Tag Archives: Himalayas

The Roof of the World

Ed. note: I’m sure by now you’re all tired of hearing about my trip to Nepal, and thinking if-I-love-it-so-much-why-don’t-I-marry-it, but bear with me, please! I’ve got one more story to share.

*          *          *

I am in one of the most incredible places on earth. The Knowledge for People team is taking a break from our intensive work with AutismCare Nepal in Kathmandu to take an overnight trip to Nagarkot, a mountain village two hours to the north. People flock here in trekking season to see the sunrise over the Himalayas, including Everest (which is called Sagarmatha in Nepal). Now it is monsoon season, so the big mountains are cloaked in clouds. We cannot see them at all, and we are told that we probably won’t be able to while we’re here. But from our hotel, we can still see the area below them, a lush green valley dotted by homes and etched with rice terraces.

Following our late afternoon arrival, some of us meet in the lobby area for drinks. We sit on a balcony overlooking the valley, and we order cocktails and crunchy, savory pekoda, a fried Nepalese hors d’oeuvre made with ground garbonzo beans and shredded vegetables. It’s my favorite Nepalese food, and I eat it nearly every day of the trip. After a while, it begins to rain lightly and then something appears that I never would have dreamed I’d see. It’s the most picturesque rainbow of my life, right over the beautiful Himalayan valley below us. We gasp – the entire scene is stunning, and we cannot believe our good fortune. We may not be able to see the Himalayas, but we know they are there, and this gorgeous rainbow, shared with some wonderful new friends, is enough.

Those who’ve known me for a while know that I’ve always loved mountains. At heart, I consider myself a “beach person,” but I love traveling to view mountains and often climb them. Last summer, my sister and I climbed Mt. Shasta, a fourteener in California, and last September, Nigel and I climbed ten-and-a-half-thousand-foot Mt. Lassen. But my love for Nepal and the Himalayas goes back thirty years. Last year, I wrote about how as a child I would sit and read my parents’ 25-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica set, learning many things. The year that I was eight, I learned about autism and I learned about Nepal. From that young age I knew that I wanted to travel to Nepal someday, but never at any point could I have foreseen that these two things I had first learned about so long ago would manifest themselves together in this wondrous experience. Who would have thought? Yet here I am, thirty years later, traveling to Nepal to teach about autism.

Back at the hotel, I have made it eight days remembering not to rinse my toothbrush in tap water. Tonight, thinking about the Himalayas, I finish brushing my teeth and immediately stick it under the faucet to rinse it. I realize right away what I have done and throw the toothbrush in the trash. I’ll get a new one back in Kathmandu tomorrow afternoon. While I sleep, I dream of seeing the elusive Himalayas with the sunrise, although in my dream we had to hike a mile to get to a point where we could see them.

I wake shortly after 5:30 and bolt out of bed. The clouds have dissipated slightly and I can see the lower parts of the mountains! Not much, but at least it’s something, in addition to the glimpse from the plane. I wash up, dress, and visit with my friends. The cloud cover is blocking the solar eclipse that is going on (yes, I was in Nepal for the 2009 eclipse!), but we definitely notice the sky darken slightly as it happens. Afterward, I go downstairs to have my massage (my first one in years!), and then come back to the room to shower.

I meet up with Dori, the speech therapist on the team, and we go have breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We sit outdoors because – wonder of wonders – the clouds have cleared! We can see the majestic Himalayas! We can stare at them while we eat breakfast! My thirty years of wanting to see the Himalayas with my own eyes has come to fruition. While waiting for my food, I walk over to a diagram placed on a wooden sign showing the names of each of the Himalayan peaks from that viewpoint. I find Everest on the diagram and squint to try to find it in the mountain range laid out before me.  I find where it is supposed to be, having determined the mountains on either side of it. And then I see what I believe to be its base, but I can’t see the top. And that’s okay. This dazzling display is more than I had hoped for during this off-season trip, and I am sated. Moments later, the clouds roll in again, and we can no longer see the mountains or even the valley.

Besides, I have to save something for next time.

the base of Mt. Everest is right in the middle of this photo

*For more fantastic pics and Nikki’s description of our time in Nagarkot, click here. 

Getting There

I love to travel, and I’ve been to several different countries and parts of this one. And though I always enjoy exploring the new places once I arrive, I enjoy the process of getting there as well. You know, ‘getting there is half the fun’ and all that. Well, I don’t know about half, but I always enjoy something along the way.  And with approximately 27 hours of travel time from LAX to Kathmandu, I knew I’d have fun people-watching and eavesdropping.

Take, for example, the very young family I heard behind me on the shuttle bus to LAX. I couldn’t see them, but from hearing them talk about which friends hooked up at which bars and then bicker about holding their baby the right way, I deduced that they were fairly young. At one point, the girl, whose voice was much louder, declared, “I’m so mad at you! You didn’t tell me that!” The guy answered, “I just now remembered.” And she responded, “You have to take care of the baby the rest of the night!” But my favorite, a moment later, was her response to his foolish statement, “I don’t get why you’re mad.” She said, “What don’t you understand? I’m wearing braces and I’m pregnant!” Classic. I doubt I’d hear that in most other countries.

On the flight to Bangkok, there is no one next to me, so not only can I avoid annoying flight chit-chat, I can also turn to my side and put my feet up while I sleep. I read, I watch movies, I am served three full meals, including wine that’s semi-decent. It’s probably the most enjoyable international flight I’ve ever had. Then I have four hours in Bangkok before the flight to Kathmandu. I walk around for about an hour, then sit and read, then walk some more. My ankles and feet are swollen with edema, and I massage my calves to help my circulation. I am allowed to go through security about an hour before boarding time, and I go to the gate and sit down amid a group of fellow travelers.

It is so humbling, to me, to hear people from different countries conversing in English. It surprises me at the Bangkok airport to hear a Philippine woman telling a Nepalese man about the internship she is completing for her Master’s program. They both speak in flawless English. Humbling. All I know in Nepali is “Namaste.”

So far there are five Caucasians waiting for this flight. A young couple, a lone man, and two lone women – including myself. There are a few Japanese and one Korean (who is also speaking English). Many travelers wear surgical masks for airborne disease protection. For this trip, I have been vaccinated against typhoid fever, tetanus, diphtheria, and hepatitis. I brought Deet spray, probiotic pills, and most of my medicine cabinet. I hope I stay healthy.

Another Caucasian man saunters down the steps to the gate. The Philippine woman is asking the Nepalese man how to say “nice to meet you” in Nepali. The Nepalese man tells her a very long phrase and she repeats it. He smiles and says that she can just say “Namaste.” Then she practices “thank you” and “you’re welcome” in Nepali, and I feel that I should have learned a little Nepali before this trip. I really wish I knew how to say “excuse me” for when I bump someone or commit some social faux pas, which is highly likely. I could ask the lovely Nepalese man who is talking with the Philippine woman, but I’m too introverted to join in. Not for the first time, feeling at a great disadvantage, I question the wisdom of taking this trip. Then another Caucasian man strolls to the gate, perhaps a clueless American like me. I try again to listen in to the conversation between the Philippine woman and Nepalese man and try to absorb something. It’s the least I can do. The Korean woman joins them and I feel simply ridiculous that I cannot bring myself to do so.

Moments later, I find myself behind the Nepalese man as we are in line waiting to board. His wife, an absolutely beautiful woman, turns and smiles at me, and I smile back. Her husband picks up a Wall Street Journal – in English – as we board the plane. Again I feel like the ignorant American. The plane is even bigger than the one I took on the 16-hour flight here (16 hours!) and appears to be fuller. I cannot put my feet up on this flight, and my ankles have swollen to twice their size with edema. It feels like the skin on them will split. I have endured this sensation now for at least eight hours. Fortunately this flight is only about three hours. But I’m disappointed to find that, although I have a window seat, it is not only directly over the huge wing, but it is on the left side of the plane. According to my online research, if you’re on the right side of the plane when approaching Nepal from the east, you can see the Himalayas.

We take off, and I catch my first glimpse of Thailand, having been in the airport for four hours. It is lushly green due to the monsoon season, which Nepal is also having. Not many tourists this time of year; I fear I will stand out too much, me and my blond, American “Namaste.”

After viewing a movie, a map popped up on the screen to show the flight’s progress. We are half-way to Kathmandu, looks like. And my swollen ankles and feet are sca-reaming. This has happened before on a trip – two years ago when I went to Greece and it was 122 degrees on Crete as we made our way to the airport to fly back to Athens. But now, I can’t put my feet up on this flight, and it scares me to even look at my ankles.

Clouds all across Myanmar and Bangladesh. We are above them. Ah! An announcement. We are beginning our descent and will land in twenty minutes! Relief for my ankles sooner than I’d thought. And the flight attendants come by with gorgeous purple and white orchid boutonnieres for each passenger. I put mine on and happen to glance out the windows on the opposite side of the plane. I see small, white pointy peaks, and for a second I think they are just the clouds. Another passenger’s head blocks my already limited view from all the way across the plane. And he is looking because – yes – it’s the Himalayas. The man next to him takes a photo. I strain to see again, and I catch a tease of a glimpse. But then the plane turns and, ohGodinheaven, I see them. I see the beautiful snow-covered peaks poking up through the clouds. I see them out my own window. They are truly magnificent. We turn again and descend lower and I can no longer see them. But I did. I saw the tips of the incredible Himalayas with my own eyes.

I am breathless now, not even thinking about my ankles, or the fact that I only know one word in Nepali. Namaste. Yes, I am here. And Namaste again.