Saturday, May 19, 2012

Trek to the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal: The Take Away

"Still I felt uncommonly happy at trekking once more behind a string of mules with their bright headbands, gaudy red wool tassels and jingling bells, over a road and country new to me with the promise of sixteen such days ahead. I felt I could go on like this for ever, that life had little better to offer than to march day after day in an unknown country to an unattainable goal."
HW Tilman, Nepal Himalaya

Have you ever read something so simple, so straightforward, that you feel every single word resonating in every bone of your body? I think I have. When I read that passage, I was sitting alone in my room in a mountain lodge after a particularly grueling day, the eighth in our trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal. I was suddenly overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions. I realized tears started flowing down my eyes.

I saw mules, and goats, and cattle, and was even asked to slap one on the butt as it was blocking the stone staircase. I marched the mountain trails day in, day out and felt the truest and sincerest joy of being there, of being at the moment. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before.

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Nepal

That's the thing with trekking in the Himalayas. The experience seeps through your very core. Many think that trekking is physical activity. It's not. Part of it is, but I would be lying to everyone, including myself, if I say that my fitness and strength brought me up there. For one, I am nowhere near physically fit and strong. For the longest time, I was a smoker and was severely overweight. So as physical as the trek is, it will also test you mentally and emotionally.

In fact, when people ask me what it takes to go trekking in the Himalayas, the first thing I tell them is commitment. You have to be fully committed to the experience. And physical fitness has nothing to do with it. You might be able to tackle that 600-meter steep ascent easy, but if you're head and heart is not fully into it, if you feel being here in the great outdoors isn't rewarding enough, then might as well turn back. Trekking is not for you, and that's okay.

Prayer Flags at the Annapurna Base Camp

Not many travelers prefer to travel to these kinds of places. For one thing, you are reduced down to your bare necessities. You only have the clothes off your back, a few others inside your backpack, and other items of grave importance. What you can live without, you leave behind. You carry them and they will weigh you down. And you discover that the many luxuries you enjoy in your everyday life are just that, luxuries. Steak dinners, beer, Internet, hot showers, and yes, even clean clothes. Up there, they're luxuries. And you realize you can live without them. You can live with much, much less, in fact.

Trek to the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal

Introduction. What's where and where's what.
Teahouse Trekking. What makes trekking in Nepal a cheap and easy activity to organize.
Preparations. Organizing the trek: permits, transpo, guides and/or porters, etc.
Things to Bring. Gear, clothes, meds, water, etc.
The Trek: Part 1, Part 2. Tackles the trek, all the highs and lows, literally and figuratively.
Budget. Trekking doesn't have to costs that much.
The Take Away. Lessons learned and what not.
Stripped off of everything non-essential, you discover qualities you never thought you had. Each day that passes, you question what the hell you are doing to yourself. Why are you putting yourself through so much suffering? So you learn to push yourself every single day. Just when you thought you have nothing more to give, you find out you can still make it today. And you do it again the next day. And the next.

You realize, too, that you suddenly find peace and relaxation in an activity as grueling and strenuous as trekking in the Himalayas. Up there, everything slows down. There is nothing else but you and trail in front of you. You suddenly have time to pay attention to what's around you. Listen to the rustling of the trees. Feel the warm rays of the sun penetrating through the forest canopy. Breathe the freshest air you have ever breathed in your life. At the end of the day, you plop down on a chair on your hotel's balcony, stare in amazement at the snowy peaks of the Himalayas turned golden by the setting sun, have a sip of your chai masala, and you wonder when life has ever been this good.

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Nepal

I read an article in the New York Times a few weeks back that talked about thin places. These are places where we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, places that beguile and inspire, sedate and stir, places where, for a few blissful moments we loosen our death grip on life, and can breathe again. The Himalayas has come to mean that for me. Up there, I experienced a way of life so real, so unencumbered, so simple. It was beautiful. For the rest of my travels and for as long as I travel, I think I will find myself chasing after those kinds of places.

Have you experienced the joys of trekking? What was it like for you? What experience do you consider transcendental, spiritual? Where is your "thin" place?

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