Well, as I wrote in my last post, I went to Nepal. Why, many people asked. Work? Volunteer commitment? Family connections?
Nope. The answer, to quote the famed climber George Mallory,when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, is simple. “Because it’s there.”
Now I will be quick to point out that we did NOT climb Everest; or attempt to climb Everest, or, frankly, climb anything that resembled it. No, my family and I went trekking, where we walked up and down in the mountains for several weeks, climbing to 5000 meters (15,000 feet) and experiencing the most glorious views, of Everest, Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, and many other famous peaks. There were no ice axes, no crampons, no ropes or belays. We walked.
And this is where we walked:
It is an extraordinary place.
Nepal is also a very spiritual place. The mountains are the homes of the gods, for many cultures, and the Khumbu region and Sagarmatha, to use the Nepali word for Everest, is a holy place. Prayer flags fluttered constantly, releasing millions of prayers into the wind. Prayer wheels lined the village paths and we would turn them clockwise as we walked. Mani stones carved with the Buddhist mantra OM MANI PADME HUM dotted the trails.
It was both easy and hard to feel connected to the divine there. Easy because of how extraordinary the views were, how much the gods and nature seemed to be working in cosmic concert. Hard because…well…we bring ourselves wherever we go. We bring our achy muscles, our itchy socks, our thoughts about how the car needs to be repaired, our annoyance that someone else ate the last bite of chocolate….in short, everything that makes us human.
And while I’d love to say I trekked in a state of transcendental joy the whole time, unbothered by corporeal or mundane challenges, that would be a big fat lie. I trekked in joy, certainly, but also in conversation with my kids about their favorite songs and whether we would have beef stew or Chinese food the first night we got home and if we missed hot showers or fresh fruit more. And sometimes I didn’t trek with joy at all. I trekked annoyed at someone’s whining, or trekked slowly, putting one foot in front of the other, thinking of nothing but how exhausted I was, and dreaming of sea level oxygen.
We are home now. Within days, life at home returned to its former patterns and schedules. After all, we were only gone a month, not years. Laundry piled up, grocery shopping was done, homework starting flowing. Nepal receded from all of our minds.
Nepal didn’t change us, really. I didn’t have whole books spring full blown, Athena-like, from my head. I didn’t have meaningful life-changing discussions with my husband or children. My kids still hoover down a whole bag of pretzels and leave the empty package on the table. It still bugs me and I bark at them. We are the same.
But not exactly the same. We have friends in Nepal now, who invited us to their home and made us lunch, where that home had a dirt floor and an outhouse around the corner in the garden. We stared into the Buddha eyes on stupas and saw holy men, or Sadhus, at Hindu temples and realized that our personal Jewish-Christian hybrid is just one piece of the spiritual puzzle. We watched children holding on to the back of their parent’s motorbikes in crowded cities and realized seatbelts and carseats were luxuries not to be take for granted. We avoided even wetting our toothbrushes with tap water and recognized just how precious clean drinking water is.
Maybe we are changed, but still ourselves.
I hope someday we go back to Nepal. Next time we go, if someone asks why, we will have a better answer. We will say, “because we loved it there.”