West of Everest: a Himalayan experience
a journey around the world
Life is either a great adventure or nothing at all, Helen Keller has communicated. I was fresh from four years of college and summers canoe guiding when the opportunity came to teach English and agriculture. Okay, I am not writing about being a yogi and meditating in a cave. I am not really talking about 'enlightenment' though the experience opened my eyes to many things.
A unique experience takes a few years to digest. Maybe more than a few. Different than the diet of lentils and rice eaten with my right hand, water buffalo milk or yogurt, clarified butter on spinach, roasted corn or other vegetables and fruits in season; mango, guava, oranges....
Three days walk from a road; a long trek through mountains and valleys. No electricity, running water from a spring coming out of the hillside. A thatched roof house. Monsoon rains and muddy trails. Images of monkeys in the jungle and goats herded to graze. Sounds of flutes echoing and drums pounded with Nepali folk songs.
Learning the language, learning a culture, learning a climate and terrain and people. Reading by lantern light, no television; but a radio with stations like BBC and Radio Sri Lanka, and Chinese stations about Peace and Progress. Roosters crowing, ducks quacking, hawks flying, vultures gather around a dead animal...
Fish tail mountain over 22,000 feet
Where is Nepal?
In the jungle are snakes and bears and peacocks; I miss their sound. To the south is the dusty Terai, or plains stretching to north India. To the north the Mahabharat, or Great Indian Range of the Himalayas and stretching beyond that, Dhaulagiri; a 26,000 foot pyramid floating like a dream, Macchapuchre, or Fishtail Mountain hovering above Pokhara along with Annapurna; many peaks over 23,000.
The latitude of Florida, but four thousand feet up, a temperate climate with jasmine and bamboo cold winter winds, dry windy fire seasons and the life giving monsoon, turning quiet streams into muddy raging torrents filled with rolling boulders and isolating villages with limited roads and bridges.
The monsoon comes from the east, with lightning and thunder crashing in the mountains. Things are lush and green and slippery and moldy. An umbrella is standard fare and sandals or shoes might have leeches on them. There are hungry wild barking dogs and lots of butterflies and big flying beetles and even scorpions to watch out for.
How did I get here? By 747 halfway around the world, places like Tehran Iran and Delhi and Beirut, Lebanon and Istanbul Turkey and Frankfurt Germany and London's Heathrow airport. Flying across the Atlantic with northern lights from New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago... switching planes in Delhi and taking a flight into Kathmandu, Nepal.
How would I continue my journey after over two years? Places like Bangkok, Thailand, Hong Kong, Manila, Guam, Honolulu, Vancouver, and taking a train across Canada in the dead of winter to the healing hot springs of Banff, Alberta; then on to Winnipeg, Manitoba and beyond.
There were also trips into India, taking a train third class across Uttar Pradesh towards Bihar in the direction of Patna. There were also bus trips in Nepal, air flights near Mount Everest and to Pokhara and down to the Terai town of Butwal by bus. There were hill towns like Tansen and valley towns like Ridi Bazaar; there were lakes in Pokhara and elephants and tigers in the Terai jungles.
Map of Nepal
- JimiSir an American Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal
The Peace Corps in not in Nepal at this time.
What did I learn?
What did I learn in my two plus years in the Himalayas? The word Himalaya means abode of the snow. The word Kathmandu means wooden temple, a temple made from the wood of one tree. That Nepali and Hindi have the same Sanskrit roots, or Devanagari script.
I learned that books are precious in areas where they are not so available. I learned that a walking stick helps when you are on mountain trails. I learned to stash clothing at a hotel where I could catch a bus so I wouldn't have to carry it a long distance.
I learned the value of clean water, an appreciation for health and that I could survive without a television. This was before laptops, computers, the internet, cellphones or even credit cards (at least I never had one). I learned the value of writing letters and getting mail. I learned a little of a new language, Nepali. I learned to listen better. I learned a little about an old culture, about the road to Tibet with trade in salt and potatoes. I learned about rice paddies and plowing by oxen and making rope and baskets by hand.
I learned a little about Hindi Cinema music and wild designs on buses and wild pigs wandering back alleys and cobblers who made boots. I learned about blacksmiths that worked with metal and tailors who sewed shirts. I learned about British English and how Nepal had never been a colony of Great Britain. I learned to watch wildlife in the jungle and watch sunsets over Pakistan and Afghanistan.
After twenty seven months I learned about saying goodbye. That was hard. It involved leaving a lot of students and friends. I learned the value of walking. I learned a little about balance. I learned how nice to speak English with a native speaker.
I learned a lot more than all that, but enough for now. The world indeed is round, some 24,000 miles or so and it did work to start from one side and end up on the other and finally end up back where I started. Pretty cool. :)
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