A Magnificent Himalayan Farewell (K)

Trip Start Jan 05, 2010
Trip End May 06, 2010

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Tent, Hotel Mount View

Flag of India  , Himāchal Pradesh,
Thursday, March 18, 2010

       He stopped abruptly on the trail about twenty feet ahead of me.  With a smile he reached his hand for mine and said "Lets reach the top together."  With a red face and heaving chest, I thought back to this morning when I energetically tied my boots, shouldered my pack and said "Man with only a twenty-five lb pack I'll practically fly up the mountain! This will be cake!"   I looked behind me trying to find the general area where we began this "easy jaunt" 6 hours and 3000 vertical feet ago.  Hmmmph. Cake. With an ironic grimace I set my mind to the last 50 vertical feet of the mountain.  My body knew that a cup of chai and delicious food was imminent and so began to exaggerate the feelings of thirst and hunger. 

      This was the difference I realized, between "trekking" and "backpacking."  When your trekking, your reward for a hard days climb comes in the form of luxuries like: real milk in your tea, a soft cushion for your sore gluttimus maximi, and a plate of yummy food that an unknown mule, not you, carried up the mountain.  When your backpacking, your reward comes in the form of the deep biological satisfaction that you can carry everything you need to fall deeply asleep, well fed and body aching and wake up with that distinct feeling of aliveness and awe that sets you to wondering why your house is full of so many things... 

    Up that last switch back and then Bam! The #@*ing mountains assaulted my very eyes.  The only other time I remember having this feeling was when Alicia and I were driving to Mt. Rainer and we came across a blind corner in the road and suddenly the mountain was just there with absolutely no warning. We actually felt scared for a moment before giving way to open-mouthed elation.  By the next turn in the road that faced the mountain, the clouds and fog had swallowed Rainer whole, jealously guarding her stark beauty and we were left wondering if we imagined those strange frightened moments where the mountain loomed gorgeously above the blanket of green hills.

      So I blinked, expecting these Himalayan beauties to disappear.  I just stared, dumbly repeating "I just can't believe how beautiful it is," as I sipped a steaming cup of chai and glared at my camera (whose ineffectual attempts at capturing the stunning monstrosity left much to be desired). As we set up our tent in the rapidly cooling late afternoon, I kept stealing glances at the snow covered beast behind me, worried that by tomorrow the clouds would obscure the mesmerizing panorama.  After we set the tent up I couldn't decide whether to stare at the colorful sunset or the illuminated mountains.  I spent the whole time anxiously running back and forth like an idiot with my camera, trying to capture the indescribable beauty and ending up erasing 9000 of the same exact photos. Sigh.

      The evening was cold and the pleasant heat of the campfire, the lemon ginger tea and the noodle soup sent us to bed early -  drowsy and content.  When I crawled out of the tent to pee in the middle of the night, I was surprised to still be able to see the mountains.  I double checked for the moon, though I knew it to be a dark moon that night, and wondered if it was possible that the mountains were awash in starlight.  The idea that stars (which may not even exist anymore) could be illuminating this mountain range overwhelmed me enough to shake my sleepy head and crawl back into the tent, bewildered but happy.


       The next day found us hiking/scrambling/sloshing our way up a snowy trail to the Laka Got glacier.  Less and less oxygen and 1500 vertical feet later, we came upon a shelter dug into the snow with a blue tarped roof.  Inside was the man/mountain goat who had spryly passed us on the way up saying something about opening his cafe that very day for the first time this season.  We had exchanged confused glances. Surely he does not mean that he has a cafe on top of a glacier?  Well surely he had and again we drank a steaming cup of chai while gaping at the view around us with a group of young Indian professionals about our age that we had met at Triund.  The view was even better when shared with new friends.  It is amazing how quickly people can strike up an easy friendship in the mountains. I think it has something to do with your senses being joyfully overwhelmed and needing to communicate with other humans to avoid your soul brimming over too fast. From this vantage point, on the rocks that jutted out from the deep snow, we could actually see the depths of the mountains.  The clouds looked like streaks of snow that the gods forgot to tidy after they passed their hands up the thighs of the snowy peaks. Did I mention that it was gorgeous?

         What is it about snowy mountains that is so stunning?  Is it the rarity of those three stark colors without gradient - the deep blue, the pure white and the dark gray edged against each other so severely?  Is it that you know you can't survive there or maybe even get there at all and so have the insatiable attraction of a forbidden place?  Or maybe it is the relief that you are so small that if all you ever do is witness the breathtaking beauty of this world, that it will be enough?

       We came to the Himalayas by way of Dharamsala (Mcleod Ganj), the home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.  Our day hikes to the small mountain villages were as lovely as can be.   Tibetan prayer flags criss-crossing each other and waving about in the pleasant breeze were the only indicators of the temples and meditation centers hidden in the forest. The forests looked so much like Oregon forests that our botanical natures were being constantly ignited.  There were two things that excited us the most:

 1) Instead of Madrone providing fruiting, flowering, and sensually barked relief from the coniferous haze, Rhododendron trees abounded!  Not bushes or shrubs mind you.  I am talking big-ass trees!  The flowers were at the height of their season -  robustly crimson and pink, some delicately shed along the path (as if they meant to provide the perfect setting for the red-robed Tibetan monks that scurried to and fro in the forest).  Again we became monk chasers, setting the color accent with the rhodie flowers on our cameras and creeping around the forest after the monks. Creepers, I know.

2) I know that this will be shocking.  We also had a difficult time reconciling this bizarre sight. Ready?

Monkeys in pine trees! In hemlocks! In firs! Forsooth! On our full day climb up the mountain, I would sometimes drift into an oxygen deprived reverie and forget that I was in the Himalayas, the landscape looked so much like Oregon. But then poof! a monkey would materialize in a hemlock. A wave of irrational jealousy that India has monkeys would sometimes grip me. I admit to having naughty ecological thoughts about introducing monkeys to North American forests. Don't tell anyone.

   After spending some days in the mountains,  Tim and I found ourselves feeling refreshed and happy. Now don't think that I don't hear your sarcastic toned "Duh - you were in the mountains you crunchy granola mountain nerds."  I guess we could have foreseen being overwhelmed by the congested polluted cities of India and feel incredible relief when we got to the mountains.  We did give the cities our best shot though...

   My mind is a jumble of thoughts and emotions as we prepare to head back to Delhi and catch our flight to Greece.  I search through my memories to find a reference for this feeling that feels vaguely familiar.  And then it comes to me that this leaving feels similar to the experience of leaving a significant other.  As you begin to walk away, there is a part of you that feels buoyant, excited to discover or re-discover parts of your self that you compromised away in the relationship and glad to be free of the heavy sadness of unrealized hopes and love that you just couldn't make work.  But there is the other part of you that is happy to know that you will never truly be free of them, that you have been forever changed by the trials that made you grow and by the joys you accumulated together.  I am so glad that for the rest of my life, certain smells, sounds and movements will take me to India, even if they take me there to remember how difficult some aspects of being here have been and why.

    For the last few days I have been working with some Tibetan refugees in a conversational English class.  It has been an incredibly joyful and painful experience for me.  I could not have guessed that on our first day, after finding out that I am trained in the ecology/biology field, they would ask me questions like, "how can you biologically explain why Michael Jackson is a good dancer?" (I swear this truly happened) and "If the skin and blood of a child come from the mother and the bones come from the father then who passes on the soul to the child?(to which I good-naturedly replied to the monk asking this question - Isn't that your department?").  After I explained the best I could about children inheriting every gene from both parents, the rest of the group began to bombard me with genetic questions in broken English.  This session ended with me making Punnet squares and explaining Mendelian genetics, complete with a quiz at the end that they all did perfectly on. Crazy right?

       I had some of the best conversation of my life with these folks.  One of them had to do with home. Knowing that this is a loaded subject, but so curious about it, I cautiously asked members of the group if they will stay in Dharamsala or eventually try to relocate to another place in India.  One woman exactly my age said politely "We will go home to Tibet of course, there is no other place that we want to be. His Holiness The Dalai Lama will succeed in getting us back home."   And I fought as hard as I could to keep the wail from escaping my lips when the full realization hit me that some people may never get to go back home.  Imagine I could never go back home? My America, with its deserts, clean rivers, snowy mountains, bustling cities, protected wilderness, my New York, my Oregon, my two families and my friends, my people with their outspoken and sometimes ridiculous opinions and every other good and irritating aspect of my homeland. 

      Though I am extremely excited for the European chapter of my travels to begin, these last few days in India I have been dreaming of home by the grace of India's generous lessons.  Gratitude, some thicker skin, the power of humor and memories that expand and contract my heart with unrivaled quickness - will follow me home.  Farewell to the beautiful paradox that is India... 
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Marian on

I can't stop crying at this one.... all those thoughts about home and about the lessons learned in a relationship you must leave, and the wailing wrongness of some people never being able to go home...
and then the beauty...the stunning enormous beauty of those big mountains.
I felt like this at my first glimpse of the Italian Alps. ("Alpi" in Italian). The scale is so ....so ego-shattering,in the best of ways. Thank you again and again for sharing your journeys and thoughts and pictures! too, with us. I miss the hell out of you but also feel like you are so close, in these missives.
big hugs and safe travels... Greece! Blue water! olives!...and I can't wait to hear what else!

Raveesh on

HI Tim & Kerissa
You certainly know how to give words to your Experience. Keep the good work up.

Mrs. Garrett on

Holla back you creepy monk chaser! Loved this one. The starlit, illuminated night-time Himalayas.... Your eloquent words and astounding imagery give us the opportunity to be right there with you. -Much gratitude.

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