Tag Archives: Kathmandu

Luke ~ The People of Nepal – Ashok

How do you know when travel impacts you deeply? Which journeys give you the most powerful memories? These thoughts have been bouncing around my mind furiously since I returned from Nepal. Nepal left a deep imprint. Every time I ask myself why, the answer is simple. The people.

I met Ashok Bhujel, a young Nepali man in his early twenties, one day as I returned to my guesthouse in Changu Narayan. He helped with all sorts of daily chores around the guesthouse. He greeted me with a warm smile, and open arms. I could not even begin to have a want before he would anticipate it and help me out.

Ashok is a dreamer who likes to think about the possibilities for his friends and family.
Ashok is a dreamer who likes to think about the possibilities for his friends and family.

I got to know Ashok better over the next three weeks. He is a dreamer. Whether he was inviting me to sit with his friends and trade songs on his guitar, or teaching me about the political, educational, and economic struggles of younger Nepali generations, Ashok dwells on the possibilities, not the barriers.

I have been keeping touch with Ashok occasionally. It was his messages to me a couple weeks ago that both gave me great relief that he was ok and sadness for his upcoming struggles. Ashok, like so many in Nepal, has lost everything – his home and his job – due to the earthquakes. He has a new wife, Nena. Together, they were starting their life together in Kathmandu when the earthquakes struck. Rather than relay his story to you, here are his own words from our recent conversations. I asked him to tell his story, so I could share it with you.

“Okay Luke Iet me start. Well I was working in starview and she had a singingbowl healing centre in Bhaktapur Dattariya. One day I took one of my costumer to her centre and then I meet her. Her name is Nena Nepali.

She is very good as a person. So I liked her at first sight. I took her visiting card and then slowly we came close. Well she is a town girl and I belong to village. She had lots of big dreams like to be a big successful business girl…”

Ashok and Nena
Ashok and Nena

“And one day she took me to her home I met her parents. They had a small shop too. Her parents and her 3 yrs old brother all are very nice people. After that slowly I talk about her with my parents. They want to meet her too.

Then I took her my village. My village is 150 km away from Kathmandu. It’s a rural place, completely a small village. I hope u can imagine. She was so afraid while we were on bus coz it feels like we r riding on elephant. It makes me laugh remembering her face on bus in that day. After that my parents liked her. So after that we fix the date and get married. Then I got job doing Thanka paintings.”

Ashok and Nina on their wedding day.
Ashok and Nena on their wedding day.

“But I didn’t have still home to stay. So I was sitting. With her parents. Life was going slowly okay u know but now my sweet home in village is no more. My family is staying under tent. I don’t even know. Do they getting foods or not. My wife shop is also gone and with that all her hard work and dreams too.

Seeing around how and what earthquake brought to our normal life still today we cannot sleep well. Thinking about how to start all when it’s gonna be normal like before my heartache tears rolls down. What to do how to do? I don’t have any idea. In one side I think about Nena and in another about my parents. She is a elder child of her parents and I must also. We both are feeling helpless brother. But still haven’t giveup our hope.”

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Luke ~ Surrendering to the Story

How can you tell when you are in the midst of change? How do you know when it is time to surrender to the unfolding of a story, a journey, an experience? Why is it hard to let go of instincts? As I climbed the nearly endless stone stairway to the fourth-century temple of Changu Narayan, I thought about the unfolding dilemma I was facing. To explain, I have to rewind a bit. When I was originally invited months before to join the inaugural trek for Karma’s fledgling tourism business, I thought the trek would provide me opportunities enough to get sufficient footage to tell the story of sustainable tourism in Nepal. I would spend one week post-trek in Kathmandu valley after the trek, I had reasoned, to focus on getting the blog up to date with Christen. Then, she would return to Seattle, and I would travel to India to visit a friend. Life and the universe have a funny way of having their own plans.

As I neared the top of my climb, a nagging feeling crept from the murky part of my mind I do not like to visit. I started to worry whether we had captured enough footage to tell a complete story. I knew that, given this is our first film, there would be a significant learning curve – especially for me. My minimal experience with video combined with my novice abilities as a Himalayan trekker took their toll. Christen has said many times, “I wish you would have captured that moment on film!” I have said it far more times to myself. Many days, it felt like all I could do was simply finish the day’s mileage, get some usable footage, somehow charge my fleet of camera and laptop batteries, transfer hundreds of gigabytes of footage from cards to external hard drives, do my laundry, eat, rest, interview others in the group, and stay up late with Christen to take star photos and giggle at silly jokes acting like kids. It felt like I was frequently missing key moments during the trek when I would try to take a moment’s break.

When I reached the top of the stairs in Changu Narayan, I knew. We needed more…I was not going to India. I was going to spend my remaining four weeks in Asia in Nepal. I met up with Christen, Jenn, and Tatiana for lunch. Jenn (my wife) and Tatiana (an old friend) were joining us for this part of our trip in Changu. I was chewing on my new realization the whole meal.

After eating, Christen did what she does best. I was interviewing the master teacher at the Thanga painting school in the village when Christen came over to tell me that she had a couple more people I needed to meet. I had learned that when she says something like that, it is best to trust her instincts. Within minutes, I was sitting on the floor of a wooden mask shop and dodging shards of alder wood that were flying by my head at surprising speeds as Christen smashed a wooden mallet into a chisel. The owner of the shop had decided to teach her some of the finer points of mask carving.

As we explained our film to the him, he was very excited and insisted we meet his family members who help him with the shop. “Tourism,” he explained, “is the life of the village. There are few other forms of work here besides those supporting tourism.” It was easy to see, as we strolled down the cobble-stone streets of the little village. Shops lined both sides of the streets offering all manner of crafts, clothes, and souvenirs. The villagers who were not working in shops were working on the wheat harvest. They would carefully lay out their harvest on the street every morning to dry, and pick it up in the evening. After several days of drying, they would thresh it by hand on the same streets. Changu - Bazaar view

© Christen Babb. A resident of Changu Narayan sits outside one of many shops that line the narrow streets. Changu - Wheat woman

© Christen Babb. A woman from Changu Narayan dries wheat on the street from the recent harvest.

As Christen and I finished at the mask shop, she told me about another shop owner she had met earlier in the day. “You have got to interview this guy named Balkrishna, the owner of the singing bowl shop,” she insisted. “Really,” I asked? I had passed by his shop the previous day but was not drawn to it. I have no idea why. “Jenn had mentioned she was in there and wanted to go back to buy something.” “Trust me,” replied Christen. “You will be glad you talked to Balkrishna.” Did I mention I had learned to trust Christen’s instincts?

I returned to Balkrishna’s shop later with Jenn and Tatiana. Balkrishna is a great man. I immediately liked him and felt like despite the vast cultural differences between us, we shared something important: we both want to see our communities thrive and strive to devote our lives to that mission. Our conversation that afternoon spanned from the explosion of tourism in the village over the previous couple decades (and subsequent recent decline), to the complicated political situation in Nepal following the civil war (1996 – 2006) and shift from a monarchy to a republic. However, the most important part was how his eyes lit up when I explained that we are making a film about tourism in Nepal from the viewpiont of local Nepalis.

I was about to learn over the next several weeks that Balkrishna is a person with a big vision. I barely finished explaining it before Balkrishna was running off an impressively insightful and diverse list of people and places that he could introduce me to for the film. I was looking for anyone to help me understand just how far the tendrils of tourism reach into the economy and lives of the people of Nepal, and here was Balkrishna, my new Nepali production manager whom I did not know that I had, waiting right there for me with an ambitious production schedule. Even better, an amazing friendship started with Balkrishna that I will cherish the rest of my life. I owe a large debt to Christen for my friendship with him. 10258679_10152167837887496_8756685174630154594_o

© Luke Mislinski. Balkrishna Baj assists with filming in Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha.

As I write my next posts about filming in Nepal, I will shift from the trek phase of the trip to the second half covering several other major parts of the country. I hated to see Christen go back to America. I felt like I was losing my right arm, and I was worried that I would not capture the same depth of story without her. Once again, I learned to trust her judgement. Although she could not stay in Nepal, Christen somehow found the right person in Balkrishna to help me uncover the rest of the story…The more one learns about tourism in Nepal, the more it becomes clear just how vital it is to the Nepali people country-wide. The best part about meeting Balkrishna? I was starting to learn how to surrender to the story, and there could not have been a better teacher than he was.

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Christen ~ Continuing the Journey ~ Changunarayan

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

It has been explained to me that the large bells outside of the temples are to be rung to say, “I am here.” Ringing the bell to let God know you are present and are ready to share this moment.

I kind of love this idea, that God is not sitting around waiting for our every whim and whisper, but that we must make our presence known. The idea that God has other things to be doing and does not simply spend time waiting around for us to have a thought, but is available if you ring the bell. (There has been no implication that the bell ever goes unanswered.) Active participation in the relationship, rather than the passive assumption that a relationship with God is happening, just because you think about it. If you want a relationship, you must “show up”.

I am here.

A lot like any other relationship we have, or life itself. Life does not just happen. You must participate. You must take action. You must show up.

Life is about showing up.

I am here.

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

And, where is here…

At this moment, after trekking high into the Himalaya for a few weeks, and a few days in Kathmandu to catch our breath (which was impossible, really, because it is so polluted that it was harder for me to breath in Kathmandu than at 16,500 feet), I am sitting in the little village of Changunarayan. It sits up in the hills, overlooking Kathmandu Valley, and I can, once again, breathe.

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

A week to marinate in the zen-like calm of a village that has gone about their way of life for hundreds of years, before my country was even a concept.

I do not, yet, know what comes after this journey (just as I did not know this journey was coming), but in this moment, I ring the bell.

I am here.

©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb
©Christen Babb

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#buskingforkarma ~ Gandharba musicians from Nepal play Resham Firiri

Next in our #buskingforkarma series, enjoy this performance of the very popular traditional Nepali folk song, Resham Firiri. I met these musicians while taking a break from filming for the Karma Documentary, walking through the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu. They are the hardest working buskers I have met. They are members of the Gandharba, an ancient Hindu caste of musicians who travel from village to village, earning their living by spreading news and entertainment through their music.

Today, there is less demand for their traditional services. Like many Nepali people, they are struggling to adapt to changes brought about by globalization and the rise of modern communications technologies. To earn money for their families, they are often seen playing their music for donations from visitors and selling recordings and instruments on the streets of cities in Nepal.

Check out the video below!

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Left to right: Mandal, Petram, and Dambar

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

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Renton, WA 98058

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

Christen ~ From Zero to the Himalayas

After some weeks of transitioning my position at work into the next hands, trying to organize for this trip, and putting my physical home, once again, into storage, I was grateful when my normal inner calm returned as I sank into my seat on our flight out of Seattle.

Ooosah…

Seattle to Vancouver to Guangzhou to Kathmandu to…Nope, wait, the flight from Guangzhou, China to Kathmandu, Nepal is cancelled. There goes our one buffer day to pick up need supplies for the trek. (Thank you, Glen, for handling that for us.) A night in a hotel in Guangzhou with our fellow waylaid passengers meant we met a great group of people who were excited for their upcoming adventures. One of many great things about meeting other travelers-by-choice.

One of these was a fellow who is guiding a Discovery Channel film crew up Everest to film some dude base jumping off the summit in a squirrel suit…as you do.

We finally get to Kathmandu on Monday evening (having left Seattle on Saturday morning), in the middle of the Hindu new year celebration, hauling suitcases, backpacks, and gigantic duffel bags full of donation clothing, through the packed streets.

We get to our rooms, start organizing what needs to go where, and having Glen pare down our trekking items into necessities-only. By the time we are done with this (and a quick glance out on the streets at the tail end of the new year celebration), we have three hours left to sleep.

No, wait, scratch that. Luke and I are still a little wired from traveling. After giggling like 8 year olds at a sleep-away camp when we should be sleeping, we get about an hour and a half of sleep, before getting up at 5am to catch our flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, and begin our first day of hiking.

We would not want to make any of this easier on me, would we.

 

Lukla plane

Lukla: “The most treacherous airstrip in the world”

I had been looking forward to this flight all week, since I had learned of its reputation. I was pretty disappointed by the uneventful flight and the gentle gliding into the landing. (The flight from San Francisco to Medford to visit my brother, John, in Ashland, OR, was by far more exciting.) I resigned myself to the idea that not exciting was ultimately better than too exciting, and moved on to the rest of the day.

Lukla airport first day 1

As porters were being organized, Luke and I opted to add two personal porters for our packs. This was a decision for which we were grateful every single day for the rest of the trek, not only because of the weight of his camera gear and my inexperience, but because it meant we provided two more people with an income for those few weeks. $250 well spent.

16,500 feet, here I come

For the rest of our group, all avid trekkers/outdoorsy people, the attitude was, “What? It is just walking.” As we started hiking up the inclines soon after we began, I would have to disagree. It is more like endurance Tetris with your feet, stepping on or around rocks, that may or may not be stable, with each step. I am not the most graceful person on flat ground, so my “training” may have been improved by that dancing video game that lights up dance steps on the floor for you to follow. No matter.

I was pleased by the muscle memory of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Less pleasing was the overpowering sound of my breathing seeming to have my eardrums in a wind tunnel.

The several hours of hiking on this first day (on an hour and a half of sleep, and two days of travel from the other side of the world) became a repetitive cycle of sucking wind until I could no longer listen to the sound of it, stopping to slow and recalibrate my breathing, and starting again, along with a fairly steady passing by people with hands pressed together in front of them, “Namaste.”

Biggest lesson learned on the first day of hiking: You cannot climb a mountain the way you climb a long flight of stairs, taking it two or three steps at a time, even if you are built, as my mom would say, “like a flamingo”. Hiking, it turns out, is much more of a trudging thing than a sprinting thing.

Trekking 2

Trekking 4

Trekking 1

Trekking 10

Trekking 7

Trekking 8

Namaste (You knew I would have to talk about it, didn’t you.)

Not having been a participant in yoga, Namaste is not a part of my vernacular, nor am I certain of the definition. Not having access to the inter webs here on the mountain, I am going with my vague recollection that it means, ‘The divinity within me greets the divinity within you’.  In a ‘God is in everything and everything is God’, Spinoza, sort of way. I can dig it.

It is an interesting perspective of respect in a culture that operates openly on a caste system. As I find my way up these mountains, I am met at every turn by someone greeting my inner divinity, most often by children who are too young to understand the implications of where they might stand or my being considered casteless.

Worn out, in need of sleep, and with several more hours of hiking scheduled for tomorrow (and the day after, and the day after, and the day after…), my inner divinity bids your inner divinity, Goodnight.

[Sidenote: So many wonderful people were kind enough to send along letters for me to read on the mountain, so I thought I would include bits from them with these entries…]

Bits from the letters ~

“In the army we had a tradition. When we rolled out of our bunks in the morning, we would say “X, and a wake up!” “X” being the number of full days we had left before that final wake up and getting the hell out of there.

Let this be your mantra when you wake up, and you feel you can’t go on, which will probably be days 2 through 20.”

[…]

“Remember, pain is weakness leaving the body. Next time I see you, you will be the strongest person I know.”

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Luke Mislinski Photography

3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

Christen ~ Here we go, yo.

There are a lot of things about this trip about which I am not excited. I am focusing on that about which I am.

I am excited to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the views.

I am excited to have the people we meet, and the way they live, put my life into a new perspective.

I am excited to not be dealing with the tedium of the details of the trip anymore and to be just getting to it. Anything we do not have or did not do is just what it is.

Mostly, I am really excited for Luke to be pointing the camera at someone other than me.

They just started boarding our flight out of Seattle. Wish us luck!

Love you.

https://karmadocumentary.com/2014/03/26/christen-invest-in-karma/

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Donate to the film. Any and all contributions make a difference.

 

***You can donate through the GoFundMe campaign, as well as share the link and encourage others to donate:

http://www.gofundme.com/karmadocumentary

 

***You can donate through PayPal here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

 

***You can send a check to:

Luke Mislinski Photography

3563 US Highway 26
Dubois, WY
82513

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