Journey to the Himalayas: Humanity, Nature, Eternity!

A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. – Lao Tzu

I read the quote above somewhere just around the time I was making final preparations for my trek to the Everest Base Camp a few weeks ago. I resonated well with me as I have always wanted to take this trip but just didn’t find the right time or space to have it. I was either tied up at work, off season, not enough preparations or something just being out of place. This time however, the mountains had called and I answered. Everything had just managed to be perfectly aligned and I could finally make this trip. I made the necessary preparations and bookings, got my gear and took off for Nepal. I was nervous, yet excited. I asked myself if I was going to be able to do this successfully without any major side effects. I was terrified of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) but most of all, my heart was already on the mountains. I couldn’t wait to get there, to listen to my thoughts, to see the wonders of nature, to set my eyes on the highest point on earth My experience was threefold.  Humanity! Nature! Eternity!

Visiting Temples in Kathmandu

Humanity!

There’s something about small cities which you really can’t describe. It’s the little things you don’t see but feel, the noises you hear, the harmony in chaos and the most of all the acceptance of every type of human as just barely a human and nothing else. There’s a certain lingering smell in the air which you don’t care about because you are very much focused on the energy and vibes you are getting from the people passing by. It’s warm, it’s nice and there are people from every walk of life here living in perfect harmony. You have the corporate type and the progressive type all in one place chatting away on a common topic with hearty laughs. There were those dressed as Pirates and Rastafarians, the hippies and spiritual gurus, talking to the young backpacking students about life from experience yet did so in a way as not to impose any views of one group to another. Organic conversations which started with one thing, took a totally different direction and grew into an uncontrollable discussions about love and passion then finally settled into everyone just looking into the distance imagining what could be, how beautiful and much happier the world could be if all what we had just discussed could actually be transformed into action. The daydreaming will last only for a few seconds until one person breaks the silence by affirming with a confident proclamation that yes, we are indeed living life the way we want- mostly! It was nothing like I had ever experienced before. I had a conversation with a girl who was tattooed all over right up to her face. In the past she was the type whom once I saw, will cross to the other side of the road. But here it felt like a level playing field and I was drawn to her and wanted to hear her story. She loved psytrance, travelling and many other things like me or any other person. She was by far one of the most intelligent persons I had met as I assessed while talking to her. I told her in a different place and setting I probably would have run away from her and she laughed saying she would understand why. I loved this, I had built a bridge, one which I intend will stay standing with everyone who looked like her. That’s what being open is like for me, breaking down those protective walls we build just because people look, talk and act differently from us. There were many such encounters and the best one was  with a pirate. I assumed he was Rastafarian because of the music he was listening to and the way he wore his hair. He was from Colombia and when I wrongly assumed he was Rastafarian because I wanted to ask him questions about it, he laughed and said no he wasn’t- he was a pirate! An artistic one at that too. He had his art shop in Brussels where he made and sold his craft, he enjoyed traveling as much as any one of us and loved the Rastafarian way of life but it was too hard for him to abide to the rules of a true Rastafarian but found out he could become a pirate by borrowing what he loved from there and incorporating into his new found life of a pirate where he was fully accepted.  He spoke a lot about things being organic, how life shouldn’t be a specific set of goals and events but more about finding peace and love in whatever you do. He had found his peace. He sure did clarify he wasn’t the type of pirate who stole ships and terrorized the seas. He was the type that waded through life like an open sea going wherever the current pushed him. He lived a life of accepting the circumstances and working with them. This had always worked for him. This was life in the city Kathmandu. Up in the mountains it was another story.

Thamel, Kathmandu

My first encounter with the mountain people was a few months ago when I was trekking in the Ladahk, India. The experience was so rich and fulfilling and contributed to me taking this trip as well. I met my Sherpa a few minutes after taking the daring flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. A delightful guy who accompanied me and helped carry my backpack for most of the trek. He was from Lukla and had his family there with him. We had some tea as he talked me through the route we were going to be taking and what to expect. I think I was very lucky for two reasons- having him as a guide and not have to go in a group. This meant we could be very flexible with the trekking and could do as we pleased to gain more time if we wanted to. We got up right after the tea and started our trek to the next village.

Going up to Gorakshep (5270m) from Lobuche (4940m)

Over the following days right up to reaching the base camp I learnt or confirmed what I already knew about life on the mountains. It was a simple and effective life. They didn’t waste things. Everything served a purpose. The yaks helped carry food and other things to the villages at high altitudes. They provided milk for cheese to the people. Their faeces was in turn used as fuel for cooking and keeping the house warm at night when temperatures went down to a minus. They were never killed up here and when they died of old age, their skin was then used to make blankets and clothes to keep the people warm. The people themselves were very lovely. Namaste is the general greeting word here with your hands together up close to the center of your chest. They greeted you with a warm smile all the time and you could tell it came from the heart. The children were happy seeing climbers and trekkers going past their homes and stuck out their arms for hi fives. It was interesting seeing them sometimes work in their farms or leading the animals back into the small enclosures made for them. I noticed nothing was random about the way they did things here. It was a well thought out process which wasn’t only done because it had to be done, but because it was useful. There was also an element of grace with which everything was done here. Living gracefully and purposefully was a way of life up here. There was meaning to everything. I can’t describe it all but sometimes you get to a place and words can’t describe what you see, you just feel it and you know  what is going on. As we got higher the settlements became more and more scarce or sparsely populated but nothing about the people changed. They lived a happy life up here free from all types of pollution, wastefulness or competition. It was a simple life of meaning. It was quiet, it was peaceful, it was natural.

One of many hanging bridges on the trek.

Nature!

I live in the desert so escaping to somewhere green is sometimes a must to refresh my senses of other sights and sounds of nature. Nepal had everything I needed. I only recently started trekking and mostly around places without a lot of vegetation. In Nepal however it was twofold; below and above the tree line. Below the tree line you would breathe in freshly made oxygen from the trees. You could hear the birds chirping away in the trees. I occasionally sighted really massive birds which I had never seen before which left me in awe. There was, almost constantly, the sound of a river flowing down in the valley, together with the wind blowing through keeping me refreshed throughout the climb or descent. The sounds of the yaks and donkeys coming through with supplies and hearing their bells getting louder and louder as they grew closer. This usually meant you had to be ready to give way when they got very close and also a time for you to take a water break which was always much needed. During this time all you had to do was raise your head high up in any direction and be marvelled by the sights of the mountains. What I noticed was that the tracks were  natural tracks, they hadn’t cut through land or trees to make the path shorter or simpler for us. Everything was naturally forming, or as some will say – organic. I also got to see the rhododendron which is the national flower or Nepal in full bloom in several places. As we climbed higher the trees disappeared slowly and we were soon left only with the sounds of the flowing rivers and the winds blowing though.

Tree hugging while coming down from Tengboche

The trees going away gave birth to the sight of the real mountains. If anything had been obscured earlier, it all came into full view now. I am lucky to have experienced some of the most stunning views on the planet and none really can compare with the others- But what I saw here was way more astonishing than what I had ever imagined.

View of Ama Dablam while descending Kallapathar.

Mountains are just something I am drawn to every now and then they set my soul on fire and I run to them. It’s hard to describe a mountain. You really can’t compare it’s size to anything, you can’t describe it’s beauty but you can stand there and be amazed at how perfect it looks with all it’s imperfections. It’s rough edges, slippery slopes, deadly curves and it’s intimidating size. They were everywhere in sight. Some of them had names because they each had a story to tell, they meant something to the people of the country. Like the Ama Dablam for example. Ama Dablam translates to mother’s necklace, named so because the mountain side descend sharply a few hundred meters then spread out at the sides like a cloak covering and protecting the other mountains besides it, and the people from the freezing winds from the other higher  mountains, mimicking the action of a mother protecting her child between her arms. This mountain was almost always in sight every day and by far the best mountain I have seen till date. I felt really connected to it for some reason and looking up at it every time during the trek filled my heart and soul with warmth and lots of smiles. Up here too was mostly silent, you would occasionally hear the sounds of of glaciers breaking away and tumbling down the sides of the mountains with a thundering sound which will make you wonder if you were safe! But I had an excellent guide who could read the mountains and always led me along the right path. Trekking above the tree line was hard. The higher we went the less oxygen we had and the tougher it became. But all you had to do was listen to yourself and go at your pace, not rushing to get the next village. I was certain each day I woke up I was going to make it to the next stop and that no matter how tough it was I just had to stick to one step at a time. Like I said before, it was hard, one of the toughest things I have had to endure both mentally and physically but something just kept me going every day with a very simple plan- one step at a time! It was much like life, difficult paths, steep and tough climbs but you always had to choice to focus on something better- the mountain views, there were never going to move no matter how much your cursed them or hated them for making life so difficult. But they will offer you the most spectacular views you may have ever seen. I made the reference to everyday life because sometimes we go through life cursing every damn day for arriving, hating what is served to us, wishing it was different whereas we could decide to take what we consider as bad and work with it to improve our lives. The things we call or refer to as obstacles are actually there to teach us, to make us grow. And most of all, we don’t have to go through life carry excess baggage, pack light, take only what you need or necessary. This too is sometimes hard as we really don’t know when we need what and don’t want to be left wanting. But again, I have learnt when you really need something it comes along in various forms. Trekking through nature makes you see things from a different perspective, it’s why the sherpas have survived for generations with so little (according to outsiders). They only take what they need, not what they want. I left a lot of baggage up there, not physical items, but stuff I been carrying in my head and heart and I felt very light and each time I reached the top of a mountain or pass, I opened my arms wide and shouted everything I no longer needed out of my system!

View of Ama Dablam after crossing Cho-La Pass (5360m)

Eternity

Have you ever felt out of place? I am sure we all have in some way. What we then do is try to make ourselves fit in that environment because we need some form of acceptance to continue to thrive here. Nepal however gave off a different kind of energy. I didn’t feel or see the need to be accepted, I just had to be me and let the cosmic do the rest. I came here with a goal and it was one which I knew didn’t depend on me. I needed help in all forms, spiritual, physical and mental. That was the package and I was just one of the blocks to make it complete. I had chosen a route which was going to test me physically and mentally. I woke up every morning with excitement, even when it meant I had to wake up as early as 4am and trek in the dark. Sleeping at night wasn’t easy as well. I could on a good day sleep for 5 hours maximum. The rest of the time I would lay awake with my thoughts or having really vivid dreams. If and when I did manage to sleep, I made sure my head rested on the same spot on my pillow as anywhere else on the pillow was frozen. If I moved one centimetre in either side,  I would  hit a frozen side which would keep me awake. But it was fun, pain was part of the process.

At the top of Gokyo-Ri (5330m) watching the sun rise over Mt Everest.

I remember the morning I woke up at 3:30am to climb Gokyo Ri which stands at 5350m just to watch the sun rise over Mt Everest. It took me 4 hours to make a vertical ascent of 600m to the top. It was painful and tough and I asked myself several times why I was doing this. The crazy thing though is that when you finally get to the top all of that pain fades away as you watch the sun just coming over the highest point on earth. Going down took another 3 hours and on the same day trekked to another village 2 hours away over a glacier to then wake up the next morning and climb up another peak Cho La Pass at 5450 to go across yet another glacier .  No matter how painful it was during the trek or climb up these peaks the day always ended well. The feeling of reaching the top, which is one of the  goals for the day, is not something I can describe or put into words. I will get there and just shout and pray and laugh and feel light. The pain always vanished when you got to the top, it made it worthwhile. The views too were spectacular and the images and experience is one I will carry with me forever.

At the top of Cho-La pass (5360m) with my guide Sudip.

I reached Gorak Shep with a massive headache from exhaustion. Climbing Gokyo Ri and Cho La pass merely a day before and then heading to Gorak Shep for the finale had taken a toll on my body and whatever energy reserves I had. But i was determined to reach the Everest Base camp that same day. I know I was pushing myself, but I was doing so within what I considered a healthy limit. I had told my guide if he noticed any signs of things going south with me he should turn me around immediately. Altitude sickness is tricky, but you have to observe and know what to look for as signs. I was confident I wasn’t sick so I had the green light to go.

Reached Everest Base Camp (5364m) with my flag!

From Gorak Shep to Everest Base camp was a 2 or 3 hour walk depending on your speed. I was taking it easy and the camp grew closer and closer with each step. That’s all I had to do, one step at a time and I was going to get there. It was a fairly levelled walk and trail. I had this plan on my mind to reach the base camp and do a dance around the mark where it says Everest Base Camp. I could see it from a distance and was already filled with emotions. It was just a few dozen meters ahead. As a drew closer the emotions heightened. I took out my phone and gave it to my guide to record me as I was going to dance there. 10 meters away and I felt like I was not on this earth anymore, I reached the spot. But instead of breaking down into a weird dance, my knees gave up and collapsed from under me, they fell to the ground. My upper body leaned itself forward, my head was bowing! I was right there on top of the pile of stones, weak and happy. I had reached the placed I had only dreamed of reaching and without warning I was bowing down to it in prayer. Everything was automatic from then onward, I was filled with emotions of love and peace. I said a prayer for the world, I screamed at the top of my lungs, I had been victorious, my headache had vanished completely as the hormones had taken over my being. I lay there just marvelling at what I had done, I was there for about half an hour, but it felt like eternity. I was floating on the clouds, nothing else mattered, I was dreaming yet awake. I was brought back to my senses by the sounds of falling ice from the Khumbu Icefall- an avalanche! I turned and looked around and notices it was close to the camp and wished there was no one crossing at that time. The base camp was still being set up, preparations for the climbing season were ongoing and tents were being propped up everywhere. Temperatures were now dropping rapidly, we had to go back. The next day I was going to go up Kallapatthar.

At the top of Kallapathar(5545m) with Mt Everest in the background.

Mt Everest! I see you!

This is me after hiking up Kala Patthar, the closest you can get to Mt. Everest without going across the base camps! At an altitude of about 5545m you get less than 50% of breathable oxygen, your body is tormented as it finds the energy from all other storage sources you may have and nearly shuts down your body. This is where mental toughness takes over. Each step you take draws out what you think is the last bit of energy you may have and you push a little further and further and further till you reach the top. I’m not forgetting that up to this point you must have also gradually let your body become used to the low oxygen levels at this altitude but bit this was hard. But once you reach the top and see this wonder, everything fades away, the pain, the suffering, the doubts all go away and a chemical reaction takes place in your brain, endorphins and serotonin are released and all you have left is the feeling of flying without wings yet you are still on earth and for those few moments, nothing else matters. You have become king of your world and the feeling is everlasting…but the mountain reminds you of it’s presence and greatness and snaps you out of your trance and you start feeling you feet on the ground, the blood pumping in your veins right up to your head and the terrible wind chill of minus 14 degrees as it was on this day. You are left with one thing to do, bow to the mountain and descend, for it is not your place, it is home to the gods and you are but human.