Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Author: Meg Noble Peterson Page 1 of 26

OUR LAST DAYS IN BOUDHANATH

(December 17-24, 2018)

Nitu

Our final week in Boudhanath was full of last-minute shopping for shawls, tapestries, prayer flags, table cloths, knickknacks like small metal dragons and carved turtles (please don’t ask me why) and outrageous bloomer-like pants that cost about $4.00, so who could resist? We said our farewells to our favorite shopkeepers. and the beloved stupa, now fully recovered from the damaging earthquake of 2015.

Click on photos for slideshow.

The last items on our shopping agenda were two tablecloths…one a plain color and the other an overlay with our favorite Nepalese pattern. You find this combination in most restaurants and cafes, and I’ve always wanted to duplicate it on my dining room table. After much research, we discovered that the store carrying these cloths was outside the stupa gates and across a road under construction that seemed almost unpassable. Thus began our most perilous shopping expedition of the year!

Here is a glimpse of the chaos we encountered. Happily, we lived to tell the tale!

On the way home to the Shechen Guesthouse we passed more building repairs, many of which were being done by women. This is not unusual in Asia.

We also passed the reconstruction of the Shechen Monastery from earthquake damage. After three years, it was in the final stages of repair.

It was a bit dicey along a narrow path past this stretch…

I was completely ragged out by the time we hit the courtyard of the guesthouse and could sit down.

But I bounced right back the minute the cappuccino and mo-mos arrived!

The next day we had a chance to visit Pasang and his family at their one-room apartment, where he lives with his wife and two daughters amidst books, notebooks, and art projects created in school by the children. I have never seen such meticulous and artistic organization of a small living space. Everything was stacked up, even blankets and mattresses; two narrow benches were covered with tasteful rugs; and a tiny kitchen was in one corner with one table and a cupboard. Bookcases took up any extra wall space.

I’ve written about Pasang, the former guard at the Sechen Guest House, and his family many times before, and find it wonderful to observe their progress each year. Aashika, the eldest of the two daughters, is now in the fourth grade and has a daunting curriculum: grammar, science, history, writing, ecology…and all in English with commensurate homework! She and her sister, Ashmika, enjoyed reading to me and meticulously went through their school notebooks. They even entertained me with school songs. My favorite was one composed to a story by Raold Dahl. The little one, Ashmika, wanted to get into the act, so read and sang as well. And then it was my turn. I’ll never forget the delight on their faces. I felt as if I were on the off-Broadway stage, and my audience was enthralled. I read with drama and authority. Needless to say, I did not sing! The spirit that prevails in this family is heartening. Cramped conditions have not diminished their interactions. Loving, cooperative, supportive. There is joy written all over their faces.

Since our two-year absence we have been keeping in contact through What’s App. I honestly don’t know how they survive with the present conditions in Nepal. They, as well as our other friends in and around Kathmandu, are often in my thoughts.

Later in the day we stopped by the small Tibetan restaurant owned by our friend Tenzin’s mother and enjoyed more thenthuk and momos with the two of them. You may remember that we bumped into Tenzin, unexpectedly, before we took our trek. He recognized us as his sponsors when he was attending the TCV school in Bir, India. How about that for a coincidence?

On our last day we were invited to the children’s Christmas show we had enjoyed last year, put on by the Mila Academy, a private Tibetan pre-school. What a gala occasion, with carols, dancing, and an enthusiastic crowd of parents and friends! And all done in English. Pretty good for four to six-year-olds, I’d say. It really tickles me to hear familiar songs like Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow. Made me a bit homesick.

The teacher would stand in front of the students and go through gestures and dance steps along with them. She would hold the microphone for each one to tell his or her name or give a Christmas message. It was quite a production and was received enthusiastically by the onlookers.

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Dr. Sonam Pelmo

Early in the morning on our final day, we made one more visit to see Dr. Sonam Pelmo at the Shechen Clinic, home to Tibetan medicine. We had gone once before our trek, because I was having a lot of trouble with the pollution, which greatly affected my level of energy once I was out of the mountains. Their medicine helped me a great deal. I also took advantage of very low cost ($16) tooth cleaning from the resident dentist.

After lunch we said goodbye to our favorite staff members at the guest house.

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Afterwards we sat in the garden, enjoying the peace and quiet and warm sun. Soon we were joined by several new acquaintances—a couple from Taiwan, an American woman living in Dehradun, and a Buddhist monk. We talked about a future trip to Bodgaya and possibilities for places to explore next year. Soon the conversation morphed into a discussion of Buddhist teachings, which fascinated me. To me it is such a complicated philosophy, so full of drama, folklore, and tradition. If it brings good works in its wake, more power to these people, who are its practitioners. I enjoyed watching and listening to Cary during these exchanges and realized how much I have to learn. There is so much I do not know about her, but isn’t that true of most people? We, too, are complicated and multi-layered.

 

In late afternoon Tenzin joined us for a farewell meal. What a great way to end our visit!

At dusk it was off to the airport and our night flight to Seoul, S. Korea. Gird your loins, folks, for it’s really cold there! You can read about our trip to South Korea here.

As our plane rose into the night and circled Kathmandu, my thoughts turned to the varied experiences of the past three weeks. When would we return? Is the “hardship quotient,” the cold, the pollution, the danger in the mountains no longer an adventure to me? Would there be another trek in my future?

These are questions I would ponder over the next year, ‘though I doubted very much they would keep me from my beloved Nepal. But no matter what the future brings, the vison of the Boudha stupa in moonlight will remain with me always.

CRASH AND BURN IN THE TIME OF COVID….

You wonder, perhaps, if you will ever read the ending to Cary and my Khopra Ridge adventure in Nepal two years ago. I wonder, too. Life has been topsy-turvy for all of us since February, with appalling results, chaotic news coverage, mixed messages, and a country in shock. Books have been written and conventions have been held about the psychological damage to every segment of the population. We’ve heard it all. We need change and we know it. Drastic change.

Against this bizarre background we have all tried to see an upside to our collective suffering and hope that good will come out of it. With all of this in mind I headed for our Upper Langley community garden a month ago to pick some arugula for salad. Things were looking up, people were wearing masks and distancing, and maybe, just maybe, we would ramp up tests and start a program of contact tracing throughout the country. I picked up a knife in readiness to cut the arugula, and, suddenly, I stepped in a rabbit hole on the hill leading up from the garden shed. I shot backward with the ferocity I had shot forward last summer when I sustained a broken hand and compression fractures in the thoracic area of my back. This time I landed on the shed floor and broke my humerus where it connected to the shoulder. Don’t do it. Ever. It is the worst pain in the world, and there is nothing that can be done except let the arm hang, inert, in a sling, and heal. For an active person this is a huge slice of HELL. Add to this the necessity to sit in a cramped reclining chair to sleep…crunched up like a bag of sausages.

The hospital stay was a nightmare, especially since I was in a bed next to a woman with pneumonia…the kind where you cough all night, making sleep impossible. A well-meaning young doctor informed me right off the bat that I would be deformed, whereupon I asked if that meant that I could play The Elephant Man on Broadway. His sense of humor was right up there with his bedside manner.

My two children who live on Whidbey Island, Cary and Tom, fearing for my sanity, got me home after four days, and with patience and a great deal of love and encouragement, brought me to the present, where I can now sleep in a bed and where optimism is once more possible thanks to determination and physical therapy. Whidbey Health’s home services deserve endless kudos. So I am grateful and I plan to live another day. And I promise you, next summer there will no encore. Enough is enough…for sure!

Next time: Our final day in Kathmandu. Obviously, the trip in November has been canceled, and who knows how long our whole country will be on lockdown. But I have been through the worst. I am ready for anything!

In an impulsive moment I composed a simple poem describing my thoughts after my fall. A sense of humor is absolutely essential, combined with the realism that such events are no longer viable.

FALLING. AGAIN

The garden spreads in front of me. I reach for the knife, the pesky arugula in view;
The rabbit hole grabs my foot and I am flying,
Flying, flying backward, the clouds a blur, the shed all weathered as I pass by,
The floor receiving me like a giant rock to be repelled;
In one instant my life has changed, enveloped in pain
Indescribable

The ambulance screams

I talk to my body, this body that has no problems:
My heart beats, my lungs draw air, my legs go to high altitude, no pills line my shelves.
The stomach, the liver, the bowels, the kidneys…they are agreeable,
Then is it my feet that are the problem? Or their connection to the ragged sidewalks, the woodland holes, the forest’s rugged tentacles.
How to lift the brain fog that leads to these disasters,
Such adventures. You say, find another way to be different.
Eschew the hematomas, they are out of style, the broken ribs, the compression fractures,
The arms cracked at the shoulder. They get you nowhere. They cause one thing, family distress at the gloomy prospect of old age.
It is a costly way to learn compassion, patience, and gratitude for lesser injuries than those that could lead to oblivion
Or the desire for oblivion.

Do not crunch over, do not shuffle, do not be dispirited or depressed or angry at a careless self.
Start again, do the heavy lifting of repair, believing a fuller, more aware life is waiting to be plucked. To be enjoyed.
To be shared.

PULLAHARI MONASTERY REVISITED

December 16, 2018

One of the joys of travel is revisiting places that have special meaning, and the Pullahari Monastery, on one of the hills above Boudha, is one of those. It had been six years since we walked from Boudha through the valley and up a steep hill to this beautiful monastery overlooking the vast expanse of the Kathmandu. The road had been unpaved, small family farms abounded, and there was an intimate feeling of community with a sprinkling of neighborhood stores and large areas of open space. How different it was today! Traffic jammed the streets, and houses and apartments had replaced many of the farms.

Halfway there I hailed a cab to take us the rest of the way. It was a good thing we hadn’t tried to climb on our own as before, because the path–a short cut up the hill through the forest–had been fenced off. As I looked at the slope we’d scrambled up, I wondered how I had ever navigated it in the first place!

We arrived at the monastery tea shop, run by a charming gentleman who served us tea and brownies, my first chocolate since arriving in Nepal.

From there we began a peaceful walk down many stone steps to several stupas, all situated in the woods and surrounded by lovely flowering bushes. Prayer flags added to the serenity.

Click on photos for full-size slide show.

 

After walking a few koras, we visited the main temple. Cary was familiar with the surroundings having done a month-long retreat in 2007.

We walked around the beautiful temple with its splendid columns, exquisitely ornamented entrances, painted ceilings, and symbolic art work. I had seldom seen such intricate detail and was enthralled by the diverse designs and colors.

We then walked farther up to a smaller temple with the stupa containing sacred body relics of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. He established the monastery and was tragically killed in an automobile accident just after its completion in 1992. A new building exclusively for butter lamps was being erected.

There were large flowering bushes covering the area—poinsettias, a variety of roses, and camelias, as well as rows of smaller plants with a sign: No Plucking of Flowers.

 

Cary showed me the dorms, looking out over the valley, where she had stayed in 2007, and shared her feelings and experiences while doing retreat. This meant a great deal to me.

It was mid-afternoon when we completed what to me was a spiritual journey through this very special complex, and headed back to the teahouse to summon a taxi. Fortunately, we found a delightful Tibetan cab driver, who came from a distance, and delivered us to Boudha Gate in record time. We had thought we’d be in traffic for hours, but he knew all the short cuts and back roads. He was also a Buddhist, so the conversation was lively. What a great way to end the afternoon!

This was the last day of our visiting the area surrounding Kathmandu. We spent the next week moseying around Boudha, saying goodbye to old friends, and enjoying the peace and tranquility of the Shechen Guest House. Stay with us while we complete our 2018 sojourn in Nepal.

The Tibetan Wheel of Life – the representation of the cyclic existence of samsara.

A VISIT TO PASHUPATINATH AND ARYA GHAT

(Take two – here is our full visit to Pashupatinath!)

December 15, 2018

How great it was to get back to the Shechen guest house in Boudhanath and be greeted by old friends and, as always, to meet a few new ones. Joss, a physical therapist from California had recently come from Bhutan, where she used an $18,000 Russian machine to work on patients. She had given me two sessions before the trek that really helped with the pain in my ribs. Little did we know at the time that I actually had broken those ribs on my recent fall in Kathmandu. No wonder I was in such pain!

And it was fun to reconnect with Maria, the Buddhist nun from Iowa, who now lives in Dharamsala, India, and is one of the peppiest, most upbeat people on the planet. Then we met Hans, a retired “thatcher” and longtime bee-keeper from Denmark. Seldom have I met a more fascinating, charming, sensitive, and caring man. We could have talked for hours. And so it goes with the traveling members of the Shechen “family.”

Today was the first day that neither Cary nor I had been awakened by the early morning chanting, bell ringing, and drumming at the monastery, which routinely took place at 5:30 AM. It was my first long sleep since returning from Pokhara. After breakfast with Maria, we decided to head for the famous Hindu temple complex, Pashupatinath, which includes the ghats on the Bagmati River, where bodies burn all day long. Arya Ghat is the main place where the crematorium lies and is the largest cremation area in Nepal. It consists of six elevated platforms on the banks of the river just outside the main temple.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

We crossed the Bagmati River on the north side of the Pashupatinath Temple Complex. As we entered the complex we could see that many temples and beautifully-carved buildings had been destroyed in the 2015 earthquake, and extensive rebuilding was in progress. I noticed the usual large metal (bronze) pigs, Ganesh – the elephant god, Hanuman – the monkey god, and hundreds of live monkeys cavorting ups and down the massive stone steps and on the adjacent lawns.

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But it was the ghats that really spoke to me.

About ten were being used, and more that I couldn’t see. Huge fires billowed forth, their orange plumes intense and shattering, accompanied, off and on, by thick smoke. Hay was placed on top of white packets of ghee (clarified butter) or some other readily available combustible material to keep the fire burning. Men in T-shorts used huge poles to poke the fire, and kept wood on top of the burning body. As the body disintegrated, they would brush the ashes and small bones into the river and wash the large stones in preparation for another body. The river was quite low and extremely filthy, with white muck and debris floating in it.

I watched as one palette became clear and another body was carried to the site by relatives and held high over their heads. The body had been wrapped in bright orange cloth and taken into a large pillared section of the temple. Droves of people pushed in. I assumed it was some kind of farewell ceremony. It continued for a long time while the pyre was being built. Then the body was placed on top and a few people walked around and around, similar to what I saw in Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges in 1987. At that time, however, it was the eldest son who performed this duty. And I was standing very close to the bank of the river, so could witness the bargaining between the family and the seller of the wood. I was told that this was often a problem with poor families. They needed to buy enough to completely burn the body.

After placing more ghee on the body, a long stick was lit to start the fire. I waited until the flames rose before leaving.

This experience was very meaningful to me, especially after my conversations with Maria, who had worked for years as a counselor for the dying. It was real and it was comforting, and it gave me a lot to think about: karma, reincarnation, and the fact that only the five senses are gone and a new body awaits us. I would think long and hard about these questions as we made our way back to Boudha. How can we influence our next life, and do we have one? How do we know, or how do we not know?

A VISIT TO PASHUPATINATH TEMPLE AND ARYA GHAT

December 15, 2018

OOPS! Another slip of the finger and the post we’re working on accidentally published! Stay tuned for the last days in Kathmandu in 2018!

How great it was to get back to the Shechen guest house in Boudhanath and be greeted by old friends and, as always, to meet a few new ones. Joss, a physical therapist from California had recently come from Bhutan, where she used an $18,000 Russian machine to work on patients. She had given me two sessions before the trek that really helped with the pain in my ribs. Little did we know at the time that I actually had broken those ribs on my recent fall in Kathmandu. No wonder I was in such pain! And it was fun to reconnect with Maria, the Buddhist nun from Iowa, who now lives in Dharamsala, India, and is one of the peppiest, most upbeat people on the planet. Then we met Hans, a retired “thatcher” and longtime bee-keeper from Denmark. Seldom have I met a more fascinating, charming, sensitive, and caring man. We could have talked for hours. And so it goes with the traveling members of the Shechen “family.”

Much more to come!

 

CHANGE IS ON THE HORIZON…

For the last several blogs I have been writing about my trip to Nepal back in 2018 and the trek to Khopra Ridge in the Himalayas, ending with my final days in Boudha, a part of Kathmandu. Little did I know how fortuitous those words would be. Who could have written a fantasy novel with a plot describing our present scenario and think anyone would take it seriously? And who could imagine that there would come a day when I’d long for the crowded streets of Boudha, the insane motorcyclists, the noisy bustle encircling the Boudhanath Stupa, the close brushes with eternity around every corner, and the universal, spontaneous closeness with my fellow human beings? All things we take for granted, good and bad. And now drastically changed.

What will I do without hugs, without comforting pats on the back, without theater, without opera, without ensemble music, without a gathering of close friends around a table for a meal, a cup of coffee, a glass of wine? Get used to it, Meg. Treasure those fond memories, but keep yourself open for new, different ones….

Yes, ingenuity seems to be the go-to word today. Imaginations are working overtime in every phase of life, and, in many instances, humor is on the rise. What else can we do? And in the end, I am optimistic that needed changes in our world, top to bottom, are on the horizon.

I wrote these words before the events of the past week and the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman. I see this as a seminal event that I hope has awakened all of America, and especially its representatives in Washington, to the need for drastic changes in its treatment of people of color, in its unfair economic establishment, in its inadequate system of medical care, and in its increasing dependence on force to solve its problems. America is for all people. It needs to unite, eschew its recent tribal and political divisions and treat each other with kindness and respect, love and understanding. This takes more than hope. This requires action. This is essential if we are to survive as a viable nation.

Stay healthy.

ONWARD TO POKHARA…

December 13 – 14, 2018

At 10 AM we said goodbye to our comfortable room and hopped into the jeep for the long drive to Pokhara. To tell you the truth, I’d much rather have slept in a tent in the woods and awakened to see Machapuchare with its fishtail shining pink in the morning light, then packed up and hiked down a steep hill through a forest that suddenly opened up onto Phewa Lake, one of the eight lakes in the Pokhara Valley. But that was not to be this time around.

We were happy for the Buddha on the dashboard watching out for us as we drove down impossible roads for 6 ½ hours, with delays, dust, and enormous potholes, wondering when we’d go over a cliff. It was also comforting to know that we had an excellent driver with a sense of humor and nerves of steel! We built up a robust camaraderie as we wound down the “soon to be a highway” with its plethora of road building equipment—the backhoe competing with the front-end loader, and the excavator making light work of them all.

What always amazed me, however, was the number of school children nattily dressed in their uniforms, laughing and chatting as they calmly made their way up the hill next to the machines, with nary a glance. As a parent, I was terrified. The road was hardly big enough for two large vehicles to pass one other, and there they were, walking on the side, oblivious to the danger.

The road being constructed was cut out of the cliffs and banks of the Seti Gandaki Khola (river).

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

We passed groups of men huddled over piles of rocks; some digging ditches, some hammering large stones into small pieces, and some building the wire containers for flat rocks that are used to fortify the bottom of a hill or act as guard rails. They also operated the large equipment with great gusto. It was a young boy’s dream!

Several times we were stopped while cars passed or digging took precedence. During these stops we had time to examine various rocks and check out the landscape, seeing, first-hand, how difficult it was to cut through the hills abutting the river.

Tight squeeze coming up!

We also marveled at the high voltage transmission lines with their enormous towers. These infrastructure projects will change many lives through improved transportation and access to electricity.

Buddhi gave us some background on the young men who worked such long hours on the road. Usually, they were hired to work for a year non-stop and made about 1,000 rupees, approximately $10, a day. During that time, they lived in various makeshift, rather primitive accommodations, which were quite depressing to me. But this road will get done, Buddhi assured us. Nepalis are tenacious. And that was that….


We stopped for a short coffee break,

and then continued on until reaching the crowded, bustling town of Beni, where we had lunch.

The Yak Restaurant was charming—round outdoor gazebos with thatched roofs and curtains for privacy. And the food was really good, albeit a bit spicy. It was the first time Buddhi had allowed us to have yogurt, since he didn’t think it was safe in the mountains. My special treat for the day!

For another few hours we wound around the hills and river and navigated the construction. Then we left the river valley, and the roads transitioned to paved.

By 4 PM we could see the hills and small communities around Pokhara and upon arrival there, were welcomed to The Big Pillow, a new hotel near the downtown shopping district.

WE MADE IT! Our gang: Cary, Kandu, M.P., Suni, Buddhi

It was all very posh, much more so than the last time I was in Pokhara in 1999. There were balconies with designer railings, spotless marble hallways and stairs, the slowest elevator so far (we chose to walk the six floors), and a shower that would rival the Tatopani hot springs! We loved it! (Covid-19 update – the Big Pillow closed for the pandemic, but is hoping to reopen soon when it’s over!)

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At dusk approached, walking along the shoreline of beautiful Phewa Lake with its myriad boats, we found ourselves inside the confines of an extensive fish hatchery. Talking to one of the owners, we discovered that there are twenty-five types of fish being grown. Some operation! We also enjoyed talking to a group of school children, who wanted to try out their English as well as sell us tickets to their new production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We declined, but gave a contribution to the school for which they were very grateful.

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Before we retired to our luxurious bedroom, our host took us to the roof garden and proudly showed us the extensive eco-setup he had installed for getting hot water from large highly-insulated tanks placed on the roof. For the next hour we sat on the roof, watched the lights come on all over town, and drank a celebratory beer as the sun set over the Annapurna Range.

In the morning, as I lay sleeping, Cary got up early to take photos of the sunrise.

We returned to say goodbye to the lake and have coffee in a small café by the shore. We mingled with the tourists as we perused the downtown shops, enjoying the cleanliness of the modern stores. Not able to resist a fancy Kashmiri shop, we stepped in to buy some elaborate shawls and immediately felt very much at home, sensing that bargaining was expected. We were able to get a “very good price” as “first customers” of the day. Where had we heard that before? Nevertheless, this town was so different from any other place I’d been in Nepal. No crazy motorcyclists, no crowded sidewalks, no open ditches and streets being repaired, no tangle of traffic. It’s Nepal’s second largest city and its largest tourist center.

The little Pokhara airport (they’re building a bigger one) had a great rooftop restaurant where we enjoyed very tasty veg chow mein, and then waited for Yeti Airlines to take us on our 90 minute flight to Kathmandu.

So many mixed feelings as we took off. So many thoughts. So much had changed in the mountains since my last trip. But isn’t change all you can really depend on? What will be will be. Cary and I both felt emotional as we photographed scenes during the flight. The end of an amazing journey. How happy and lucky we were!

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DESCENDING FROM LARENI TO PAUDWAR AND TATOPANI

December 11 – 12,  2018

We savored every step of our descent from Lareni to Paudwar, noticing a definite change in the terrain as we went through one vegetative zone after another. There were pine, alder, ferns, rhododendron, and bamboo again. It was even getting warm enough for some young ferns to start unfurling.

As we descended there were many lush gardens with cauliflower, sugar cane, beans, corn, mustard greens, garlic, cabbage, carrots, and white radishes (daikons).

Click on photo to see slideshow.

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Entering Paudwar, we passed people sitting on their slate courtyards threshing beans (the livestock eats the shells or pods), drying barley, buckwheat, and amaranth (a kind of grain), washing clothes, digging out a new foundation on the side of a hill, and going about their daily activities. There were women, children, and babies everywhere.

This was like an ancient medieval town—small alleyways, slate-roofed houses, everything made out of stone, narrow, perilous streets, turning and winding. This is what they mean by “watch your step!”

You can imagine how disconcerting it was for me to see teenage girls in flip flops sailing ahead of me as if they were taking a walk in the park. It was, however, the most picturesque village I’d ever seen in Nepal.

We wandered up and down, finally arriving at the Barahee Guest House.

It had only one drawback…the toilet was outside and locked, and we were inside and on the second floor. Rather inconvenient! But the room was comfortable, the view excellent, and the temperature so much warmer than the last few days.

During the afternoon we walked around town, enjoying interacting with the locals. We happened by a school and enjoyed watching a group of girls playing a strenuous game of volleyball. What fun! We sat on the stone “bleachers” and cheered them on.

Here is a slideshow of village life and the people there.

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After the best dinner so far…steamed cauliflower, assorted veggies with butter and an excellent fried veggie roll, we were invited to watch a popular game, kabaddi, on TV. It’s the national sport of Bangladesh, and also very popular in Nepal and India. This was the first time I’d seen this unusual game. I really don’t know how the players survived! Looked like about 8 or 9 men with no helmets, only knee pads. Individual players took turns crossing onto the other team’s side, repeating “kabaddi, kabaddi” (or an alternate chant) for 30 seconds, while the opposing team tried to tackle him and prevent him from invading their territory. Points were scored by tagging as many opponents as possible without taking a breath or being caught.

The next day we took off through the village to start another four-hour downhill to Tatopani, famous for its hot springs. It would be our last stop before Pokara. I had done another section of the Annapurna circuit in 1999 before there were roads, and I found the woodland trails far more beautiful than the dusty, unfinished road. Also, the spectacular views of Mt. Machupuchare and Dhaulagiri were far more prominent from our forest camps. But I also understood why the Nepali villagers wanted better access to markets, medical help, and other needed supplies. Too bad for the tourists…much better for the locals. Their life may have looked quaint to us, but they, too, wanted modern conveniences and a better life.

As we wended our way down the alleys and walkways, we marveled at the intricate juxtaposition of houses, seemingly all attached at different levels and built with the same gray stone. The slate roofs were lovely in the morning sun as well as the numerous courtyards. I can’t imagine what would have happened to the village if the earthquake of 2015 had hit them. Nothing had been built with any precautions or safety measures.

We alternated between going down a rather new road (even ‘though there was one place that had almost been obliterated by a landslide), and old paths or short cuts to save time. These were very steep and perilous, but much more interesting than the road!

Fortunately, there were many chautari where we could sit and have a snack and water. And I presciently ordered four hard boiled eggs and oranges at breakfast that we used to assuage our hunger and supplement the ever-ready power bars during the long descent.

Our favorite chautari and it’s in the shade

Once, again, we noticed a distinct change in ecosystems. There were gorgeous long-needle pines mixed with bamboo, some in clusters and others standing tall by themselves. We came upon a large grove of oranges and bananas, and a field of brilliant poinsettias.

On the mundane level we saw numerous minor mishaps between various earth-moving machines trying to complete the road, and it was hilarious. Even saw mechanics, who came in on motorcycles and worked frantically to repair the machines that were clogging the road. And an hour later we saw the disabled vehicles, having magically turned around, heading out of the area.

Looking down the road into the deep valley we saw several bridges leading to locations like Jomson and Poon Hill, both places I’d been in the past. I hadn’t realized how closely the towns were connected in this region until we reached Pokara and saw the same range of mountains from another vantage point. Those were places I trekked with my friend, Jon Pollack, in 1999. Ah, what memories!

At the end of four hours, we had reached a very long bridge that spanned a roiling river and hooked up with the final section of road we would walk to Tatopani.

Almost there!

Heading to Tatopani on the bridge

How happy we were to be ushered into our large room with attached bath (en suite in the Himalayas no less!), which overlooked a lush garden. We immediately unzipped our long climbing pants to make shorts, and donned a T-shirt, then walked five minutes to the famous hot springs, from which Tatopani gets its name.

The hot springs alongside the river.

We sat in almost-boiling water for as long as we could stand it, and enjoyed chatting with an international crowd of all ages: Aussie, Indian, Nepali, Japanese, English, Dutch, South Korea, Russian, New Zealand…but no other Americans. For the last few days we’d made no mention of Trump (always an unfavorable response, and queries as to how he could have been elected), and it was a great relief to leave him behind.

Dinner was wonderful…my first non-veg meal since I left home. Garlic ginger chicken with great gravy and, of course, the wonderful cauliflower and carrots that abound in Asia. We went to bed knowing that the real trek was over and the next day would be spent navigating a bumpy road under construction that would rival Mongolia. But that, too, would be part of the adventure.

I was at peace as I thought about these last nine days. And I thanked my lucky stars (and God, too) for Cary. She is an amazing, sure-footed climber. She seldom makes a mistake, and is calm and reliable. And she helps me keep a steady pace, especially on uphills, by singing a soothing Tara mantra. It borders on the hypnotic. I feel very confident being with her. And very, very happy.

DESCENT FROM KHOPRA RIDGE TO LARENI TEA HOUSE

December 10, 2018In my previous post about Khopra Ridge, accidentally published before it was all done, I shared our incipient descent down the mountain. To read our post about getting up to this 12,000 ft high ridge, click HERE.

To pick up where we left off…it was December 9, 2018 and my daughter, Cary, and I were preparing to depart from glorious Khopra Ridge, 12,000 ft. in the Annapurna area of Nepal. We got up very early to watch the sun come up over the range.

And here is a video I took of the range that morning. Forgive the ending while I learn iMovie editing!
We socialized with our new friends over breakfast, and at 10 A.M. headed off for a day of steep and intense downhill.

(Click on photo to enlarge)

As we negotiated the rocky trail down, we were grateful for the occasional chautari (a rest stop made by piling stones to create a platform for sitting) to refresh ourselves.

 

 

Do you see that steep trail in the photo below, snaking down the mountain? We had to pay focused attention every step of the way so as not to take a header. But we always took time to enjoy the views and the changing vegetation.

We met a Malaysian couple coming up over the ridge as we were heading down. They had been climbing since early morning and were exhausted. How glad I was that we were going in the opposite direction! The trail was made of new stone steps (built by the villagers of Paudwar, where we would stay in two nights), followed by treacherous rocks running along a sheer cliff. Cary was impressed by the exposure, but it seemed tame to me after the Kangchenjunga trek in 1996, where we were confronted with a chilling landslide that had to be negotiated by putting one foot in front of the other on a narrow makeshift path along a steep ravine.

During the difficult descent, Buddhi, our guide, was extremely helpful, guiding me by holding my left arm, gently, and giving me the support I needed on difficult passages.

It was interesting to see large swaths of grassland on the hillside, that had been burned and charred to get rid of the inedible, tough old grass and make way for the new grass in the spring. This will provide tender shoots for the yaks to eat. It’s hard to believe that yaks can climb the steep mountain and graze on such slopes. But there are about 150 of these animals owned by the community, roaming the hills on government land.

After three hours of constant downhill we arrived at a new tea house, The Lareni, owned by a charming, hospitable gentleman, Lil, who regaled us with stories of the area, and showed us his extensive land, garden, and animals.

He used solar heating, exclusively, and cooked meals on two small cement stoves fed by sticks of wood.

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We were the only guests and spent a peaceful sunny afternoon in the spacious dining room until dinner, which we had in the small, windowless, smoky kitchen, watching Kandu and Suni whip up nettle soup and other vegetarian specialties. Much intense heating and stirring!

I can’t remember a more congenial evening, sitting by the fire, chatting, and being treated to Buddhi’s enthusiastic singing and dancing! And guess who accompanied him with drumming on the table? We even imbibed in a glass of rakshi, a favorite, rather tame, alcoholic drink enjoyed in the mountains. It was still pretty cold, so a metal container of red-hot coals was placed at my feet to keep my legs warm. How nice is that! I have never had a lovelier or more down-to-earth evening on a trek. And it ended as we stepped outside to see a sky filled with stars. I stood, transfixed, as I was carried back to my overland trip in Tibet to Mt. Kailash in 2004. Every night I would stand outside my tent, just as I did this night, and take in the vast expanse of the night sky, breathing in its beauty, strength and tranquility.

After a refreshing sleep and a long conversation with the owner of the tea house, we started out for Paudwar. One hour and 30 minutes to Paudwar? No way!

 

 

Khopra Ridge and Beyond

Oops! this post was accidentally published before it was ready! So as to not break the link, but whet your appetite, here is the beginning of our descent from Khopra Ridge. To be finished soon! I hope you are all well and safe during this COVID-19 time!

December 10-12, 2018

Is it unamerican to write about past adventures in the Himalaya during this bizarre covid-19 pandemic that has most people riveted to the News 24/7…to the point of obsession? For all the good advice we are receiving, daily, to lift our spirits and paint our future in an optimistic light—get our lives in order, sort through our accumulation of unnecessary “stuff,“ decide what the real meaning of life is and how we can make our contribution before it’s too late, love everyone around us, even those who have wronged us (especially those!), appreciate our present good health, glory in the selflessness of our doctors and medical workers and all the others who have stepped up to the plate, obey strict laws of social distancing, help our neighbors—we are beginning to yearn for a respite from the wise and necessary advice, the depressing numbers, the suffering, and the almost science fiction atmosphere surrounding us. Yes, I think we’re ready to move ahead. People are singing from balconies, dancing on the lawn, resurrecting that most wonderful experience in life, walking, and using their imaginations to create and communicate in unique ways…all while keeping at least six feet apart.

So, I think you will welcome a blast from the blast. That said, I am about to take you on what seems now to be unreal…an adventure in the mountains of Nepal, those most glorious mountains that have no connection with our current troubles and will be there long after our travails are over. Come along with me as I finish up my December, 2018, journey. Remember 2018? Back in the day….

I last left you on December 9 as my daughter, Cary, and I were preparing to depart from glorious Khopra Ridge, 12,000 ft. in the Annapurna area of Nepal. We watched the sun come up over the range, socialized with our new friends over breakfast, and at 10 A.M. headed off for a day of steep and intense downhill.

Stay tuned for the rest of the descent and beyond!

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