A Magnificent Himalayan Farewell (K)
Trip Start Jan 05, 2010
23Trip End May 06, 2010
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Where I stayed
Tent, Hotel Mount View
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...