Trekking in the off-the-grid Himalayas in the Kingdom of Mustang was all that I’d imagined and much, much more. The land was shockingly beautiful at every turn, the people endlessly sweet, the villages simple and incredibly photogenic, and the trekking itself was often incredibly hard, testing my physical and psychological limits for hours at a time. Fortunately I had no altitude sickness, even though the higher passes at the 13,800’ level took every ounce of strength and determination I could muster. The air’s a might thin up there. Within minutes of crossing each of a multitude of passes, I was happy to hike on, as if no trial ever existed. Pain is fast forgotten in the face of such beauty, joy, and a powerful sense of accomplishment. Most of the trek was a matter of living in the present, where neither past nor future exist. It was a joy to be off the grid, free and filled with simple happiness, away from everyday life’s thoughts and obsessions. That joy grew day by day, as the world I once knew receded and the now became the all. Continue reading Overview: Mustang
The pilgrimage place, Muktinath, is a place of cleansing, a place of washing away misdeeds of the past. I do see the value of intelligence of this idea: complete the past, look at what we’ve done, possibly learn from it, and start fresh. That’s good. Continue reading Muktinath Revisited: Re-thinking My Irreverent, Politically Incorrect Diatribe
Pokhara’s airport security system does exist, evidenced by an x-ray machine with a moving belt. We put our duffel bags in one end and they came out the other end, just as expected, but there is no one at the monitor to look for bad stuff. The x-ray guy was apparently loading bags on the plane. Not our problem. Continue reading Security Check
Our return to the monks’ chanting this morning was as gentle as it was enlightening. While sitting with them for a couple hours, we were given simple red bowls filled with tea which was refilled often, keeping our hands and bodies warm. It was a sweet surprise to be included in this way as one of the monks. Again, the world disappeared, replaced by a sacred space, complete with clashes of symbols, the varied tones of the different horns, and the deeply resonant incantation of the monks. Continue reading Trek Day VII, Monk Chants
A dog was barking much of the night. I dreamed of making dog soup from that little monster. I knew which dog was barking. It was a puppy tied up all alone, afraid, or whatever puppies feel in an empty courtyard alone at night. My compassion was non-existent for a barking, lonely dog at 2:30am. The next morning, in the puppy’s courtyard was a freshly slaughtered white goat. No blood anywhere, but the relocated head was sitting on the ground looking toward the body. The chopping block sat on the ground nearby, surrounded by five or six local guys anticipating a feast, no doubt. Goat soup, not dog soup. Damn! The dog will be barking again tonight. Continue reading Trek Day VI, Lomanthang
We were moved and motivated each day by Hem’s confidence in us and his delight in and acknowledgement of, our accomplishments. We were never told enough to fear what was to come or we would have worried, sapping our strength, determination and enjoyment. We always knew we’d make it. He is a brilliant trek leader who completely loves his work. He has everything it takes to have a trek be successful, from knowing the territory and choosing an excellent crew, to flawless planning and seamless adjustments to current realities. We were necessarily pushed hard, but with his constant vigilance, we were not endangered. What was most delightful was his low-key wisdom, thoughtfulness, even temperament, and subtle sense of humor. Continue reading Hem, Our Guide and Leader
Today’s long uphill hike was from Kagbeni to Muktinath and back. This was a major, sacred pilgrimage site for Hindus. It still is, I’m told, but it looks to me to be more akin to a circus. Everyone seems to be trying to make a buck, from the two minute, $10 motorcycle rides from the village up the hill to the shrine, to the trinkets, promises of Nirvana, and hard bargaining Sadhus (Holy men). The scene was made absolutely perfect by having a dozen or more super-prosperous (read: fat) men running around in their tiny skivvies dunking themselves in holy water. One Indian man was repeatedly dunking his wife in the cleansing pool. It went on much longer than was seemly. This dipping is normally a voluntary act of submission to the Gods in exchange for having ones past wrongs and evils washed away. Apparently, this gentleman thought his wife needed a bit of extra help in the cleansing process. Continue reading Kagbeni to Muktinath
As we start the long walk back toward “civilization” I laugh as I say, “This is the best morning of the trek!” The problem is, it was the best, just like yesterday. I feel twenty years younger. We climbed mountains today with such ease and strength. At the highest pass of the day, after a short rest, I challenged Hem to a race to the top of a small knoll above the pass. We didn’t make it because we were laughing too hard at our madness. Oh! To have the energy and playfulness to sprint uphill at a 13,000′ Tibetan pass. Continue reading Day XI, The Challenge
We are strong, fast, and feeling good. We covered ten miles in four hours, beating the pack mules and handlers to camp for the first time. Hiking at 2 1/2mph at 13,000′ is moving fast. Continue reading Day X, Lomanthang to Logekar
Today’s plan was simple: take a horseback ride to some ancient caves, have a picnic lunch and then ride back.
I’ve found each day the pain endured roughly matches the reward. The horseback ride from 12,300′ up to 15,200′ was for me a continuously excruciating reminder that the Buddhists are right, life is suffering, at least that part of life spent on a somewhat competitive, ornery, bony Mustang pony with a thin blanket for a saddle. Continue reading Trek Day IX, From LoManthang to Thoser Village and Jhong Caves and Back.