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.
Hot coffee was brought to my tent at six am each morning, though I was usually awake and ready to go by five. We hiked most days between 12,000′ and 14,000′, up and down, up and down. We watched our footing every step on the ever rocky trails to prevent a twisted ankle or falling off the cliff-edge which was present on one side of the trail or the other, ready to claim the lives of the inattentive. This was our moment-to-moment, Zen, be-here-now practice. In the mornings we’d ask our guide Hem about the day’s trek and he’d smile, “We are in the mountains.” Then he’d ask, “What do you do in the mountains?” Then we’d laugh, “We Trek! First up, then down, up then down, up, down.” With stunningly beautiful, ever-changing mountains looming another 14,000′ above us, we were never prepared for the inevitable awestruck moment when we did look up from our life-saving, Zen practice of analyzing each one of the half million steps we took along the often 8” wide, stony trails. In joy and pain, we trekked the middle ground, half way between heaven and the sea.