"A lesson for life" Nepal by topoftheworl
Nepal Travel Guide: 4,252 reviews and 11,990 photos
Dedicated to my brother, Vinnie...
The fall of 1995 was a tough one for me. I had lost a brother very near to me. A man I loved and respected. He was healthy, strong as an ox one day, and gone the next. After 2 months of denial, I quit my job, and ran away.
Running to the remote, lost in the Himalayas tiny kingdom of Nepal. All that was familiar was suddenly unpalatable. I had been to Nepal once before, and considered it far enough. I did not realize it then, that I was trying to run from myself. At that time I saw only anger and pain. Anger at the world, anger at people.
I had no interest in hiking, nor in eating, nor in drinking. I just wanted to curl up and die. I would spend hours by myself, in some lonely high altitude meadow.
Slowly, gradually something changed: I began to notice my surroundings. the beauty of the high mountains, the stunning vistas of the valleys, the interplay of sun and mist with the lay of the land. Years later, in Hallstatt, I understood what it was: The romance of the elements. I cried, not at the beauty, but at the beauty my brother could not see.
Eons later, three days really, I was sitting in a cafe, sipping hot sweet tea. Cha, they call it. We have a horribly mutilated version of it here now, called chai, the indian equivlant of the same drink. I am sorry, adding cloves to tea does not a cha make. Cha is made with long black tea leaves, mixed with a short powdered variety. It is flavored with cardamom and fennel seeds, some times even shredded ginger. It is cooked in small, paper thin, dented aluminum kettles. Milk and brown sugar are added generously. It is poured into a glass with an elaborate dance of the arms, starting with the kettle and the glass as far away as physically possible. Once the pouring starts, the lower arm, holding the glass is raised and lowered rapidly, until it is full, sloshing over and scalding the holders hand. With a beaming flourish from the pourer, proud of his performance, it is handed to you.
On the first walk, it was not a trek, I think Rampa wanted to gauge my fitness. I was sipping hot sweet tea. Rampa, as the people called him, pretty much left me alone. He knew something I did not. I was pensive. We were somewhere in the Katmandu valley region. I looked at the mighty peaks. They had been here for centuries. I would be gone in a few years, perhaps tomorrow. They would stay. They are there till the end of time. A fact you may not know of the Mighty Himalayas. Not only do they have the three highest peaks in the world, they are the youngest of all ranges. The rocks in the region are sedementary rocks, found by the seas. When the tectonic crunch happened aeons ago, and the cataclysmic creation of the range occurred, these now mighty mountains were coasts by the sea.
"Give the man a bonus, Mathilda!"
I digress, as I often do, dear reader. Please bear with me. I am going to let you into a little secret. There I was, serious of mien and heavy of heart. I sipped on the tea and gazed at the mighty wonders around me. San Francisco was as if, on another planet. Here I was, on the roof of the world.
I was sipping a glass, and watching the performance, mesmerised.
'You are sad, sahib,' said a voice.
I looked at the speaker, a small, thin, wiry man of indeterminable age. I am fine, I protested.
'No, sahib, you have the grief of eternity in your eyes.'
The colorful way he said it, made me laugh. It was not just what he said, but I laughed at my plight, the whole folly of thinking that I could from myself and my sorry, self pitying attitude. He smiled, laid a hand on my shoulder, and said,
'Laughter will heal you, sahib.'
There was a manner about him that made it very easy to share space with him. I offered him tea. He accepted with his palms together, folded vertically. A gesture of thanks. It is also, I later learned, a gesture that salutes the divinity that lives in each of us. The essence of Eastern thought is that god is not out there, but in you.
Gradually, I opened up to this man, whose name was Rampaul Bahadur, ( the brave warrior-servant of god ). His eyes crinkled as he smiled when he told me that. Look at me, sahib, do I look like a warrior to you? We talked. He listened sympathetically, nodding, never interrupting. Many cups of tea later, he put his hand on my shoulder. Sahib, we go to the mountains. I will take you there. You ask for me at the hotel, they know me there.
They did, indeed. He was a mountain guide, they told me. A man who was respected thruout Katmandu. The following episodes, are from those treks
Gradually, a thought occurred to me: I was alive, I was healthy. I was on Roof of the World! The realization stunned me! Why was I moping? I should be celebrating! Life is to be lived, not regretted. The weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. I felt a giddiness, my mind shooting adrelaine into my brain. I jumped up, and laughing like a maniac, I ran back to Rampa, hugged him and shook his hand vigourously, up and down! He looked at me with wisdom in his eyes.
'The mountains have spoken to your spirit, Sahib.'
Yes, they have. And topoftheworld was born.
'jeena yahan, marna yahan.
iske siva, jaana kahaaa'
jee chahe jab hum ko avaz do
hum hai wahwee' him thtey jahaan
apne yaheen' dono nishhaa'
iske siva, janaa' kahaan?'
'to live here, and to die here
what place else do I have
call me when you want
I am, where I was before
this is where all my worlds exist
what place else, do I have?'
Its an old nepaleses song. Maybe they got it from am indian musical. Indian movies are big there. I forget, but sherpa Rampaul Bahadur sang it to me later. It was late in the evening. I still felt the exhilerating rush from earlier, and blabbered on.
He had had several belts of my scotch in him. But that did not affect its profundity. With a smile, he said, its the song of the mountain, a hymn to permanence. Rotten Liar! But sitting by a fire, on a cold mountainside, at 8,000 ft., it made sense. The scotch helped.
Third trek, a real one, this time.
I was dejected. Bad weather ahead, meant we had to turn back. It made Bahudar happy. I had paid him for a week, and it was only the third day. They are hardy people, the sherpas of Nepal. Mountain guides who carry your baggage for next to nothing, get a fire started, cook your dinner.
And the stories, they never stop!
I respect them.
'Sahib, you look sad?'
'I am bahadur, we have to go back, I wanted to get to 12,000 ft.'
'Sahib, you see the peak of that mountain?
He waved his arm towards it. I nodded.
'Vahan kaun hei tera, Musafir?'
Bahadur, don't start again, you have had too much to drink!
'Sahib, write this down, it is a lesson for life!'
He scrambled to my backpack, found pencil and paper.
Dutifully, I paused, pencil ready: He looked at me with satisfaction. He closed his eyes, recalling.
He opened his eyes, looking straight into mine. A boring glaze. He waved to the peak again. Without losing my gaze, he said, as I jotted...
'Vahan kaun hei tera, Musafir?
Dhum le le ghadhi bhar
yeh jagah payega kahaa'?
With a generous and lateral sweep of his hand, he translated:
In the dying light, I heard his broken english.
'traveler where are you going?
where are you bound?
and see what you have found'
He was right.
That was 1995. Its 2002, now.
A lesson for life.
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