Sunday, April 23, 2006

Shangri-la of the World

Namaste!!! Yes… I’m finally home! And did I have an adventure in the Himalayas!
The Everest region is very tough. The terrain is harsh with very steep mountains, the kind that if you loose your footing, you’ll slip and die.
You have to share the tiny trail with yaks as well.
It was –14 degree Celsius.
It was snowing – knee high and very cold. Even the lakes in Gokyo (5500m) froze.
Imagine how we, islanders and the only Asian trekkers in the lodge feel?
We weren’t used to such harsh conditions.
We had so many near-death experiences.
We were having the blues and missing home big time!
Everyday we trekked 8 hours and walked amidst the clouds.
We craved for some other meal besides the Nepali Dhal Bhat and spaghetti we had been having every day.
I remembered grappling in the dark with only the stars to guide me.
Ahh those dazzling stars that lit the night sky at Pakding...
And lying on the narrow bench in a small hut, quietly missing home...
In those lonely moments, feelings for loved ones escalated as one sheds yearning tears...
At least we still have our health.
Thank goodness none of us had altitude sickness that could be fatal.
Some of the very fit Caucasian trekkers got it and did not make it up all the way.
I had chest pains in Namche Bazaar (the Sherpa village) and almost gave up the entire trek.
How was I to continue when I couldn’t even breathe?
So I went to the Tibetan Himalayan Clinic in Namche.
Apparently my body elements did not “agree” with the wind. Go figure!
However, the herbs did help (what choice did I have?) and I continued trekking with the rest.
Yes, our trekking leader with the chicken pox actually flew to Kathmandu and met up with us in Namche Bazaar.
Trekking, trekking, trekking... Dole, Machermo and the ever torturous Portse Tenga....
If there's hell on earth, Portse Tenga is the place!
Endless labyrinth of steep hills and valleys, endless sighs of exhaustion.
Yes, I echoed the sentiments of a fellow American trekker, "I must be mad!"
And where is Everest? "It's below us!" joked Pasang, my sherpa.
Upon reaching Gokyo, we were supposed to cross the Zhongla pass and “conquer” Kalapathar.
However, there was a blizzard and some of the trekkers even got lost so we changed our plans.
My 5 friends had fever, cough, sore throat, cracked skin etc… but no, Hidayah must always be dramatic and end up with swollen toes (near to frostbite)! I couldn’t even put on my boots.
We had to use the satellite phone to call for helicopter for an emergency evacuation.
I was then heli-evac to Kathmandu and taken to the hospital.
Because of me, the trekkers had fresh vegetables and tomatoes flown in with the helicopter.
Now I’m 'famously' known as that Singaporean girl with the red fleece who was heli-evac!!
I heard they were even talking about me in Kalapathar!!
My parents knew about the swollen toes but not the expensive helicopter ride (a word of advice, pls. take travel insurance when you go to such places… or you’ll end up with a US$3135 bill).
From then onwards, I was resting in my hotel in Kathmandu.
As I could not take the boredom any further, I decided to travel west from Kathmandu and visit the Royal Chitwan National Park (the Nepal alternative to Kenya safari).
Just when I thought the terror was over, I saw crocodiles in the river in which I was taking a wobbly sampan ride.
With no life jacket, I was prepared to swim to the nearest bank should the sampan capsize.
The jungle guide at the Safari did not even have a rifle – what if the rhino (which I saw up close) and the Bengal tiger decided to charge at us?
I had enough of Chitwan and called my 2 friends to come over to Pokhara.
Yes, they too couldn’t take anymore of the winter madness and came back to Kathmandu.
The other 3 friends of course went up Kalapathar (-20 degree Celsius).
Brave souls or utter insanity.
Pokhara was clean, peaceful.
We went to a Tibetan monastery.
So basically, while we were in Kathmandu and Pokhara, we were mixing and travelling with some really nice, hip and good-looking monks!!
Yes, many a time, we had entertained thoughts of de”monk”ing them!!
There was a strike in Pokhara and hence no automobile was allowed on the roads… so again, we trekked more than 30 km a day!!
Did I also mention a blackout occurred while we were walking at night during one of the strike day?
Yes, we decided to fight it out should we be harassed by the 2 Nepali men who were following us then.
My fencing coach would be proud to know that I was ready to utilise my fencing skills then.
What else did I do in Nepal?
I met Mother Theresa’s sisters (in their famous white saris with blue trimmings) in the Missionaries of Charities.
Went to see abandoned babies and dying destitute in the homes set up by my Mother Theresa.
I also visited a child development society that rescued small children from the harsh conditions in the polluted carpet factories.
Of course I learned more about Tibetan Buddhism.
My Political Science lecturers would be happy to know that I actually finished reading a book on corruption in Nepal (“The Bleeding Mountains of Nepal”) during the entire trek and that I’ve learned more about the Nepali political system!
Yes, this trek made me realise that there is more to life than grades (so obviously we all know there weren’t any outstanding ones as my last exams!).
So if you all feel like trekking, go to the gentle mountains of Annapurna.
Don’t do crazy things like we did!
Hmm, my girlfriends will probably want to know more about the Nepali men....
Well, what can I say about them except that they are very sweet, nice, humble and strong (especially the Sherpas).
Even my mountain guide looked like a Calvin Klein model!!
And the monks... having spent some time with them in the monastery and also in Pokhara and Kathmandu, I have discovered a new meaning to sensitive new age guys (SNAG).
These monks are just too good to be true.
They took care of us and made us miss home less.
Just when I thought that the “nightmare” was over, that Tibetan Himalayan doctor is now in love with one of my friends…
Looks like we might have to make that trip to Bhutan for trekking(?) or for the wedding ceremony! :p

Rita Tenzing Dawa [my Nepali name]
[December 1999]

1 comment:

Just said...

Hello Rita,

How are you? I hope life has treated you well.

I'm in Australia, missing home. It's not home I'm missing, it's that someone back home really.

The last time I felt such yearnings was a top Gokyo-Ri. So here I am, reminiscing December 1999 and listening to sad songs.

Googling "a feeling of a boy", I chanced upon your blog.

May you find what you're looking for.

Your trekking buddy,
-Sad (: