Traveling to Nepal in January 2016 was a very different experience for me. My biggest challenges weren’t the usual altitude, cold weather, long days hiking or the lack of showers. This trip I struggled most with the ache in my heart.
The dichotomy of Nepal was very prominent this year. All that I love was at its best; hiking lofty ridge lines with unobstructed views of the snowy Himalaya, trail time with Tek, Junga, Bhim, Mingma and Yam; spectacular alpenglow and sunrises on Machapuchare; yaks along the trail; hours looking at Tibetan treasures in Tsoksa’s shop; visiting with old friends in Kathmandu; losing track of time drinking tea and Tibetan carpet shopping; time to read 5 books; quiet time listening to monks chanting in the monastery. In contrast, the ongoing ineffective political leadership and fuel shortage coupled with the after math of the 2015 earthquakes magnified the challenges of life for the Nepali people! Everyone has a story to share and no one is untouched by the impact of the quakes.
There is evidence of the earthquake in Kathmandu; piles of brick rubble in the narrow streets, empty lots where buildings used to be and long 4×4 posts propping up the sides of a house where people continue to live. However, the most obvious change is the lack of people! The streets of Thamel were strangely quiet without the overlay of numerous languages and menagerie of all ages and nationalities of people. I could walk the streets for an hour and not see another foreigner. The mountains were quiet except for the bird song and the distant roar of the river below. The trails and the tea houses were empty (nice for sleeping)!
Despite the hardships, the people never fail to smile and show up every day without complaint and make the best of any situation! Whether it’s a hot water bottle for my sleeping bag, copious popcorn, carrying my pack (ignoring my insistence I can carry it down hill all day), cooking class, or sharing tea they manage to do everything possible to help me. Power was limited in Kathmandu, but Tek never failed to have the cleanest, sharpest clothes. Cooking fuel was scarce and expensive, but Chime’s family treated us to buckwheat pancakes from grain they grew on their Langtang home which is now buried under tons of rock. Janga’s home was “broken” in the earthquake and his family is still living in a tent. Yet, he hiked one day and traveled 14 hours on a bus to meet me at the Kathmandu bus station. Tsoksa needs to be present in shop to catch any business that may come in. Yet she stayed home to help me do laundry, host me and teach me how to make momos. Everywhere people needed help, but they always make me feel blessed to spend time with them!
Foreign aid is trickling out to the people who need it the most. People in remote areas are still living under tarps in the snow. It is winter in the himal and people are without basics such as warm clothing, shelter and food. We learned that government imposed barriers are preventing many people from receiving much of the international aid! Mountain Spirits Fund coordinated with Tora Akita, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita (National Geographic Mountaineer of the Year), WeHelpNepal, CORE International and Himalayan aid to get help directly to people. Pete was able to accompany them on a delivery of blankets into the hard hit Sindhupalchowk region.
Personally, I was overwhelmed and discouraged by the magnitude of the needs of the people! I felt helpless facing every shop owner and porter without work. People were burning garbage on the streets in Kathmandu to stay warm. Women were cooking in open fires on rooftops because there was no kerosene for stoves. Then I realized every cup of tea, prayer flag, carpet and piece of handmade jewelry I bought was aid. I spent one week hiking with Kim and Pete, and then went trekking again with Janga for another week. It gave Janga work and provided income for every tea house family we stayed with. I was very grateful to be able to help one of our porters, Bhim, by donating the money I received from coworkers at Confluence Health. Bhim’s son is 18 months old and receiving treatment for bilateral retinoblastoma. He has had one eye removed and they are hopefull his recent chemotherapy will save his remaining eye. Bhim and his wife live at the hospital to cook food, do laundry and provide care for the boy. He has not worked in a year.
And I listened. I listened to their stories; where they were when the earthquake hit; how scared they were during the aftershocks; the loved ones who died; the homes they lost; their absence of income. I heard their acceptance of the situation, their appreciation for any assistance, their joy in seeing me, and their hope for the future!
Nepal needs life to return to normal. For many, that means Nepal needs people to return to Nepal! So many Nepalese depend on the trekking and climbing business to support their families. Tourism is the biggest source of incomin in Nepal. Go now-Nepal is safe for travelers! The hotels, restaurants, trekking routes are open. All the reasons to go to Nepal are still there! The people and culture are what make Nepal special. I learned on my first trip that you may go to Nepal to see the mountains, but you return to see the people. Traveling with Mountain Spirits is always a treat! Kim and Pete’s experience in Nepal and the dedication of the Nepali staff made this trip as good as my previous eleven!
Machapuchare is a sacred spiritual site to the Nepalese. This holy mountain was visible every
day I was in the mountains and during many of the days I was in Pokhara. The summit resembles a fish tail and that is what many call the mountain. I saw the mountain light drape the summit in warm colors at sunrise and sunset. I watched clouds form around the fishtail and blow off like feathers in the wind. And I saw the fish tail emerge from the clouds and transform into a heart. I came home filled by the hearts in Nepal! Plan a trip with Mountain Spirits now. You are guaranteed to receive far more than you pay for!!