As I live in Vancouver, I reside at sea level. Consequently, even though I am familiar with the signs of AMS - acute mountain sickness - I always experience some pre-departure anxiety around this topic. I obsessively review the altitude at which symptoms are to first appear (2,500 meters above sea level is the usual threshold) and check whether my Diamox tablets have expired or not - which I take with me like some sort of pharmacologic rabbit's foot, as I haven't had to use them in years. This is all part of my pre-trip ritual, like packing and unpacking a thousand times in an attempt to shave off a gram or two in my luggage.
The challenge is not to purposefully bypass modernity, but to ensure that the precious and unique culture, aesthetic and history of Nepal is preserved while not erasing and replacing it with a quick, uninspired project that lacks soul and integrity.
The itinerary this time was the Tamang Heritage and Langtang Valley Trek. The combining of these two separate trekking routes makes for a wonderful two week excursion. Tamang is next to the Langtang Valley. Tamang is a Tibetan Buddhist region. Walking amidst traditional villages is a richly rewarding experience. As in other parts of Nepal that I have visited, the Tamang people are very hospitable, gracious and kind. The views of the Langtang and Ganesh mountain ranges are spectacular.
One of the most memorable experiences was to spend my birthday in the Tamang village of Thuman. Participating in devotional chanting (and occasionally sipping yak butter tea and later chang - fermented barley wine) at one of the ancient Buddhist monasteries was an unexpectedly blessed and enormously meaningful birthday gift. Suddenly my notion that all travel is a pilgrimage was again crystallized.
I felt an unmistakable sense of connectedness to all which was present; there in that welcoming sacred space - and beyond.
As I didn't wish to draw attention to myself, I refrained from mentioning my upcoming birthday to my travel companions. Nevertheless, our guide gleaned this information from our passports and later that evening, in the small, family-run guesthouse, our small group of intrepid travellers secretly arranged a surprise birthday party for me. A wonderful and happy culmination of my birthday in Nepal.
The village of Kyanjin Gompa was the final destination of the Langtang Valley Trek. I did not sleep much the night prior to that last day. Anticipating the early morning 4:30 departure in total darkness to greet the rising sun at Kyanjin Ri (Nepali for "peak"; elevation 4,400 meters and a 600 meter ascent) made for a fitful night. The effort was of course well worth it. The view was spectacular. Our supportive banter motivated one another over the rougher patches and the camaraderie deepened with each breathless, slow step.
After completing the job, she thanked me for my assistance with a lovely smile while gently caressing my cheek. Beckoning me to her very simple home nearby, she gave me four small roasted potatoes. A precious, serendipitous encounter winds down. Another unexpected gift from Nepal that will stay with me long after I leave.
Returning to the Kathmnadu Valley, I take a few more photographs before I start my long journey home. The magic of Nepal will likely draw me back into her embrace. Hope it'll be soon.