Taking my time to make a point...
05.09.2012 - 05.09.2012
Traveling to the major tourist sites in Nepal reminds me, in a small way, of visiting a large, spread out Disneyland for grown-ups. I suppose the tone was set at my first stop, in Lumbini: the birthplace of Buddha, where nearly two dozen countries have built large, extravagant monasteries patterned after their native Buddhist architectural styles. There is definitely some one-upmanship going on as each new cloister is built, and the effect of having an eclectic collection of exaggerated and colorfully outlandish monasteries all clustered together, coupled with the admission charge for Buddha’s official birth spot/concrete-pond-next-to-a-flag-covered-tree, gives the entire complex the feeling of being a large Buddhist-flavored theme park.
Spread around Nepal is all manner of adventure sports and other adrenaline-inducing pursuits. Trekking, mountain climbing, bungee jumping, canyoning, river rafting, paragliding, zip-lining, and going on jungle safari are just some of the options available, if you don’t mind taking bus trips or plane flights that are occasionally even more dangerous and thrilling than what you are headed to. Sure, you have to travel a lot farther in between attractions, but the way the Nepali entrepreneurs are setting up shop to usher ever more tourists through each adventure activity reminds me a bit of going on a ride, like say “Splash Mountain.” A snapshot of you screaming in blissful terror after flinging yourself off a rickety bridge towards your death and dismemberment at the bottom of a gorge 500 feet below is available for an extra charge, naturally.
Of course, these are not amusement park rides meant to resemble what the trappings of an adventurous lifestyle might feel like if you lived one, but are, in fact, the real deal simply made more accessible to the paying public. Many of these “rides” are legitimately dangerous and every year, a number of unlucky tourists, (and locals,) are seriously hurt or killed. During my stay in Nepal alone, several people were buried in a landslide - including some Russian tourists, a solo Dutch woman was found beheaded on the Lang Tang trek, a tiger ate someone in Chitwan National Park, an elephant broke a German girl’s hip in half with his trunk in Bardia National Park, and an Agni Air plane crashed near Jomsom, killing fifteen people, and injuring six. Mt. Everest has managed to produce many high-profile deaths over the years people have attempted to summit it, and this year six climbers were killed while I was on my way up to Base Camp and four more had already perished before I even started.
On the final leg of day one’s trek, I came around a rocky corner cut into the mountain high above the valley floor and the rushing river. A half dozen shaggy brown yaks were ambling slowly up the trail towards me, their yak-bells clanking a disorganized melody while they picked a route over uneven stone steps and exposed tree roots. Yaks have been known to knock the occasional unsavvy trekker, attempting to stand out of the way on the downhill side of the path, to an early death on the rocks below. So, I found a stone perch uphill, and motioned Adrian to join me while they passed.
From where we stood, the river could be seen snaking its way through the staggered succession of ever-more-monstrous mountains that would reveal themselves to us slowly, and romantically, while we trekked, as a new lover undressing herself seductively, knowing she is exposing the beginning of her secrets for the first time. I wanted to stop like this, to savor as much of each wondrous moment out here as I could, as often as possible. And I wanted Adrian to know that I felt no need to rush through to Everest.
It was the beginning of May, the sun was in Taurus, Adrian had just celebrated his 33rd birthday, and to express my desire to proceed in a divinely bovine fashion up the trek, I decided to share something that I’ve noticed about his sun sign. Astrologically speaking, Taurus is an earth sign, and all of the earth signs manifest by the structures and forms we create to organize our lives. We make barriers and boundaries to channel our creative energies so that we might pursue what is important, vital, and necessary. The Taurus energy focuses on grounding us in enjoying life’s sensual pleasures, and in taking our pursuits one step at a time – typically slowly and contentedly.
Taurus is opposed and counter-balanced by Scorpio, which is a water sign. Whereas Taurus is stable and often plodding, Scorpio is deeply in motion and turbulent, like the river running through the mountains, the two are. Take the wide view, from a high mountaintop, and perhaps you might see the long course of the river running to the sea, just as if you were to take the long view on your life and perceive that it will eventually end in the metamorphosis of death. Scorpio, if embraced, wakes us up to the reality that we don’t have forever in a lifetime to dally around doing as we please, like cows grazing in a pasture. The river runs ever onward.
There are endless possibilities for how we might spend our life’s energies, but given what Scorpio reveals, it is up to us to choose what and whom we want to focus those energies on. The evolution of Taurus then, is to learn how to channel the steady elements of our life-flow on enjoying that which we value the most, while the chance is alive.
I pointed out that Taurus represents the destination by focusing where we go, and Scorpio represents the journey by moving us along. But Adrian insisted that Taurus is also about the journey too, because it takes its time enjoying each step of the way. I said, “Yeah! Mt. Everest is up ahead, and if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, we are going to make it there, but this moment – these moments will arise only once, and they are every bit as magical as Everest itself, so let’s do our best to enjoy them while we can, by not rushing more than we have to.” Adrian agreed.
The yaks passed before our discussion ended; their clanking bells blending slowly, windingly back into the rushes of wind and the river’s roar, after they disappeared out of sight. And we stood there on that rocky promontory, letting the sun shine on a rare moment a little longer. Then we continued on our way, and it was not long that the echoes of our conversation were overwhelmed once again by the immense Himalayan spectacle of beauty; never more than yak-bells clunking along by for a moment on a dusty winding path through the mountains.
Eventually, our feet brought us up a hundred or so yak dung-encrusted stone steps and into the town of Manjo, and by then we were tired and ready to collapse for the night. I stopped to survey the town and catch my breath, but Adrian kept moving on to find a guesthouse. A couple dozen buildings were spread out on a mountainside; their twinkling lights powered by the river’s flow. A stone-walled path cut through the middle of the homes and hotels, whose chimneys were busily sending puffs of smoke skyward into the dimming dusk light. An unknown Himalayan colossus loomed in the distance – the promise of another day’s adventure.
I found Adrian talking to a Sherpa woman about staying in her hotel, and she invited us up some dusty wooden stairs to see the rooms on the second floor. Cold and built right onto the mountainside, the rooms still looked especially cozy and welcoming to a weary body, but there was one litmus test that they couldn’t pass: the beds were not long enough for me to sleep in comfortably. Achingly, we thanked her and moved on to see what else there was, despite our bodies urging us to just take the beds!
A stone courtyard with a flag post flying Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the breeze and a doorway covered by a heavy blanket to keep out the cold, led into the dining hall of a warm and lively guesthouse with a dozen trekkers gathered at tables around a central cast-iron woodstove. I found the proprietor busy in the kitchen with orders and sat down after she asked me to wait a moment while she cooked. The trekker sitting next to me assured us that the food he was eating was good, and told us that the rooms cost 500 rupees and came with a shower. Cash is not easy to come by up in the mountains, and on our long-term traveler budgets, Adrian didn’t want to pay more than 400, so he didn’t bother to get up from his seat while I looked at the room. But when I saw it, I knew this was the one I wanted. I hadn’t showered the night before in Kathmandu and I needed one – plus I doubted that hot showers would be common as we went further along on the trek. The views from the room looked out on sublime river and mountain scenery, the beds were super comfortable and most importantly, long enough! I managed to talk the owner down to 400 rupees for a night, and Adrian was on board and snoring away in his bed before dinner even arrived. In the end, it became our second favorite guesthouse on the whole trek, made possible by sticking to what mattered to each of us.