Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Upward Over the Mountain

About a week has passed since I left Nepal, and it’s about time I tell the rest of the story. Following the Vipassana course I did a 15 day trek through the Langtang area, north of Kathmandu. The trek started from a town called Dunche about an 8 hour bus ride from the city. Ever since the Vipassana course I’ve felt a bit like the guy in Office Space, normally a public bus ride would leave me feeling miserable and annoyed, but throughout the entire ride I was smiling and felt like I was seeing the world for the first time. The appearance of the snowcapped mountains and the ridiculously impressive terraced farming and the water freely flowing from every pipe and faucet was more than beautiful.
The first day of the trek was fantastic. The first hour or two was a little dull as we left Dunche and followed the pavement until the actual trail began. However, because of this route we passed through a small village with some happenings going on. 

There was a consistent loud drumming, which to me could have just been a regular Tuesday, but Ram (my guide) told me it was the equivalent to a Buddhist exorcism. Clearly not the Buddhism I just learned the week before! The people in this village were Bonboo, which was a religion that came before Buddhism, and today is a sort of mix of the two. A villager was ill, so a monk was performing a ceremony to rid him of the demon inside. We walked by a chicken head, which was part of a blood sacrifice, so that god may be happy with the chicken in place of the person, and the drumming would last all day (to keep the gods awake and paying attention) until the person was freed of the demon or passed away. In addition to this ceremony, the villagers would create a grass square with homemade kite-like offerings of colored wool.

My favorite Buddhist custom that is practiced is the prayer wheels, flags and walls. The wheels are either wind or water (usually water since it is in great abundance) placed inside a stone structure which contains a cylinder chiseled with prayers that is attached to the wheel. When the wind blows, or the water runs, the cylinder rotates and the prayers are sent off into the world spreading peace. The flags and walls are very similar the flags are of 5 colors, each representing a different element (like captain planet), and when the wind blows the peace prayers are sung across the land. And the walls are the same, stone walls that are inscribed with the peace prayers and when the wind blows through the stones the prayers are sent out. I really like this custom; I think it’s a beautiful idea of sending peace. It’s not a prayer for personal gain or for a miracle; it’s just wishing peace and good will throughout the world. These were common throughout the entire trek, not just the parts through villages. Most of the high peaks are adorned with prayer flags.

Once I got off the pavement and onto the trail I spent a few days going through a dense forest, full of bamboo, pines, monkeys, deer, and although I didn’t see any, red pandas and snow leopards. Unfortunately I didn’t take many photos of the forest, as all I was thinking about was the snowy mountains.

 Fortunately, it only took until day 3 to reach them. Now I’m no Hemingway or Theroux so my words could never fully describe what it was like walking among 8,000+ meter peaks, so please accept the photos as a substitute. I have never felt so small in my life (and that’s saying something because I frequently feel small) even after climbing to almost 5,000 I still felt dwarfed by the white giants. Being over knee deep in snow, watching avalanches across the way, crossing the ice on rivers even though you could still hear the water rushing below, racing the storm clouds to beat the frost bite producing wind felt so raw, so wild, so exposed. It was a feeling that I’ve never felt before, not even on Kilimanjaro. In the Himalayas I actually felt like nature was actively challenging me in a game with higher stakes than I’ve ever bet.

The mountains were powerful, and the clouds and wind were tough contenders, but the closest I got to defeat was actually a couple days after I descended from the high peaks. Following the Langtang Trail, I took the relatively new Tamang Heritage Trail back to Syafru Besi where I could get a bus to Kathmandu. The Tamang Heritage Trail is unique because instead of intense climbing it’s a comfortable up and down walk through villages. The first week I spent my nights at tea houses (bare bones lodges) and this second week I went to Homestays. The sleeping arrangements are like a lodge in that I had my own room, but there was no dining room, instead I spent my time in the family’s house. Which felt a lot like my first few days in Gonde. I even got invited to a wedding! But I declined the invitation, I’d much rather be hiking than listening to hours of chanting. 

So I continued on. And then the rain came. We ended up having to spend a whole day at a homestay, that was actually pretty terrible. It was a guy who took over when his wife died, but didn’t put any effort into it. We stayed there all day because we were headed to a high lookout point, which would have been silly to go to in the thick fog. The next morning the sky was clearing up and I was more than happy to move on. About an hour into the hike up we hear some rumbling, a warning sign that the rain was going to come back. Because I’m not always the best decision maker I say that we should keep going and see if we can beat the rain. Obviously we didn’t. It came so suddenly and so hard right when we had reached the ice, so we were slipping and sliding everywhere. To make it worse, it was more than just rain. I swear it was the loudest thunder I have ever experienced. Maybe it was the echo off the mountains, or maybe it really was just a massive storm. And then the lightning started, about when I reached the barley fields, and I was there, in the middle of an open field, holding two metal poles. The clouds were so dense I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me and the rain was coming down so hard I couldn’t hear or see my guide. I’m sure I must have looked hysterical running down the trail, at times skiing down the muddy slopes. I know that it’s just thunder and lightning, but I was pretty scared out there, bare to the elements. We actually were looking for caves to hide out in to wait out the storm at one point. After a few hours though we made it back to that town, but opted to find a different homestay.

The universe has a way of putting you exactly where you need to be. Even though it was my least favorite town up to that point, the unexpected 3rd night ended up being the best of the entire trip. Earlier that morning, before the rain, a little girl yelled “Namaste!” from a window of a run-down house. She had a huge smile and was so excited just to talk to people. That same girl came running into the house as I was sitting by the fire trying to get dry. Even though they didn’t speak English and all our conversation had to go through Ram or by gestures and strings of nouns, the family at that homestay was so engaging, pleasant and happy. I think they may have been the happiest family I’ve ever met. They didn’t have running water or plumbing, they didn’t have bedrooms, the kids didn’t have any toys but they were so happy with life. They asked where I was from, and unlike most people I met, they never asked if I could take them back or ask me about how rich America is compared to Nepal, they just nodded. The parents played with the kids, the mom kissed the baby and played with him in his basket full of blankets that she tied to her back when he got fussy. It was such a happy home. They had what they needed and wanted no more. It was beautiful. 

No comments: