Tag Archives: Karma

Luke ~ The People of Nepal

The news has been horrific. Many of us have seen the images and videos of the destruction in Nepal as the country shook repeatedly over the last several weeks. The wonders of an interconnected world bring the heartbreaking losses into all of our lives.

Yet, I am struck by how different this disaster feels to me than the others that have come in recent times. The difference is, of course, that the people hit this time are my friends. I do not say this to take away from the many people who endured the horrors of the tsunamis in Japan or Thailand, the earthquake in Haiti, or any other natural disaster. I say this, because I hope that in sharing the stories of my friends in Nepal, you too will be touched by their humanity and help them.

This is the first of many posts I will be making where I will tell the stories of my Nepali friends pertaining to the earthquakes. While it has been difficult to wake up every morning to countless messages from Nepal recounting the tragedy (13 hour time difference), it is nothing compared to the challenges that they face every day. In a country where life was difficult before, the earthquakes have taken everything from many.

Suman Bhadel, a chef in the village of Changu Narayan, supports both his parents and three younger siblings.
Suman Bhadel, a chef in the village of Changu Narayan, supports both his parents and three younger siblings.

One of my friends who has asked for help is Suman. I smile every time I think about the first time I met him. I had just strolled through the temple complex in Changu Narayan, a 4-th century village in the hills outside Kathmandu, and was meeting my travel companions at the little open-air restaurant just outside the temple gate. As I was walking up the stairs leading to the elevated pavilion, I was greeted by the warm smile and boundless energy that Suman is never without.

Suman explained that he would be our waiter and chef. It turns out, this 22-year old runs the entire restaurant by himself in addition to managing the small wheat, rice, and potato fields his family relies on for food. He supports his mother, father, and three younger siblings. He learned to cook while working in restaurants in India before returning home to work at the restaurant at a small guest house in Changu. Did I mention he can cook? Suman made, without a doubt, my favorite chicken dishes in Nepal.

As we got to know Suman more, he invited us into the community to experience their culture like we were family. Whether he was bringing us to the evening Puja (prayer session that is mostly a musical jam session by a local family of musicians) or taking us on picnics, Suman made us feel at home.

A great honor came one day when Suman invited all of us to accompany him on a 3-hour hike into the hills to attend the village’s annual festival to honor the hindu gods Ganesh and Vishnu. We were treated to a traditional ceremonial goat sacrifice that culminated in a delicious roasted goat feast. As we were walking back to Changu in the golden sunset over Kathmandu valley, we learned that we were the first visitors to attend this ceremony.

We were the first visitors to Changu to be invited to this festival, where sacrifices were made to Vishnu and Ganesh.
We were the first visitors to Changu to be invited to this festival, where sacrifices were made to Vishnu and Ganesh.
Locals from Changu Narayan await the feast after the sacrifices.
Locals from Changu Narayan await the feast after the sacrifices.
A happy group with full bellies makes the 3-hour walk back to Changu Narayan after the festival.
A happy group with full bellies makes the 3-hour walk back to Changu Narayan after the festival.

The messages I received from Suman in the days following the earthquakes were heartbreaking. Like many people in Changu Narayan, Suman and his family lost everything. His family’s home was destroyed. The restaurant he worked at is gone. He has no income, and he is the sole provider for his family. They are now sleeping under a tarp at the village’s Bus Park. Suman tells me that it would cost $3000-$5000 to build a new basic mud home for his family. Considering that his salary was about $35 per month before the earthquake eliminated his job, he has no way to pay for it.

The destruction in Suman's village, Changu Narayan, is extensive. Photo by, Balkrishna Baj.
The destruction in Suman’s village, Changu Narayan, is extensive. Photo by, Balkrishna Baj.

In the midst of all of this tragedy, there is a positive note. Suman just got married May 8th. Amid all of the loss and destruction, a glimmer of happiness still shines through.

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Suman is one of the many people in Nepal that will receive help from the donations you make to our GoFundMe fundraiser. Please contribute today.

 

Luke ~ The Threads of Tourism Run Deep

When visiting another place, it is common for us to project our own version of ‘familiar’ onto our new surroundings. We fall prey to our own rituals and tendancies, inadvertently drowning out little cultural discoveries along the way. Whether that takes the form of frequenting western style restaurants, hotels, or bars while in an exotic city like Kathmandu, or seeking an espresso or cup of coffee in the morning in lieu of milk-tea, the results are the same. Countless little cultural treasures with the power to grow our insights about life can be missed. The chance to find our similarities through examining our differences is stifled.

I was thinking about my own morning coffee, gulped down moments ago, as I hurried out of the guest house to meet my new friend, Balkrishna. I was supposed to meet this complex and intriguing fellow for tea in his shop, where I was to interview him about tourism in his idyllic 4th-century village, Changu Narayan. I chuckled at my obvious addiction to coffee. Although I had been in Nepal for over a month, I still had not fully embraced coffee’s more gentile cousin. I gladly took the warm milky cup of tea from Balkrishna when he greeted me, however. I was beginning to come around.

After starting the cameras and beginning our interview, I was struggling with trying to tap into Balkrishna’s personal perspectives. As he enthusiastically and thoroughly explained the geography, history, and cultural high points of Nepal, I puzzled over why my normal questions were not on target. His answers were interesting to me, but I wanted to learn how tourism touches modern Nepali’s daily lives.

A couple of things finally dawned on me. First, Balkrishna was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear, because I had not given him the opening to speak on a personal level about his life’s devotion. As someone who has worked in tourism for over 20 years, he grew accustomed to answering the typical questions of tourists – for example, “How old is Changu?”, “What Caste are you?”, “What religions do Nepalis practice?”, “What is your favorite (fill in the blank)?” His depth of knowledge of typical ‘tourist’ information would impress any travel guide editor, but it was his experience with the daily grind of trying to support his family, grow his business, and build his community that I wanted to hear. The second realization I had was that Christen was right. Balkrishna is a gold mine of information about the inner workings of the tourism industry in Changu Narayan, and in many other places all over the country of Nepal.

“Balkrishna, I am interested in learning more about tourism from the Nepali’s perspectives. How do average Nepali people view tourism?” With that question, his eyes lit up. Just as I saw a great opportunity to learn more about these generous and kind people, Balkrishna saw an opportunity to tell his own story on a larger stage.

As Balkrishna started to explain the depths to which tourism has impacted life in Nepal, I started to realize the size of my task for the first time. It is one thing to hear that tourism is the second largest source of income in Nepal, behind foreign remittances (money sent back into the country by Nepali Ex-Pats abroad), it is another to visit person after person whose livelihood relies upon tourism. Once he realized the mission of our film, to tell the story of tourism from Nepali’s perspectives, Balkrishna’s mind went into overdrive, planning out the next four weeks of filming. “We need to go visit the sand quarry, where they are digging sand for hotel construction projects, and the chicken farm that supplies many restaurants, and the pashmina factory, and the silver smith, and the blacksmith, and the tourism college, and the….” The list went on, and on, and on.

Once again, I learned the value of shedding the Western-bred desire to control the agenda of the film. Over the next month, Balkrishna would be my guide, interpreter, production manager, teacher, and friend. Christen was right. She encouraged me to let go of my rituals and tendencies and let Balkrishna guide the story. The stories that he and I lived together, and the footage we captured are the proof. We look forward to sharing more of it with you!

In this clip below, residents of the 4th-century village of Changu Narayan, Nepal go about their jobs supporting tourism.



Please consider donating to the film. Any and all contributions make a difference. Sincerely, no amount is too small, as we need to raise $25,000 just for this stage of the project (and approximately $75,000 in total), and every dollar counts. (Either through the Paypal link or send to Luke Mislinski Photography at

14821 SE 181st Street
Renton, WA 98058)

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Luke ~ What is a Traveler? ~ The Village of Changu Narayan

First, I want to apologize for leaving you without any recent blog updates. Christen and I have been very busy behind the scenes working on storyline development and the official Karma Documentary trailer. The official trailer is not quite finished yet, but expect an announcement soon about its release!

Now that we are nearing this next post-production milestone, expect to see regular blog updates about the continuation of the story. I will share my experiences from many other areas of Nepal, ranging from the hills around Kathmandu to the plains and jungles of the Terai region. There are many more behind-the-scenes photos, videos, and stories to share with you!

What is a Traveler?

Before I left for Nepal, knowing very little about what I would experience in Asia, a very wise friend, Fredric, discussed with me the differences between a tourist and a traveler. He said that, “tourists are people who start at home, create a bubble around themselves, and then go look at other things and compare. Travelers are people who go someplace else and find out things that they never really expected.”

I thought I already understood what Fredric was trying to tell me on that cloudy April day in Washington. After all, I had traveled out of the country many times before. I pride myself on having an open mind and rarely turn down the chance to try new things or expose myself to different cultures. I like to interact with locals wherever I go, try strange food, listen to unfamiliar music, and ask about people’s daily lives. Surely, Fredric was not telling me about the virtues of being a ‘traveler’ for my own benefit. He was just explaining it so that I could use his explanation for the film, right? I was almost four weeks into my time in Nepal before I understood that Fredric was absolutely talking to me.

“Did you hear back from the lady with the guest house?”, I said groggily over my breakfast to Jenn while the assorted noises and smells of Kathmandu wafted in from the street. We had been in Kathmandu for three days, and while exciting and exotic, the noise, pollution, and hectic pace were starting to wear on us. “Yeah, I finally got an email from Amanda confirming the rooms, but the directions seem a little sketchy…”, she replied.

For the next week, four of us – Jenn, Tatiana, Christen, and I – were planning on exploring the outskirts of Kathmandu valley. In search of a quiet retreat from the melee of the Thamel neighborhood, we were all excited to get to the guest house Jenn booked in Changu Narayan, “a sleepy little village outside Kathmandu.”

I was looking forward to the change of pace, but I secretly worried whether there would be enough to see in Changu Narayan to keep us busy for a week. Jenn had originally booked an apartment in Bhaktapur, a popular and bustling ancient Newar city in Kathmandu valley. We learned the day before that the Bhaktapur apartment was no longer available. The property manager, a retired American woman named Amanda, recommended the alternate place. Normally, the twist would not bother me at all, but I was a little apprehensive no longer having the experience of Glen or Karma to guide us. I would soon learn both how wrong my worries were and how right Fredric was about my needing to learn what it means to be a traveler.

“Are we really going to fit all of these bags and ourselves into one cab?”, puzzled Tatiana as we gathered at the front of the Lhasa guest house, my on again/off again home base in Kathmandu. “Well, I asked Nwang to call for a van…”, I trailed off, taking in the almost ridiculous amount of luggage piled up. (Who knew that shooting on-location in Nepal would require so much stuff?). As the “van” pulled up, I said a silent thank you that there was a roof rack. Regardless of it’s vehicle class, the van looked like it would barely fit the four of us, let alone our luggage. We set to work loading our gear.

©Luke Mislinski - Taking a cab in Kathmandu is an adventure on par with those in cabs in any of the world's most exotic cities.
©Luke Mislinski – Taking a cab in Kathmandu is an adventure rivaling a cab ride in any city.

“Can you take us to Changu Narayan?”, I asked the cab driver, hoisting the last bag up to him on the top of the van.

“Changu? Hajur (yes). Where are you staying?”, he grunted as he deftly hopped off the roof of the van.

I glanced at Jenn. “Amanda said in the email to call when we get to the village, and she would give us directions”, she replied. “We can use Tatiana’s phone. She picked up a Nepali SIM card.”

“I guess we will have to get the location of the guest house when we get there”, I explained to the driver. With that, we all crammed into the tiny van and started off on our next phase of the adventure.

©Luke Mislinski
©Luke Mislinski – Changu Narayan is home to the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu Valley.
©Luke Mislinski - Changu Narayan, the oldest temple in Kathmandu Valley, hosts several good natured dogs. They only seem to be peacefully quiet during the day...
©Luke Mislinski – The temple hosts several friendly dogs. They only seem to be peacefully quiet during the day…
©Luke Mislinski
©Luke Mislinski

Changu Narayan, located high on a steep hillside overlooking Kathmandu from the east, is home to the oldest temple in Kathmandu Valley. It is believed to date back to the 4th century. As our taxi labored up the frighteningly narrow and twisting road, Jenn tried calling Amanda. “That’s weird”, she puzzled. “The call won’t go through. Here, listen to the message.” We would later learn that Changu was experiencing one of their regular coverage outages. We could not get through to either Amanda’s mobile or land lines. There was a message playing that made no sense to me.

“We can try again when we get there”, I said, wondering if we would have to wander the streets of a remote village, struggling beneath more bags than anyone should ever try to carry. I asked myself, “What would Glen do?”

At that moment, I remembered Fredric’s words. I realized I had only come part way on the journey to transform from a tourist into a traveler. The experiences high in the Himalaya kick-started me on that path. Yet, having Glen, Karma, and the rest of the staff there to call the shots when plans went awry prevented me from fully letting go of my western-bred travel tendencies. Christen just shrugged and said, “So, we will just ask people when we get there where the older white lady lives.” (She learned the difference between being a tourist and a traveler years ago while traveling solo in Italy.)

As we pulled into the bus park at Changu Narayan, the villagers welcomed us with open arms. After some local kids pointed the way to “Grandma’s house” (Amanda had made quite the impression in the village), we settled into our next little paradise. Amanda welcomed us into the guest house with the perfect blend of good old American Southern Hospitality (she retired to Nepal several years ago from Arkansas) and Nepali reverence for guests. I can see why she calls this place home now.

I felt my earlier apprehensions melt away, as I strolled onto the rooftop terrace at Amanda’s guesthouse and took in the sweeping views of Kathmandu valley. Over the coming days, I would make new Nepali friends in Changu Narayan who would prove to be pivotal in helping complete filming over the next five weeks. Most importantly, they would help me discover the path to complete my personal journey,  transforming me from a tourist into a traveler.

©Luke Mislinski - Amanda, manager of our guesthouse in Changu Narayan, enjoys the sunset from the rooftop terrace.
©Luke Mislinski – Amanda, manager of our guesthouse in Changu Narayan, enjoys the sunset from the rooftop terrace.
©Luke Mislinski - View of Kathmandu to the West from Amanda's guest house rooftop.
©Luke Mislinski – View of Kathmandu to the West from Amanda’s guest house rooftop.
©Luke Mislinski - Double rainbow over Changu Narayan
©Luke Mislinski – Double rainbow over Changu Narayan

If you would like to donate to the making of the film, please send money to Luke Mislinski Photography via Paypal.

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You can also send a check payable to Luke Mislinski Photography at
14821 SE 181st Street
Renton, WA 98058

#buskingforkarma – St Dominic’s Trio Returns

Once again, at Nye’s Polonaise Room, here is the next of several #buskingforkarma songs that St. Dominic’s Trio was gracious to perform for us. This is one of their original songs, titled “Bike Ride on 35W”.

Enjoy!

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Luke ~ After the Trek, Kathmandu

Kathmandu. Capitol City. Urban center. Cultural hub. Gateway to the diverse and mysterious country of Nepal. The cultural stew of this city bursts forth with a beautiful cacophony that assaults the senses.

My eyes, ears, and nose were filled with a litany of new sights, sounds, and technicolor smells. Our late night arrival into Kathmandu weeks before meant that I was experiencing this exotic and hectic city for the first time as I climbed off the little puddle jumper from Lukla.

It is an understatement to say that experiencing Kathmandu is like taking a hyper-charged journey into the human condition. As I wandered down the streets of the Thamel neighborhood, the central historical, cultural, and tourist district of Kathmandu, I quickly learned a simple truth about urban Nepali life. Personal space does not exist in this city. And that is perfectly ok. Locals, international tourists, vendors, cars, rickshaws, motor scooters, cows, dogs and chickens all interact in an intricate symbiotic dance on streets the width of Seattle’s Post Alley. Vehicle horns blurt from every direction. Shopowners call out from every door. A diverse swath of humanity flows throughout. And, almost everyone offers a warm smile and a courteous “namaste” as you cross paths and share gazes.

A mother and her daughter sell flowers in the Thamel Neighborhood of Kathmandu. © Luke Mislinski
A mother and her daughter sell flowers in the Thamel Neighborhood of Kathmandu. © Luke Mislinski

After settling into our rooms at the Lhasa Guest House and cleaning up a bit, the group of happy trekkers converged on a middle-eastern restaurant for dinner in the more touristy part of the Thamel neighborhood. Even though we were seated traditionally on the floor, and the power went out halfway through the dinner (during which time the staff seamlessly restored the ambiance with candles), the cozy and casual atmosphere felt luxurious compared to the typical rustic surroundings we had in the Himalaya.

I puzzled over the paradox of material security and creature comforts as we ate. Had I had my first full experience with Kathmandu before going on the Himalayan trek, it would have definitely felt like I was in a developing nation. The water is undrinkable – you can not even brush your teeth with it for fear of spending the next couple days violently ill. The electricity goes out for 6-hour periods a few times a day when Nepal’s sale of power to India peaks, and the schedule is typically different every day. The air pollution is tragic. The streets are managed chaos. The bathrooms in some buildings make the sets of all seven films in the Saw franchise look like European spas.

Yet, I felt after having a cold shower in my hotel, drinking a cold(ish) beer, and sitting down in this restaurant that I was in the lap of luxury. What’s more, the hospitality I received from everyone I encountered was the warmest, most genuine I have received anywhere. Nepal may be an extremely ethnically and geographically diverse nation, but their hospitality never wavers. Even though Kathmandu is crowded, polluted, and has significant basic infrastructure challenges, seeing the contrast in lifestyle between this rapidly developing city and that of the people in the remote villages in the Himalaya was striking. Life in Kathmandu has significant challenges for the locals when compared to American standards. Yet locals in the capitol city were the first to tell me just how amazed they are at the difficulty of life in remote parts of their country. Those who have been lucky enough to travel to those areas talk about it as though it is like visiting another country altogether. I have to agree.

While reaching Kathmandu meant that some of our group would part ways for other parts of Nepal, it also meant reunion. As soon as we made it to town, I was able to meet up with my old friend, Tatiana, who had been spending the prior several months studying to become a Yoga instructor in Thailand. Tatiana and I then welcomed Jenn into the sleepy early-to-bed city of Kathmandu when her flight arrived late at night. The three of us sat up for hours having a couple beers, reminiscing, and planning our next few days of exploring the art, culture, food, and architecture of this amazing city.

One of our first stops was the famous Kathmandu Durbar Square. Durbar Square is home to many temples and palaces, and was the location of the royal Nepalese residence until the 19th century. More importantly, there are no cars allowed in the general area. It is a fabulous place to enjoy the classic architecture of the city.

Durbar square in Kathmandu is home to many of the city's temples. © Luke Mislinski
Durbar square in Kathmandu is home to many of the city’s temples. © Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski

As we walked through the square, enjoying the scores of pigeons that were fluttering everywhere (they are seen as a positive sign and are treated with respect by locals), we were approached by a very friendly, soft-spoken Nepali man. He introduced himself as Ram and explained that he has been a cultural tour guide for 17 years. He asked us if we would like to hire him for a very modest 200 NPR (about $2.10) per person for a tour. I could see the usual American skepticism start to creep across Jenn’s and Tatiana’s faces. When someone approaches a group of American tourists offering a product or service out of the blue, I have noticed a natural tendency for us to say things like, “oh, that’s ok. I just want to wander around and look at stuff myself. I am just casually passing through. No thank you.” Thankfully, we swallowed our western-bred reticence this time and took him up on his friendly offer. 

Durbar square is a location where many Kathmandu locals go for a break. © Luke Mislinski
Durbar square is a location where many Kathmandu locals go for a break. © Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski

Ram, as it turned out, gave one of the best historical, cultural, or religious tours I have ever had. After we had spent two hours with him, he was even inviting us to his home and offering to arrange any possible trip we would like to take in Nepal. I was quickly learning that one of the best ways to experience Nepal is to fully embrace the locals and take them up on their offers. Sadly, we were not able to take Ram up on his, as we had already made plans for later that day. He taught us an important lesson in trusting the locals, though, that would open up amazing opportunities time and again throughout the remaining trip.

The next day, Tatiana was feeling a bit ill (she did not previously know about the danger of brushing teeth with tap water), so she elected to rest while Jenn and I visited the Garden of Dreams. The Garden of Dreams is on one of the busiest streets in Kathmandu. Once inside, though, the sounds and smells of the city melt away into a serene oasis. This garden, originally built as the Garden of Six Seasons in 1920, was restored with the help of the Austrian government between 2000 and 2007. It is a meticulously manicured garden of terraces, pavilions, and nooks and crannies for the most discerning pair of lovers looking for a romantic escape or a weary tourist looking for a quiet place to enjoy a cup of tea and a book. They even have wifi…

Lotus flowers in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
Lotus flowers in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski
© Luke Mislinski
A couple enjoys the quiet of the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
A couple enjoys the quiet of the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
A maintenance worker at the Garden of Dreams pauses to photograph the lotus flowers. © Luke Mislinski
A maintenance worker at the Garden of Dreams pauses to photograph the lotus flowers. © Luke Mislinski
Door in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
Door in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
A security guard in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski
A security guard in the Garden of Dreams. © Luke Mislinski

Busking for Karma – Driftless performed by Martin Dill

This next guest appearance on #buskingforkarma is a treat for all of us, but it will be especially fun for those of you from the midwest. Martin Dill, whom I (Luke) have known since I was a kid when he would come over to my house to hang out with my older brothers, asked if he could do a song. Those of you who know him, know that Martin has amazing vocal talent. As front man for Janitor Bob and the Armchair Cowboys, he put many smiles on faces over the years.

Thank you again for sending the video, Martin!

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For more information on the Karma Documentary and how you can help the people of Nepal recover from the recent earthquakes, visit our GoFundMe campaign and watch the video below.

Christen ~ Gratitude in Letters

Bit from the letters ~

“Crouch LOW when you pee outside… getting a little hoo-hoo chill is better than sleeping with pee on your pajamas!”

~

“It is not a portrait, in the classical sense. No airbrushing. No photoshopping. In Nepal, I tried to see people how they were. Just you, as the person you are. This is the thinly veiled smile you gave to the doubters before we left. After four demanding days into the trek, that little curl of the lips turned into a full-fleged mischievous grin. It was clear to me then that, while you hiked for the cause, this smile meant more….”
© Luke Mislinski

~

I often come back to a sign my brother saw in Berlin that said, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

This trek has been chockfull of firsts for me. My first pair of hiking boots. My first foray into talking openly on social media about what I am doing in my life. (As a generally private person [understatement], that is still weird for me.) My first time eating yak. My first time in Asia. And, yes, my first time heeding nature’s call in nature.

With unhappy digestive systems abounding, bathroom breaks were freely discussed in detail by necessity. (One man’s illness affects the group’s itinerary choices.)

So, as I returned to the lunch table from my first wilderness meditation, so to speak, Luke asked, “How was it?”

I gave him a look. “Um, awkward…? But, I guess I am getting the hang of it.”

Luke responded, “I meant the consistency…”

“Okay, well, still awkward, but, fine, I guess.”

And, it was. And, it remained fine. Whoever is in charge of these things must have decided that this was hard enough on me without laying on that extra stress of getting travelers’ sickness on top of it. One of many things for which I am grateful.

~

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

~

Gratitude…

When I asked for letters that I could read on the mountains, a beautiful thing happened. Letters arrived.

Letters from strangers. Letters from family. Letters from people I get to love in person in my life, and letters from people I no longer get to see but love still. Letters from people I know well, and letters from people I wish I knew better.

The letters were thoughtful and personal and inspiring. They took all forms. Some shared personal struggles. Some shared personal triumphs. Some shared memories we had made together. Some shared hopes for their own future adventures, slices of wisdom, moments of humor, or kind admiration for what we are doing.

I have been sharing bits of the letters with these entries because they mean so much to me. I wish I could post all of them here, but that would violate the trust I feel I was given in receiving them, though I have not been instructed once that this is so. I have left off all of the names because some of the letters shared such intimate vulnerabilities that I preferred to leave them well protected in the mountains where they were first read.

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

One told the story of a recent assault on a dark walk home alone. Others were stories of the difficulties of daily life in the attempts to be a good grownup and stories of the hardships of parenthood and all that entails. Stories of the sacrifices made for others and how those sacrifices can sometimes make you feel like you are drowning. Things that cannot be admitted anywhere but a letter sent to mountains far away where the words will not echo back. Stories of finally finding love, stories of still seeking love, and stories of love attempting to be maintained.

There were quotes, poetry, and lyrics to songs. One story-laden song in particular made me smile and sing it out loud when I read it. (“That’s the sound of sunshine, coming down…”) Love you, Mama.

Some fantastic awkward family photos that made me grin. (I am going to go right ahead and credit my sister for this gift, so you know I am not grinning at your awkward family photos.)

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

One line from the letters has continued to play in my head. I imagine it will continue to do so for a very long time. It is this, “…and there was you…treating me like I was normal, like I was valuable.”

Like I was valuable…

That sums up, so well, the reasoning that has been behind so many of the choices I have made in my life. I want people to know they are valuable.

I want to say, Thank you, to all of you for your generosity of time put into words. It is such a rare gift to have people in your life that take that kind of time. Thank you for letting me take that gift with me on this journey.

[Mio caro bello vecchio uomo, HKM, CLF, MDB, and JLT, I want you to know that your letters are getting worn at the edges from the rereading. You own real estate in my heart.]

People are asking me if I am glad I went. The easy answer is, Yes.

Someday, when I look back on my life, I want my list of Things I Have Done to be much longer than the Things I Have Not.

The complexity of that Yes is that I know I am just trading in the literal mountains for the much more arduous figurative mountains of working towards doing justice to the stories we have so far, and the more we have yet to experience. That is a much longer climb we will be beginning.

At this moment, at the end of this Himalayan hike, that idea is overwhelming. Instead, I am focusing on how lucky and blessed I am, and I am just going to look forward to this next week we will spend in the little village above Kathmandu called Changunarayan.

https://karmadocumentary.com/invest-in-karma/

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Finally! Some footage…

Many have asked to see some footage from the trip. While there is still a mini-mountain of files to go through, we wanted to share some moments from the first third of the trip, so you can see what it was like on the trek. We figured this would be a nice compliment to the regular blog posts.

There will be more footage coming soon, including the official promotional trailer. Stay tuned!

Karma Documentary Teaser from Luke Mislinski on Vimeo.

Luke ~ The return to Khote

On the 12th day of the trek, Christen and I were to stay back at base camp in Khare while the rest of the group hiked to high camp, en route to the summit. They planned to get to high camp in the afternoon, rest for several hours, and then climb through the night to reach the summit early the next morning. After that grueling task, they would hike most of that day back down to Khare.

As I walked around outside the lodge, the air was thick with excitement. Matt and Andrew both had to exchange pieces of equipment that failed during the climb to Mera La the day before. I had felt for Andrew as we were hiking together the previous afternoon, when I saw his left crampon explode in a spray of metal rivets and bands as he was trying to knock some snow off. He felt better about the replacement pair he scrounged up, since his original pair looked like they summited Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. Glen and Karma were up to their typical mountaineering warm-up antics, which were part dance, part chant, and part making goofy faces and chasing each other around like kids. Kami had finally decided to take his flip-flops off and was, to my surprise, wearing boots. (I later learned he was back to flip flops while lounging at high camp, though).

Once again, I was feeling really good about the decision not to attempt the summit. Just watching the frenzy of everyone doing their last minute gear checks was more than my brain could take while fighting the thick fog of altitude sickness. I had not sleept well. I kept startling awake throughout the night out of breath. It felt like someone was sitting on my chest when I would try to sleep.

As the group said their farewells on their way up Mera peak, Christen and I settled in for a day of waiting and rest. We decided to hang out at Khare for one more day and then head back down to Khote, over 4000 ft below, where I would hopefully recover and we would wait for the rest of the gang to meet us after they summited. As we sat and had tea in the chilly dining room, we chatted with Pasang about his previous two days. While the rest of us had been acclimatizing and resting, he had taken on two sets of clients and summited Mera Peak two days in a row! I couldn’t even retort that I was by far the oldest member of the trek. I had just learned that Pasang is only a few months younger than me.

In the early afternoon, the weather started changing rapidly before a snow storm moved into Khare.
In the early afternoon, the weather started changing rapidly before a snow storm moved into Khare.

The next morning, Pasang, Sonam, Christen, and I ventured back down the trail making our gradual descent to Khote. It felt a little strange leaving the rest of the group behind us, since we were always bringing up the rear. We were also a little worried, since it had started snowing in the afternoon the day before in Khare. We did not know if the team would be caught in a snow storm while at high camp or if they were above it. Christen and I were both a little low-energy as we made our way. The weather started out sunny, but deteriorated quickly throughout the day.

Christen and Pasang gradually make their way down towards Khote in the fine weather of the morning.
Christen and Pasang gradually make their way down towards Khote in the fine weather of the morning. The rest of the group was just reaching the summit.

After a quick lunch in Tagnak, Christen tried to get into a dice game with some locals. Sonam would not let her, to her chagrin. Gambling is illegal in Nepal, he explained. I do have to give him credit. For a 21-year-old man, he held his own in corralling Christen away from something that looks fun. The weather was also starting to turn very quickly. It was getting windy, and we were starting to see some rain drops. That probably motivated her more than anything.

As we continued along the river and starting nearing Khote, we met a tour group from England. They were a friendly, talkative bunch, and they were asking about the camera equipment. I explained the documentary and some of the goals that Karma has for his business, employees, and Sibuje. One of the English trekkers said he was extremely happy to hear that Karma ensures that his porters carry loads below the legal limit, as he was personally disgusted to see how much weight some porters are asked to carry by their companies.

I felt extremely relieved when they were excited about the documentary we were capturing. I had been worried about whether we had enough to make a movie people would even want to watch. Making the film while also trying to manage the demands of the trek was turning out to be harder than I had imagined. I was relieved beyond words that other westerners could “get” what I was trying to say.

Weather changes extremely quickly in the Himalaya. Within a matter of minutes, a thunder storm swept up the valley and started to drench Khote. We arrived in town just in time.
Weather changes extremely quickly in the Himalaya. Within a matter of minutes, a thunder storm swept up the valley and started to drench Khote. We arrived in town just in time.

When Christen and I stumbled into Khote, I had one mission. I went straight for a shower. I do not think I have ever had a more satisfying shower in my life. Even though it was from an old paint bucket with a tiny spigot on the side sitting on a shelf in what looked like a tool shed, the water was hot, and it felt like it was cleansing my soul. Of course, when you only have 3 showers over the course of 18 days, they feel like ultimate luxury.

I mentioned in a previous post that “rest” days on a Himalayan trek are rarely just that. Usually, they are used to hike around and acclimatize to the altitude. Since we were on our way down and waiting for the rest of our group, Christen and I lazed around and had a magnificent day of laying on the beautiful grass, reading, hanging out by the Tolkien-esque water fall, and catching up on days of nasty laundry. On top of that, if you are going to have a rest day anywhere, Khote is hard to beat. The sound of rushing water is everywhere, the air is clear, the grass is soft and green, and there are not rivulets of questionable brownness running down the hillside everywhere like in Khare.

Khote is an amazingly peaceful place to enjoy a rest day.
Khote is an amazingly peaceful place to enjoy a rest day.
The mountainsides around Khote are covered by beautiful trees that reverberate a mystical quality in the afternoon fog.
The mountainsides around Khote are covered by beautiful trees that reverberate a mystical quality in the afternoon fog.

In the afternoon of our rest day, the rest of the team made their way into Khote. Amazingly, everyone looked even skinnier than when we saw them two days ago. The summit seemed to melt the calories right off them. Karma, Matt, Andrew, and Becky all made it to the summit. In keeping with the general theme of the trek, the team hit the perfect weather window. They had mostly clear weather (they were above the storm that pelted us in Khare), in contrast to the groups going up before and after them.

Unfortunately, Becky was starting to take her turn with the dreaded trail sickness. Because we had been getting such good weather, we did not have to use any of our optional lay-over days yet. Given this, we all elected to stay one more day in Khote to help Becky recover and to give the rest of us time to catch up on much deserved reading and laundry. Ironically, when you are on a trek away from all of life’s daily chores, they can still pile up on you!

Dawa and Sonam relax in Khote.
Dawa and Sonam relax in Khote.
Matt and Andrew tell stories of the summit.
Matt and Andrew tell stories of the summit.

 

Luke ~ Coming up for air

Christen has had a flurry of activity lately on the blog. While I have been bouncing from one shoot to the next in Kathmandu valley, she has been working non-stop to update you all on how the trek unfolded for the teams shooting the Karma Documentary and participating in the trek.

We just said a momentary goodbye this evening to Christen; she has boarded her flight back to Seattle. Since I have a minor break in the production schedule, I wanted to begin to share some of the photos and thoughts I had along the trek. I thought I would start out with a photo essay about our late arrival (and very brief layover) in Kathmandu, our landing in Lukla, and our immediate launch onto the trail.

I will be continuing to film in Nepal over the next several weeks to round out the stories of many of the wonderful people who make tourism a reality in this country. Stay tuned. More to come!

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After a lengthy journey (with the bonus of a surprise extended lay-over in China), we were welcomed to the Kathmandu international airport by this sunset.

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Even though it was the Nepali (Hindu) New Year, the streets of Kathmandu were practically deserted by the time we finished our final gear check at about 1:00 in the morning. This rickshaw driver is having a break after a very busy night.

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Lukla is the launching point for many treks in the Everest region, including ours to Mera Peak and the popular Everest Base Camp trek. It is a small bustling town sitting atop a ridge hosting one of the worlds most dangerous landing spots – Tenzing-Hillary Airport. We were only here long enough for breakfast, yet it was obvious that tourism has fueled the vast majority of this community’s economy as it has grown over the last 15 years.

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Many farmers from rural surrounding areas wait outside the gate of the airstrip, hoping to be hired a porter for a trek. Prime season is only a few months in the spring and fall, and the competition for work is high.

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After breakfast in Lukla, we hit the trail. We were quickly schooled on the concept of “Sherpa flat”. If your day starts and ends at relatively the same elevation, the trail is said to be flat. However, you will still likely climb up and down ridges that can be up to 3000 ft throughout the day. From this vantage, you can see our rocky trail on the right. Lukla is the village on the ridge halfway up the distant mountain, between the trees. Our lunch spot was at the bottom of the valley by the river… Sherpa flat.

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Christen and Karma were enjoying the sun on the trail earlier in the first day.

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The children along the trail were very excited to see us. Our trekking route took us through areas seldom visited by foreign tourists.

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Karma was always making sure Christen and I were bringing up the back of the trekking party safely. We liked to think we were the slowest members because of needing to stop to film, but the others possessed far more trekking and mountaineering prowess. Here, Karma is radioing ahead to Glen that we are learning how to walk in the mountains properly – small steps.

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After a first day that seemingly lasted for weeks (including all of our international travel mishaps), we finally reached our first lodge in the Himalaya. The sunset gave us a mystical glimpse into the typical weather patterns we would see most days. Clear mornings would suddenly cloud up in the afternoons.