Meg Noble Peterson

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

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!

RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY….

I am writing on our first blindingly sunny day in more weeks than I care to count. Cold, to be sure, but sunny! And to us Langley-ites, that’s what counts.

 Looking deep into the woods surrounding my new house, seeing the sun and shadows dance off the cedars and play on the huge blanket of ferns, green, luxuriant…and highlight the stately firs, reaching high above the rest of the forest…I am filled with pure joy and peace. These are rare winter moments in the Northwest, but, perhaps, all the more meaningful because they are so infrequent.

Today I am thankful, and vow to put my complaints to bed, knowing that out of the fog comes a new day. All it takes is patience….

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Here is a quick recap of my recent travels within the U.S. I’ve given Asia a year-long pass, but will be back! Speaking of sun, I must say that I couldn’t even find sunglasses strong enough to deal with the brightness of Denver, Palm Springs, and New Orleans.

First, I spent a joyous week in Denver at Christmas with my daughter, Martha, and granddaughter and family. Grandson, Thomas Bixler, was also present. And, happily, I had a chance to catch up with Lucille Reilly, an autoharp buddy who is deep into the history and playing techniques of the instrument, which will be included in her upcoming book. I also was fortunate to spend time with my nephew, David Magill. I didn’t take many photos, but did enjoy the snow that is a constant in that lovely town nestled at the foothills of the great Rocky Mountains, and thoroughly enjoyed interacting with my two great grandsons.

 

From Denver I headed to Palm Springs where son, Robert, and his wife, Gwen, live in a lovely area rife with low-hanging fruit trees (that’s because there’s so much heavy fruit pulling them down!), palm trees, and lush landscape. And to add to the beauty, the impressive San Jacinto Mountains are close at hand.

If you want fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, Palm Springs is your place. I never thought I could O.D. on citrus!

Robert has the insane job of being a golf driving range target designer whose website is nightgolftargets.com. You will definitely find it interesting. There’s no limit to the size or design of these new additions to the age-old game of golf!

As you can see, the landscape is dotted with a myriad of windmills, a great source of clean energy. Here is a peek.

We spent some lovely hours hiking in the nearby mountains and parks.

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My most recent trip occurred at the end of January and took me to beautiful New Orleans for the wedding of Cheryl Galante and Steve Gorelick.

What a celebration that was and what a massive combined family they now have! Before the festivities began, I had a few days to check out the city I had visited back in the ‘70’s, and little seems to have changed on Bourbon St. or the French Quarter, except, perhaps, it’s even busier. The jazz is still superb, the architecture quaint, and the crowds delighted as they go down the street sipping margaritas from large containers. Small groups of musicians gather in little open-air cafes and some individuals, like one Scottish bagpipe player, hold forth on the sidewalk. The place is awash with music, with Preservation Hall at the top of the list. How I remember hearing many of the greats jam in that hallowed hall those many years ago with a group of fellow musicians. Of course, improv was the style of the day and always will be. “Grab your coat, and don’t forget your hat, and leave your worries, leave them on the doorstep….yeah, right, just direct your feet to the Sunny Side of the Street!”

Here are two of the many statues of great jazz musicians.

And the new World War II memorial is also a special place for visitors to downtown New Orleans.

The memorial to Anne Frank was very moving to me.

My Airbnb at 1450 Josephine Street

I really grooved on walking the narrow streets with their multi-cultural architecture—everything from Creole cottages to mansions on St. Charles Ave. I stayed at one of those mansions (way in the back, I might add) on Josephine St. in the Garden area, not far from the trolley that runs on St. Charles to the middle of town. A great location and close to some of the most famous restaurants and cafes.

New Orleans is a place you will never tire of visiting in any season. Sprawling, easy to navigate, but, best of all, packed with the most welcoming and friendly people on the face of the earth! Don’t miss it…or them.

Next blog: the completion of our Nepal trip. I know you won’t believe me, but please give me another chance. Have faith….

TWO DAYS TO KHOPRA RIDGE

(December 8 & 9, 2018)

Hey folks! Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Thanks for your patience as I get back in the saddle and finish the trip Cary and I took to Nepal last year at this time. I would never have imagined it could take so long!

You may remember that we had just finished a long, steep climb to Bayeli, where we were bombarded by a diverse group of trekkers, including thirty-eight members of the graduating class in computer engineering from Kathmandu University. As we were leaving the next morning, I was amazed to see a group of Nepali students checking their phones outside the tea house before they began their trek. It’s a universal addiction that knows no geographic boundaries! Meanwhile, we were satisfied to groove on the plethora of mountains surrounding us.

I can’t remember more beautiful trails than we were treated to on this next leg of the trek to Khopra Ridge. And because we went slowly, we savored every moment. (that didn’t stop us from taking pictures, ‘though our hands were freezing). I recall sitting on a ledge, looking into a grotto covered with moss-covered rocks and dripping vegetation. Such moments defined tranquility for me. And both of us were in no hurry nor wanted to win a race. We were there to absorb and delight in the natural beauty of these Himalayas.

Here are a few scenes along the way. Click on photos to make larger.

Looking back at where we started

We took our time, never realizing how far we had to go, nor the difficulty of the trail. We frequently encountered yaks grazing. The worst part was a steady downhill for more than three hours. Luxuriant bamboo flourished in the woods as we reached a turbulent stream and crossed a rickety bridge, once more heading up a killer incline for another three hours. How we chided Buddhi, who assured us at every turn, that it was just thirty minutes to our destination. Yeah, right.

Suni, of course, had arrived before us and doubled back to bring tea and cookies, since we had had no lunch. In the meantime, power bars and walnuts kept us going! And we used up two quarts of water.

After six hours and fifteen minutes, we arrived at Christibung (Dhankharka) and enjoyed the best lodge so far. Beautiful large rooms, great lighting, and western toilets. How good can it get? While there we met a delightful couple, Kieren McIntyre from New Zealand and Raiko Rafeeq from the Republic of Maldives in South Asia. The evening was spent in lively conversation with guitar strumming by the cook in the background.

What a great feeling to know, as we started out, that this day would be our final bruising uphill to Khopra Ridge. And it turned out to be rather warm, and so sunny all morning that I wore my sun glasses for the first time! We came upon what looked like yak or sheep hair in several places where the animals gathered, as well as stands of impressive old trees and rhododendrum.

We also came upon wild primrose plants, caterpillars, and a pika, a tiny and unusual rodent/gopher. As you can imagine, Cary was vigilant when it came to any form of vegetation or animal life.

The trail wound through fields of high grass where you could see stone slabs on which salt had been sprinkled for the animals. This was necessary for their health, nutrition, and fertility. Yaks and nyaks (females, with smaller horns) roamed freely throughout the land.

The guest house we had just left owned about fifty of these animals, and the owners have to find them in the morning in order to milk them. In the spring they have their babies. I can’t imagine what a task that must be!

How glad we were to bump into Kieren and Raiko, as they passed us on their way to the ridge.

The climb was intense, constant, and with lots of exposure (not my favorite). We carried a thermos of coffee and some biscuits, because there was no guest house along the way to stop for lunch. Instead, we relaxed on one of the many stone “seats” (chautari) designed for the porters, to rest themselves and their packs. They were made by piling stones to create a platform. There was often a ficus tree planted in the center to provide shade, and in some there were memorials dedicated to relatives or fellow climbers.

The fog started rolling in two hours before we reached the ridge. It seemed endless, and just as we were beginning to feel discouraged, Suni appeared with more hot coffee and biscuits to help us with the last push up. We were so grateful!
After a most welcome snack, we continued up into the fog.

And just as we reached the top, it lifted, giving us a glorious view of the sun setting on Annapurna and Annapurna South.


Later we would go out of the lodge and watch as the peaks came in and out of the clouds and the sliver of new moon rose above them.

 

Kieren, Raiko, and the Latvian climbers joined a large group of climbers seated around the metal fireplace, trying their best to get warm. But it was most inadequate and smoky, even using copious amounts of wood and hardened yak manure for fuel. We decided this was the coldest night so far, and donned every piece of clothing in our packs. It was less than 40 degrees inside.


At times like this you really appreciate central heating, nice bathrooms, and a place to put all the “necessities” and toiletries that you feel are essential. But are they really necessary? It is difficult to simplify life, isn’t it?

The next morning Buddhi woke us early to see the sun rise over the mountains.  Kieren had been on the ridge since 4 AM with his camera and tripod, photographing the stars and moon. We walked around the lodge on the slate steps, trying our best to capture the magic of the morning light as it came up and lit each mountain in its path. Time stood still. Nobody talked. We were all in the moment, in our own way.

We were at 12,000 ft., my hands were freezing, I had no tripod, the wind was blowing, and I was breathing hard while I took this video. It’s not the best video I have taken, but it will give you an idea of the majesty of the mountains.

 

CARDINAL RULE #1: NEVER LET YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE EXPIRE!

If you’ve wondered whether I dropped off the face of the earth for three months, you would be right on. It all started when I hopped on a plane for Newark Airport on June 24, excited about the upcoming ten days of intense activity I had planned in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, starting with a visit to my youngest grandson, Adam, and his fiancé, Allie, and followed by a whirlwind trip to the Mt. Laurel Autoharp Gathering, a fancy wedding in the Catskills, and ending in New England for a visit with the Wyman Kelly family. Except that I stepped into the car rental agency in Hoboken on June 25 only to be told that my Washington State license had expired. How is a Jersey girl supposed to know that nobody gets reminders in the great Northwest?

Friends are wonderful and the relay began. Phyllis Bitow drove me to NY City and James Wilson took me in for a night in the Village before putting me on a train for Harrisburg, PA. I got to see that historic town, which was like stepping onto a set from the American Revolution. Then I was picked up by Carole and Fisk Outwater, who hosted me in their RV for three days of the Mt. Laurel Autoharp Gathering , where I met old autoharp buddies, thrived on good music, and got very little sleep. On Saturday I was returned to Harrisburg and picked up by Phyllis, who took me to Bethlehem, PA, where we enjoyed a new production of Cirque du Soleil with friends. Ay, there’s the rub. In my somnambulistic condition late at night, I was running in a parking garage and tripped, flying headfirst into the fender of a parked car. I was flipped over onto the pavement, smashing my back and right hand. Never thinking to go to an emergency room at such an hour, I soldiered forth to the glorious wedding of Jen Vitello and Bob D’Agostino, where I celebrated their nuptials with close friends and relatives and two margaritas, which numbed my pain enough to make dancing exciting…until the next day.

Fast forward. Judy Wyman picked me up from the wedding and took me to West Hartford, Connecticut, where I was X-rayed for everything but my back. Go figure. Seeing the Wyman Kelly family was comforting and they graciously made it possible for me to visit my sister, Anne Magill, and her husband, Frank, in Peterborough, NH.

Upon my return, various medical tests ensued, including an MRI of the thoracic region of my back. Result: two compression fractures and three broken ribs. And, of course, the broken hand, which had already been diagnosed. Enough said. It was a disappointing summer. No swimming. No hiking. Drastically curtailed activity. And I, an avid critic of any kind of medication (I don’t do well with stimulants of any kind…one glass of wine and I’m dancing on the table, and one oxycodone…well, Katie, bar the door!) was given a regimen of Tylenol, ibuprofen, and oxycodone (at bedtime..for sweet dreams?).

I was supposed to time my pain meds to overlap during the day. That lasted less than a week, until I decided to tough it out and see how much pain I could endure before signing up for assisted suicide (one of the perks of living in Washington State). Is it better to suffer and be sure not to overdo, or mask the pain and overdo? Heady decisions, to be sure, especially when friends and relatives are ever ready with advice that scares the hell out of me.

In the back of my muddled mind was the thought that if I hadn’t gone East and if I hadn’t let my license expire, I would be scaling the Himalayas and swimming across Lake Winnipesaukee in a heartbeat. But now I was sure that my life as I knew it was over and I was not only a nobody, but a has-been in the bargain. Ever been there? Of course you have. And it never occurred to me that I could have been sailing down the Pennsylvania turnpike in my rental car and been broadsided in the middle of the night by an 18-wheeler. So you see, there is really no answer to why these crazy things happen to us, but, in my case, I am grateful that I didn’t break my neck or paralyze myself, or experience any number of much worse scenarios.

Adding to my feeling of panic and helplessness immediately after returning to Whidbey Island on July 6th, I was faced with moving to the Upper Langley affordable co-housing community by September 1st. The plans had been made before I left for the East Coast. Again, thank heaven for friends, who helped with packing, unpacking, and completing the move. And kudos to son Tom, who built a lovely two-story home—his first experience as a builder, and what a success it was—on the edge of a fir and cedar forest in this welcoming community, where I will live out my days as a modern woodswoman. Daughter Cary is just down the path, so I have absolutely no chance to misbehave.

There will be photos in the future as I settle in. Tom, whose first love is horticulture, has provided a glorious environment of plants, trees, and flowers surrounding the house. His expertise never ceases to amaze me. And I have only a short walk to town, past my old apartment and right into the middle of picturesque Langley. Things are looking up! And I promise you that I will be back in the saddle before long, and grateful for a relatively rapid recovery.

View of the Cascades from Langley

Sunset at Maxwelton Beach

AND NOW WE RETURN TO THE HIMALAYAS FOR TEN DAYS OF GLORIOUS TREKKING!

December 4-14, 2018

As I look at the volume of journal pages I devoured with my scribbling during these intense few days, I am again reminded that my readers have a life of their own and do not wish to use it up accompanying me through each day’s travails and successes, regardless of how much I want to bring them with me. Now that I am at a venerable age, and getting more venerable by the minute, I have to remind myself that procrastination is no longer a viable alternative and the ever-present tomorrow may be more elusive than I care to admit. So here is a brief outline of my recent ups and downs in the Himalayas with as many photos as time affords.

Click on photos to enlarge and to see slide show.

On December 4th, Cary and I and our guide Buddhi, flew from Kathmandu to Pokara on Nepali time, i.e. four hours late.

We were met by our two guides-in-training, who also doubled as porters, Suni (left) and Kandu (right), both in their 20’s.   From there we drove to Kimche …three hours of the worst roads I have ever encountered, and that includes Mongolia! As in India, both men and women worked on road construction—widening, forming cement ditches, carrying crushed rock in large bowls on their head, and emptying the rock into the forms. An endless parade of tedious labor. At least that’s how it looked to me. Thank heaven we stopped in Birethanti for lunch, to rest our bones!  It was rural Nepal, almost unchanged since my first trip in 1988. Once in Kimche we hiked 1 1/2 hours to Ghandruk. Never have I seen so many stone steps, except in Sikkum.

 

During our journey we thought it would be fun to catalog the Best and the Worst of our adventure. We only wrote what stood out for us at the end of the day. Coming up are some of the highlights. You can check them out as we go along, and maybe it will help you if you ever wander into the Annapurna Sanctuary.

The first night we stayed in the pinkest building, and met the friendliest Malaysian couple.

The next day, Dec. 5th, we left Heaven View Lodge to embark on a very strenuous, but beautiful day.

After lunch we stopped in several small villages and bought knitted woolen hats for Hector and Theo, my two great grandsons. I also found a pair of handknit socks to replace the down slippers I left in Boudha.

Something I noticed on this trip was how many South Koreans we met, first on the trail and then in the guest houses. Thus began the taking of numerous selfies by those who were enthralled with my advanced age. At first it was irritating, but soon I realized that such adulation was meant as a compliment, so I smiled and learned to roll with the punches.

Mountain views were interspersed with woodland trails covered in leaves, and majestic gnarled rhododendron trees, not the usual bushes. These peaceful interludes between steep grades helped me strengthen my legs and increase my confidence. Cary, the perfect companion, stayed with me, singing her soothing Tara mantra Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha as we trudged along.

 

Just before reaching the Panorama Lodge in Tadapani, we encountered (surprise!) our most challenging climb of the day, up more steep stone steps. What a great guest house this was, complete with a western toilet (my litmus test) and a dog that guarded our door and nearly tripped me up every time I went in or out. It had the worst door jam and lock, however, and I was tempted to leave the room unlocked.

After dinner at a dining room in a separate building up another long flight of stairs with a panoramic view of the mountains, we were serenaded by the Koreans singing Roman Catholic hymns. It was really lovely. Evidently the Catholic church has made big inroads in South Korea and this was a parish hiking club. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback when one of the men in the group took my hands in his and said, very seriously, “M’am, we are all praying for you.” Again, I had to hold my tongue and keep from laughing. They wanted to make sure I survived the trek.

As with everyone we met, he also wanted to talk about our present government. The questions always started with, ”What is going on in your country?” Needless to say, the discussions were long. We’ve also noticed whenever we meet Koreans, that they carry most of their food with them, as well as their cook, and much of their bedding. And, in this case, their priest. They were a happy, congenial group and I’m looking forward to visiting their country.

It was a very cold night and the Koreans were each given a hot water bottle. How about that? We just put on our down vests, snuggled under an extra comforter, and hoped for the best.

The next three days, before we reached our high point, Khopra Ridge, were the most challenging of the trip. Not just the uphills, but the downhills as well. In fact, I found them more dangerous with their many jagged rocks and gullys, and the knowledge that if I fell it could be catastrophic.

 

It took us almost four hours to our lunch stop but we were rewarded with the best garlic soup, dal bhat, and milk coffee (very similar to western latte if you look past it being made with nescafe instant coffee) we’d eaten so far. This was concocted by a 14-year-old boy in his simple kitchen at a guest house in Meshar Danda, a small village along the way. We have become experts in judging dal bhat. You may remember that our food of choice at altitude has been garlic soup ever since our trekking trip in Sikkim in 2010. His soup was incredible…nearly blew our heads off! We were also particularly intrigued by the log bee hive fastened on the side of the guest house.

It was then another strenuous stretch of hours of very steep climbing to arrive at Isharu, our destination for the night. Here we were promised amazing views, but all we got for our work was fog.

Still, it was beautiful and peaceful…and we could rest at last. The trail had been varied, starting in what seemed like a temperate rain forest, then moving into areas of long grasses and rolling hills, but always with those glorious mountains in the distance. We passed a few people on horseback, but were told that they had to walk downhill, since the horses were not surefooted enough to make the steep grade. I can relate to that!

 

We seemed to be the only customers at the Isharu Greenhill Guest House.

The weather had turned very cold, so you can imagine how glad I was to get to a warm dining room. But soon we had to leave, for somehow the pipe that came out of the large round metal stove had gotten clogged, and smoke filled the room. Thus, this became the smokiest guest house of the trek. However, the rooms were the brightest (more than one hanging bulb!), so we stayed there until the dining room aired out. The night was very cold, dipping below 37 degrees, only it seemed colder. For the first time, I used my sleeping bag liner.

The next day was beautiful, crisp, and sunny, but the largest mountains were still in the fog when we departed Isharu. I despaired of ever seeing Machapuchare, which I saw so frequently in 1999 on my Annapurna circuit trek. I also noticed for the first time that the menus at the guest houses were pretty standard…steamed veggies, veggie fried rice, veggie rolls, garlic soup, and dal bhat. Thank heaven there was plenty of hot water and lemon tea!

This was a day of walking through forests of bamboo and huge rhododendron trees.

 

In early afternoon we arrived in Dobato. While having a delicious lunch at Hotel Mt. Lucky, it started to snow. The flakes were more like tiny white beads, covering everything in a glistening film of white. We changed to our rain pants and loaded up on heavy clothes.

The going was slow and slippery, but thank goodness the snow abated and the trails dried out as we went up, up and up.

Many trekkers passed us that afternoon headed for the same guest house in Bayeli, the Annapurna Dhaulagiri Community Lodge. We met people from Holland, Germany, Belgium, and, of course, Nepal. One group of students from Kathmandu University, celebrating their graduation from engineering college, was especially cordial to me after finding out my age. It was a riot! Selfies everywhere. I was, frankly, embarrassed. Cary admonished me to enjoy it. “You’re a rock star in their eyes, Mom,” she said. Too bad I hadn’t brought my guitar.

Naturally, we were the last to reach Bayeli.

I hopped right into our cozy room and rested a bit before dinner!

The lodge was packed, and was the noisiest guest house so far, because of all the students. And it had the most door sills to trip me up. That is a story in itself. Nothing seems to be on one level in Nepali buildings. You never know…a step will appear when you least expect it. But what a great time we had! We participated in a gala birthday party and spent the evening with multiple groups of students, all of us gathered around the old metal stove to keep from freezing, and eager to talk about politics, travel, and what was going on in the United States. And they knew more about our government than many Americans. Believe me!

Some of the topics covered included: Arranged marriage as compared to love marriages, the complications of a joint family (multi-generational extended family), and how it differs from the nuclear family.

I asked a lot of questions about the caste system. We usually think of it as only operating in India, but it is also alive and well in Nepal and a few other Asian countries. There are four main castes as well as numerous other ethnic groups, such as Shresta, Gurung, and Sherpa. I have many friends with these surnames. There are rigid restrictions about intermarriage among these various groups, but a lot is now changing with modern times.

One student had just returned from a tour of the U.S., and he really liked it, especially New York City. Another student wanted to start a company and go to Silicon Valley, but was concerned about the treatment of people of color and the murdering of Blacks by the police. This was a common concern, along with gun violence, that I heard voiced many times during our trip. There was a universal disgust of Trump, but this is not a political blog so you will have to read it in the paper yourself. And, believe me, it’s there…in both India and Nepal.

It was approaching 11 by the time we said goodnight, hugged all around, and turned in. I hate to think of what the temperature was, but suffice it to say that we wore our down jackets to bed! Sleep was instantaneous. Tomorrow would be an early morning.

And in the morning, there was a view at last!

Next stop, Khopra Ridge (up up up on the right)! Thank you Suni and Kandu for carrying our gear!!!

I INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM FOR A BRIEF ANNOUNCEMENT…

…in the midst of my extensive report from Nepal and South Korea, so I can share with you my recent trip to New York City and New Jersey. For those of you who may think there is no connection, or that trekking in the Himalayas cannot be compared to life in midtown Manhattan, you have obviously never been to Times Square at rush hour!

Negotiating the ticketing process from Christopher Street in the Village (my subway stop) through the noisy labyrinth of the underground that belches forth its over-abundance of humanity into the many-faceted subterranean canyon with its myriad stairs leading to Midtown, is every bit as strenuous as negotiating a rocky terrain at 12,000 ft. Trust me! The noise is at peak decibel, the possible pathways to subways are legion, every musical instrument known to mankind is playing, alone or in ensemble, and bodies are propelling themselves at record speeds, defying normal gravity. I pasted myself against a wall to watch the scene unfold. Could I have forgotten such insanity? Are there more people or am I just getting old (heaven forbid!). Dare I try for a video or will my arm be swept off? Lest you think I am exaggerating, try it, yourself. There ain’t nothing like it on the face of the earth…not even in India. There are places I’ve been where more people fill the streets, or crazies wander haphazardly looking for shelter, or there is more variety in architecture, or more color, or a gorgeous view. But in this one microcosm, you have it all at the same time. There is an excess of everything. I love it…the intensity and the energy…and I can find it terrifying.

But I digress. My two weeks in New York and New Jersey were full of joyous moments with old friends, a perusal of inimitable restaurants (yes, affordable), and an update on some of the gems that Broadway has to offer. This is no surprise to anyone who has followed my theater addiction over the years. There were times (when I lived in NJ) that I was able to taste dozens of shows a year, whether opera, symphony, musical theater, or plays, and all for reasonable prices (I belonged to a lot of cheap ticket venues, so $3.50 was a standard cost for shows in preview). Ah, but those days are gone forever! Today, even TDF barely dips below $32 for Off Broadway productions. That said, I leapt right in with a performance of a new play, Gary, the sequel to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, starring Nathan Lane. This was in celebration of my friend, James Wilson’s, birthday. Here he is in front of his colorful Village apartment on 10th Street, where he generously invited me to stay for a week.

 

James’s apartment was not far from the historic Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, site of the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement.

 

 

During the week, when not at the theater, I roamed the streets of the Village, eating at various restaurants and meeting a plethora of people from all corners of the world. I returned to a favorite noodle restaurant several times and became acquainted with a charming Hungarian waiter, a Mexican busboy, and an Indian bartender, all recent immigrants. Hey, who needs to travel abroad when they have New York City?

 

The noodle shop is located near the clock tower and library, a rather peaceful area of small shops and eateries.

Here are several views of the neighborhood, including my favorite Deli.

Click on photos to see slideshow.

On Sunday afternoon, my old friend, Barry Hamilton, the General Manager of the New York City Children’s Theater, treated me to their new production, This is Sadie. I’ve never seen more energetic dancing! It was a charming show. I wish I had had such theater available at my fingertips when my children were growing up.

I think the most outstanding play of the year for me was The Ferryman, Jez Butterworth’s intricate drama of a family in Ireland during the IRA conflict. Brian D’Arcy James led an amazing cast of twenty-two superb actors, keeping me on tenterhooks for three fast-paced hours.

After a visit with my younger sister, Cary, in Harrison, NY, I began a week of intense theater of all kinds starting with the insightful one-woman show by Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me, then adding two musicals, Merrily We Roll Along, vintage Sondheim, which I enjoyed with Paul Sharar, my long-time theater buddy, and The Prom, an hilarous new musical shared with Barry Hamilton, and Cheryl Galante, whose house I will enjoy for the next week when in Maplewood.

Cheryl, Barry, MP

A visit would not be complete without a rendezvous with Phyllis Bitow and Terri Pedone for dinner and a show at the Irish Repertory Theater. This year it was Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. At this point my understanding of Irish dialect is nearing perfection! Our usual pick is the Metropolitan Opera, but no tickets were available at the last minute.

Together with Terri and Phyllis

 

In between shows I was able to renew ties with old friends Gary Shippy, Grace Polk, Luba Schnable & Skip Ungar, and Madison Scott, whom I had met last summer when she was acting in the Whidbey Island Shakespeare Festival. What fun to meet at a coffee shop in the Village.

 

The night before I left to visit my grandson, Adam Bixler, and his girlfriend, Allie Francis, in North Bergen, NJ, a close friend of James’s, Jim Guedry, treated me to a farewell party at his inviting home on Charles Street in the area of the Village known for its picturesque brownstone buildings. It was like walking into an art museum, only with more mirrors and better food! ’Twas a lovely evening of good conversation and fellowship with a stimulating group of friends.

I spent the weekend with Adam and Allie in their new apartment across the river from NYC.

The climax came on Sunday evening when we went to the ever-popular musical, Jersey Boys, in Manhattan. Ben Vitello, another close friend, shared the evening with us and returned me to Maplewood, where I stayed until take-off on Wednesday morning.

Ben, Allie & Adam after the show

Spring was just getting started in the old home town. The magnolias were magnificent at Martha’s former homestead but the buds were just peeking through the branches at Cheryl and Steve’s house.

Cheryl’s home was, as always, warm and inviting. And, despite all the companies and projects she manages, she always takes time to serve me a splendid breakfast!

You may remember that for the last two years my sojourn “back home” was met with a violent snowstorm. So this year I pushed the trip back a week and missed the white stuff, but managed to hit rain and fierce winds in Manhattan…enough to turn two strong umbrellas inside out while walking in Midtown. Them’s fierce winds, my friend. Make no mistake about it. Maybe next year I’ll go in May. But with climate change you never know.

I spent my last afternoon enjoying a festive reunion with two of my symphony buddies, Mike Schneider, his wife, Tami, and Andy Nagy. For years Mike, Andy, and I held up the second violin section of the Plainfield Symphony. Hah hah. Now they are on their own! We met at an Israeli pizzeria, Pita on Essex, in Millburn. Go figure…But it was terrific!

 

I was overjoyed when another friend, Jackie Herships, whom I met when she was running the organization, Professionals in Media, offered to take me to the airport. She, like Cheryl, go above and beyond the call of duty!

 

Returning to Whidbey Island was like entering Nepal in November, although spring was still ahead of the East Coast. It’s all that rain we entertain every winter. The forsythia had come and gone, but flowering trees, rhododendron, and daffodils abounded. Thank heaven for the return of the sun! But isn’t it about time to move above 60?

I took long walks by the Sound and meandered on the beach at low tide. It was heavenly….

For a week, daughter, Cary, has entertained a cycling friend of hers from Holland, Ian Borwell, whom she met in 1982 through their common interest in the WindCheetah, a human-powered vehicle made in Norwich, England. Cary was living in Holland at the time. This resulted in her buying a WindCheetah and traversing the United States for 10,000 miles in 1985. Another bicycling friend and artist, Stephen McMillan, joined them before returning home to Bellingham.

But the highlight of my return was a sunset dinner at Maxwelton Beach with my friends Don and Anne Zontine, Jerene, and Zangmo, welcoming me back. Naturally, we came equipped with down jackets and heavy blankets!

 

 

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