up to buy equipment for their farm in their native Nepal. Although he makes very little money for doing brutally hard work, Dhauliya sometimes does not charge a fee if he sees that his customers are ailing and poor.