Loosing your Destination to find your Path
My entire life could be summed up with this phrase: “Oh My God! I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into!” This is pretty much the definition of an adventure. An adventure requires going beyond your limits and your known experience.
I wanted to try something different when I was choosing a trek in Nepal. There are three major areas that the Kingdom of Nepal offers to wandering foreigners. The most popular is the “Annapurna Trek” in western central Nepal. It’s fantastic by all reports. The second most common is the “Everest Base Camp Trek”. Naturally hiking to Everest has a romantic appeal. The last is a little known and rarely traveled path to Tibet called “Langtang”.
Langtang, a valley winding through small Himalayan villages and leading to an ancient mysterious Monastery of Kudzon Gompa at 12000 feet on the border of Tibet. Hmmmm, sound appealing. I pride myself on ‘going native’ and try to rework the maps to end up in some mischief along the way. Sometimes I’m a little too successful at this.
My girlfriend Kirsten and I purchased a map at a long trekking store in Kathmandu and tried to come up with a plan. It turned out there were some very remote and untraveled paths even in Langtang (an approved trekking area). We would begin at a small village called Dhunche. It appeared that there were a few paths from this small Himalayan rock village that head the back way to the Langtang Khola (river) and follow it to the Tibetan border. Perfect!
DAY ONE: THE HIMALAYAN EXPRESS
We took a rickety local bus from the obscure Kathmandu station (no more then a little shack) at 6AM the next morning and began the slow winding accent toward the mountains. This part of the journey took 12 hours through numerous police check points (to look at our trekking permits) and continue through some dusty small villages.
The bus was a colorful mobile shrine. On the front was a painting the Eyes of Buddha, Mantras (sacred words), and the Hindu Elephant Deity Ganesh. He has many attributes, but protect of traveler and remover of obstacles is his primary power. What could be better for a bus? Inside the driver had photos of various Hindu saints Ramana Maharishi, Sai Baba, plus a few Deities for balance: Laxsmi & Krishna.
We were smashed in with a few too many people who also brought along their chickens, pigs, and many other items from a Kathmandu Valley shopping spree. It was one of the world’s scariest roads: one lane, dirt, with 1000 foot drops two feet from edge of the bus with no guard rail. If you could brave a peak it was enchanting with rice fields terracing every hill. Prayer flags were adorning small stupa temples places magically at the top of each small rounded peak. This was a great initiation into to trust your destiny when you have absolutely no control over it.
It was dusk when we arrived in the Himalayan Village of Dhunche. The bus driver was incredulous about our departure in this small remote stop and that made us a little nervous too. A cold shiver of anticipation rippled up my spine as I left the security of my hard bus seat and entered the rock village to find a guest house for the night.
We were the only travelers in town and the friendly locals directed us to what someday (when they finish building it) might be a guess house. Fortunately, the bare concrete block room in the construction site had a sort of hard futon bed with thin sheets and rock like pillows. We paid a dollar for it and then became painfully aware of the inadequacies of our gear.
You see, we were not planners. We’re spontaneous adventures. We had a couple of summer weight sleeping bags, sneakers and some thick Yak wool sweaters. My jacket was from an army surplus and my backpack from a thrift store. We were not the geared up olympic mountain team that we would see later on the same trail. We were just a couple of people realizing what kind of gear they would like to buy when they get back!
For some bizarre reason, the Himalayan houses do not have a chimney. Instead, to stay warm in the winter they fill the room with smoke and have strategically placed holes in the side wall for the smoke to blow out. Not terribly efficient or cozy. Honestly, I don’t get it. I daydreamed about bring the new technology of chimney here someday. What a revolutionary vision!
Our room didn’t have an hearth or fire smoke, but they had already created the holes in the walls so the frigid night breeze could refresh and invigorate us (practically to death). Needless to say, some vital innovation was needed. We put on all the clothes we had and laid both sleep bags on top of ourselves to try and stay warm. It was mid November and we were at an elevation of 6138 feet.
As night descended in earnest it got dark. This was no ordinary dark. It was darker then dark. It was a dark that needs new words to describe the absent of light. There was no one, no where, with even a candle burning. Mountain people go to bed early and by 8PM there was an omnipresent silence and darkness. That’s when we discovered our flashlight didn’t work.
It was a cheap small travel flashlight and somehow it got turned on in the backpack which drained the battery. I guess you could call this the flip side of spontaneity.
What to do? I thought we could get by without a flashlight, until an hour later when Kirsten announced she had to pee. This improvisational concrete room could not by any means offer a toilet near by. In fact, I don’t believe there was one within the building at all.
We never realize in our cozy daily life the amazing creativity of the mind and it’s mystical capabilities until times of crisis. Kirsten bravely got out of bed and somehow found what I can only guess must have been a paint mixing can and did the necessary. It truly was a small miracle.
Hence forth, we carried a new official trekking plastic water bottle known as the pee bottle. It was definite more essential then the flashlight or all manner of other useless accessory gear. Even today, I doubt if it is offered by REI camping stores, but I can assure you all experienced Himalayan women travelers have created a portable potty.
To be continued in a few days…