Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Am Not Dead! (yet)

Lest anyone think that Asian traveling is just mountains and jump-kicks, I am inclined to tell you that I spent the last few days wearing a path in the carpet between my bed and the toilet as my body did battle with some  nasty bacteria I must have consumed along the way.  I'll spare you the gory details, but let's just say that I believe this was the first time I've passed out from the sheer physical exertion required by the motions of being ill.  The mass exodus of everything I've ever eaten from my body left me crumpled on the floor of my guesthouse bathroom. 

Anyway, now that I seem to be recovered, I am ready to begin tomorrow a five week meditation course/retreat at Kopan Monastery in Boudhanath.  During this time I'll be completely unplugged from the matrix - no phone, no internet, no telegrams.  But rest assured, though I am out of contact and perhaps engaging in the "this body is a corpse" contemplation (my personal favorite), I am (hopefully) still alive.  Until then, happy Thanksgiving, Chanukah, birthday* and ten year high school reunion!

(By the way, the blog is now averaging a vomit reference once every 5.5 posts.  Go No-Blog, you highbrow web-log, you!)

*if applicable

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Himalayan Trekking Part 2: The Annapurna Circuit

During the first two days of the Annapurna Circuit you begin your climb by following the trail from one small Nepali village to the next, ascending through lush hills that have been carved into terraced rice paddies.  You climb on, and in the following couple of days you find yourself passing through deep green gorges.  The valley emanates a tremendous power, the white river rushing along its base and incredible waterfalls greeting you around every corner, waterfalls bragging a vertical drop of 200, 300, 400, 500 meters. It is a world of wondrous cliffs and hills that would surely be famous anywhere else on earth, anywhere where it wasn't eclipsed by the dizzying mountains that were to come.  But you walk on, and as your feet carry you higher and higher, the scenery is constantly evolving, the mountain air forcing the landscape to react.  Higher you go, until day five when you get your first awe-inspiring glimpse of the Annapurna mountains towering above your head.

Your legs become sore and your clothing dirty, but you continue to climb.  You pass one, then ten, then hundreds of sets of prayer flags and chortens as you continue up into the mountains.  You eat another meal of Dal Bhat and your bowels finally give in to the reality of squat toilets, as you continue your ascent.  You meet other trekkers - this time from the UK, Germany, Israel, China, Denmark, Norway, Brazil, Canada - and as you continually pass each other over the coming days you slowly become acquaintances and friends, eating your meals together, laughing at each others' jokes, learning each others' card games, solving each others' riddles, sharing together in the awesome power of God and nature that is on display.  You climb on, hiking higher and higher until you have walked straight into the sky, and still the Annapurna mountains tower above you, teasing you with smiling rays of sun reflecting off their snowy peaks.

The final push to the the mountain pass of Thorung La involves a morning ascent of one thousand meters, which you must endure moving in baby-steps, as you will your legs through the molasses of the oxygen-deprived air.  There is nothing but dirt and rock at this altitude, and the sweeping expanse gives the illusion that you have walked so far and so high that you've journeyed to the moon. On this final day of climbing, four hours after your early morning start, you finally, finally, reach the 5416 meter (17,769 foot) pass that has been your goal for eight days of hiking.  From this height the distance between you and the mountain peaks tricks the eye into believing that you have met the mountains' challenge, though of course they still exist thousands of meters over your head.

There is still more to come.  A very long, treacherous and dehydrated descent, the disbanding of the little band of independent trekkers that had formed, the formation of a new crew of companions, another steep ascent, a beautiful sunrise across a panoroma of Himalayas, a hike through a rain forest.  You say goodbye to your company who head off for another eight days of trekking up to Annapurna Base Camp and you begin your final day of hiking, an exhausting sx hour descent back to civilization.

After all this and fourteen days (thanks, in part, to a few jeeps that allowed us to cut off a portion of trail that is now marred by a recently-constructed dirt road) I made my triumphant return to Pokhara.

So yea, it was a good time.  Don't believe it?  PICTURES!!