1. It’s hard to be in a bad mood in Kathmandu.
The atmosphere in Kathmandu is adult collegiate. Men in their 60s run around like children, giddy at the offerings in the multitude of climbing stores in town. Women travel in packs, dressed in Black Yak or Columbia, taking selfies and carrying journals. In between are locals careening the streets on motorcycles or people-drawn chariots. No one cares what they look like. There is freedom to just be. It’s unimportant what you’re wearing, how your hair looks, whether you showered that day. Everyone has a map of the mountains on their dinner table, and are strategizing the summit over alcoholic beverages, under dim lighting. The atmosphere is positively charged and absolutely infectious. I am completely inspired by this every time.
2. I am thankful for what I have, but am not necessarily any happier than those in Nepal
The people of Nepal are poor. Most homes lack heat and hot water. People shower outdoors with a running hose. Tea houses cost between $4-8 per night which includes dinner and breakfast in the morning. Most Nepalese don’t own a car however they may have a horse, a bike or a motorcycle. What I see, however is contentment. There is a sense of family and faith. Buddhism and Hinduism are equally prevalent and statues and temples are everywhere. Prayer is so important to life that the airlines have to put signage on the planes to remain in your seat when praying. People of Nepal support one another and help in times of need. Money doesn’t buy us happiness. We all know this. However, it is no where more apparent than Nepal where the poorest of the poor still smile as you walk by in your Lululemon.
3. I am fortunate to have been a woman growing up in America.
Throughout the trip, I saw examples of women in subservient roles. I realize that women in these cultures do not necessarily want to trade places with me…………it is how we have all been raised. But from my vantage point, I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had – schooling, career, marriage, divorce – to be equal to my male counterparts. Relationships in particular are difficult for women. In Nepal, it is very difficult for women to initiate divorce. If they do, it is even more difficult for them to maintain any ownership of property jointly held. In the event that a divorce happens, the woman and her family are often ostracized by society which can mean financial ruin. Unfortunately, many decide to stay in abusive and dangerous situations. Thankfully, organizations are cropping up to help – one such being Women’s Skills Development Corp, which strives to provide employment and a positive environment to support women in these situations. Having been divorced twice myself, I am grateful for the simplicity of my own situation and the equality afforded both a husband and a wife on the decision to split.
4. Summitting is hard work. I underestimated and downplayed the task at hand.
While this time turned out ok, there could have been grave consequences. My intention is always good – to minimize fear, extol comfort and peace of mind. The opposite, however, was the outcome. I had summitted Thorang Pass and several other 19k foot peaks before, so didn’t take training seriously this time. Within that, I took for granted that Marla, my travel companion, would just fall in line as well. I had known Marla in previous years as an incredibly strong, indefatigable woman, so assumed she would just conquer this like all else. In retrospect, this was completely unfair of me and set us up for failure, when that didn’t need to occur. I had forgotten that my own first summit, years ago was difficult and I struggled with many of the things that Marla did: altitude impact, the “squatty potties”, cultural differences like food and hygiene, etc. Marla handled the challenges with a smile and graciously found alternatives that mitigated the risk for both of us. My go-forward, of course, is to learn to better anticipate others’ needs.
5. Economic progress is a double-edged sword.
China is dumping money into Nepal and it was evident in all phases of my journey. From the moment I stepped out of the taxi in Kathmandu I noticed that the streets were much cleaner than my last visit. Once I started trekking, I saw mounds of dirt and bulldozers everywhere. Ultimately, WIFI began cropping up where it wasn’t previously and local Nepalese residents rode by on motorcycles into the mountains using newly found disposable income from the tourism increase. Sure, it’s great that the standard of living will rise for the native Nepalese population but I mourn the loss of the quaint tea houses that will surely vanish as chain hotels sweep the region. Trekking as we know it will change as fire pits, laptops and warm showers replace the rustic camp-like ambiance of the past.
Trekking offers a peaceful environment by which to reflect on the things we are grateful for or those we want to change.
I am grateful for my time in Nepal and can only hope those visiting in future years will experience the same sense of wonderment I have had the privilege to experience.