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Origins of Zen

Finding Shangri-la in the Nepalese Hills

NEPAL | Sunday, 15 December 2013 | Views [363] | Comments [1]

   I asked for the date while filling out the storage invoice for our bags, "December 1st", the clerk replied. I'd been oblivious to time since arriving in Nepal and forgotten my upcoming birthday -December 2nd. So it was decided, I would be celebrating turning 25 while trekking outside the Pokhara valley. 
    Our guide Indra was a kind man with gentle eyes. It was his sign that caught our attention, one he recently hung up in hopes of giving a go at being a private guide rather than working for a company at an unfairly distributed wage. We were his first customers. Over breakfast he explained our route, the ups and downs, the 'easies' and 'not-so-easies', and where we would sleep. "We are lucky," he said, "Tomorrow is festival in Panchase. The villagers will be spreading seeds so they can have food in their next life, for a prosperous future." The stars were aligned. 
      After a thirty minute cab ride we were dropped at the bottom of stone stairs that went straight up and seemed to go on forever. Before taking the first step I said to myself- It will be hard, but you just start...that is the hardest part. I daydreamed during the grueling two hour ascent straight up about all the feet who touched those ancient steps, about a time when you had to walk to get anywhere and carry your goods to trade in far off lands, excited by the prosper of exotic silks and spices. Women in flip-flops secured woven baskets of rice on their back by a strap on their forehead. As I'd stop to catch my breath, they'd wiz by me laughing on their cell phones. Indra said that perseverance is in the hill people's blood. When the trail plateaued, the scene opened up to a sight that took my breath away- the grandeur of cascading jungle mountains set before mammoth snowy Himalaya peaks. The landscape inched toward me in a tunnel vision as if on hallucinogenics or in the opening scene of Jurassic Park. I envisioned my future self hiking in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas, craving the rawness of Mama Africa once again. I could smell the ground water, hear the wings of a bird hush by, and the longevity of a minute. It's those moments that I passionately seek, moments drenched in a glory unattainable without perseverance. "Bistarai, Bistarai," Indra kept saying-"Slowly, slowly."
      We passed through small villages that still used the traditional method of building with stone,  mud walls, and grass roofs, a delightful sight in contrast to the concrete litter that Nepal was sleeping under. We hiked straight up for another two hours before hearing the sounds of a loudspeaker, signaling that we were close to Panchase Bhanjang where we were spending the night. 
    The men and children were fixated on the game of volleyball being played while the women    sliced up buffalo meat with kukris, curved machetes, for the following day. We were shown to our simple adobe room (3 USD) and then joined our host family in their kitchen for tea, where silver plates and cups were neatly lined against the wall and reflecting the stoves flames about the room.  We sampled the black eye bean curry they would be serving for the festival and passed time laughing with the husband. He was a funny man with a hoarse voice, squinty eyes, and a throaty laugh. "We are from the USA," we said. "AMASTIC BOMBASTIC!" he exclaimed. He began rhyming in English with words that had no correlation whatsoever, doubling over in his own laughter, repeating, "You understand, no go to Pakistan." While we found his drunken humor entertaining his wife thought it quite the contrary. When she handed him rice doughnuts to place on the fire he dropped them in the soot and proceeded to laugh more. With a strained expression on her face she motioned him out of the way so she could cook, but he was strongly planted in his crouched position. "I lover she, but she no lover me," he chuckled. The product of an arranged marriage? I'm not sure.
    A man walked in and started ranting in Nepali, repeating himself to everyone in the room. A year ago Indra had been through the village and heard the man talk about how cold he was without a jacket. Indra remembered this and brought him one as a gift this time around. "He is a great, great man- a true man," he said, shaking Indra's hand over and over again. It later occurred to me that jacket was the only thing Indra carried in his pack besides a bottle of water. 
          I fell asleep reading Past Lives, Future Lives by Jenny Cockell and was taken aback by the final chapter when she describes the vision of her future life tending to a farm in Nepal. Maybe she was sowing the seeds we would spread tomorrow. That night I dreamt I had an intricate tattoo on my shoulder, a symbol that held some sort of power. I believe I'll see it again, if not in this life the next. 
    At four am, while the stars were still out, we began our frigid hike up Panchase mountain to see the sunrise and the Buddhist and Hindu temples. Shivering and layered up with every item of clothing I had, I took a moment to catch my breath and saw a shooting star.  After the last rushed wish, I decided it'd be best to use my wishes for other people. So that's just what I did. The sun came up and painted the horizon orange and red, turning the snow capped mountains pink. The 360 degree views of the Himalaya had me in awe of how expansive the world is and how there is so much majesty I've yet to discover. Herds of villagers arrived with baskets strapped to their foreheads, setting up their food and getting blessed with tikka on their head. Indra laughed at the sight of people throwing money instead of seeds, "Some people, they just want so much, but the seeds will be more important than the money." We held our steaming coffee close to our face and ate the best vegetable pakoras I've had in Nepal- crispy, soft, and spicy- a memory that makes my mouth water even now. 
    Back in the village, as I ate my breakfast of eggs and chapatti, Indra came in with a necklace he made of marigolds for me for my birthday. My eyes welled with tears. The best presents come from the heart, and one could only be so lucky to have met one like Indra's. After eating, I set out to watch the volleyball game and soak up the landscape and village life, but was bombarded by masses of boys and men who wanted to know where I was from, if I had a boyfriend, how many people are in my family, and if we could take a picture together. 
      We started off toward Bhadure around noon, down stone steps and through grassy hills. School children ran down the stairs while we took gentle calculated strides. There wasn't a cloud in sight and I couldn't wipe the smile from my face. The smell of the marigolds wafted around me the entire walk and when Don't Worry Be Happy played from the mini speakers it was like hearing the song for the first time; I hadn't a care in the world, alive with every breath and step I took. We arrived to a small guesthouse situated on a cliff with superb views of the valley below and mountains above. We sat together in silence and let our smiles do the talking. I drank ginger tea, watched the stars, embraced the breeze, and fell asleep in a mildewy room still smiling. It was an unsurmountable birthday, unplanned and dripping in a transcendental moment to moment electricity. 
        Our hike back to Pokhara was strenuous and lasted six hours. "Bistarai, Bistarai." My calves were shaking as we descended the steep Sarangkot stairs, and I couldn't help but laugh. How funny of my calves to be playing tricks. We arrived to Indra's adobe home that he shared with his brothers family where lunch was waiting for us. His wife was gorgeous with gentle eyes that matched Indra's. The only thing more spectacular than her beautiful garden was her cooking, a meal that had me stopping to ask myself if this was real life. Her pickled radish, vegetable curry, daahl baht, and sag thali pate was something you'd choose as your final supper- crisp with salty and savory flavors balanced in perfection. I didn't want it to end and luckily, in Nepal, seconds and thirds are always ready. We had a laugh at their dog Rocky, who, with a spray painted 'R' on his forehead, chased a monkey up a tree. We flipped through photo albums of past treks, snapped some pictures together, and met the rest of his extended family. I decided I would come back to Nepal and hike to Jonsom with my new friend Indra.
        We said our goodbyes and took a taxi back to Hotel Pana. Looking out the window at the placid lake and streets littered with garbage I couldn't have been happier, blessed to have existed in moments and scenes that I signed up for on a whim. I didn't come to Nepal to accomplish grueling hikes, I came for the villages and people, for hikes through time, to a simpler way of life. Our trek to Panchase and partaking, by chance, in a once a year celebration that coincided with my forgotten birthday was exactly that. Indra was one of the most genuine people I've met to date, who spoke with passion in such a simple yet loaded way- "I am not a religious man, but I know that if God is in my heart, that love will always be there, that good will always come my way." 
      I believe our souls were sent to one another. We saw his sign, proving his efforts as an independent guide can happen, and he reminded me that a little bit of effort can go a long way, offering to be my contact in Nepal for the trade development I was setting up. The trek was serendipitous, a reminder and affirmation that when you choose a path with your whole heart you will walk on soft ground without shoes and the wind will always be at your back.
    In the taxi I began to cry. This is my life, I only get one chance, and I want it to overflow at the brim with moments like that. When I spoke with the medium she quoted my Grandfather, relaying his light laugh, an air of his confidence, "Just keep following your dreams kiddo and you'll get everything you ever wanted in life." After that trek I felt with every nerve in my body it was true. On my 25th birthday I found Shangri-la and I didn't even mean to.
Should you ever choose to go to Nepal you can contact Indra Thapa at [email protected], 00977- 9813359182, or through Hotel Pana in Pokhara (a GREAT budget option in town).

Tags: nepal, spiritual travel, trekking



Hi! I’m in search for my porter back in 2013. His name is also Indra.
I also jotted down his email address which is the same one that you have.
Would appreciate if you could help to see if he’s the same guide. I’m planning to go to Nepal again and would love him to be our guide! Thanks a lot.

  Tango Oct 11, 2019 2:34 AM

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