Annapurna Bite 1997

Here’s chapters 1 – 4 (chapters 5 – 7 have also been posted below):

I have read and heard that when people begin writing, their first efforts are often autobiographical. That is what has happened here. My attempts at a “book” or “memoir” are going to be partially published on this blog and I welcome your feedback, comments, and criticisms. This story is, from my perspective, a pretty self-effacing one as I don’t really try to present myself as much more than a bumbling idealistic tourist making bad decisions and really not having the courage or conviction to face reality without being constantly stoned or evasive. That may be an overstatement and I hope that it is. It is also my sincere wish that you find some enjoyment in the text and furthermore you find some revealed mysteries.

Annapurna Bite 1997

by Matthew R. Bartels

Preface

     This story is a ridiculous tale, a story taken from memory, that mutinous and slippery beast, several previous attempts to write it and journal entries made nearer to the time the events happened. It is a first person narrative so if you don’t like that kind of writing, um, yeah. I beseech the reader to supply their own meaning and much patience. This story is my perspective on events that occurred during a trek, initially with only my brother, through the Annapurna region of the Himalaya. What actually happened, since it is in the past and was not well documented is unknowable with any sort of certainty. It is only through the medium of story that I even try. Even when I’ve compared memories of events with my brother there have been some discrepancies and disagreements. Every story has its bias. I’ve tried to be as objective as I could and embellished only where it serves to elucidate the under currents but not obfuscate the facts. If I have erred, or misrepresented, I would like to apologize in advance to such persons, but there is nothing for it. Ke Garne! Some names have been changed, either because I don’t remember them or because that is what is best. Some names are of actual people I once knew and would really love to know again. I hope that one might find here a story that is by no means new, a story like many others, yet distinct in its own way. A story that has a place and time but also has a certain timelessness, or at least a wishful thinking. I leave it up to your discretion and judgment to draw your own conclusions and take or leave it for what you will.

Chapter 1: The Beginning of an End

     It was June of 1997 and I was facing a summer of watching my college friends trickle off into the distance after graduating from a small liberal arts college in Santa Fe, NM. During that summer I lived in a house in the New Mexican desert that was part pot-smoking hangout and part synagogue. My housemate and I had rented the place through one of our professors. He used the back part of the house every Saturday for his community’s temple and we rented the front two bedrooms, small living room and kitchen. I don’t know what fraction of the rent we actually paid. We got not a mild pleasure from taking bong hits in the early Saturday morning to the melodious sounds of Hebrew chanting. We had to be exceptionally careful to blow the smoke out the window. Otherwise we would have surely had to search for new digs. Some things need to be done ever so carefully. We were old hats at herb smoking and experienced at hiding our habit.

    The specter of paying rent, even though it was reasonable, loomed larger than any exam and I dreaded it more than a Kant seminar. The buzz from graduating wore off too quickly and I was terrified of leaving the sheltered cocoon of higher education even though I had been hell bent on getting the fuck out of there.

     Meanwhile, in California, my brother Lucky, even though he was younger, had graduated a year before me from one of those normal universities in California. He had taught English in Japan, returned to the states and was currently planning a trip to Thailand with his girlfriend. Some sort of meditation and sex retreat, I remember thinking. They were set to leave sometime in the fall. I wanted to travel somewhere too, especially to France. That was one of the languages I had studied and a favorite professor once or twice told me stories that made the Alps seem like a magical paradise where one could find a job at a hotel et fait la étude des femmes françaises. The reality of that summer though, was that I needed a job.

     I applied at a small local business. Lithos Seert sold garden ornamentation to the well-to-do. There was another student from the school working there and they hired me at a rate of ten dollars per hour. It wasn’t completely unpleasant. The company sold their wares all over the states and had three pricing levels: suckers, half-suckers, and the bro-deal. But they called it retail, contractor and wholesale. They also did some local installations and it seemed that half of the town was using this particular brand of cultural appropriation to keep up with the Jones’. The granite pieces were hand carved in China and often of Japanese design. The owner’s favorite piece was the grindstone whereas I appreciated the perfect meter tall granite spheres that weighed about 1440kg. I’ve always had poor taste in most aspects of fashion and design. They were all pretty cool looking in one way or another. The owner was a pretty honest asshole. He was one of those kayakers with that holier-than-thou attitude I’d seen in many surfers along the California coast, oozing confidence. He was also boring which is the accepted business attitude for success. On the other hand, the guy who ran the back end – the installations, shipping and receiving – was great. He was a salt-of-the-earth real life cowboy and I admired him immensely. It felt good to be in his presence. He was what you might call “a real man”. He never put on airs, was a full time father, dated a stripper, and had a great sense of humor.

     The garden ornaments were shipped all over the states via trucks. The pieces had to be crated for shipping. I did that half the time and spent the rest of the time doing mundane office tasks. One day the cowboy had the forklift tires foam-filled. After that they didn’t have to call the forklift tire repair guy every other day because of all the nails from the crates that were strewn about the yard in the dirt parking lot. A problem solved and work made that much more efficient.

     There was also a girl who worked in the office and had graduated from the same college as I had. A gorgeous woman that had driven many a man crazy. She bailed on the secretary job after a while, mostly because she had to spend all day in the office with the asshole. I ended up folding more brochures than I had wanted, but that’s work, eh? Doing that which you’d rather not do. Work could even mean killing – if you don’t like killing – as I would find out. (It takes a lot of “work” to kill a wild animal with your bare hands.) If you like “work”, chances are it probably isn’t work. Unless you are one of those rare and special people who don’t need a social life. I was still fooling myself about work back then. The definition of work for a physicist, grossly, mass multiplied by acceleration multiplied by the distance over which the mass is moved is rather different from pretty much everybody else’s definition of work which is equated solely with making money.

     Near the end of the summer my brother Lucky and I decided, in a phone conversation, to take a trip to Nepal and go trekking. Lucky found out his girlfriend had been screwing his housemate behind his back and so the Thailand bullshit got canceled. It was for the best but I didn’t envy him his heart ache at the time. But I do now. Yum Yum Yum!! Sweet ole sure-as-hell-yer-livin’ heart ache – the stuff from which dreams, novels, art and bowel movements are made.

   At the end of the summer I drove home to California. Before I left I made sure to thank the cowboy for his kindness and inspiring presence and I did my best to not piss off the esteemed owner. Money was tight and it was going to stay that way. I would not miss Santa Fe for, at least, fifteen years.

     Once in California Lucky and I prepared for our trip by reading as much about Nepal as we could. Lucky went much farther than reading. He volunteered for a senator’s spouse in California who did a lot of fundraising for Nepal. He also baked cookies for the travel agent who scored us inexpensive tickets. We would travel together for one month in Nepal and then I would go to France. Preparation for the trip meant reading guide books, buying sturdy boots and getting vaccinated.

     It had been at least a decade since I had seen a doctor for a physical examination. The one I visited had exotic fighting fish in his waiting room aquarium and would be indicted in some scandal several years later involving pornography. As I sat in the exam room, having endured the routine and vaccines, I asked a question that had bothered me since I was 18. I asked the doctor what this dark spot with hair growing out of it on my torso was. He found 2 more spots and told me to lie down on the exam table. Then he called in his entire staff: nurses, secretaries and anyone else in earshot who happened to be in the clinic. They stood around the table looking at my half-naked body and wondering what the hell was going on. The doctor said “This guy has five nipples. He pointed to them one by one. “See they are all in the ‘nipple line’ just like dogs and pigs.” Everyone had a good laugh and the mystery was solved. I had three supernumerary nipples in addition to the regular two.

     On the last day of September we left a weeping mother and a nervous father at the San Francisco International airport. Lucky and I had let our beards grow. We looked like a cross between those phony pictures of white Jesus and a terrorist. This trip was essentially a graduation present from our parents. At least it was for me. Lucky had saved a bunch of dough from teaching in Japan and intended to travel for more than a year through India and Sri Lanka. Certainly I could never have afforded such a thing working as a droog for ten dollars an hour, not after only three months anyway.

     The entire flight from SFO to Seoul we sat next to the saddest woman you ever saw. She was crying the entire time. We were in a good a mood but wouldn’t talk to her because her grief scared the hell out of us. It was as though a very dark rain cloud was hanging over her head, drenching her with sorrow, and we were afraid to get wet. Every time we talked to one another with excitement or something approaching cheer her sobs and wails grew even louder. Like our mirth was hurting her more and that pretty much sucked. After a one hour stopover in Seoul we were back on the plane. The duty-free shop had been filled with bargains. I was particularly attracted to the Chinese imitation Lego collections. Unfortunately my small budget didn’t permit extraneous purchases. Besides what would I do with Legos on a trek? Back on the plane we made some calculations, we had been flying for more than 13 hours and were about to embark for another nearly 6 hours to Bangkok. We flew Thai Air for both legs of the journey and it was wonderful (despite the grieving woman). The stewardesses were gorgeous and sweeter than honey. They seemed to anticipate our every need. Waitresses, female nurses and really any woman who performs a service type job are almost always maddeningly attractive because of their nurturing aspect. Now that might sound Freudian, and I’m not saying it isn’t, but when the service type job woman is beautiful (according to your own cultural conditioning) they are made exponentially so. We were all speechless smiles and drool whenever a stewardess came near.

     On the plane to Bangkok we were sitting next to the very sad lady again but this time we mustered the courage to converse with her and listen to her story. She was going to Laos, where she was from originally, to retrieve the dead body of her husband. It was an awful burden she bore. We listened to her and she appeared to begin to feel a little relieved just before we arrived in Bangkok and we wished her luck. Not succumbing to our fear and speaking with her actually made us a little happier too. We’d done a nice thing for her as well, just by listening.

     It took us a while to get through customs because we were lallygagging and giddy from the change of time zones. Since we did not have a guide book for Thailand or South East Asia, we were at a loss for what to do with our ten hour stop over. It was about midnight. The information desk girly-boy said we could get a cab ride to a hotel for 210 baht and that it would be 700 baht each for a hotel room. I was ready to capitulate seeing as how I was really fucking tired. But Lucky remembered something he’d read in a guide book before we left about how cheap places to sleep in Bangkok were, on the order of one hundred baht or less.

     We went into one of those souvenir shops where they rip you off if you buy anything and looked through a travel guide for cheap hotels. The thing is, you can’t find good deals while you are in the airport. By then you are too late, it just doesn’t happen. At least it doesn’t happen often and even less often in the middle of the night. With our backpacks on it felt as though gravity was paying extra special attention to us and we sluggishly climbed a set of stairs, unsure of our destination and bewildered. At the top of the steps a small Thai guy was poignantly staring at us.

    He was a small thin grimy man who looked very stoned. As we were just reaching the top of the stairs he asked us “You look for room?” We nodded. “I know a place, real cheap, real close.”

     “Does it have a shower?” I asked skeptically.

     “Yeah. No problem. Yes, yes. Come with me.”

     Lucky sensed danger and pulled me aside. “Hey! I don’t think this is a good idea.”

     I patted him on the back and said, “Dude! Where’s your sense of adventure?” I was thinking maybe this guy is not going to stab us and steal all our shit, and just maybe he’s legitimate. Lucky shrugged and we followed the man to the sliding glass doors that separated the air conditioned cocoon of the airport from the brutal stench and humidity of the colossal city.

     Walking through the glass doors was as though we had stepped out into the bottom of a very hot ocean and been given stunted breathing privileges. Inhaling was like trying to breathe glue. Our clothes were soaked from both sides and I suddenly wished I’d been born with gills. The taxi driver didn’t even seem to notice. We swam to the guy’s faded piece of shit rat trap car that was parked half on the airport driveway and half on the sidewalk. He introduced himself as “Choo-Choo Charlie”. The doors and hood were held in place by wire hangers and the thing itself was beat to hell, rusty, blue and of an unfamiliar Asian make with 4 doors. Had there not been a steering wheel it would’ve been difficult to tell which end was the front. He offered to put our backpacks in the trunk, we insisted on the back seat. Lucky got in the back with the two backpacks and I sat shotgun. Choo-Choo fiddled under the hood, came back to the driver’s seat and we were nothing short of awe-struck when the car started. He drove us out onto the big road and headed left out of the airport. Lucky had to keep the backpacks from sliding out whenever the car lurched in a sideways direction because the doors kept opening while the car was in motion. We drove down the road for a mile or so then made a right u-turn through a crack in the concrete divider and headed back toward the airport. This was either an attempt to disorient us or the only way to cross the big road adjacent to the airport. When we neared the airport, on the opposite side of the road, Choo-Choo hung a left so the airport was directly behind us and we were in some sort of slum. Everything was boarded up in the middle of the night. Choo-Choo had been keeping the conversation going the whole time.

    “Where are you from?” He asked in cheerful decent English.

     “California.” We answered in unison.

     “Oh!” He excitedly gestured and the car wobbled a bit. “I’m from California too!”

     “Really? You were born there?” I asked.

     “Yes. I lived there with my brother and sister. They are teachers in Los Angeles.”

    “Hey, that’s great. Now you say you can get us a place to sleep and a shower, right?”

     “Yes. No problem. You can sleep at the school. My brother and sister have a school. It is just up here. Do you want some heroine?”

     Lucky and I exchanged bemused glances. He looked tired and his face reminded me that we’d been up for so long and that we’d missed that seven or eight hours of continuous sleep so necessary for the R.E.M. dreams and that lovely neurochemical cascade right at the end that rejuvenates the mind.

     “No, but thanks for offering.”

     “You want some ganja? Or girls? Or boys? What? Choo-Choo take care of you! Get you whatever you want?” He hopefully hawked.

     “Uhm. We just want a place to sleep and a shower.”

     “Okay. You sleep at school and… ” he trailed off as he swerved to avoid a driver going in the opposite direction of traffic. Like negotiating a stubborn rock on the river. Lucky had the backpacks and doors under control.

    “And a shower right? This ‘school’ has a shower, right?”

     “Oh yeah. They got a chower. No problem. So you want heroine?”

     “Thanks, but no. Your sister and brother are teachers?”

     “Yes.” Choo-Choo said in a satisfied way.

     “So their school is here, but they teach in California?” That was too much, his satisfied smile faded and he appeared to no longer understand.

     “Where do your brother and sister live now?”

     “I don’t know, my friends. I do not seen them in many years.”

     For a while we wove our way through the half-paved streets and ramshackle zinc roofed homes avoiding curious wild dogs and an occasional feral cat. At some point he pulled over the car. We grabbed our packs and followed him across the street. Sure enough there stood a school fronted by a large gate with official looking Thai characters in an arc. The characters were well manicured, iron, made by a professional artist or sign maker, but we’d no idea what they said. Next to this was a smaller side-gate, also metal, but without the fanfare. Reaching through a hole in the side-gate and unleashing a string of what only could have been profanity, Choo-Choo undid the latch and we casually walked inside. Choo-Choo had been moving fast and we didn’t find him right away in the darkness. Our eyes slowly adjusted. The air didn’t feel quite as stuffy and overwhelming here. There was a barely detectable sweetness to it, it seemed lighter, like the laughter of children. Choo-Choo appeared, still moving quickly and cursing, or what seemed like cursing. He seemed a bit perturbed. We found ourselves in an outdoor corridor that reminded me of my Catholic elementary school days. Raised concrete walkway with steel pipes for columns all along the walkway supporting a concrete roof. It wasn’t quite deja vu but I felt like a school child, as though we’d briefly stepped back in time. Choo-Choo had disappeared yet again and we found him with his hands in a breaker box, fishing around for something. His stream of indecipherable profanity still flowing. Then he popped the switch he was looking for and five or six metal halide bulbs went on overhead lighting up the length of the open corridor. Lucky and I were temporarily blinded. We looked at each other and stifled a laugh, all that trouble just to turn on the lights! Classrooms were staggered on either side of the corridor and Choo-Choo proceeded methodically from one door knob to the next until he found an open one and said, “You can sleep here. It is safe.”

     “What time do the children start school in the morning?” I asked somewhat in disbelief.

     “Oh. I think maybe seven?”

     Lucky and I looked at each other again barely stifling our laughter. It just didn’t seem real. With the sleep deprivation, this was taking on more and more the qualities of a dream. “And where can we shower?”

     “Come this way!” Choo-Choo said proudly, as if he’d forgotten that he was about to slay a dragon with a magic sword, forgotten both that he had the sword and the whereabouts of the dragon and suddenly realized that he had them both all along. The end of the corridor was all tiled in green, fungal ridden tile. Even the grout was green or black. He disappeared into the dimness at the end of the corridor where the light did not reach and we followed him completely without fear. Choo-Choo opened a door and went into a room that was completely dark. I went straight in after him and Lucky used his backpack to prop the door open so just a faint sliver of light came into the room. Choo-Choo was fumbling on a wall and then he hit the lights. The brightness startled us again. I was expecting him to curse and look around for another breaker box. As our eyes came into focus we noticed a row of sinks, lower to the ground than would be convenient for adults and above them, mirrors. On the other side of the room we noticed a row of tiny porcelain white ceramic structures, not more than a foot in height.

     Lucky said, “Mini toilets?!” and we both burst out laughing so hard that it could’ve been indistinguishable from crying. Such is the madness of sleep deprivation. Choo-Choo looked at us with confusion for a moment but then started laughing with us. Our laughter resounded in the tiny children’s bathroom of the school and we were made whole again. But briefly because quickly I asked, “And where is the chower?”

     “But it is just here!” Said Choo-Choo and he walked over to a trough full of murky dark green water against the far wall I had not noticed before. He dipped his hands into the trough and rubbed them together in a simulated washing motion. The trough was filled with the nastiest looking, algae and fecal-borne pathogen infested liquid you can imagine. Choo-Choo said with child-like glee, “Chower! See? You can chower here!” and splashed some water around and onto the floor. At this point Lucky and I were hysterical and completely mad with laughter. I nearly pissed myself, or maybe I did piss my pants a little. It was all I could do to keep from rolling around on the floor and shriveling up at the base of the row of kid’s size potties.

     After an eternity our laughter subsided and we thanked Choo-Choo for the good time and asked him to take us back to the airport. He was a little sad, there is no such thing as dragons and magic swords, but we paid him well for his time and the adventure. We parted ways both fairly satisfied but no closer to a place to sleep and the elusive chower. If we’d had our wits about us, instead of laughing lunacy, we’d have bunked out on the floor of the school and let the chips fall where they may in the morning. But we were young, inexperienced and destined to go without sleep for yet another day.

     Back at the airport, now empty, we made a critique of the various bathroom facilities available to weary travelers on the Bangkok side of customs and found them all equally foul, deplorable and lacking in soap and toilet paper. The ones on the ground floor were filthy and putrescent with shit easily available for viewing. Upstairs, near the western-style fast food stands, the bathrooms were marginally cleaner and they had signs in English warning the thirsty and literate not to drink the water.

     We ordered some generic egg and sausage on a muffin things and sat down to our journals at the Burger joint, which was the only open kiosk. Lucky was drawing, I was writing notes or something. After a few minutes a gaggle of heinously toothed British ladies came in all a flutter. I’d never seen overweight British girls before so this was an eye-opener. They got scrapes of grease and potatoes from the counter and came and sat down immediately adjacent to us in the empty seating area. It was hard on the eyes but they were the sweetest conversationalists and rather drunk so it was fascinating. Call it Hollywood indoctrination or too much television, but I had been conditioned to believe beauty in the world of appearances to be a certain glamorized form instead of completely subjective. They were more friendly than we deserved. Basically they’d found all the best spots to party in Bangkok and, evidenced by numerous anecdotes, had no trouble tying the locals up in knots and were now high-tailing it to the fabled northern beaches to beach themselves in cetacean splendor while delving into to their cache of illicit substances. And didn’t we wish we could come along? Of course we did sweeties, of course! Alas, we were going trekking in Nepal and had to catch a plane in the morning but wondered if they could give us a highlight or two and where to go in the wee hours of the morning if you only had, say, seven or eight hours until your plane departed?

     The name of the district was Patpong and we’d heard or read about it a little. It is a place surrounded with legend and fear. Stories of HIV infected needles being jabbed into unsuspecting tourist’s arms and of gullible men disappearing behind mysterious doors (one of the many brothels that lined either side of the pub infested street) never to be heard from again. We’d affectionately dubbed this particular street, the Aids Capital of the Universe, based solely on hearsay and rumor. A huge body of urban myth had accumulated in our minds about this place and we were petrified of it. But after conversing with these British girls we thought, “Well hell! If they can do it, why can’t we?” Eventually the ladies left to catch their plane and we sat for a while longer doodling and scribbling. It must have been two or three in the morning when we decided to take a taxi to Patpang. “Fuck it.” We thought. “We’ll sleep on the plane to Kathmandu.”

     We walked to the info stand and checked our backpacks with the girly-boy who was still giving Lucky the eye. The girly-boy tried to corner Lucky in the bag check room when Lucky was stowing his pack. I intervened and we thanked him for his flattery but let him know he was barking up the wrong tree. Our bags would definitely be safe. Back in the sea of humid stink, we hailed a cab. This driver wasn’t so talkative, probably not drunk or high either and we had a hard time communicating where we wanted to go. We hadn’t got the pronunciation of the name of the street quite right, or he just didn’t like us. But he got us there eventually.

     On the way we beheld wonders that are beyond description. The kind of wonders that shake the foundations of middle class suburban white boys to the bone by exposing them to real poverty, fantastic feats of public transportation engineering that are crumbling to pieces before the eye, massive apartment buildings – which could easily hold the entire population of some 1997 upstate New York college towns – endlessly abutting one another off into the infinite distance and the spectacle of thousands of half naked men, old women and boys combing through street after street of garbage. Nocturnal resource scouring and collection. Thousands of people looking as though they are subsisting off of what useful garbage they collect during the dark hours and moving in concert at a frantic pace along with very loud giant yellow machines and trucks. They were Alchemists of the old vein, transmuting shit into shinola with awareness of the fact far further from their mind than their next meal. What appeared as fantastic and super-surreal to me amidst the throws of my culture shock was nothing more than normal, everyday life for people in this colossal city.

     It was through this sea that our indifferent taxi driver steered his frail metal bark, though his cab was a real cab, much nicer than Choo-Choo Charlie’s, and we the precious cargo about which it was obvious he gave not a shit. I felt myself a dim witted passenger-fool unable to comprehend what the hell was going on. Particles adrift in a sea of uncertainty. Not that we wanted anything much, except to see the fabled Patpang Road and catch our plane in the morning, and of course to not get murdered or stabbed with HIV infected syringes.

     The taxi driver dropped us off in an onslaught of florescent lights and empty plastic cups and he assured us this was the road. It was nothing more than a narrow alley wedged between numerous buildings of various heights with little continuity save for a sea of people, even at three in the morning, milling about in various stages of drunken and drug-induced fervor, both majestic and pathetic. We sauntered into the alley way. It reminded me of a highly compressed Bourbon St. in New Orleans aged beyond recognition or redemption; a gorgeous armpit full of alcohol and vomit. We agreed, out of fear mostly, not to actually go into any buildings, though scantily clad girls (at a glance they looked like girls) continually beckoned from raised doorways atop steep narrow staircases. That left us the only option of finding an outdoor bar or one with a patio. We walked from end to end and ended up back where we started for it was the only outdoor place to get a drink. The moment we walked into the alley any ease I had fled from me. There was no fear in Lucky’s eyes, he just seemed tired. He reassured me that we would stop for only one drink, chat a while and go back to the airport. Ah, my brother, he’s saved my ass on more than one occasion. I’d do anything for him. Take a bullet or mow his lawn or babysit for free or whatever. Donate blood or fix his car. But still my fear refused to subside completely and resurfaced at predictable intervals. At the open air bar I managed to stuff it down temporarily with a jello-shot and gulps of some orange alcohol juice. The sedative effect did little more than viscerally demonstrate my sleep deprivation. I finally dared to look around. The place was packed with Asians and foreigners all drinking and talking at once. It was surprising how well dressed everybody was, compared to us. We talked to each other, but were too exhausted to venture forth into the unknown crowd. After just a few drinks, which is more than enough when you haven’t eaten or slept much, we caught another cab back to the airport and reached it just as the sun was rising. The morning sun dispelled, instantly all my fears and the air no longer seemed so heavy.

     We visited the giant temple across the street from the airport that had been hiding its spectacular glory from us in the dark of night. It was vacant at six a.m. but probably all the more beautiful for it. The carpet was an extravagant red and from the symbols it appeared to be Buddhist. It is hard to tell, as the religions of Asia have been mixing for so long that with a cursory glance and my stupendous ignorance in these matters I couldn’t know what was what. After walking around a bit more and me feeling foolish for being so frightened of nothing during the night, we boarded a small dual propeller plane bound for Kathmandu.

     On the plane I slept a little, intermittently and without getting that brain rejuvenating cascade. Lucky was out like a stone for the entire flight. At one point I slipped into a dream, more of a fantasy really, visions of sugar-plum fairies and the like. I imagined arriving in Kathmandu and being greeted by white-washed walls in Spanish villa style capped by flaming red tiles, with meandering longitudinal cracks in the otherwise perfectly white stucco walls where glorious multi-colored flowers spewed forth in vibrant harmony to greet the weary traveler and a few smiling Nepali people rejoicing at our arrival. Like something out of “Fantasy Island”. I awoke with a start from the vision. Little did I know I was only setting myself up for an even more terrible fall. Yet there was something wonderful, for a fleeting moment, in my naïveté.

     Lucky didn’t seem to harbor such dangerous and misleading preconceptions or silly expectations. This trip was only the beginning of a journey of many months for my brother. He would spend much longer in Nepal than me, many months in India, a few in Sri Lanka and finally a few more in Japan. It was only natural that I’d have more delusions of grandeur than him because he had traveled more. I believe he had a far more realistic grasp of life outside the cocoon of our sheltered American lives after living in Japan for a year but neither of us was prepared, nor could we have been, for what was to come.

——–EDIT LINE——–

Chapter 2: Disillusionment

     We were probably the last people off of the smallish plane that flew us from Bangkok to Kathmandu. There was one line to get the visa and go through customs and less than twenty people in front of us. A hippie couple appeared behind us and looked like they were in a terrific hurry to get through customs. We asked them where they were going. The girl claimed they were going to sneak into Tibet. Not only was the path from Nepal and into Tibet illegal it was also through mountains treacherous and glaciated. The Chinese were likely to turn you back at the border or imprison you. The only way to get into Tibet legally at that time was from China but never from Nepal.

     We tried having a conversation with them about higher-education because we all had that fresh out of college, wet behind the ears look. Changing the subject and talking with them became forced and awkward. It pretty much consisted of the flighty hippie girl trying to prove to us just how much more well-versed in Nepali/Hindu/Tibetan culture she was than us. Which was probably true so she met with no resistance. We’d never been here before, and after awhile it seemed she was just gushing with the brashness of someone trying to prove something to themself out loud. We let them go through customs ahead of us.

     One of the nice things about being a tourist is that you aren’t usually in a hurry, and if you are, you aren’t doing it right. It is one thing to rush to catch a bus, say, if you would have to wait a day to catch the next one. But you might have a special adventure during that day if you could just relax enough to let it happen.  When it was our turn the customs official looked at us with a mixture of boredom, greed, and relief. We were the last people in line. I forget if bribes were ‘customary’ at this point or not, but I don’t remember having to pay any. We got our 30-day visas unhurriedly without fanfare or trouble. The airport was only slightly cleaner than we were, seeing as we hadn’t bathed or showered since 2 days before we embarked from San Francisco. Our lonely backpacks were waiting for us on the floor near the main doors adjacent to a broken baggage carousel. After a stop to change a traveler’s check for a bunch of rupees we were ready to exit the airport. Airports tend to have bad exchange rates so we didn’t exchange very much money. Later we discovered that the difference between exchange rates at the airport and elsewhere were negligible. The tension and exhilaration mounted and I felt like something was about to happen.

     The main doors exiting the airport did not slide automatically as the Bangkok airport’s had. They weren’t even the sliding kind. They were the push kind that seem to only exist in old hotels or as unused mall exits eternally bound in thick metal chain. The moment we walked through those doors we were immersed in a sea of people, noise and movement. Everyone gasped at our appearance, or so it seemed, as if we were anxiously expected and extremely disappointing; simultaneously thoroughly frightening and necessary. There were hundreds of people behind a temporary metal railing, the kind you’d find separating people from a car lane at a rock concert. The Nepali people on the other side of the railing were screaming, talking, laughing, and waving, at what? – We had absolutely no idea. I still refuse to believe it had anything to do with us, in particular. But I remember thinking extremely clearly “World War Three must have just begun. Someone must have set off a nuclear explosion – or something – nearby, causing such tremendous chaos and a surge of visitors to the airport.” This, at the time, seemed a perfectly logical and normal explanation of what I could not begin to comprehend. The airport in Kathmandu was like that normally. Any time tourists arrive there will be hordes of people to meet them. Many try to find a way to give the tourist something and get something from the tourist – Some are looking for work. The Nepali are generally not manipulative, they are eager to engage foreigners and are far more generous and kind, as a whole, than some other cultures.

     We passed the metal barrier and were instantly engulfed by a sea of taxi drivers. I grabbed Lucky’s arm for fear I’d lose him. We were unable to move in any direction and there was much shouting as we were carried away, willy-nilly, by the human current. “It must be the end of the world” I thought again, and looked at my brother. He had the same deer-in-the-headlights stare that I was wearing. Pure awe and wonder in incapacitating and dangerous amounts. Nothing had prepared me for this; I was stunned and unable to either move or speak. We were carried along by the sea of taxi drivers away from the airport doors toward a gigantic dirt parking lot filled with junky autos. All our careful reading and minutiae of preparation dissolved in the solution of actual experience and finally being on the ground in Kathmandu.

     Those preparations would, no doubt, come in handy later. Preparation is a good thing, expectation on the other hand is hazardous and I had built up an unhealthy amount of expectation without leaving room for being wrong. I watched helplessly as the fanciful vision I had on the plane was mercilessly crushed in the light of reality. Then I remembered a discussion we’d had on the plane. That first night we had planned to stay near the famous Stupa in a town called Boudhanath, not in the more touristy Kathmandu. I put a hand in the air with my index finger raised (hoping for a miracle) and said loudly and clearly “Boudhanath? Boudhanath! Anyone going to Boudhanath?”- About half the taxi drivers wandered off and we got a little space to breathe, but we were still surrounded and very much afraid. It was dusk. “How much to Boudhanath?” I asked.

     “Four hundred.” A driver said.

     Doing my best auctioneer impression I said “Do I hear three hundred?”

     Peels of laughter suddenly broke out from the mass of drivers and it was as if a powerful enchantment had been broken, or like waking suddenly from a terrible nightmare. Their laughter had valiantly slain my fears, for a little while anyway. These were human beings after all. They weren’t here doing anything other than competing for the business of driving us to an hotel. The laughter had allowed me to see that; it gave me a little confidence and it established our collective humanness. We stood bargaining with the taxi drivers until there were two men left and they were working together. The driver, his friend who came along for the ride because his taxi was being repaired, Lucky and I made our way through a dusty parking lot to a white four-door sedan that was on par with Choo-Choo Charlie’s ride. For a moment I looked around. There was not much to see near the airport. A few crumbling clay-brick walls, lots of cars and people, but it looked like everyone was heading home. Twilight was setting in. This time we didn’t mind putting our backpacks in the trunk. The driver and his friend were extremely kind and their English was understandable.

     “You come Kathmandu before?” The driver asked.

     “No. This is our first time.” “It is beautiful.” We spoke slowly.

     “But so many poor! We are so poor.” The friend lamented.

     “Ah. But we are happy. Poor but happy.” Consoled the driver.

     “It is not good, Nepal economy. We need more jobs.” The friend claimed as we all climbed into the taxi and wound our way to Boudhanath.

     “We are special people, that can be happy with so little.” Responded the driver.

     They continued in this vein for quite some time while Lucky and I were skewered by springs in the back seat cushion. It was a fascinating and highly intelligent debate. The friend spoke of the difficulties of life in Nepal – mainly the material poverty. All the while the driver, in the most gentle manner, was convincing us that though it was true the Nepali people were mired in poverty, they were a generous and happy people. He was positively glowing. I was so tired. Though I really wanted to hear this discussion, I found my body and brain fighting for rest. Listening became difficult and I missed significant parts of the conversation due to dozing off a few times. Looking around on the way to Boudhanath I noticed again that the fantasy I had slipped into on the plane was indeed just that, pure imagination. On the surface Nepal looked very run down. At least thirty minutes later we got to the stupa.

     We asked them to drop us off at the Boudhanath Stupa and told them we wanted to walk around it. The custom is to always walk around these holy structures (Stupas, mani walls, prayer wheels) clockwise, keeping them always on your right side. What we told the taxi drivers was slightly disingenuous. The truth was that we had planned to exit the taxi at the Stupa because of something that was written in a guide book. Something to the effect of: Don’t let taxi drivers bring you directly to your hotel because they will go into the hotel before you and demand payment from the proprietor for delivering customers to them and your hotel rate will be higher than it would be otherwise. Have taxis drop you off a little away from your hotel to get the best rate. This was a foolish mistake, like not taking the cab and hotel offered in the Bangkok airport. These two taxi drivers were both intelligent and kind and we should have asked them to take us to any hotel they suggested and paid the small extra charge, after all we weren’t even going to be in Boudhanath for very long. It is a common mistake, adhering too closely to the guide book. These were the taxi men who had out-waited all the other contenders of which there must have been forty or fifty. But expecting to get ripped off got the best of us. The fear of getting ripped off may have ruined an opportunity for adventure and possibly even deeper friendship.

     Lucky and I were on a tight budget. We had about $2000 between us and we had to make it last beyond just my month in Nepal. The taxi drivers reluctantly dropped us off in front of the famous Stupa and were concerned that we would not be able to find our hotel. The only map we had was in the guide book and we didn’t really want to show the drivers the guidebook (a representation of our guilt, as in “we are cheating you out of a few meager dollars because we are literate” or some other such implication of our deceitfulness.) We felt the map would be adequate and we grabbed our packs, thanked the taxi drivers sincerely for their conversation and pulling us out of what I had thought was definitely the start of World War Three. We bid each other “Namaste” in the customary way. “Namaste” means something like “I salute the god within you” and is used both as a greeting and a good-bye. They laughed cheerfully as we parted ways. We were heartened, the dread brought on by engulfment in the sea of humanity at the airport had subsided but we had one more challenge left to face that day: the children.

     Turning away from the road we beheld the famous Stupa. There are pictures of it everywhere, a gigantic hemisphere where Kassapa Buddha‘s bones are said to be buried. It is as large as a city block and would take a good fifteen minutes to walk all the way around. The custom dictates that one always keep these holy structures, like a stupa, mani wall or prayer wheel, on your right. You walk around them always clockwise. It was much brighter here than at the airport, though the sun was no longer in the sky. The Stupa’s white hue reflected much of the dusk light. We approached the empty and majestic Stupa.

     The instant we entered the pathway that encircles the holy shrine – with the Buddha’s eyes beatifically looking down at you and a nose multicolored, gilt with gold and so uppity looking that it makes you nearly burst forth with laughter – we were enmeshed in a swarm of children. They were continually popping out of doorways and alleys. Many of them begging for “One rupee! One rupee please!” or the occasional “One pen please!” They seemed to be very enthusiastic about our presence and excited to see us. I felt more tired than ever and wondered if we’d even make it to the hotel. The kids’ genders were indistinguishable and they were all rather thin. I felt horrible. We had discussed this also on the plane and had thought about it in accordance with the guidebook. The course of reasoning, as anyone who’s been to very poor locations in the world where tourism is part of the economy can verify, goes thus: Begging should not be encouraged. It is detrimental to the children in the long run because the children can make more money begging in the streets than their parents can make plying an honest trade. The worst case scenario is that it becomes so commonplace that the parents take their kids out of school because the child can bring in more money for the family as a beggar. That is really only the tip of the child-exploitation iceberg. It was also claimed that parents will beat their children to make them look even more pitiable or if they don’t bring in enough money. I cannot vouch for the veracity of those claims but we assumed that the guidebook knew best. Instead, what the guide book recommended is to have a ‘meaningful interaction’ with the kids, one that is not based on money. For example, spend some time with them learning a few Nepali words in exchange for their equivalents in another language. Or ask them to sing you a song and then reward them with something, it doesn’t have to be money, it can be a song of your own. Play a game, dance, play hop-scotch, anything like that is better than just reinforcing begging. Besides the kids don’t really want the money; their family or parents might. What the kids want is to interact with you, however awkward one might feel about it. I not only felt awkward, but emotionally eviscerated and physically tired. So I didn’t have much of an interaction on this first evening in Nepal.

     We walked slowly and after awhile the kids sauntered back to their homes. Our thin dirty smiles, namastes and nods were all we were capable of offering. I was beginning to crack but managed not to show it. Through the maze of streets we eventually found our hotel, the Lotus Guest House. The proprietor was surprised to see tourists checking in so late and we were fortunate they even had a vacancy. I went directly to the room and slept from eight p.m. until about one thirty in the morning, when I awoke and could not go back to sleep. My circadian rhythms were completely out of whack. I wrote a couple of letters and then, reflecting on the events of the previous day, I began to weep uncontrollably. Reality was a horrible thing; the true state of the human suffering in the world and my own helplessness in the face of it revealed itself in a shockingly short time. The fragile veil separating my beliefs from the truth had been irreparably torn asunder. And though this is what I wanted and had been desperately seeking for years, the experience itself was nothing I was prepared for. I woke my brother – who was rightly angry at my doing so – from his blissful slumber to find that he was not similarly affected. He didn’t feel much was wrong at all. Now I had made matters worse by waking him up. However, he was able to go back to sleep after listening to me rant about the injustices in the world for a few minutes. After several hours of severe remorse I was able to sleep a little and wake up to a new day. In the morning the birds were singing and all the horrors of my dark night seemed relegated to a hazy memory and a slight headache. All I could think about was scrambled eggs.

     We ate breakfast at a cafe called the Stupa View restaurant. A fragment of the Stupa peered down on us at our table on the roof. My emotional roller-coaster was on a flat spot, things were surprisingly normal. The sleep deprivation and consciousness-jarring exposure to real poverty were through with me, but for how long? The breakfast was simple. Our hunger made it exceptional. A British couple joined us on the roof and shared some stories of their travels in India. Their colorful explanations of the differences between Indian and Nepali culture were refreshing. Certainly much has changed over the years. Nepal was in the midst of a civil war which was destined to only get worse.

     “So what is the biggest difference between Nepal and India?” We asked our well-traveled breakfast companions.

     “Nepal is such a relief after India. The people are so much gentler here.” The woman said. This came as quite a surprise to me, feeling so run over roughshod as I was.

     “If we use, for example, the art of deal making as a sort of litmus test.” The man said, “One easily discovers that here in Nepal the best of all possible deals is the one in which both parties, buyer and seller, come away feeling satisfied; as though they’ve both gotten what they wanted.”

     “And how does it go in India?”

     “Well, my impression, which is, as you know, completely subjective — “

     “Sure. But you seem like honest and open people so your opinion is probably more accurate than most especially since you have direct experience.”

     “Thank you. Well… My impression was that the best of all possible deals in India was the one where you bilk the foreigner out of as many rupiah as possible!” And with that we all chuckled and felt thankful we were in Nepal, though I admit I began to feel somewhat more uncomfortable with the fact that Lucky would be spending a significant amount of time exploring India by himself. I wished, at that moment, that I had just decided to keep traveling on with him and postpone my trip to France until a later date. But I was reluctant to change my ticket and I’d never been to Europe.

     As I thought about what they told us I came to the conclusion that I am certainly not for one-sidedness in deal making and prefer mutual dissatisfaction to inequality. The nice British couple gave us a crash course in haggling which we carefully took to heart and made it our principal to try and have a fair and mutually satisfying interaction at every meal and in all our dealings. This turns out to be pretty easy in Nepal. Most buying and selling involves haggling, an art generally lost on the peoples of the U.S.A. In Nepal we learned that it is something of a dance, not to be rushed into. The prices of just about everything are negotiable as long as you understand the timing. If you want to pay a taxi driver for a ride somewhere you must first agree on a price, but this only after you’ve hung out a little bit and talked about the weather or famous movie stars they assume you know or how best to avoid drowning during a monsoon.

     After breakfast we walked around the Stupa for the second and last time. Again we were beset by begging children. This time we clowned around and danced with them a little and they erupted in peals of laughter at our silliness. Nonetheless we still had to resist the urge to plunk down wads of near worthless currency in their grasping little hands as we walked toward the road to catch a taxi into Kathmandu.

Chapter 3: Trekking Preparations

     It took longer than expected to find a taxi to Kathmandu but finally we hailed one from near the Stupa where the taxi had dropped us off on the previous day. It was over an hour to Kathmandu because of traffic and a very unexpected winding route. The air was dry and pregnant with particulate matter from the many autos. There certainly couldn’t have been any fuel quality standards or if they existed they were very slight or unenforced. The pollution was even more noticeable on the bigger roads which were choked with autos. It was hard to see very far in the distance because of the thick brown soot and smog. We could taste the petrol in the air. The taxi dropped us off and we had a very hard time figuring out exactly where we were and wandered about for several hours. It was soon dusk and we were barely able to decipher some of the landmarks using the map in the guidebook to figure out our location. Eventually we found our way to Thamel. We ate at a place called Big Belly. The only open hotel we found was the Hotel Potala. It wasn’t very clean but we did have our own bathroom. We paid in advance for a few nights, put our bags in our room and went to sleep.

     That night I actually slept some but awoke the next morning with a yellow tongue, sore throat and phlegm infested sinuses. My snot was multi-colored: black from the dirty air, yellow and green. Lucky was in a similar condition. It took us awhile to get up and face the day. We were seriously dehydrated. I must now digress into a discussion of no small matter to the traveler in foreign climes, especially in those places on the Earth where cleanliness in the matter of food preparation differs substantially from that to which a soft westerner’s stomach is accustomed. And I must tell you that in the following and in certain journal entries to come there will be references of a scatological nature. This so-called “lack of sanitation” affects those of us with somewhat sensitive digestive systems more harshly than, say, natives with a more robust or tolerant stomach or individuals of a less sensitive nature.

     Lucky and I had been taking grapefruit seed extract pills as a sort of preventative medicine for dysentery. The grapefruit seed extract had been recommended by a friend whose mom had traveled extensively in Central and South America. It was too early to tell if they were working.

     The guidebook, our dog eared friend, had spoken of two important scenarios. It suggested that before traveling to such places on the Earth, one would do well to look at oneself in the mirror and repeat the phrase “I’m going to get diarrhea” until you’ve accepted it as fact. This first scenario was essentially to reconcile beforehand with yourself that you will experience some level of gastrointestinal problems. The other scenario was rather psychological in Nature. Namely, the foreigner, unaccustomed to the “differences” in sanitation and the fact that toilet paper is often not used but instead a method called “left-hand and water”, might experience a difficulty in bringing themselves to actually have a bowel movement. Essentially, it was being too scared to shit. As I found myself that morning feeling rather constipated, I pondered the cause. I hadn’t had a b.m. since San Francisco, mainly because I just hadn’t quite figured out the details of doing the deed without toilet paper. It was a technical problem. Could there have been a psychological element as well? I wasn’t sure. It was also very likely that the grapefruit seed extract we were taking religiously was working too well.

     The bathroom had a sink, a shower head sticking obliquely from the wall at the level of my chest, a bucket with a ladle, a smallish baby-blue toilet and a drain on the floor all in the same cramped space. It was with great relief that I realized that if I could just do the deed in the morning and then immediately take a shower the problem of not using toilet paper would be solved. I’d wash my ass in the shower! It was a Eureka moment. Lucky and I discussed this method and were thankful we’d brought good soap. The method worked pretty well that morning but we realized that it would require hotel rooms with a shower, not a luxury that we should get used to because trekking would certainly not afford us such opulence as hot running water. It took us a while to make it out of our room that morning and into the street.

     One last note: This problem of doing a number two is not the same that a backpacker encounters when having to do the same in the back-countries and wildernesses of the U.S.A. For in those places the resources for cleaning up are abundant. These are things like Douglas Fir pine cones (unidirectional), leaves, rocks, sticks and best of all: snow. It is quite a different matter to have to perform this act in the hotel room of a teeming super populated city. But with practice and adaption it becomes no big deal at all.

     We left the Hotel, searched for a breakfast spot and found a lovely outdoor restaurant. It was chilly, but not freezing, so we sat outside and wrote letters home. The toast was thick, the jam delicious, the coffee hot and the eggs scrambled. We were also introduced to an amazing food called Tibetan Bread. Breakfast has always been my favorite meal. A big breakfast, and large portion meals in general, are not the local custom in Nepal. The guidebook also claimed that we could expect the food to be “notoriously bland”, at least out in the mountains. But when one is hungry it does not matter. Insofar as breakfast was concerned we did not observe the local custom. Nonetheless they made a wonderful breakfast.

     Writing in our journals and talking we pondered the meaning of life. This was the place to do it. We devised a philosophical system based entirely around the Tibetan Bread we had rapidly fallen in love with. It was quite simple, though I don’t remember it exactly. Something to the effect of, if one could just be happy living off of Tibetan Bread and smoking wild herbs (my contribution) there would be world peace. Hardly a nutritious existence. We ate heartily and discussed our next phase, getting ready for the trek. The time constraint was that I had to be back in Kathmandu to catch my plane to France at the end of the month. The thought of leaving my brother still made me sad. I had approximately twenty eight days so we assumed we’d have about three weeks of actual walking in the mountains.

     Thamel or Thamal, know as the backpacker’s section of Kathmandu, was in the process of becoming a popular area to get a hotel because it was less expensive. The streets were narrow inside this particular section of town. There was not enough room for cars. Instead the wending labyrinthian streets were packed with people, various and sundry goods for sale, rickshaws, bicycles and pushcarts – but mostly people.

     First we needed to change money and one could do so at a bank or get a slightly better rate on the black market. It was fairly easy to find people willing to exchange money as they wanted American currency in any form, traveler’s checks included. The dollar was still very strong in 1997. That afternoon we found a restaurant and asked them about changing money as we drank mango Lassi. They were happy to exchange money for us. We sat and chatted with the Nepali man who traded us a good rate for $200 in traveler’s checks. Everybody was extremely friendly even though our conversation was fairly limited and somewhat formulaic.

     “You come Kathmandu before?”

     “No. First time. People are so kind and beautiful here.”

     “Yes.” Almost always with a most pleasant tone and smile. “Are you American?”

     “Yes. We’re from California and want to go trekking.”

     [Random comments about whichever celebrities it was assumed we knew. Movies do beguile. California, to most of the world, is Hollywood. Some had heard of San Francisco.]

     “Oh! You go to Everest?”

     “Not sure yet. Have you been there?” Some said Yes and some said No. Those who knew the area usually were either from there or had family living somewhere in it’s vast expanse or in a different region. Occasionally they or their ancestors had fled through one of these regions from Tibet into Nepal during one of the many Chinese invasions of Tibet, the most recent and keenly felt being in the middle of the 20th century. The Tibetan people in Nepal were generally very successful merchants and business people. Sometimes we had no idea what they were saying. Sometimes they had no idea what we were saying. But we always remained polite and sincerely interested, very easy given the circumstances.

     After we exchanged money we went out into the streets and marveled at all the shops. Walking in the evening around this backpacker’s part of the city we saw a lot of foreigners. There were many more Nepali people, of course, but the foreigners stood out like jelly in the butter dish. It was in this ebbing and flooding tide of people milling about the shops that we wandered with only the intention of observing the various shops and people. We were continually approached by various sellers.

     A shriveled old man approached us playing what looked like some sort of mutant violin, hacked out of a piece of wood with axe and chisel. It was played with a bow. The sound was a high pitched shriek that we couldn’t understand. Did we want to buy a Sarangi? He asked us using gestures. Watches, sandals, shoes, clothing of all sort, jewelery and trinkets were all displayed in neat row after row, hanging in vast numbers from roofs and racks. The colors were fantastic. There were many jackets and pants for use outdoors and in adverse weather conditions. From a distance they bore familiar logos, like North Face or Patagonia. However, when you approached the merchandise and examined them closely you saw they were clearly rip-offs made of cheap material. Obviously the Nepali understood the value of brand-name marketing. But who, we wondered, would be taken in by such a simple ruse? I never found a satisfactory answer to that question and every town we visited had a similar collection of imitation name brand outdoor clothing made from cheap plastic.

     That day we never went too far away from our hotel so as not to get lost. There were cafes with roof-top gardens, buckets of Yak yogurt and children transporting large hunks of Yak meat on their bicycle racks. We followed a street that gently curved and soon we were no longer amidst shops but surrounded by apartment buildings and open sewers. There were no foreigners around and the Nepali people eyed us curiously but didn’t try to make contact or sell us anything in stark contrast to the commercial section where we’d just been. The streets narrowed further and became even more curved. A kid rode by us with a large hunk of Yak meat on his bike rack and several meters from us the meat fell off the rack and landed right in an open sewer. He got off his bike, picked up the now tainted meat, gave it a couple of strokes with his bare hand to clean it and set it back on the rack, this time tying it securely. He jumped on his bike and rode off. We were pretty stunned by this sight. Everybody else seemed too busy to notice, care or think it out of the ordinary in anyway. They were too busy doing domestic tasks, working or coming and going.

     As we walked on, we talked and pooled our knowledge on where to go for our trek. It was decided that we were too inexperienced in mountaineering to attempt Everest, except maybe just to go to the base camp. Besides it was too popular and probably wouldn’t yield to the out-of-the-ordinary experiences we hankered for. We decided the Annapurna region was going to be more our speed.

     There was another part of the plan brewing. We had a good friend, D, from our high school years. We had hung out with D before we left. He had told us that a girl I had gone to high school with had married a Nepali man whose family ran a hotel in a town called Pokhara (pronounced Poke-Rah). Pokhara is a town situated to the west of Kathmandu, and is right at the base of the Annapurna mountains. This connection was no small incentive for us to visit her. Knowing somebody in this strange land so far away from home was a very comforting thought.

     It was Sunday October 5th. The government offices, namely the post office and the location where we had to get our trekking permits, were closed. We were able to get tickets on a bus for Pokhara leaving the next day. This excursion took up a huge amount of time because we accidentally went to the old bus station. The bus we wanted left from the new bus station all the way across town. Back in the area near Thamel we found the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) offices. Though they were closed, there on a bulletin board we saw an advertisement for a slide show on the two major trekking regions of the Himalaya. It said something to the effect of:

Chris Beale’s Trekking Slide Shows

Sat. Oct. 4 th – Trekking in the Annapurna

Sun. Oct 5th – Everest Trekking Slideshow

Q&A afterward. Donations Accepted.

We remembered that the guide book mentioned this man. He was a famous guide, a kind of sage, who had been helping people trek in these regions for many years. The slide show was at a high-end hotel called the Kathmandu Guest House and it was not a far walk from our hotel. We stopped at a restaurant to eat some Dal Baht, a curried potato dish destined to be as much a staple on our trek as the Tibetan Bread. All the walking around made us hungry and the food tasted good even though it was somewhat bland compared to its more spicy variety found in India. Lucky and I had agreed that we would eat simple foods and stay away from the richer meat dishes. One reason for this was that we thought it would be healthier. Another reason was that we were trying to fit ourselves in with our rudimentary notions of Buddhism. We didn’t consider ourselves Buddhist, this was just part of the ‘when in Rome’ philosophy to which we were casually adhering. There were many foreigners we met who had no such pretenses and others who were adhering very strictly to to Buddhist practices.

     The Kathmandu Guest House was a very fine looking building, far newer and nicer than the surrounding buildings. It reminded me, a little bit, of the old Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite minus the raccoons in the rafters. The haughty pretense of the guests was there though. They had money and expensive gear. The auditorium where Mr. Beale was talking and giving the slideshow was already filled and the show had started. We were late. By how much we knew not. They scooted us in quietly and we watched and listened carefully from the back of the room. He was showing slides of a helicopter with Japanese trekkers landing near the Everest base camp. Other slides showed the day after a huge storm, glaciers, hundreds of discarded oxygen tanks, people on the summit covered in the typical high-tech gear and Porters in flip flops with huge loads strapped to their foreheads.

     Mr. Beale spoke with a measured and wisdom-filled voice. He talked about the dangers of acute mountain sickness (AMS), or altitude sickness, how it could affect anyone. He implored everyone to behave in an ecologically conscious manner. He showed us how deforestation increased in large part because trekking had become so popular and simple ways we could lessen our impact. Gathering wood for cooking fires over many years had robbed the soil of valuable nutrients. He said we could reduce this depletion by having everyone in the group eat the same meal. It takes less fuel to cook the same meals for a group than a bunch of different meals for the same number of people. Lucky and I resolved to order the same dish at every meal-time for the rest of our stay in the country. Mr. Beale also spoke of the effort of many tea houses to change from wood burning stoves to propane and that if we frequented tea houses that used propane it would send a strong message. This was exactly the sort of information we were looking for. We wanted to know the best practices to adopt so as to have as light an impact as possible. This turned out to be a fairly common attitude amongst many backpackers. Even though his talk was about the Everest region he gave us many valuable insights and tips. Another important factor was obtaining trekking permits. He told some horror stories about the permit issuing government office in Kathmandu and how even if you got there at 6 or 7 in the morning you would find it difficult to get a permit because there would be so many other trekkers trying to do the same thing. We also learned that navigating the paperwork was confusing and bureaucratic. Companies who provide professionally guided treks with porters often have at least one person whose sole job is to navigate this permit registration process. I’ve come to believe it was a necessary bureaucratic process. There wasn’t another effective way of minimizing the impact on the wilderness of trekkers without it. It might not have been perfect but it was better than nothing. At the very least it served as something of a pressure valve and bottle neck. The registration process did stress the importance of “leave-no-trace” trekking practices and the famous saying “You are not here to change Nepal. Nepal is here to change you.”

     After the slideshow/lecture was the question and answer session for which we had been waiting. We figured this would be our chance to learn something about the Annapurna region but we felt we must wait until everyone was finished asking questions about the Everest region. Not many hands when up when Mr. Beale finished the slideshow and lecture. A few questions were answered rather quickly mostly about things that people had missed while he was talking, even though we were late we gathered that. Then somebody asked the question we had been waiting to ask. It was “Is trekking in the Annapurna as difficult as trekking in the Everest region? Could you compare the two?” It seemed as though suddenly the room came alive and more hands went up, we weren’t alone in being interested in the Annapurna region. But there was certainly a faction of people who wanted to talk about Everest and they must have been little miffed. We listened even more raptly and learned many things. For example, there were two trekking routes in the Annapurna, the sanctuary and the circuit. The former going right up into the middle of the mountains and coming back along the same path. It is a trek that could take about 7 to 10 days to go up and return. The circuit was a longer route that arced around and through the mountain range and would take about 21 days to complete if everything went well and you went at a decent clip. The crux of the circuit was a pass called Thorung La, an elevation of about 5416 meters, which could be reached after eight to ten days of walking from where a bus might drop you off at Besisahar, the town that marks the eastern end of the Annapurna Circuit. We learned where to find a decent map and that getting permits for trekking in the Annapurna would be much easier in Pokhara than in Kathmandu. We got to ask a few questions of the venerable Mr. Beale ourselves and were very surprised when while we were asking questions three girls approached us. It turns out they were all traveling solo and in the same situation as Lucky and me. Basically they wanted to trek in the Annapurna region, couldn’t afford to hire a porter, didn’t have a guide and had also missed the previous night’s slideshow. It was fate or a lucky coincidence. The three girls were Marrit from Belgium, De Ann from the USA and Donna from Britain. We talked for a couple hours and were very keen to get acquainted with each other. Eventually we all decided to meet in Pokhara at the Tea House Restaurant on Tuesday around dinner time. Of course we had no cell phone or any way to keep in touch with each other. Lucky and I were taking a bus to Pokhara the very next day, Monday. We had already bought tickets. I was especially worried about getting started as soon as possible because I had limited time. I wanted to make it back to Kathmandu in time to catch the plane to France. This probably made me into a most ridiculous figure, mainly because nothing happens on what you’d call a schedule in Nepal. Here exists the elastic measure of Nepali Time, famous throughout the world. An hour in Nepali time, might be as short as an hour or day or as long as a fortnight. Nepali time does not flow equitably or linearly and that is one of its greatest charms.

     Marrit was a marine biologist “studying lipids in fish”. She was beautiful, thin and the oldest of our group and, of course, she was smart. I liked her instantly. Deanna was a bright and friendly girl. She shared Lucky’s and my sense of wonder and awe for Nepal. Marrit did as well but she was more worldly and experienced than we naive Americans. Marrit certainly had that European edge. The other girl was British and she later ditched us to join some of her countrymen. We decided to meet in Pokhara where we’d get our trekking permits and begin our adventure. We talked for a long while, trying to gauge each other. Mostly we discussed AMS or acute mountain sickness also known as altitude sickness. This was to be one of the major topics of conversation during our trek. We also talked about various diseases, how to avoid them and about how much time we would ideally spend walking each day. Nobody felt the same time constraint as I did.

     I drank too much coffee at the slideshow and didn’t sleep well. The next day we performed the morning bathroom ritual, popped a grapefruit seed extract pill and packed up our gear. Just before checking out of the hotel we found an access to the roof and tried to snap a photo of what I thought would be my last sunrise in the city of Kathmandu.

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     It used to be that every time I found myself in a new city, one of the things I liked to do was find a way to climb up onto the roof of a building. It didn’t have to be the tallest one and it used to be a lot easier. It was nice to get a sense of perspective and a real feel for the city by viewing it from up high. When wandering around cities the buildings often bear down upon the person on the street. Similar to being in a forest with tall trees. Buildings don’t have the same sense of life and peace as trees. They always display the intimidation of their mirrored one way windows. They make a person feel small, insignificant. There is little that is natural about city buildings, generally. They don’t grow, they change. They are pure artifice in the sense of Aristotle’s “other causes”. They make a person feel like an insect, as though people are also mere technological contrivances and inferior ones at that. I admit it can be very comforting sometimes because of the sense of security and anonymity cities provide. However, if we are constantly immersed in human artifice how can we ever realize the existence of a non-human, or as David Abrams called it in his book The Spell of the Sensuous, the “more-than-human-world”?

     Just climbing atop one of these monstrous structures, or even up the fire escape of a simple apartment complex and onto a roof, helps put modern technology in a better perspective. Instead of appearing as an end in itself, one gets a sense that the technological contrivance (a building) is serving the people and not the other way around. From even a slight vantage point you can see them for what they are: human artifice, nothing more and nothing less, great achievements at great cost. But one must have an experience of nature qua nature to contrast them with and, sadly, those experiences unmediated are quite rare and generally uncomfortable if not outright deadly. And they grow rarer by the day as the encroachment of human civilization destroys what remains of the more-than-human world. This relationship between artifice and nature is essential for establishing our identity as humans. Recall Erwin Strauss’ essay Upright Posture. Our very biology, our human nature, finds one of its highest expressions in this upward motion. It is a defiance of gravity, of apathy, of homogeneity or what is the same thing “an effort against…”. By 6 million years ago we had begun walking upright, the motion upward against gravity somehow began. We have been striving ever higher at great irrevocable expense to other forms of life. Hesitate to doubt that other species would do it if they could – or would they? Or is the striving against gravity so ubiquitous that it hardly bears noticing? All the while we are ground back into dust, burnt in fire, eaten by worms, swallowed by storms, and millions of other fates. But what always remains? What can never be destroyed despite the inertia of politics and the oh-so-common apathy we all share is this insanely tenacious and utterly ridiculous demon of “progress” upward? The word “progress” is not the same word that everybody uses to describe it. Some would say the indomitable human spirit. Without such lofty goals, dreams, desires and actions we wouldn’t be human. It is impossible to understand this relationship between the human and the more-than-human unless one has time for a first hand experience, unmediated by technology, of the more-than-human world that in fact sustains us and makes life possible and of which we are inextricably a part of and connected to.

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     The morning after the slideshow, Monday Oct. 6th, we enjoyed a fantastic breakfast and further committed ourselves into the care of the delicious Tibetan Bread. I then got ripped off buying a pair of sandals. I paid 600 rupee and walked about three blocks before a rusted clasp I hadn’t noticed, holding the heel strap in place, broke. It is simply foolish to walk barefoot on the streets of Nepal. Not that nobody does it. You can easily find half-naked men, some with missing arms and legs, lying prostrate in the hopes that someone will give them money, food, attention or just about anything. Some of these sad persons have mutilated themselves in order to appear more sympathetic and in the hope of preying on the sympathies of the passersby. It brought to my mind many scenes from Dante’s Purgatory drawn by Gustave Doré.

     Kathmandu is so polluted, yet has a bazaar-like charm that I’ve never seen anywhere. I thought to myself “Europe will be mundane compared to this”. I was wrong but not completely. As we made our way to the bus station and talked to various people I was relieved at the prospect of my brother traveling alone in India. We met a brave 18 year old girl that had done it by herself. She had serious traveler chops and was a source of inspiration. Lucky would be fine.

     We took a tuk-tuk to the new bus station. If it were not for the great kindness of the Nepali people we would never have made it on to the bus to Pokhara. Complete strangers had helped us to purchase our tickets the day before. It was no easy task finding the bus out of the hundred or so in the giant packed-to-the-hilt parking lot. We had to wait a few hours for the driver, or the passengers, or for reasons beyond our ken. We’d come prepared to wait. When we boarded the bus everyone was very excited and happy to see us. We were treated as though we were long lost relatives. You cannot imagine the warmth. I’ve never seen anything like it in the United States, we are generally too aggressive, inhospitable and wrapped up in ourselves. The Nepali people, in general, take kindly to strangers and for those who delight in feeling and expressing authentic compassion there are few comparisons. The passengers seemed so happy to see us. Later I learned that there had been a long campaign to make tourism central to Nepal’s economy. We were treated as honored guests. That meant sitting right up in front next to the driver.

     We squished our backpacks on the floor in front of us and had foolishly neglected the offer to put them on the roof rack so we had no foot room. It was a one person seat and we were smashed up on the interior engine cover. We huddled on top of the seat with our packs and our chins between our knees which were folded in front of us. The rest of the bus was completely full. A lady sat behind us, her baby oozing green snot down the back of our necks. “This was probably some sort of good luck charm” I imagined, laughing. It was unbearably hot and humid outside, not as bad as Bangkok, but the corridor of air on the road was filthy with vehicle exhaust. Squished on top of the bus’ engine block, we were cooked.

     Driving here resembled more a stream of variously sized fish than any traffic pattern the typical US Citizen can imagine. It is like this in many places in the world. Momentum determines right of way. If you are a tuk-tuk you move aside for a bus, unless you are very fast. If you are a bus, or even more so a large truck you careen away wherever the hell you want and assume that any vehicles or chickens that stick to your undercarriage are yours to keep. The road out of town was a wide dirt monstrosity and the windshield fogged over with dust. The driver might as well have been wearing a blindfold. We didn’t care and in my mind I practiced being hurled through the windshield and landing some sort of Aikido roll onto the roof of the taxi in front of us.

     After a couple hours we began an ascent up a steep and windy road. The kind where if you peer out the window on a turn you can’t see ground beneath you for a thousand feet or more. The road had sharp turns, no guard rails and the driver next to us wore a devilish grin. Every time we looked over at him, he accelerated. This was just a taste, though, as it only went on for a few kilometers. There was a long stretch of several hours through dense forest. The tiny two lane road alternated between pavement and dirt, straight as the crow flies and flanked by tall conifers and other trees. The weather was fair, if a bit chilly and at one of the stops we snuck out and rode for a while on the roof rack with our packs and another foreigner we hadn’t noticed before. We snoozed, wedged between luggage and cargo, as the bus sped toward Pokhara. Because of the fresh air, it was easily the best part of the trip. Eventually someone complained or the driver found us out and we had to ride inside the bus again. This time we were given regular seats and we merrily made simple conversation with the other passengers for the rest of the journey.

     Our friend D. had given us the name and hotel address of K. and S.S., her husband. We arrived in Pokhara at dusk – the time when the soul is most restless in the body according to the local lore. Pokhara, beautiful and dirty, had many merchants offering more of the imitation outdoor gear. The city is nestled in the mountains, just south of the Annapurna which form the northern background, and adjacent to a serene lake to the south. The views are terrific when the pollution has been washed from the air after a storm. It is hotter and drier than Kathmandu and at a slightly higher altitude.

     We walked around and then down a small lane at the east end of town. Unfortunately when we found the hotel K. and S.S. were not there. They weren’t even in the country because they were in Oregon having a baby. I guessed for reasons of citizenship and health care, but I didn’t pry. Immediately in front of the nice three story hotel stood an emaciated 25 foot tall marijuana tree. As we checked in, we inquired about the tree. The man behind the desk told us we could do whatever we wanted just no smoking inside and don’t pick all the buds. Hotel guests weren’t encouraged or discouraged from utilizing the ganja tree. We slept comfortably that night. I wrote a poem the next morning.

(POKE-ruh)

From the lake riseth

Not only screams of birds

Life never demiseth

Sprouting from Yak turds

Awaiting white reflexion

While my lung coat struggles green

Watching sourceless complexion

Bring with light vanishing dreams

     On the roof of the hotel for sunrise Lucky and I were trying fruitlessly to snap a photo of the glacier topped mountains. Annapurna I, Khangsar Kang, Tarke Kang, Gangapurna and Annapurna III in the north have peaks in the eight thousand meter range. Annapurna IV and Annapurna I, also glacier topped, make a range slightly to the east called the “fish tail”. They remain unphotographable, especially if you only have a disposable camera. I don’t mean to say that one can’t snap a photograph of them, but that it will be worthless compared to viewing them with the naked eye at sunrise on a clear morning. Even Ansel Adams couldn’t convey the images of mountains without a significant reduction in awe. Surely he understood. For this reason I rarely take photos and really only prefer photographs with people in them or photos of events.

     After standing spellbound before the mountains we discussed the Nepali philosophy of life, leaving aside for the moment our preference for Tibetan Bread which only gets better as the eater gets hungrier. Many westerners describe the Nepali view of life as “fatalistic” or give it some other high-falutin name fitting it in somewhere within their own preconditioned world view. Really it is summed up in the simple phase “Ke Garne” which is found everywhere and almost as common as the mantra “om mani padme hum” (Hail to the jewel in the lotus) or “Namaste” (I salute the god within you). “Ke Garne” translates into something along the lines of “What to do?”. Most people translate it with the word “whatever”, but that doesn’t do it justice. It’s usually said with a shrug of the shoulders, arms bent, elbows down and palms facing up. The traditional response, possibly out of use by now, is “Vivāha” meaning “wedding” or “marriage”. Ke Garne is often said only in jest by foreigners while the Nepali say it with a robust light heartedness, both in humor and in dead earnest. For example, “Funny that! You must now get married.” Or what worried me “Funny that! We will now starve because the yak is rabid.”

     Before proceeding let me submit a disclaimer: The following was thought up while smoking reefer on the roof looking at mountains.

———-A Brief High Discussion of Nepali Philosophy———-

     When a disparity arises between the extremes of natural beauty (high altitude wilderness) and severe poverty, a culture is born (or at least the perception of it by a stoned out of his gourd westerner). The Nepali people are a product of the traditional Man and Nature struggle in conjunction with the notion of interdependency. These two forces, wilderness and poverty (this latter admittedly a contrived and subjective notion because what passes for riches in one place might not be viewed as such in another place.) seem at first glance mutually exclusive. This is to say there are wildernesses without poverty and poverty without wildernesses. But if we were to map them conceptually, say, in a Sven diagram, within the shared space of these two forces we find the bounded realm of my made up Nepali Philosophy. Constructed, of course, by a rather stoned westerner’s perspective who gives his thoughts on the matter the characteristics of myth.

     The strength of these philosophical limits, the edges of the shared space of wilderness and poverty, surely must be tested and result in a refinement of axiomatic starting points. That is to say, a clearer definition of “wild natural beauty” and “severe poverty” must be reached through understanding their respective and collective effects on the Nepali philosophical spirit {as experienced by a looney westerner}. Then let us examine the relationship between Unity of Life, or the notion of interdependency, and the struggles of life with life, or the so-called Man vs. Nature we all remember from eighth grade English. After all we haven’t had breakfast yet.

     Natural beauty, or wilderness, is part cultural conditioning, partly lies in pureness of perception and has yet more to it even as it rapidly disappears in actuality. There is not much that an individual can do about the former since we are born into one cultural paradigm or another. We can refine and purify our perceptions to the point where we are able to perceive the natural beauty of a place even though we may not actually be able to access it and not just visually but with all of our senses. It is the perception of the “more-than-human” human world without quite having to actually live, or being capable of living, in it. So wilderness is always beyond the reach of the average trekker because they carrying their portable civilization on their back, because they subsist on the hospitality and kindness of the locals and because even when immersed in such a place we carry with us all the competing or dominant cultural paradigms through which we make judgements about it and which filter and color our perceptions. And here we come to the limit of trying to define wilderness or natural beauty since we are disposed not to see it, not as it truly is. The limits of perception arrest us. When we do see wilderness, or come close by shedding our cultural paradigms to the extent possible, we find that there is no separation between the wild place and the being experiencing/perceiving/living in it. So it becomes essential to define natural beauty as a negation, namely the negation of human presence and influence, and even in the Himalaya, that almost no longer exists and is rapidly disappearing. Even with this negative definition there is the strongest characteristic of wild places and that lies within the interdependency of all its forms. This might be the food web and the hydrologic cycle as well as countless other relationships both within and without the confines of the definition of life.

     Poverty is also culturally relative and always depends on how you measure it (number of cows owned, success of offspring, precious metals, money/income, technological advancement, etc.) The most simple way to look at it is the necessities: food, shelter, clothing. So here I specifically mean material poverty, namely the privation of the basic comforts and not luxuries.

     The familiar eco-trekker saying “Nepal is here to change you, not for you to change it.” reveals the problem that a western mind-set faces when attempting exploration not only of the mountain splendor, but the Nepali philosophical spirit. For herein we encounter the massive problem familiar to all physicists (and the reason philosophy is more consolation than relevance). Namely, the non-negligible and often destructive impact of even the most passive observer. Some things we cannot know without irrevocably changing them, other things we learn and they irrevocably change us. So, in a sense, knowing a thing is a way to destroy it or get destroyed by it. And here I hesitate. Though we may try indeed ‘not to change’ Nepal, it is painstakingly obvious that it is impossible.

     Let us ask how the tourist changes Nepal, whether the effect is on the wilderness, the degree of poverty, or both? From Mr. Beale’s slide show we learned that the trekker causes more deforestation per capita than the average Nepali. Generally because the western trekker doesn’t want to live and eat like a Nepali (simply) but wants lavish meals, hot running water and indoor flushing toilets. In a word, greed, or, more biologically, the inability to adapt to local custom and place. From our trip around the Stupa in Boudhanath and the guide book we learn that children are put in the street to beg. An inevitable effect trekkers and tourists have had on Nepal? There is the fact that Nepal’s economy is largely based on tourism. Tourism unabashedly promoted by Nepal’s government. The wilderness permit system, which is designed to heighten the awareness of the impact that a trekker has on the wilderness and limit that impact, is largely modeled on “leave no trace” hiking practices in the USA and possibly even started or influenced by westerners who experienced the Nepali wilderness and wanted to do something to protect it (it is, however, entirely run by the Nepali government as far as I could tell). It is a necessary bureaucracy.

     Nepal is rich in culture and in poverty. Those who live lives closer to what is left of the wilderness have a freedom that the city dwellers do not have. Both groups are dependent on tourism. It was unclear to me whether it is more dire to be poor in the city or in the wild places. The shared space between wilderness and poverty is traversed by the trekker who may or may not adopt the most culturally appropriate and ecological friendly habits while they move through this space. We met a man, who may be introduced later, a german Buddhist who was not using iodine to treat his water, ate a strict vegetarian diet, if at all and had serious G.I. problems yet managed to keep up with a group of trekkers without complaining. That’s pretty much the extreme of shared space, near maximum poverty or asceticism in the midst of extreme natural beauty. Then there are those who have all the comforts, have reservations at all the most expensive tea-houses, have porters, have a guide. So no poverty, or nearly none and extreme natural beauty. Our trekking group fell somewhere in between.

     Lastly, the western tourists have irrevocably changed both the landscape and culture of Nepal, as a whole, in an unambiguously detrimental way. This is not to say that the responsibility is not shared, in part, by the Nepali people. To my great horror I find myself abhorrently guilty of such perpetration and hope that by addressing it I may alleviate some of the misery I have unwittingly inflicted. But as I hope that this story will show that is impossible as well. So let’s end this discussion of Nepali Philosophical spirit with that… impossibility and uncertainty. “Ke Garne?” is most certainly a question worth asking.

     Even with the apparent extreme privation of what might pass as very basic necessities there is the close relationship to the more-than-human world that has it’s basis in necessity and for lack of a better word, connection. What might seem primitive to a tourist is actually a deeply complex coexistence that is but an abstraction to the visiting westerner who yearns to understand the secret languages of nature.

Chapter 4: The Tedious Journal Entries

     The mountains turned from gray to fiery pink to lighter hues. Eventually the sun smote us and belittled the mountains. Lucky had gone down to the room for the morning ritual and I finished writing my fog besmirched half-thoughts in my journal on the rickety card table still on the roof. I sat on a bare skeleton of a chair and drooled spending time thinking and being so high so early in the morning. After enough time had passed I went down to my morning ritual. Lucky and I then walked into the town center of Pokhara to find breakfast.

     Upon our table that morning at the lakeside Boomerang Restaurant sat a metal container, holding inside itself secrets. Easily I could have opened it to reveal the inner source of its mystery. Nothing could terminate my curiosity but that. Close by upon other tables rested similar metallic jars. If I have the will to open this what is to stop me from opening others? Or if noticing others having revealed the mysteries of the jars on their tables, what assurance can I trust the like contents to exist in this one before me? Likewise, within the space of each living thing lies the deepest of mysteries (ask any biologist or poet). Still the jar sits, unopened. My desire for its contents waxes and wanes, yet steadily climbs until, unbearable as it is I’m forced by inner yearnings, for which there are many names, to reach for it. But what’s this?! An interruption by an insect the likes of which I have encountered before but not carefully watched. An ant that spins webs crosses the table heading straight for the jar of sugar. Pesky little fuck.

     9 October:  For some strange reason {probably low grade marijuana plucked from the tree outside the hotel in Pokhara} I have been unable to recall my dreams for the last several nights. This is very disturbing, as it is one of my goals this journey to begin an account of how I learned to fly in my dreams. While in college I found a book in the Library With Sleep Inducing Couches called Altered States Of Consciousness. The section on dreams had only three essays. One was by a guy who wrote about lucid dreaming. He defined them strictly and cataloged over 500 of his own. Such dreaming is when the dreamer is 1) Conscious of dreaming and 2) The dreamer influences the dream. One could apply the same to principles to living.

     The second essay in that section of the book was about the Senoi peoples of Malay. This tribe lived in the middle of an island and were widely respected (feared) by the surrounding tribes on the periphery of the island as sorcerers and magicians. The tribe’s secret, or not so secret, power was their dream-culture. The Senoi were later killed or converted by Christian missionaries, no doubt in an effort to bring them “civilization”. But at least someone was able to write that essay. Each morning the Senoi elders would ask the children to tell them about the dreams they had the night before. If a child said “Why must I reveal my dreams to you?” The elder would respond with “Because the entire purpose of dreaming is to have an interaction with the Dream Beings and bring back a story to share with us.” If the child said, “I had a dream I fell off a cliff, I was falling, but I got scared and woke up.” The elder would say, “Next time, don’t wake up. You are traveling to the source of the dream being’s power.” According to the essay the children’s falling dreams were almost universally turned into a flying dreams. The elders encouraged the children to seek out the dream beings and have an interaction with them. It could be a sexual adventure, a fight, a quest, or any sort of adventure. The possibilities are limited only by the dreamers’ imaginations and realm of experience. The opinion of the essay writer was that the Senoi were particularly fond of sexual adventures with the dream beings. Perhaps this is why they were killed, their culture destroyed, by the Christian missionaries?

     The three girls we met at the Chris Beale slide show in Kathmandu are now a part of our trekking group. The five of us met for dinner at a pizza restaurant Pokhara and took the bus to Kathmandu the next day. We disembarked at a town called Dumre and needed to charter a bus from Dumre to Besisahar. Once to Besisahar we hoped to find the trailhead to the Annapurna circuit. A spontaneous group of foreigners haggling with bus drivers was both fun and disconcerting. There was no station or schedule. We simply waited until there was enough tourists to make it economical, then sought out a driver. After some heated haggling we got the bus ride and the driver received a bunch of money. One of the girls, our British friend Donna, had decided to abandon us in favor of a more suitable group. Not surprisingly, they were all British military men-in-training. We all haggled for the same bus. She ignored us but the men in her group talked with us. They treated us with a measure of disdain and looked bored. She’d been poisoning their ears against Lucky and I, I thought. It didn’t matter though. The weather was gorgeous. Most everybody was smiling and friendly. This last bus ride came complete with the hands-down worst ride this trip: a flat tire, death scare cliff riding and a minor collision passing another bus going in the opposite direction. The bus drivers had to get out and haggle over the goat-equivalent of a bus mirror. By the side of the road we inhaled dust and diesel exhaust. That was when we met the old Gurkha soldier who told us how tough his people were and how they had kicked British ass in days of yore. Lucky and I sat in the far back of the bus talking to a Nepali guide who we attempted to learn some Nepali from and he got to practice some English. We were half-oblivious or half-immune to the various near-death experiences resulting from the winding mountain road and unguarded precipices the bus was making dangerous love to along the way. We laughed madly with the Nepali guide, as if we were dancing on the edge of the world.

     I really wanted to walk that day, but our group, now down to four people, was worried we would not make it to the next town before nightfall which to me seemed like a good time to arrive. A time when one could check out the hotels and tea houses without everybody dragging you about telling you about the great deal they have for you. But these are small mountain towns and getting bombarded by tea house owners doesn’t happen out here. We checked into a largish concrete hotel in Besisahar. We’d be sleeping each night in our sleeping bags from now on. There was time to relax and watch the next bus load of tourists get mauled by children. Lucky had already made a hundred friends with the local kids and they taught him how to play “Bagh Chal”, which means “Tigers and Goats.” It is a neat game played on a grid. On each corner lies a tiger piece controlled by one player and the other player is the goats. Each turn the goat team gets to put down a goat on any intersection and the tiger player gets to move one of his/her four tigers. The tigers eat goats by jumping over them as in checkers and the goats kill the tiger by surrounding it on all four sides. They are having a great time, but I feel like a mute idiot and can’t seem to join in the cheer, disappointed not to be walking. So I watch and learn.

     Now it is dinner and I have been feeling very strange. My head feels like it weighs ten thousand pounds. I can’t think straight, my sinuses are pouring out a flood of mucus. It is clear in color, but annoying still. I am sleepy and my throat feels better than it did when I was in Pokhara. My lymph nodes in my throat are noticeably swollen. My pulse is 52 beats per minute and slightly erratic, but just slightly.

     10 October:  Bhulebhule. This morning we got off quite slow due to various last minute packing by some members of our group. Donna has split to move at a faster pace with her new friends. Marrit and Deanna are both smokers and I fear I will have to leave them behind in order to catch my plane. But I don’t really believe this will happen, it is an irrational fear. I feel so much better today than last night, my sinuses are clearing and my throat feels better. The fresh mountain air is doing me so much good. I’m forming so many ideas. The future has so much of a mystery to it. I was wrong, I’m actually in Khudi eating porridge and Tibetan Bread with honey and Jam. We passed through Bhulebhule this morning and have had quite a long breakfast. Now we must begin our walking again.

     Bahundanda – Where I met a girl with long black hair and watched her walk away with 5 guys following her like lost puppies. She didn’t seem particularly pleased by their attention though she may have been. It was hard to tell. At the same time she was incapable of escaping it. Where could she go? Pretty girl, I pitied her a little but she was too beautiful to be pitied. We had a nice brief conversation and it seemed she might want to join us. Wishful thinking on my part.

     This town is an old place with wonderful people. They farm rice on the terraced hills. The elevation is low enough for good farming. All the foothills are sculpted for many miles. This is not yet the wilderness. Met today a young guide about my age from Ghurka, or he is Ghurka. He began telling me the history of the kings, then I showed him the book “Trekking in the Annapurna” {which is not the guide book to which I was referring earlier} and we read from it the history he had begun telling me. He added on a story of how the Gurkha defeated the British, in one battle anyway, by gathering stones to a high place and tossing them down upon the invaders after they had lured them into a certain well chosen valley. This drove them away and the Gurkha soldiers have been employed as mercenaries by the British ever since. This is the same story that the old Gurkha soldier we met before was trying to tell us. The young guide spoke excellent English. All over the world the Gurkha are renowned for their bravery, perseverance and fighting skill. The money is good and it is not like the Gurkha don’t enjoy fighting. The old Gurkha soldier we met was very proud of his people’s reputation as brave, strong and skilled warriors and so was this young guide.

     The very next night, talking after dinner with another guide, this one claimed to be a Sherpa, he jokingly told us “The saying for Nepal is “Never Ending Peace and Love.” We liked that. He had more acronyms, for Japan, it was “Jumping And Pumping At Night.” For the U.S.A. he said, “Under Sexual Attention”. We laughed together. I tried to think of one for Germany and came up with “Getting Every Raunchy Man A Nun”.

     Tonight we are staying at the Hotel Tibetan in a four bed room, that is just perfect for our small needs. It is quite squished. The trek today was at a leisurely pace. This has both good and awful omens. One is that I may enjoy the wonderful scenery and people and the other is that I will necessarily travel very fast across the last few legs of the journey to get to Pokhara on the 28th {Fat Chance!}. It must be early that day, or I will miss the bus to Kathmandu and consequently my flight to France. It would be nice to fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu late on the 29th and have one last day in Pokhara. I’ve not budgeted myself for a plane ticket. I think Pokhara is so much finer than Kathmandu which is a crazy place {a place where I felt crazy}. This is so enjoyable, yet I have again tonight a strange fever. All will be okay if I can just wait long enough. It does not frighten me that malaria cases are on the rise and the means for prevention are becoming obsolete or unavailable.

     The snow laden peaks drew themselves out of the clouds like a swimmer emerging from a victorious race, the water still clinging, hopelessly evaporating into the hydrologic cycle. This is the way of the Himalaya, no plan could be more precise. No dream could ever manifest itself as more perfect than this reality.

     Not long before an act is committed, a meditation takes place. Cold and quiet like the moments before sunrise, he deliberates upon the action, so inevitable and pure. What some judge as sufficient for mere survival, the simplest contrivance of life, others would decry with their boisterous and hot judgment, a crime. A yak is slaughtered for meat.

      11 October:  Bahundanda Morning. These first five miles were pretty easy. Called the folks this morning, discovered the international telephone code for the USA… 001. So strange to find this pay phone out here in this spectacular place. It goes unnoticed and mostly unused like an inverted anachronism in an ancient play. We are only a few kilometers into our trek, so it is understandable. No one answered when I called home. They were probably in Mexico. It cost 225 RPS (slightly less than $4 US) to make the call.

     Last night I dreamed and awoke shortly after hearing the rest of my bunk mates leaving the cafe and walking down the street. This distraction was sufficient enough to erase the dream from conscious memory {I was lucky to have had a dream at all}. I’ve narrowed it down. I was dreaming of something very close to my experiences in the waking world. Yet there were many more insects. The hot girl with the black hair was complaining of being attacked by fleas when I joined the rest of the trekkers for breakfast. When dreams approach reality so closely it makes me wonder what the point of dreaming is {going without dreams for awhile made me regret thinking this. As did a childish idea I came up with in the early nineties: Sleep is just another drug we are addicted to from birth. Nonsense, it’s an essential biological necessity}. However, I slept pretty well that night.

     All the time I am making conscious efforts to suppress my coughs. My phlegm this morning is very bright green, almost yellow. Each day I strive for greater and greater emotional awareness. What is this feeling? From where does it emanate? The experience lends itself to isolation so purely lonely that pain is it’s companion. And yet, there is no real loneliness or isolation. People are everywhere here. Privacy is a funny concept. Then again, out on the trail, there are moments where being alone brings the greatest joy. When the more-than-human sounds, uninterrupted by human noise, foster a kind of inner peace and humility that connects the perceiver to the perceived a vastness opens up and frees the mind from thinking at all.

     The sun is greeting this page with its brilliant light, and soon will be more of a burden than a salutation from an old friend. These strange times indeed are well-nigh unfathomable. A great mist spreads over any a priori notion of time in my mind. The short and the long, the quick and the slow delve into the same, un-equably flowing and jagged turbulence. An unpredictable sense of time. A sense of time that can never be separate from space or, more precisely, time that is never without Place. Place-time conveys the primacy of motion, rather than time as something outside of place, or mathematically time as the independent variable. While very convenient for calculations, it is a fabrication (or a construction, a convention, an invention) and such a profoundly useful one.

   The book I’ve been reading has a terrible hold on me. It comes alive in a way that only certain books read by certain people at certain times do. Hans Castorp’s life, in “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann, is the perfect companion for this trip, yet I have barely time to read it. It seems in every word, every sentence, a tragedy is unfolding so very similar to my own experience in Nepal. The likenesses are many. In the first place, Hans is taking a journey for the first time, as a means of remedy for his dissatisfaction with the world that surrounds him and which he is about to join as an engineer. Secondly, the place he is visiting, a pre World War I phenomenon known as a Sanatorium, is filled with people who are ill with tuberculosis and other incurable diseases. They are from families that can afford to send them away to these pre-resort resorts.  The Sanatoriums eventually became ski lodges before there were ski lodges. Thirdly, there is definite topological similarity with the Swiss Alps to the Himalaya in Nepal in altitude and climate. Fourthly, soon after arrival, he himself begins to fall ill with a fever, not unlike a warming in the face and a coldness in the fact. Fifthly, he is in his mid twenties. Sixthly, there are experiences with other people, so similar to my own. He is one of “life’s problem children”. Seventhly, he has a philosophical revelation about time, a whole “complex” he calls it, which his illness makes him promptly forget.

     The eeriness I experience is also increased when I think on this last similarity. This is the dissolution of time that Hans Castorp experiences. As can be expected Nepali time is on a completely different thought-reality than American time conceptualization. Newton’s Absolute time, flowing equably without interruption or change, is not far removed from Nepali time. But Nepali time can’t really be construed as linear or even geometrical. Arbitrary demarcation of any sort, such as that supplied when one uses “units” to measure it, simply does not enter into it. Most people here don’t feel that a clock is a burden because it has no bearing on anything. Except maybe the bus drivers, who would rather break the bus or careen over the cliff killing themselves and all the passengers than miss their getting off work time. This cannot be helped when there are foreigners on the bus. I find it comforting and disturbing at the same time. On the one hand, having no schedule allows for an extent of freedom in where and when one walks. It is quite disturbing, however, when you want only to stop for a short lunch, or eat now.

     There is no such concept as “eat now” here. One eats when there is food and cannot when there is none. The cooks, usually older wise-women, determine whether you will eat sooner or later or at all. So it is best to treat them respectfully and politely. For they are generous and return your kindness and respect with a great percentage of food-interest.

     From Bahundanda we walked to Tal where we stayed at the Hotel Paradise. This hotel, located at the western end of town, is graced by the presence of a gigantic waterfall. We scored a room with a window facing the waterfall. Water plummeting down from several hundred feet up on a cliff to the pool and riverlet below makes a music almost unbearably soothing to the weary trekker. I sleep more soundly than I have slept on the trek so far but still don’t recall any dreams. This is as close as I’ve ever come to mountain paradise. The waterfall alone would be a multi-million dollar view in America. And the Hotel would have a garage, swimming pool, helipad, etc…  

     Fortunately, the rigorous inaccessibility that Nature has protected this spot with is strong enough to ward off the most ambitious entrepreneur, for now. The water is cold in the showers even though a posted sign above the spigot says it is hot. This is always the case and therefore unsurprising. Today {in a moment of cruelty I’ve since regretted} I told DeeAnna that she can not expect us to wait for her if we feel we need to go on ahead. I was worrying about time again. She was too kind and did not disagree. {And I felt bad for being such an asshole}. Now DeeAnna is not with us, but will catch up. I think it best to trek without a schedule as limited in time as ours is, but don’t feel I am capable of that {The desperate need for planning and scheduling as exhibited in many of my journal entries not disclosed here is a sign of the neurosis, or mental breakdown, and of my preconditioned notions of time drilled into me as an American}. I could easily spend a month or two wandering around the Annapurna and the rest of Nepal {truthfully, this would have been a challenge I was not prepared for}. This is such a wonderful place. Our trekking group missed going to the hot springs today because we passed them on the trail during the hottest time of the day. Hopefully we can time it right and catch some hot springs further on. Still I am in awe from the hypnotic melodiousness of the water’s sound. I think reading is a good action to engage in now.

     12 October 1pm:  Lucky, Marrit and I have made it to the Tatopani Lodge just on the east fringe of Latamrang. We are stopping for some Tibetan Bread and Hot Lemon {hot water with honey or sugar and lemon, a serious treat}. DeeAnna is somewhere behind us. Marrit has earned the nickname “The Belgian Bullet”, we can’t keep up with her. And she smokes! {It never occurred to me, until years later, that Marrit may have been trying to walk fast in order to get Lucky and I all to herself. Which is absurd to think and if true even more so. I’ve never learned what became of either of them or how they got along with each other. They always seemed friendly to one another. Probably she was walking fast because of me and my stupid need to hurry. Maybe also because of the cruel things I had said to DeeAnna about maybe having to ditch her. When in fact DeeAnna had a better attitude for trekking than I did.} Eventually we all met up again.

     Another 3 hrs walking and we will be in Chame where we will stay tonight and maybe meet those two Swedes. Now begins the test of our true metal. Altitude and weather will be our constant bed-fellows unpredictably toying with our meager fates and hemoglobin levels. Chame will be a welcome sight after today’s hike. I will try to go to sleep early.

     Last night in the Paradise Hotel dining room was interesting. Lucky was teaching/learning “hello” in as many languages as possible. He was also playing with the Hotel proprietor’s children and had them laughing and screaming with joy. I found myself very envious of his gregariousness, creative imagination, and ability to just be so much fun. I was quietly reading and writing while some group’s guide was doing a card trick involving numbers.

     It was a good walk today, I started out the morning with a bout of stomach pains. They came in waves, each crest more unbearable than the last, until finally a movement was necessary. {As an experiment I had stopped taking the grapefruit seed extract capsules while Lucky remained on them. He experienced no such stomach problems}. This was memorable as my poop was yellow-orange and liquidish. I ran off the trail and dug a deep hole in the ground as quickly as I could. It was explosive and painful. I was an inverted volcano. But I felt much better afterwards. Tomorrow I shall definitely try for a fuller, more solid, movement {Here I must digress and mention a method I came up with in college for having pleasant bowel movements. The principle I heed goes thusly: “Never obey your first impetus to shit”. This is not a hard and fast rule, there is certainly some flexibility. In the case of diarrhea it may be impossible not to obey the first impetus. On occasion it is even wiser to hold back until four or even five impetuses have passed before yielding to the porcelain god or digging a hole – always at least 8 inches deep. The idea is to consciously ‘milk’ all the water out of your stool as it sits in your colon. The colon absorbs a fantastic amount of water and doing this you will “tighten” or condense your stool so that when you finally do crap, it is a solid work of art. In yoga they call it clenching a specific bandha (Mula Bandha), involving the perineum, but what I’m referring to is working your colon and having great sphincter muscle control though I am unsure of the distinction.} Other than the huge popped blister on my right heal, I am doing great. I should write a post card or something.

     Today I thought often of someone, and especially how wonderful it would be to do this trek with her if we could take lots of time. I wonder where she is, what she’s thinking, and who she is with? Each step I take brings me closer to her and I can only guess why. The most obvious idea is that she is not here and “absence makes the heart grow fonder” as they say. This means that my desire is augmented because fulfillment (walking, conversation, …) of its object is impossible. A second, and distinct possibility, is that I really do love her. Or at least I have learned to love her or convinced myself that is what is happening. Let me not overlook so many imperfections, which with we both are fraught. There are few things as grand and bullshit-worthy as love forlorn for the sake of adventure. Tonight, this other set of hot springs were a glaring disappointment due to a landslide which happened recently, covering the old pools and leaving only a small, hot puddle of gray mud.

     13 October:  7:15 a.m. A magnificent morning and a fairly good sleep with dreams that mostly involved sensations and impressions associated with my present locale. This morning I found wild marijuana plants growing just off the trail a piece. I think I’ll cut one up and save it. I ran out of buds, picked from the tree outside the hotel in Pokhara, two days ago. This wild ganja looks pretty sativa, but I’m no expert at identification. Indica or sativa I could not say. “The proof is in the pudding” so I’ll bite. Right now I’m letting them cure by tying them to the top of my backpack in an open-ended plastic zipper bag. I rig it in such a manner that only an extremely tall person could easily discover them. It is sunny and dry during our walk.

     12:50 p.m. Lucky, Marian and I have reached the windy, dusty town of Pisang. Marian is a German Buddhist guy now trekking with us. He has not been treating his water with iodine as we have been treating ours. His bowels are in even worse shape than mine. He looks like he is about to die with every step, yet he keeps up with us. We gave him some of our iodine tablets and showed him how to use them.

     Pisang looks exactly like a scene from a Spaghetti Western, without the white people. Substitute a wrinkle faced old Nepali woman for Clint Eastwood. Soon we will lunch, when Marrit and DeAnna arrive. Two rooms we’ve taken in the Hotel Maya. Our bunks are made from petrified wood and the wind whistles through the spaces between the wooden slats that serve as a wall. There is no insulation but our long underwear and quality sleeping bags keep us warm. The Hotel Maya is an intriguing home. The family that lives here is generous and kind. The food is cooked in a wood burning stove, so nobody’s perfect. It is elegant simplicity. The food comes highly recommended by the author of “Trekking in the Annapurna”, and justly so. We all order the same thing, Dal Baht and Tibetan Bread. The family seems even happier with us for being so respectful of their resources. It is a light jovial good feeling in the dining room that evening.

     The landscape is high desert, reminding me of NM in its far reaching high desert beauty. Except, here, it reaches out for a short ways and then goes up up up. The icy, snow covered mountains thrust out of brown languid sea of dust. The wind grapples with the prayer flags as clouds cling to the peaks.

     6:15 pm Pisang, still. Took a short jaunt up to Upper Pisang at dusk. It was remarkable, only two Hotels, a Gompa (temple) and farmers. Kept walking and found a trail that led to a small waterfall. There we sat for a while admiring the splendor of the region in silent meditation. Can it be that life here remains similar to the way it was hundreds of years ago? Kind, hard working folks living off the land. {They are mired in a civil war that started in 1996 and ended in 2006. Ke Garne.} Today’s walk was one of the best I’ve ever seen. A great big granite looking wave of rock face greeted us on completion of the steepest of the assent. Atop our perch the snowy mountains rose intimidatingly without any effort.

Crying in the dust to the sky

Fruitless prayer for fair fortune

Heard falling upon deaf clouds

Fate sealed long ago

Like the tops of so many bottles: child resistant, yet not tamper proof. Food sounds really good right now. There is much confusion about where we are going. I have the map and a pretty good idea. I think the important question is who we are. This is asked less frequently than what do you have? How do I get it? And at what price?

     14 October 7:30 a.m.: Lower Pisang. A very nice sleep last night accompanied by one dream which, if I do not err, lasted a good 6hrs. It had one theme. A friend of mine made a $500,000 mistake, lost his job and flew out here to Pisang. This was quite boring and occurred in a very shallow sleep state this morning. I snuck away from the group to visit this guy who lives nearby, not quite next door, to the Hotel Maya. He sells chillums, pipes and things of that nature. I asked him for some ganja and he sold me a racquet ball size chunk of hash for the equivalent of about 7 dollars U.S. Fuck me… I’m going to be one lazy and uninteresting sack of shit for the rest of my trip. But on the inside of my mind there will be a 24-7 party of gentle opiate induced psychosis, where the tension gets ratcheted up at an unpredictable and unforgiving pace.

     One important lesson reaffirmed in myself is that the Nepali way of never losing one’s temper, is far superior to the standard westerner’s way of getting irate {therefore, according to eastern culture anyway, looking more like a monkey and less like a human} and making a scene over a little mistake, over bullshit. A serious mistake, well, that is a different matter. But getting angry over a trifle? Over somebody putting the wrong kind of sugar in your friggin’ latte? Gimme a break! Obviously that is something else. When a person loses their temper over a trifle, it is as though they have ceased to be human. {This is not to say that all small matters should be treated lightly.} Always there is another cause. In that embarrassing moment, it is as though he has stopped being all that is glorious in humanness, master of his will and emotions, and resorted, instead to a thoughtless monster, and suffering a loss of dignity. Animals don’t get angry at bullshit, they see bullshit for what it is… bullshit. {It goes without saying that we all lose our temper over nonsense from time to time.} And yet it is always the smallest of matters that can set of the unpredictable cascade of misfortune.

     I’ve come up with a list of a few things that would be nice to have on a trek to this region: soy sauce, handkerchief/face mask for the dust, nice camera, command of the Nepalese (“Namaste, mero nom Matt ho. mero nom ke ho?” just doesn’t cut it after a while and won’t get you very far), chocolate, Cliff Bars, removable tattoos or stickers for the kids. People, especially hubristic Americans {like me}, don’t realize that there are so many doors that open into the hearts and minds of other people in other cultures. But they aren’t large doors so you can’t drive a fucking tank through them and expect to be welcomed. That is the definition of asinine behavior. One of these doors is just being nice, talking with and playing with their children. If a parent sees you interacting joyfully with their child they are going to bend over backwards to make you feel at home.

     The air is so excellent here. I’ve yet to develop a serious cold, again. For a day or three back there I was sour in the throat and quite green in the phlegm. Lucky and I have been tasting various teas. The strangest yet being Tibetan Cha, which is not much more than melted yak butter in hot water with a little salt. That reminds me of an old friend, J.K., who, while we were once snowshoe backpacking through the Truchas Mountains north of Santa Fe, NM, was eating raw sticks of half-frozen butter as a snack on the trail.

     5:50 p.m. A most wonderful place we have found to stay tonight. It is perfect. Tonight I will sleep outside on the second floor of the Hotel Maya. We stopped for a long leisurely lunch today at Gyaru, it was heavenly. The dal baht was superb. After lunch Lucky, Marian and I found a famous temple with its gorgeous view into the valley. We lucked out and there was a man there, maybe a monk, who had the keys and let us into view the spectacular paintings and statues on the inside. There must have been thousands of hand carved wooden statues, aged beyond reckoning, lining shelves on all the walls extending from floor to ceiling. All the wood was black and foreboding, it felt as if they really were gods watching you for any sign of disrespect and only looking for an excuse to cast you into the deepest darkest hell. There was some color on the altar, red and gold mostly, and we walked around the inside perimeter for only a few minutes. Then the monk, or whatever he was, started getting restless the more we relaxed and finally decided to kick us out. After giving a small donation, 70rps each, the monk blew into a conch, recited a prayer which mentioned the pass at Thorung La and then hit a Gong a few times for each of us. He said another prayer, I hoped, and loudly dismissed us. After giving him our thanks and Namaste’s, we were on our way again.

     The 1 hour hike from Gyaru to Ngawal is a curving boulder strewn trail high up on the north side of the valley. We are spending the night above Manang so we will have our first true Altitude sickness test tonight. That is to say we are disobeying the “walk high, sleep low” principle for the sake of the pleasantness of the village of Ngawal. I really want to curl up with Der Zauberberg, eat, then sleep. But tonight there are no more rooms. So we sleep outside in the cold, we are prepared for this and it is good, builds character. This evening Lucky and I went for a hike. I had a most marvelous crap!

     We came back and watched as the family we are staying with cooked dinner in their wood stove, warm kitchen. Propane stoves have been suspiciously scarce. Now I’m outside with my dirty feet, in the cold. Alone it is nice. This gives me time to think, to reflect, upon this experience in that it is so unbelievable. I’ve never met more wonderful people. I can’t make out what they are saying at all, but it doesn’t matter. Perhaps I can learn Nepalese in a few years? Unfortunately my stay is over soon, too soon. there is so much more to explore here, where life is old, sacred and precious. A one month old baby is held in the arms of the grandmother with only one eye. She and is waddling and cuddling it for hours. This magnificent world, this peaceful town perched high up on the northern slope. I wish I were part of it. But I could not enjoy it the way I’m enjoying it if I were. Yet, something can be done. A bridge, not of language, helping to cross the abyss that separates so different cultures has been traversed on this night, if only temporarily. There is no one right culture, but there are certainly better and worse ways to live. Living well always means living simply. Complexities are often foisted on us by people who aim to distract and take advantage of us {Or simply don’t know what they are doing}. There are right ways of living and thinking, these are scarcely taught in America anymore, and there may be trouble someday. Thinking openly and understanding how free thought is limited. Live the rational, for it can only bring to light the absurd in this irrational universe. Awkward strangers visiting in a far away place of a far away land and yet, we are all a related oneness, the feeling of kinship with the people, burning wood, cold dry air, the stones, plaster and wood of the building. The fantastic light of reason shines brightest in this dark comfortable night. The secret meaning of all life is secret and yet to be discovered because all along everyone has known it and it is obvious and therefore overlooked. Like the importance of smell, as obvious as the nose on your face, yet we teach that there are only two ways of thinking the visual and the auditory and neglect the other. The secret is mine and ours to keep, protect, to acknowledge and share. Yet we dismiss it and we are filled with the most real horror and dread. Cheerfully we must live and die in the oneness, in the sameness, in our relatedness.

     I must continue this entry to describe the manifold spectacle of this room into which I have just moved my tired body. A proper description starts with the dimensions, space being fundamental to our perceptions. The room is a warbled squarish shape, not enormous, 500 sq. ft more or less, but enough space for seven westerners and six Nepali adults, also one Nepali baby very new to the world. The walls form more of an ovular rectangle actually, with a south facing door, looking out to a raised walkway circling above a dirt courtyard. There are no stairs out there but a sturdy old wooden ladder we climbed up instead. We are on the second floor. The wood is all very aged and dry. There are no windows, for what could one have with a window, when storms come and pillage all fragile structures? In the center of the room is a fire in an open stove-pit which keeps both temperature and spirits quite toasty. Through a specialized circular chimney above the stove-pit smoke escapes. The walls are filled with well used containers, bowls, plates and instruments necessary to the art of cooking. Spices are thronged to one corner atop very heavy crates which have no opening facing me. There is a table, a long padded bench against the wall and a bed in the Northeast corner on which the small of my back rests. There are flowers in a glass Sprite bottle. The food has been eaten for the most part. 2 Tibetan Breads and one and a half servings of dal baht have done us right. There is laughter and quiet conversation, everyone is tired and as happy as I’ve seen them yet. We exude gratitude to our hosts.

     It is late in the evening, a cold night. I sleep on my back outside now. We are looking up at the sky from the raised gangway above the courtyard. I am bundled. Only a small area of my face is exposed to the air. The clouds cover the mountains outside making the valley look like a plain. Strange how condensed and uncondensed atmosphere can alter appearances. No hurry to get anything done and no pace to keep up with, like walking in the forest with no destination but the walk itself. I do not feel obligated to entertain my thoughts with words, but I do it anyway. After all, what voice could dispel or explain a mystery so deep and so petrifying? What can a person say in the face of an inevitable life/death? Lots it seems. Love and peace heal all wounds, outside.

     In the morning we awake refreshed and made whole by the kindness and generosity of the family here. Three young girls, not more than six or seven years old, sing and dance for us and we feel greatly honored again. We leave wishing we had more to give them than mere money, but know that all has been set to rights, at least for the time being.

     15 October 9:30 a.m.:  Ngawal. Morning walk to the finger rocks. Very wonderful. Marian has been treating his water and looks so much more healthy than he did when we he first joined us. Lucky and Marian found a secret door leading into the mountain on our hike back down from the finger rocks. It was wooden, shut tight and ornately carved with esoteric symbols and other faded marks. None of us was bold enough to try to open it. We couldn’t tell if it was locked or not. It was the sort of door behind which might lie graves, a meditating monk or treasure beyond the imagination guarded by a dragon. We found it on a short walk off of the trail. I didn’t find it until after they had finished marveling at it because a slow walking pace was with me. We should have taken a photo.

     Also with me were myriad thoughts of her again and how strong those feelings were, now that I was on the other side of the world from her. Ridiculous human nature! I know I’ll return to the states in a few months and discover that world anew. Has it changed? Or will have I? All is flux and impermanence, mathematics alone remains truly and ideal constant. No wonder the ancients dubbed it the “language of Nature.” My hunger is fantastic at this moment after a three hour walk. The clouds have not devoured the mountains yet. We are two nights, three days, away from the crux, the pass at Thorung La. At an elevation of 5,400 meters it will be quite a challenge. All my thoughts are focused on it, as if I could just make it over that pass I would achieve inner peace and happiness. Freedom and a state of mind coincide {Yep, still very stoned}. Lucky and Marian seem to be avoiding me? I’ve been sneaking tokes from my chillum. I wonder if my stoner friends back in the states would like some of this hash I scored. I wish I could mail a little of this ‘gift of Nepal’ to them but the Nepali postal service is completely unreliable. All my stoner friends are spread around this crazy world anyway so I probably couldn’t even afford the postage. This land is supreme and thinking of the past, how we came to be so far apart, is painful. I will now drink some tea. Its vapors will heal my nostalgic wounds.

     15 October 5:30 p.m.: Manang. An overpriced but necessary stop on the trek. The closer to the pass we get, the more expensive the hotels and food become. Tonight we are sleeping and eating at the Yak Hotel. It is nice and clean. Today we went to the HRA lecture on Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS or Altitude Sickness). It was very informative and mildly amusing. Apparently AMS doesn’t effect any particular demographic, it doesn’t discriminate age, gender, or race. There was even a story about a Sherpa who lived his whole life in the high mountains, then went on vacation. When he came back to his Himalayan home town he got A.M.S. and nearly died. The locals claim that eating loads of garlic is helpful for prevention. The HRA doctor, who is a volunteer, said that they treat on average 1.5 people a day during the trekking season by giving them a ride in the Gamov bag. This contraption is like an inflatable body bag that has an air pump, the kind used to fill a raft, attached to it. The sick person is put in the bag, it is sealed, and their friends or the HRA staff take turns pumping air into the bag to simulate the higher pressure found at a lower altitude. The best thing to do is to get to a lower altitude, but if someone has AMS they might not have time to get to a lower altitude. Not to mention the fact that they probably can’t walk. It costs $1000 for a ride in the Gamov bag. The important thing, we learned from the lecture, is to stay hydrated and pay attention to yourself. There are some tell tale signs of AMS including dehydration, irritability, dizziness, giddiness and the loss of balance. Another thing that is important is to not walk faster than your own pace. Don’t over do it just to try to keep up with the group. The sign that you were getting dehydrated was that you weren’t urinating as often as usual. That was a thing to be aware of in order to tell if you were dehydrated. {Years later I learned that you can tell a lot by the color of your urine. Generally the darker your urine the more dehydrated you are. You can tell if you have been drinking enough water because it is clear or very lightly hued. Probably one could learn a lot about oneself from the smell and look of it too. That is probably a diagnostic tool in ancient Chinese medicine or something desperate alchemists once practiced.

     As I thought about AMS I came up with the hypothesis that it must have something to do with the amount of hemoglobin in the blood. When a person lives at high altitude for a long time, that person’s body makes more hemoglobin to compensate for the thinner (less oxygen per unit volume) air. This is the reason Olympic Athletes train at an altitude higher than the place of their competition. Also if you live at high altitude you can usually drink your sea-level buddies under the table when you visit them at sea level. Living at high-altitude changes you biochemically because your body makes more hemoglobin, but it doesn’t happen right away, it takes a lot of time. I’m lead to believe that it gives you great powers of physical tolerance. AMS occurs by not manufacturing enough hemoglobin in time to compensate for lack of oxygen at a higher altitude. The process of generating more hemoglobin must somehow stress our entire body in ways I can only imagine. The condition, specifically, is hypoxia but only refers to the lack of oxygen. Hypoxia mere describes part of the phenomena in a helpful way. Hypoxia alone doesn’t account for a person being cognizant of all the different factors such as hydration, walking speed, symptoms (in others and their own), sleep deprivation from the high altitude, body temperature (homeostasis), etc. The un-aclimated person can take real precautions like enduring more hypoxia during the day and less at night. It reminds me of a couple other medical phenomena: the protection afforded to neurons by chaperone proteins and/or heat-shock proteins when a mild stroke is followed by a severe stroke and alternate vascularities found in patients that have endured trauma common to ‘hard drug’ addicts. The idea is basically a mild trauma (of hypoxia, ischemia, injury) prevents more damage from happening when exposed to a more severe or longer trauma of the same category. It is called ‘preconditioning’. Vaccines are another mode of preconditioning.

     I’m looking forward to the challenge that lies before us. So far our group has augmented to eight. The newest guy is Rob, from New Zealand and this Norwegian lady, Kjusti, a nurse. Both are nice but Kjusti is maddeningly gorgeous. Lucky and I make jokes to each other about her bodaciousness. She is way out of our league. They joined us a couple of days ago, right after Marian. They were in Ngawal with us that magical night. Including tonight we have three more nights before attempting the pass. They say if you get snowed in up there you just have to wait until the weather changes. No one seems to be suffering from AMS, but Lucky and Marrit have their doubts about DeeAnne. All I can think about is how similar my life is to what is happening in The Magic Mountain. It frightens me and I want to finish it.

     16 October 8:30 a.m.:  Manang. A slight discrepancy this morning over times and routes. No harm done. Maybe some hopes shattered? What’s to be done? A beautiful day more or less. If the weather holds the pass will be sparkling lovely when we pass it.

Dear Reader,

Below are the last 5 chapters of this story. They have not been completely edited. As much as me, myself and I do not appreciate as greatly such things… I present them to you in raw form. Kindly disregard your non-tolerance for grammatical and linguistic short comings in the following. If I made such errors above, I would love to hear about them and even the ones below.

To continue the story there was something like eight of us in a group intending to make it to Yak Kharka. I had connived to get myself some reading time (Der Zauberberg by Thomas Mann), some coffee, and some hash hits from the chillum. What happened next felt completely insane. Enjoy the ride!

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Chapter 5: One Wrong Turn

Note: The words ‘wolf’, ‘wild dog’ and ‘dog’ are used interchangeably.

The ‘slight discrepancy’ stemmed from an argument at breakfast time. The night before we had decided the next town we were going to stay at was Yak Karkah, meaning Yak fields. It was only a few kilometers up the trail but there were two routes to get there. One route was the direct one, a straight shot up the valley and would only take about an hour. The other route was more along the lines of “walk high, sleep low”. It was much longer and had an elevation gain of about 800 meters to a village called Khangsa. This route crossed the big river and climbed up the south side of the valley to the tiny village. There really wasn’t much of a trail back down. Lucky, Marian, Rob and I tentatively decided we would get up early and take the route through Khangsa and the ladies opted for going back to their rooms and sleeping in a little. Then they would walk directly to Yak Karkah.

I had other plans that I’d been concocting over the last day or so. What I really wanted was to go back to a town we had passed through the previous day. In that town was a cafe that had real coffee, not the instant kind but fresh ground, and delicious breads. I only wanted to sit and drink real coffee and read “The Magic Mountain” for a few hours and then meet up with them that night. At breakfast we were talking about the last night before the pass at a town called Churl Lattar. People on the trail had told us that as you get higher up, closer to the pass, things get more expensive for a couple reasons. First of all it is hard to get supplies up there, it costs more in terms of fuel and/or Sherpa power. The other reason is that there just aren’t many options, there are fewer people willing to take you in, so you have to pay whatever they ask and can’t haggle. Food and lodging are both relatively expensive up there. We’d heard, through the grapevine, that food is also a “rip off” and it is advisable to bring your own if you can find it beforehand. Well, it turned out that one of the first things we saw on the way into Manang was a small shop selling huge blocks of Yak cheese. So my devious mind went into operation and I volunteered myself for the job of getting the cheese and then casually mentioned that bakery in the previous town (the one that sold real coffee) might supply us with bread. I volunteered myself also to go to that bakery and get a few loaves of bread, enough for the seven of us, so we could have food if things turned out to be too expensive. So much rationalization just to disguise my yearning for coffee and a few hours of quiet reading! But the deed was done and we argued over getting the cheese and little things. Someone wanted to go with me, but I insisted on going alone, because I didn’t want to let on that I was only doing this out of desire. Such strange lies I told that day. Finally it was decided that Lucky, Marian and Rob would take the gnarly hike up through Khangsa and back down to Yak Karkar and DeeAnne and Kjuste would walk to Yak Karkar together. Marrit volunteered to wait in the hotel for me and walk with me to Yak Karkar even though I told her it was unnecessary. I don’t think everybody was happy, because I can’t lie very well and they knew something was up but didn’t quite know what it was. I was being a stinker and didn’t want to tell them my secret. We finished breakfast. Rob and the girls went back to the room to pack their stuff. Lucky, Marian and I had already packed and we went down to the cheese shop. The guy only had half a block left, so we bought it, knowing we wouldn’t be feasting up there. I bid them good luck with their walk and told them I’d see them that night in Yak Karkar.

I walked through the gate at the east end of Manang and the sky seemed darker, the clouds were gathering. The wind blew coldly in my face, as if warning me to be careful. I felt even more defiant. It looked like rain and I had a terrible feeling of foreboding but walked on determined to get some coffee, a few loaves of bread, and a good read in. I passed a group of trekkers on mountain bikes, they were muddy and had lots of gear. We exchanged Namaste’s but they didn’t stop. I kept walking and it seemed the bakery was farther than I remembered. It was all downhill though. I found some trees off to the side of the trail and stealthily smoked a chillum-full of hash. I was quite happy for a while, and the foreboding left me but I was unable to think clearly.

When I arrived at the bakery it had just started raining and the place was empty. There was a Nepali guy behind the counter and I bought a cup of coffee and asked about the bread. He said it would be ready in an hour. I thanked him, took my coffee and sat alone in the dark empty dining hall. There wasn’t much light, but I was determined to read for a while. The chairs were all hand carved from a rough hewn light colored timber. I sat with the coffee and it didn’t taste good, like I remembered. It almost didn’t taste like anything at all. I bought another cup after finishing the first one and still I couldn’t taste the coffee though I knew it was there. I must’ve had three or four cups while I sat there, all alone, trying to read.

I read the part in the book where Hans Castorp goes off by himself on pre WW1 telemark or cross-country skis and has his little “accident” and that is the point at which he nearly dies and it is obvious that he is ill, just like all the patients at the Sanatorium. I read that part very carefully and when I finished it, when I made sure that he wasn’t going to just die there, passed out in the snow, I left the bakery. But not until I had purchased several loaves of bread for our group. It was not as dark outside anymore and I hurried myself to Manang. I stopped again to smoke another chillum, but it didn’t make me feel any better this time. Only it made me feel numb and stupid.

By the time I returned to the eastern gate leading into Manang with the bread in my backpack it was sunny and even a little warm. The clouds had all scampered off and I headed for the Yak Hotel to find Marrit. There was nobody around the town, it must have been well after noon. There was no one in the restaurant part of the hotel and when I went back to the room there was no one there either. I checked the bathrooms and showers but no one was around. Back in the restaurant I found a Nepali lady that had been our waitress, she smiled sweetly and offered me a menu but when I asked about my friend Marrit she didn’t understand. I thanked her and walked outside. The streets were dry and empty, the sun high up in the sky seemed to laugh at me. I decided to head to Yak Karkah by myself. I started walking west. There was a mani wall and I kept it on my right and walked around it clockwise a couple times fascinated by the Nepali script that was totally undecipherable to me. I wished I could read that script in that moment and felt like just another stupid, poorly educated American with no hope of ever getting any knowledge of the world. I kept walking. The town spread out, it got wider when I expected it to narrow. I thought there would be one obvious way out of town, but there were many. I kept looking at the scripts and I couldn’t figure anything out. The scripts were as attractive and magical looking as an attractive mate or rare animal tracks through a high desert forest. I guessed they were some form of Sanskrit. There was another mani wall, this one much bigger and I walked around it in the customary manner, there were arrows pointing to two trails. It was a fork in the road. One trail went left, a little southerly, and the other trail went right, in a more north-westerly direction. I went left, towards the river. This was the river that made the valley, the mighty Marsyangdi River. The town was high up on the bank and when I got to the edge of town the trail sloped down to the river. It didn’t seem right, but I figured if it was the wrong way I could go back and take the other fork.

As I walked down toward the river I passed three Nepali men gathering stones and carrying them up to the village using a wooden rack that they wore on their backs. They were human wheelbarrows. The stones were being used in the construction of a new hotel I had passed on the way out of town. I wanted to help, but they looked at me and waved me back toward the village. I didn’t understand and walked a bit farther down the trail. I passed a woman with a very young baby washing clothes or some fabric in a little tributary that came down from the terraced wheat fields surrounding the town and drained into the river. I waved hello and kept walking. She eyed me suspiciously, but didn’t pay me much attention. I looked north and saw a large orange animal running westward across one of the terraced fields. The fields were all yellow and dried, the harvest was over. Dead yellow corn or wheat stalks stuck up uniformly through the fields like grave markers. I walked a little more and could see that I was heading toward the river. I knew I couldn’t cross it, so I stopped, took a piss and got out my map. I knew exactly what I had done wrong and decided to walk back to the village and take the other fork which was certain to be the trail to Yak Karkah. My backpack was pretty light, probably only thirty or forty pounds and I began walking back toward the village. Something made me stop and turn around.

There on the trail behind me was an orange animal. It weighed maybe fifty pounds and the wild dog just looked at me. It’s hair was not long or shaggy. I immediately thought of a moment on the trail a few days earlier:

Marrit, Lucky and I were walking up some switchbacks cut through some sort of metamorphosed rock. They were very steep and a gray dog with short hair was following behind us on the trail. I was going last and stopped to look at the dog. It came near me, expectant. I was in a very jovial mood and started reaching out my hand to pet it.

Lucky saw me and said, “Hey man, wait! Don’t do that. I read somewhere in the guide book that the dogs carry all sorts of nasty diseases and that it isn’t a good idea to touch them.”

“Don’t be silly. Look, it is just a dog.” And as I said that I gave the animal a pat on the head. The dog made a bark and jumped back from me. I drew my hand back quickly. From beneath the fur on its back a swarm of huge insects emerged and hovered about it. They were black and yellow and looked like flying ticks, the likes of which I have never seen or encountered. The were each about the size of a quarter and almost as flat. We all gasped at the thing and the dog started to bark more. After a few seconds they went back beneath the dog’s fur. We were amazed and disgusted at the same time, then thought better of it. So we turned and kept walking but the dog wouldn’t stop following us. So I threw a few rocks in its general direction and yelled at it to back off. That was a bad idea because I heard some yells from further down on the hillside. The other people on the trail beneath us didn’t appreciate rock throwing. So I resorted to trying to tell the dog in a loud voice to “Go Away!” But it didn’t understand English. So we moved very fast up the trail and after awhile we couldn’t see the dog behind us anymore. Shortly thereafter we stopped at a tea house at the top of the hill.

The sun came out about the time we sat down. We were eating some Tibetan bread when a whole troop of British military came jaunting up through the outdoor patio. The tea house was situated smack dab in the middle of the trail so that you had to walk through the patio to get to the other side of the little rock outcropping we had just climbed up and continue on the trail. The British troop were all men except for their leader who was a very tough looking woman. All the lads wore identical outfits and matching blue and yellow backpacks. As they stood there, waiting for all the members of their group to arrive, with us watching them, the gray dog came galavanting into the patio like he was their mascot or something. They didn’t really pay any attention to it as they stood their waiting for the last members of their troop to arrive. Except one British dude tapped the dog on its head with his metallic walking stick, the aluminum kind that looks like a ski pole, and again the gigantic flying tick-things emerged from its fur and did their nasty hovering bit. I felt like throwing up. Marrit and Luke just laughed at the absurdity of it all. I was just grateful when they left and the dog followed them.

As I stood on the trail looking at this large orange wolf, or wild dog, I thought of the previous encounter with that emaciated gray dog with the flying ticks living in its fur. I was still pretty high from the hashish. The wolf was just looking at me and I at it. I waited. It crouched for a split second then lunged at me, without so much as a snarl or bark. I threw my arm up reflexively and it’s canines left their mark in my right forearm but it didn’t get a hold on me. I stepped back, quite surprised at just having been munched. Again it lunged at me. This time I kicked it as hard as I could in the head with my size eleven black leather hiking boots with the Vibram soles. It fell back. I backed up a few steps. The wolf shook itself, reset in dead silence and lunged again. I realized that I couldn’t kick well with my backpack on and this time I put a lot of weight into my fist and punched it in the face. When it lunged at me next I kicked it as hard as I could again. I had knocked it down. The wolf picked itself up and shook itself off just as before. I took a step backward. It still didn’t bark or make any sort of noise. Several more times it lunged at me and I either kicked or punched it in the head with all the stoned force I could muster. Each time it did the same thing: fell back without so much as a yelp, shook it off, paused, and lunged at me again. This went on for several bewildering minutes. I took another couple steps back and fell into a pit with garbage in it, sunk a few feet down on the side of the trail. Somehow I was still on my feet. From inside the pit, the wolf on the higher ground of the trail, I noticed we were now almost eye to eye. It attacked me again and I tried to twist out of the way but it caught my right upper arm with one of it’s canines. I had a deep gash in my arm but I managed to pin the wolf on the bottom of the pit. This whole fight had been like a dream. I still had no physical sensation, maybe in part due to the ganja, but there was the sympathetic nervous system thing also. The “fight or flight” mechanism was in full effect and I hadn’t had time to really think. But now I had the wolf pinned on its belly in the garbage pit.

I grabbed it with both hands by the scruff of its neck and with my fingers clenched around the fur on either side of it’s neck and shoulders. Unfortunately that is when I thought again of the nasty flying ticks. Disgusted, I climbed out of the garbage pit without losing my grip on the dog and began walking back toward the village. A few meters up the trail I started to see tiny rainbow motes everywhere. I felt dizzy and for just an instant my right hand loosened its grip on the wolf’s neck. Quickly, its head shot around and tried to bite my hand and scratched my knuckle. I regained my grip and the wolf slumped lazily. At this point the pounding in my ears and head became more pronounced and then I realized because of the throbbing blood vessels in my head I would soon pass out if I didn’t do something. I also noticed that I was covered in my own blood. I started to run with the wolf in my hands, back up the trail. But this made the pounding worse and I was almost unable to breathe. So I stopped and realized that I must kill this animal. What if it was rabid? The next problem I had was should I kill it. As I had never been hunting and the only animals I had ever killed were insects and a bird I once shot by accident with a BB gun as a young child, I was at a loss. I had no idea how to kill it. Then, all of a sudden, with the blood pounding in my head, my heart racing in my chest, jacked up on adrenaline, caffeine and hash I paused.

“What right do I have to take this animals life?” The question just sort of asked itself. It is not for me to decide what lives and dies. This was right in line with my thinking on Buddhism. Man, I was confused! I held the thing in my hands and was on the verge of tears trying to figure out why the hell it had attacked me and what I should do. Then I thought of the Nepali lady and her baby not far up the trail washing clothes in the river. It seemed a simple problem of math, one potentially rabid wild dog life and three human ones. The human lives seemed certainly more valuable. But there were other questions even still. For example the technical problem of how to kill it. I decided I would try to strangle it to death, to asphyxiate it by pulling the skin as tight as I could around its neck. I had two fists full of the strange orange fur on the back of its neck in either hand and I tried to strangle it by pulling my hands together. I spent what was left of my energy trying to strangle it in this manner, by pulling the skin on the scruff of its neck hoping it would tighten enough to close its trachea. Pretty dumb idea if you think about it. I pulled the clumps of fur and skin in my hands on the back of its neck closer together. The dog responded by trying to look up at me and just sort of panting in appreciative way, like I was giving it some sort of massage. At this point I realized I was not only covered in my own blood, but losing blood and consciousness quickly. I needed to get to the village and get some medical attention for the deep gash in my upper right arm. So I spun around a couple times with the dog, to get some momentum and I tossed it like a discus as far as I could in the opposite direction of the village and began running as fast as I could in my heavy boots back up the trail to Manang.

I was running with my arm raised above my heart to slow the bleeding and I stopped when I saw the Nepali woman and her baby doing laundry. I yelled to her and waving, motioning to go up the trail with me, tried to get her to run with me to the village but I think I just scared her and she looked at me like I was insane. I knew the dog couldn’t be far away and I was terrified for her, but also about to pass out. I yelled loudly for help a few times but there was no one around. I was still bleeding all over myself and I must have looked completely psychotic. There was nothing I could do so I ran back up the trail toward the village of Manang. As I was nearing the last little bit of trail up to the village I noticed there was a Yak blocking the way. Since it was a fairly steep hillside and a very narrow trail there was no way to get past the Yak. As I was cautiously, on the verge of a fearful panic, nearing the Yak, an orange dog, very much like the one I had just fought with, scrambled on up the trail past the Yak and into the village. The Yak was startled and moved off the trail and onto the hillside a little bit so that I could just pass it without getting kicked. I ran into the village and found a Nepali man standing on one side of the large mani wall. He was facing me and leaning forward with both hands folded on a large walking stick. He looked at me with calmly inquisitive eyes. The dog that had just run into the village ahead of me was sitting beside him looking at me also. I pointed at the dog and at my bloody arm, still thinking that this might have been the wolf that attacked me because it was similarly colored. I was still rather disoriented and could hear the blood pounding in my ears. The man spoke a little English and did his best to let me know that I shouldn’t get too close to him. I understood and spoke to him from where I was standing. I don’t know if he understood but I pointed several times at the dog and at my arm. He made no sign one way or the other of understanding but seemed genuinely interested in what had happened. I was not feeling very good and I decided I better get myself to the HRA first aid outpost as soon as possible. I tried to warn him to be careful of the dog and he made me to understand that this dog was not the wolf. I also tried to tell him about the woman doing laundry and her baby down by the river but this was not possible to communicate so I left him there standing at the mani wall and walked quickly, with my arm still raised above my heart to slow the bleeding, to the first aid outpost.

As I walked through the town there were people out on the street and even some trekkers and they all wanted to know what had happened. “I was attacked by a wild dog” I said and kept walking. The aid outpost was on the other side of town. The day was unchanged, mute and indifferent, gorgeous and sunny. I found the door into the compound and yelled for help, but no one seemed to be around. As I stood there yelling out “Hello?” and “Anybody here?” a thin white woman with long blond hair came walking down the steps. When she saw my arm she said, “Come with me.” I followed her in through a nearby door and into a light blue room with a shiny metallic operating table and one of those examination beds with the brown leather cushions that are covered with clean white paper. I sat down in a chair next to the examination table and started telling the doctor what had happened. I began talking really fast because I knew I wouldn’t hold out much longer. I emphatically told the doctor about how I was worried about the woman doing laundry and her baby because I hadn’t killed the dog but thrown it as far as I could and she told me not to worry. She said the best thing to prevent rabies in a case like this is to clean the wound with iodine for an hour or at least thirty minutes. As she was scrubbing my wounded arm with iodine, I spoke as quickly as I could about all the things I could remember that had happened and I told her I felt like passing out. Then I did.

When I came back to consciousness I felt very warm and comfortable and I noticed that there was somebody holding my head in the crook of his fleece sleeved arm. This Nepali man’s name was Govinda and he had his arm around my neck holding my head up. I remember feeling so very happy and comfortable and warm because of the soft fabric that his jacket was made of. It was probably chinchilla, or what they used to call ‘pile’ and I didn’t want to wake up because it was so warm and comfortable. The doctor whose name was T.G. said I had gone into a mild state of shock. She was cleaning the other wound on my arm, the first one I had gotten, when more people came into the room. I recognized the woman immediately, she had a baby and was the one I had seen down by the river. With her was a young boy also and I hadn’t seen him before. Govinda let me go and went over to speak with them.

What I learned was this. The wolf had come back and found the woman and had bitten both her and her baby. The young boy, Kumar, had heard me yelling for help or heard some commotion or had just been there at the right time. He went down to the river to see what was happening. He found the wolf trying to get the woman’s baby and threw rocks at it. The wolf then went after Kumar and bit him in the upper thigh, but Kumar fought him off and the wolf ran away. Then the three of them had come to the aid outpost. The woman and baby only had small wounds and Kumar had a more serious bite wound on his leg. Dr. T.G. was cleaning their wounds with iodine and I asked Govinda if there was a telephone or something. He said there was no phone but that they did have a radio and once a day communicated to the HRA in Kathmandu. When the doctor was finished cleaning the wounds of the woman, her baby and Kumar. I asked her about rabies. I told her that I had not gotten the pre-exposure vaccine because I was only going to be in Nepal for a month and didn’t think I would need it. She asked about who I was with and I told her I was supposed to walk to Yak Karkar and meet them tonight. She said I shouldn’t go anywhere just yet and that I should ask Govinda to take me to the radio and see if the HRA in Kathmandu would send a helicopter to evacuate me to Kathmandu so I could get the rabies vaccine. I was pissed off at this point, mostly at myself for not killing the wolf when I had the chance, and I wanted to find the animal and find out if it was rabid. Dr. T.G. said she would look in her medical books for information about rabies and in the meantime I should go to the radio with Govinda. On the way out of the HRA first aid outpost there was a man selling walking sticks and I bought one in case I should see that wolf again, I’d have a weapon this time. We walked through town and I noticed people staring at me. I began to feel bad and very depressed. Govinda told me not to worry, there was nothing to be done and brought me to the place where the radio was housed.

We walked up two rickety ladders and into a small room where several men were gathered around an ancient radio, the kind with potentiometers for dials and needles for indicating the frequencies and levels. They didn’t seem too surprised to see me. I gave them my passport and told them that I could pay for a helicopter because I had bought traveler’s insurance before I left. This was only possible because Govinda acted as translator. I could not make out clearly the conversation between these men and their counterparts on the radio in Kathmandu. I had been telling Govinda the story and asking him what to do on the way over so he had a pretty good idea about what had happened with the wild dog, the woman, her baby and Kumar. I gave them my passport and other pertinent information so that the HRA in Kathmandu could tell the consulate. He relayed the story to these men. The consciousness of what had transpired began to come to light. As they were relaying the information and the request for a helicopter, I broke down completely and uncontrollably wept. The Nepali men operating the radio probably thought I was totally nuts. Govinda was kind and got me out of there as soon as he had relayed the pertinent information. He assured me that the HRA would contact the embassy and they would do what they could to evacuate me. He tried telling me that it was not my fault. But I could not believe it and didn’t stop weeping. I felt so irresponsible. After all I should have killed that dog when I had the chance. Instead I threw it and ran, trying to save my own skin, and the woman, her baby and Kumar (the true hero of the story) were all bitten by the wild dog.

As we walked back toward the aid outpost, I asked Govinda what to do about the dog and had been very adamant before we got to the place with the radio about going and finding the dog before it bit anyone else or any live stock. Govinda told me there was nothing to do about it. Then I asked him when the helicopter might arrive. For about the hundredth time he tried to explain to me that there was no certainty in this matter. A helicopter may never arrive or it may arrive in two days or even tomorrow. There was no guarantee of any sort of aircraft. He did mention that there was an air strip a few towns east of Manang, a town called Ongre, that had once a week flights, but the plane was small and used mostly to fly in supplies for the tea houses. Then we heard people screaming and ran to the edge of the street between some stone buildings. From the edge of the street the ground sloped steeply down to the river with no buildings directly between the street and the river. I saw the man with the walking stick earlier, only this time he had a rifle. We stood looking down the rocky slope. There were some men down near the water. Govinda said, “The dog is back. It is down there.” And we both took off running down the hill.

By the time we got to the scene, the dog had been beaten almost to death with rocks and heavy sticks. It lay on the rocky slope panting shallowly and bleeding. Three of the six men had been bitten by it as they tried to kill it. I walked over to where it lay and the men stepped aside to make room for me. I squatted over the dog and looked at its broken and bloody body. Then I cried again over the dog and asked the empty sky why this had been so. The dog made a few shallow gasps for breath and one of the men made to finish it off. I motioned for him to wait and as I did something strange happened. I felt sorry for the dog and confused about why this had happened. There was an odd thing that reminded me of the transmigration of souls and the dog died. I don’t remember if I saw it breathe it’s last or if it was emitting yelps as they clubbed it to death. When it was finally dead, the man with the rifle, who turned out to be Kumar’s father, Mitchung Gurung who owned the biggest hotel in Manang, showed up. But the dog was already dead. Govinda brought me back to the first aid outpost. I could barely walk and was still weeping, but trying to hide it.

We made it back to the HRA outpost. It was dark. Dr. T.G. had looked up rabies in her medical books and told me that if the dog was rabid coupled with the fact that I had not gotten the rabies pre-exposure vaccine chances were good that I would be dead in two to ten days. I smiled at the news, but not because I wanted or thought I would die, but because it seemed I finally had something factual, something certain. That turned out to be illusory, too. I also smiled because Dr. T.G. had told me the news with such concern and I was deeply moved by her compassion. She gave me a letter to give the director of the HRA, Dr. Buddha B. I suggested that I take the dead dog’s corpse with me back to Kathmandu to try to get it tested for rabies. Dr. T.G. didn’t think that would be easy, but she didn’t realize it would be impossible. I think she was being encouraging simply because she was so kind. Govinda went down to the river and retrieved the dog’s body wrapping it in several plastic bags. The outer layer was a rough sack-cloth.

The next thing I had to do was get a room for the night somewhere. When I went back to the Yak hotel, where we had all stayed the night before, there were no rooms available. So I went to the hotel nearest the Eastern Gate of Manang. They had a room for me and much to my surprise the men riding their mountain bikes were staying there as well. I paid for the room and walked back to the other hotel where I left a note for my brother saying where I could be found. I knew instinctively that he would walk from Yak Karkah to Manang before the night was over. I tacked the note to an obvious spot on the wall. It was probably the easiest thing I had done all day. It was as though the nail on the wall in that obvious place had been put there specifically for me to place the note there. I returned to my hotel and at dinner spoke with the mountain bikers I had seen earlier that day on my walk to the bakery. They listened with interest and amusement to me tell them what had happened that very day. One of the mountain bikers had extensive experience trekking in Nepal and spoke Nepali fluently. He took the story in stride and agreed that if the dog was rabid I would probably die soon. This man had married into a Nepali family some years ago and spent nearly all of his time in Nepal as a guide. He also spun a few yarns about deaths and bizarre happenings in the mountains. People getting attacked by worse things than a rabid orange wolf. After we had finished eating I walked outside. It was a perfectly clear night with a full moon and the moment I got outside the building I saw my brother, glistening with sweat come sauntering down the trail. He grabbed me in bear hug.

“Brother!” We exclaimed in unison. “Ouch!” I yelped because he had squeezed the bandaged wound on my arm which had not been sutured up in case there was an infection and so that it could be cleaned out again if or when I got to Kathmandu. Lucky said, “What happened? We were in Yak Karkar when Marrit arrived and we said ‘Where’s your brother?’ and she immediately burst out crying because she had heard a western trekker had been attacked by a wolf on the trail while she was walking.”

“It is true.” I said and launched into the tale for the third time, this time trying to get all the details and leaving nothing out. When I got to the part where I was told I might very well die, I said it quickly and casually.

Lucky’s countenance changed a little and he looked worried. I told him not to worry and that a helicopter would probably arrive tomorrow to whisk me away to Kathmandu for serious medical treatment. He said he would go with me. I insisted that he continue on with the trek and that he take the loaves of bread and bring them to the others so that they would have food when they got up closer to the peak. He told me he did not care about the bread or the others and that he wanted to go with me to Kathmandu. I told him about the uncertainty of the helicopter even arriving and about the airstrip at the town lower down and when the next supply plane would probably arrive. He said he would go with me tomorrow to see if the helicopter would arrive and the day after that, and the day after that if necessary. I told him that there might not even be room on the helicopter.

At some point Govinda showed up and brought us to the home of the Gurungs. The man I had met upon entering the town and who had brought the rifle, too late, down to the river was Kumar’s father, Mitchung. At the house we were offered vast quantities of food and met the entire family. Kumar was there and I told them using Govinda as translator what a great hero Kumar was because he had rescued the woman and the baby. They offered us more food. I had already eaten and wasn’t feeling strong enough to eat more. They then made us to know that Kumar was a student in Kathmandu and was only here on vacation. I told them about the helicopter supposedly arriving at some point and how Kumar could go to the Canadian Clinic in Kathmandu to get the vaccine and special medicine with me. This medicine, the rabies immunoglobulin, is extracted from the blood of people who have taken the rabies vaccine and it is injected directly into the wound with a long needle. The Gurungs insisted that Kumar’s mother come with us as she could really get things done in Kathmandu. I had to stifle a laugh because she weighed at least 250 pounds and I imagined fitting Kumar, the dead wolf, Kumar’s mom, Lucky, our backpacks, and me in the helicopter. We told them where to meet us tomorrow to see if the helicopter was going to arrive. The Gurungs are a beautiful family. The experience of entering their home and meeting many members of their family rivaled the night in Ngawal in terms of depth. They are a powerful and loving force. I wish I could remember the details of being with them in their home and the conversation. After too short a time, we left. We thanked Govinda for all his good works and walked back to our hotel.

That night I woke up in a cold sweat from a dream where I was chasing the dog. I woke up my brother in a commotion of turning over beds and searching the room in the dark for the dog. He told me it was a dream and that I should go back to sleep. I eventually did. This scene would happen every night for the next two months. I would wake up in a cold sweat having soaked through my sleeping bag entirely and turn the room over searching for the dog in the room. It was a terrible thing.

Chapter 6: A Rabid Tourist On A Mad Quest

The next morning, as Lucky and I were walking to get breakfast, Marrit came zipping down the trail and met up with us. We ate Tibetan bread and scrambled eggs at a nice roof top cafe in Manang. She was visibly relieved to see that I was not dead. I told an abbreviated version of the story for the fourth time. She told me that she had waited in the hotel and assumed that I had neglected to stop by so she started walking. But she walked slowly in case I hadn’t left. Some trekkers passed her and were alarmed that she was walking alone because they had just heard about a westerner who had been attacked by a wild dog. She hoped that it wasn’t me and continued walking with them until they reached Yak Karkah. When she found everyone there except me she realized that it was probably me who had been attacked and she felt very badly about not waiting. We went to great lengths to tell her it was okay, that in fact she should not be worried at all, that she wasn’t to blame in anyway. I admitted that I had gone down to the bakery not just for the bread but for the sinister purpose of having some real coffee and time to myself to read. She wished I had told her the truth and I was made again into an ass for not being up front about such trivial things. I apologized and told her that I believe I had gotten more than I deserved. We gave Marrit the loaves of bread for the other members of the trekking group and parted ways with hugs, well wishes, and the exchanging of addresses. (I regret losing Marrit’s address along with many other addresses when, some years later, I lost my address book somewhere between Ohio and West Virginia on my way to Harper’s Fairy.) I will always miss “The Belgian Bullet” and hold her in the highest esteem. She left us and walked back to Yak Karkah to lead the others over the Thorung La, the pass I yearned to cross.

Lucky and I waited for the helicopter at the designated place, a gentle slope on the east side of town. Dr. T.G. and Govinda showed up with the dog corpse bound up in various sacks. I eagerly and foolishly asked him if the helicopter would arrive. He patiently told me, for the millionth time, that he did not know. So we waited for an hour or two and someone came down from the radio room and said that indeed the helicopter was arriving, but he didn’t know if it was big or small. Kumar, his mom and a few of his family members had arrived. We waited some more and saw a speck in the sky. It got bigger and louder and eventually landed on the shallow slope where we stood. As the rotor was spinning down a man in a navy blue Patagonia fleece and dark Ray-Ban sunglasses emerged from the rear of the helicopter. He walked up to us and introduced himself as R. Gabore, no relation to ZaZa. We all milled about getting things ready and talking to each other for a while. I was telling Luke not to worry, but he said he couldn’t help it. I told him to continue on the trek, but knew he wouldn’t. We agreed that if he caught the supply plane back to Kathmandu he’d find me at the Tashi Delay, a hotel run by relatives of the Gurungs. We asked R.G. about Kumar’s mom and he said she would definitely not fit in the helicopter with Kumar, the dead dog and my backpack. He was a little reluctant to bring the dog. I didn’t blame him but I was persistent. Eventually Kumar, the dead dog, my backpack, Mr. Gabore and I were loaded on the chopper. The two pilots looked steady. Lucky said he would try to get on the next supply plane from Ongre to Kathmadu and meet me at the Tashi Delay Hotel.

R.G. turned out to be an assistant to the United States Consulate in Kathmandu. He had rented the chopper from the army but had to do some finagling to get it because the Nepali military was owed money for a previous evacuation. R.G. had promised the Nepali military people that it would be resolved when he got back. And in time he found out that it was the rescue of a British trekker, not an American as the Nepali army had claimed. So he was a little worried, but said he’d take care of it later. It turned out that when we had notified the HRA in Kathmandu and they had in turn notified the consulate. The consulate had then managed to contact my parents. It would be months until I found out that when my mother found out about the attacked she went ballistic in California, eventually getting the senator (whose husband Lucky had volunteered for before we left) to put pressure on the consulate. Either way Mr. Gabore was utterly stoked to be getting a free helicopter ride through the Himalaya and Kumar was excited about it also.

As we got prepared to take off and Kumar’s mom realized that she wasn’t going on the chopper with us, she showed an amazing amount of grace and self restraint. But it was obvious she was upset and could have prevented the chopper from taking off with the shear force of her will had she decided that way. Instead she gave the three of us and the two pilots special white scarves that one wears like a shawl. They are religious objects believed to bring safety in travel and are customary gifts to give loved ones when parting company on a dangerous journey. The Gurungs are all good, amazing and interesting people and I will be forever grateful to them.

After flying for a short distance we touched down at another field. I was told it was for refueling and that we didn’t have to get out of the chopper. R.G. got out and spoke with a reporter who mistook R.G. for the American tourist who had been bitten, me. The following embellished version of events, which I include here for your enjoyment, appeared in the newspaper:

October 17th or 18th in the Nepali Times (or some other local Kathmandu paper)

STRAY DOGS TERROR IN MANANG

Lamjung, October 18 (RSS)

Of late, a pack of rabid and stray dogs has been terrorizing the local people of ward No. 9 Sabje village in Manang district, local people have complained.

The terror unleashed by the rabid canines has also sometimes had its toil on the lone tourists who happen to visit the area, the people said.

It is learnt that an American tourist R. Gore and Kumar Gurung, a local resident, who were recently bitten by a mad dog, have been taken to Kathmandu for treatment due to the unavailability of anti-rabies vaccine in the local health post.

Meanwhile, according to Chame VDC chairman Karma Lama, the same rabid dog has also bitten some cattle in the locality, the animals being four domestic pigs, three cows and a horse and a goat each.

Moreover, the unavailability of anti-rabies vaccine in the local health centre and the district veterinary has led to further panic among the people that the disease might spread far and wide. see DOG, page 8.

(Page 8 went like this)

DOG: Lone tourist a victim

The district veterinary and the health post in the meantime say that as rabies was seldom seen in the district in the past, there was no need for keeping the anti-rabies vaccine in the office but arrangements have now been made for the supply if anti-rabies vaccines from respective regional offices, thanks to the terror unleashed by the mad dogs.

Interesting take on the situation. R.G. was mistaken for me. At Sabje or Lamjung, where we touched down in the helicopter, I didn’t get out of the chopper and can’t remember if Kumar did or did not. R.G. did get out and I saw him speaking to some people, his Nepali was pretty good. I think one of the pilots got out and talked with the people there also. I didn’t see any refueling going on. But I think what they meant was that the helicopter was leaving some fuel in that place, a fuel cache, to lighten the weight in order to make it over the mountains. We took off after a short while on the ground. Flying over and through the mountains above the trail we had just walked and seeing them from the perspective of the helicopter was everything you can imagine it would be. The giant granite wave that had captured my imagination was even more fantastic from up there in the air. R.G. was having a good time or appeared so, Kumar looked only a little worried, and I was in pain but not unbearably so. I was telling R.G. about how I needed to get rabies vaccine back to the village for the three men, the woman and most importantly her baby, get the dog tested for rabies, and how guilty I was feeling for not killing the dog when I had the chance. He listened patiently then said it was doubtful that the dog could be tested. We changed the subject and asked Kumar about his school in Kathmandu and he told us he had a week before it started up again. He also said he would take me to the Tashi Delay, one of his extensive family’s hotels. I remembered I had a letter to deliver from Dr. Torrey Goodman to the director of the HRA, Dr. B. Basnyat, and asked R.G. if he knew where I could find Dr. Basnyat’s clinic. Mr. Gabore gave me the phone number for the HRA in Kathmandu but Dr. T.G. had already given it to me with the letter for Dr. B.B. We landed at the airport, which I somehow recognized and a car was waiting for us to take us to the CIWEC clinic. Mr. Gabore claimed this was the best clinic in Kathmandu. I would later learn about other medical places in varying conditions.

I guessed by the amount of effort that had gone into our transportation that my parents had really worked hard to get the helicopter. They used their connection to other people in a time of need. Friendship and connections are so important that way and thrive when compassion is at the center of those relationships.

The car drove us to the clinic. Dr. Shlim was a nice big Canadian guy and we were lucky because he had some of the post-exposure immunoglobulin on hand. The only clinic in all of Nepal that did. Kumar got his wounds cleaned and treated first and the doctor assured me that he’d be alright. The treatment consisted of having the wound thoroughly cleaned with iodine. Then the immunoglobulin is injected directly into the open wound.

When it was my turn, they removed the bandage and the gash in my arm was an oval shape about 3 inches long, and an inch or so wide. It was a pretty clean cut and I surmised that it was from when I had fallen into the garbage pit and the dog had jumped me and caught my arm with one of its canine teeth. I had a few other bite marks too. First he scrubbed the wounds clean with iodine, then he started poking the needle into various parts of the big gash and other wounds. I watched and the pain from being poked with the needle wasn’t always there. He demonstrated that if he inserted the needle toward the upper part of the big gash, the part nearer my shoulder, I felt no pain. Whereas if he inserted the needle on the lower part of the gash, the edge toward my elbow, pain could be felt. This is because near the surface the nerve signals run upward, toward the shoulder (then to the spinal cord). The wound severed those connections, which is why I couldn’t feel any needle pokes on the upper side of the wound. He took a photograph of the damage to my arm for a first aid book that he was writing. He was a reassuring presence. I asked him about getting a post-mortem rabies test on a dead dog. He thought I was a little crazy and wished me luck.

After I was all cleaned up, injected, and re-bandaged he talked with me about the bill for Kumar. I had travel insurance and paid for my treatment on the spot, knowing that I would be reimbursed when I got back to the states. Kumar didn’t pay and the Canadian Doctor gave me the bill for Kumar and told me to bring it to his father, Mitchung, when I delivered the vaccine I was intending to buy and transport to Manang. I agreed but made the excuse that I had no experience as a bill collector and could not guarantee payment. The Doctor assured me that Kumar’s family was wealthy and would have no problem paying the bill.

Outside the clinic I talked with R.G. about what to do with the dog. He offered to take the dog off of my hands but I wouldn’t let him. I made it clear that it was my responsibility. R.G. gave me his card and went back to the embassy and mentioned something about a ‘freezer’. Kumar and I caught a taxi, stowing the dog corpse in the taxi’s trunk. We made sure the driver was ignorant as to just what was in the many layers of sacks. The Tashi Delay Hotel is owned and operated by some of Kumar’s cousins. I checked into my room then used the phone at the front desk to call Dr. Basnyat, director of the HRA. He sent a man to come get me. This man’s name was Nimesh and he worked for the HRA. He showed up on a motorcycle. I hadn’t made myself clear enough about the dead dog, it was too heavy.

Nimesh was an exceptionally awesome human being. It was just pleasant to be in his company and I felt very safe. All three of us, Nimesh, Kumar and I laughed at the fact that we had three people, a dead dog in some plastic and gunny sack things and only a motorcycle. We hailed a cab and had to sneak the corpse into the trunk again without letting the taxi driver know what we were doing. There was no way that just a regular taxi driver would even consider transporting a bloody dead dog corpse around Kathmandu in search of a post mortem rabies test. Nimish was really cool about the whole thing. I told Nimesh about the letter to Dr. Basnyat and we went to his clinic first. Dr. Basnyat was surprised to see us and was upset that we didn’t go to his clinic instead of the CIWEC. He is a really good man but he said he was pissed that R.G. didn’t tell him about the letter that Dr. T.G. wrote. But mostly he was angry that we hadn’t gone to his clinic for treatment. I gave Dr. B. the letter and tried explaining to him that it was my fault, that R.G. probably didn’t even know about the letter since I had it with me. I also asked Dr. B. if he had the immunoglobulin and he admitted that he didn’t have any in stock. Then we asked Dr. B. about getting a rabies test for a dead dog. He was pretty incredulous at first and told me to just go and bury it somewhere down by the river. I asked him that, if possible, I had to know if the dog was rabid or not. He tried a few times to talk me out of it. Eventually he said Nimesh would take me to some places and I could try. It was about 4 p.m. on a Friday and everything would be closed the next day. That is when he mentioned the “freezer”.

“The Consulate has a freezer?”

“Yes, of course! They’ve got much more than that. But you should ask Mr Gabore. if you can put it in the freezer until Monday in case you don’t find a place to get it tested today.”

“R.G. gave me his card.”

“Good. Now you better get going.”

Nimesh got another cab and we dropped Kumar off at the hotel, probably should have had him come along. He would have been more of an asset than me. I felt like dead weight in this whole thing, just a wacky tourist. It was only through Nimesh’s wisdom and understanding that certain things became possible. We went first to the Center for Disease Control, which looked from outside the building like disease was actually controlling it. We were too late. It was already closed. Next we tried Teku Hospital, another place specializing in infectious diseases. It was also run down looking. We entered a room that reminded me of a M*A*S*H episode because there was an empty metal gurney and blood stains all over the floor. The local doctors, after a discussion with Nimesh and I – where we all stood in a huge puddle of blood on the floor, talking as if the metal gurney was a seminar table – advised us to go the Veterinary Hospital. They also mentioned that sometimes people sell the vaccine outside on the street by the Teku Hospital but weren’t around on Friday afternoons.

We went to the Veterinary Hospital building. It was closed or condemned, nary a soul in sight. I walked around looking for someone through the windows around back and returned to find Nimesh talking with a couple of people. We got back in the taxi and drove up a dirt road a piece, pulled into a yard, and walked up the stairs of an aged yellow building. There was a man outside in a goat pen, we saw him from the top of the stairs. He told us to go inside and wait. Inside we waited in front of a door and talked about what to do if we couldn’t get the dog tested.

“We dig hole and bury it by the river.”

“Do you have a shovel?” I asked, making motions indicating digging in the ground with invisible spade.

“Ah. No.” He says. We both chuckled. “We can find a digger and pay him to do it.”

“Dr. Basnyat said there was a freezer at the consulate. If they can’t do the test today, perhaps we can put the dog there until Monday?” I asked.

Then the door opened and we were introduced to Dr. Ratala who asked us to sit down. The office was dusty and the wood making up the furniture was mostly cracked with age. His desk was big and newer than the rest of the furniture but also covered in dust. There was a beat up, dusty, old microscope. For the first time it dawned on me that trying to get this rabies test was completely a product of unbridled American enthusiasm and ignorance, which is just fine – if you are in America and have the money. But when you are in an impoverished nation, where subsistence living is rampant, that attitude is nothing but ridiculous.

I told him the story anyway and asked him if he could do the test. He looked rabies up in his reference books and told me pretty much the same things that Dr. T.G. had discovered. But he was interested in doing the test and brought me over to his microscope, which he acknowledged was quite broken and in a state of disrepair. It was also covered by several ancient layers of dust. It is impossible to see a virus with a microscope of that power and magnification. Nonetheless, he said he could do the test Sunday but not today, Friday, because his colleague had left and took the keys. I asked what time, and he said afternoon. We agreed to return at that time and departed.

We went back to the hotel with the dog in the trunk still and called R.G. I was imaging it would not be a good idea to store this animal in what I thought was a freezer packed with frozen goods, but didn’t have any other options. R.G. was expecting my call and laughed when I asked him about the freezer, but I couldn’t figure out why he thought it was funny. He told me to hold on a second while he went and asked his boss. When he came back on the phone he gave me directions and told me to meet him in fifteen minutes. I had already said goodbye to Nimesh and Kumar. Kumar’s cousins who ran the desk at the Tashi Delay were both very beautiful and kind. But they too thought I was crazy. I grabbed the dog which we had left outside in its several layers of bags and grabbed a taxi. I was moving fast and when the taxi stopped I got him to open the trunk and I put the dog in, shutting the trunk quickly and getting in the car. I told him some sort of nonsense about what was in the sack and then told him where to take me. I had been told to wait outside a certain gate outside the consulate. The embassy has this gigantic compound, a yellowish plaster covered wall topped with razor wire and broken glass. I was not at the main gate, but at a smaller gate further down the hill. I had moved so fast that I was pretty early. Rickshaws and tuk-tuks whizzed up and down the rough road. After a while the sun began to set and I wondered if R.G. would ever show up. Just as it got dark he arrived and opened the gate. I had not been at the right place, there was some trouble with the communication of directions, I hadn’t understood them properly, so he had trouble finding me. I was glad he hadn’t given up, that would’ve been pretty awful. It had been hard enough lugging that dead dog around knowing where I was going. R.G. opened the gate and I followed him with the sack. The compound was huge with some tennis courts and a big swimming pool. R.G. talked about all the stuff they have – offices, labs, fitness center and a host of other luxuries – but that this was the health center. He walked to a smaller building, got out a key and opened a door to reveal… a morgue! This was the “freezer”. There were two metal cabinets, the kind that have a sliding gurney that the body goes on. It was much bigger than was necessary. We put the dog on the bottom one and decided to meet up for dinner when Lucky arrived in Kathmandu. Lucky found the hotel without a problem, we met Mr. Gabore for dinner and then went back to the Hotel. That night, by myself, I slept fitfully and again awoke in the middle of the night and ran about the room in a hysterical half-dream searching for the dog.

The next day was Saturday and I was feeling pretty good when the sun finally came up. I had a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs, Tibetan Bread and coffee. On the rooftop I even smoked a bit of the hash. Then I spent the rest of the day reading and writing about the events that had transpired over the last several days. Mostly I wandered around Kathmandu and decided that I would purchase enough of the vaccine for the six Nepali people in Manang who had also been attacked. I started thinking about all the things to do in order to accomplish this. I would buy the vaccine, take the bus to Pokhara, fly from Pokhara to that airstrip in Ongre, walk to Manang, deliver the vaccine and visit Mitchung to give him the medical bill. This last task was by far the most odious because it would be impossible for me to explain western medicine to Mitchung. How could I possibly explain to him how the immunoglobulin works or how it would help Kumar fight the disease if he was infected… in my broken Nepali? It would also be necessary to go to the HRA in Kathmandu and radio the folks in Manang to let them know that I was coming with the vaccine and see how they were doing. Nimesh or the Vet could tell me where to find the vaccine on Monday. It would turn out that they sold it on the street just outside the Teku hospital.

Sunday was the big day. The breakfast at the Northfield Cafe was nice. I called R.G. from back at the hotel and asked if we could get the dog. Nimesh and I had agreed to meet at the HRA headquarters. While waiting for Nimesh inside the HRA offices I watched a guy giving a talk on AMS. When he was finished I told them a few things he hadn’t covered that I learned from the talk I heard in Manang. Then the HRA guy asked me to look at some emails that were for Dr. T.G., they wanted to know what they were about. That made me feel really uncomfortable and I didn’t understand what they were after. It just didn’t seem right to read another person’s email. But they insisted I look at them. The text was pretty garbled up and I couldn’t make heads or tail of what they were writing about. I was clueless as to why they wanted me to read these things. They wanted me to translate them or something, but I was useless.

Nimesh showed up and we took a taxi to the consulate. When R.G. opened up the morgue, the sack containing the dog corpse was all covered with frosty ice crystals. Nimesh and I high-tailed it to the Veterinary hospital. We had to wait while they finished counting some sheep. One man had a pad of paper, another was marking the sheep with red dye and then throwing them over the fence of the pen. Finally we turned over the dog to Dr. Ratala and the Scientist. This man spoke in a very candid tone about the procedure of the test. They would take a couple of slides of brain tissue and stain them. They would also run a separate experiment where they would inject a few mice with a bit of the dog’s brain tissue and watch them for thirty days to see if they showed any sign of rabidity. He also said that he would not charge us any money for the tests but that we would have to figure out a way to dispose of the dog’s body because their “sweeper” had left for the day. Nimesh and I looked at one another hopelessly. Then we broke out laughing while pointing at each other (as if to say “you dig!”) and doing more invisible digging motions. But the scientist guy was serious and refused to perform the test unless we promised to dispose of the dog afterward. They cut off the dog’s head, disappeared with it into a metal shed near the goat pen and emerged only a few minutes later waving a couple of microscope slides in the sun. As I had read in Dr. Ratala’s reference books two days before, it turns out that the rabies virus is destroyed in the presence of fresh air and uv light. So I had little faith the slide samples would yield any conclusive results. They gave us the dead dog back, now in two pieces.

Just then Nimesh saw a man a little ways down the street and ran over to talk with him. This was the “sweeper” and he hadn’t quite left yet. Nimesh came back and made it known to me that it would only be a couple hundred rupee if the sweeper didn’t know that I, the westerner, was paying for it. This has to do with the different pricing that things are depending whether or not a person is a native or a foreigner. They worked out a deal and I stealthily gave Nimesh the few hundred rupee and he paid the sweeper. We were done with the dog then and very relieved. I asked Nimesh if he thought the sweeper realized how important it would be not to allow the dog or any of its bodily fluids to contaminate any other animal or person. He said the digger understood.

    Nimesh made a call to his aunt who worked at the Teku Hospital to see if they sold the vaccine. We went next to the Royal Nepali Airline office and bought an airplane ticket to Pokhara for $61.00 US. I still owed Nimesh four bucks and the RNAC four dollars, too. This was because they could not change a 50 dollar US bill. The ticket was for Monday morning 7am. That was conflicting with my 10 o’clock appointment to get my second Verorab shot. The Verorab vaccine is the post-exposure vaccine – extracted, in part, from the blood of people or other mammals who have been injected with the immunoglobulin. Back in the day, before the new vaccine, the rabies post-exposure vaccine consisted of 28 shots, one each day, with a big needle into the gut. Very drawn out and painful! This newer Verorab vaccine consisted of a series of five shots in the arm: the zero day, 3rd day, 7th day, 14th day and 28th day.

Nimesh brought me to his restaurant and fed me some excellent Dosa. He let me call Dr. Shilm, the Canadian doctor at the CIWEC clinic, who told me to come and get the shot now. I got my second shot fifteen and a half hours early, hopefully not a big deal. From there we headed to the HRA offices and they gave me a curtain that they wanted me to bring to the outpost in Manang. I was thinking “Great! Anything I can do to help these people who have helped me so much.” We waited for the daily radio communication. I wanted to know what was happening to the other victims and make sure that they were going to be there in Manang when I arrived with the vaccine for them. Basically I got no assurance. The radio person spoke with Govinda who was honest and said the people might walk to Pokhara to get treatment. I asked if he could get them to wait. He was not sure. I thanked him and felt I must hurry. The HRA people in Kathmandu made a phone call and a man came over with the Verorab vaccine, enough for seven people. I paid the 8,012 RPS. out of what money I had left. The vaccine was supposed to be kept between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius. I realized I must purchase a thermometer!

When I got back to my room at the Tashi Dhele Lucky was there. He had arrived that afternoon, but I didn’t see him until dinnertime. I told him about my plan to bring them the vaccine and about the uncertainty of getting a seat on the supply plane flying into the Annapurna. He understood and wished he could go with me. I wished that too. That evening we took a rickshaw ride in search of a thermometer which could measure between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius and after a long search found one. We ate Razza with R.G. and talked about Nepali women. They are truly interesting. For example the girls at the hotel, Kumar’s cousins, said they couldn’t wait to get married so that they could have babies and get fat. They tend to like men who are largely girthed as it is a sign of wealth. It was a fun evening. The three of us laughed a lot and R.G. expressed his gratitude for the Himalayan helicopter ride by paying for dinner. We walked around and talked about art. He showed us to a shop that sells Thanka paintings, but they were more tapestry than painting. The proprietor of the shop said they were classified into three groups: The Wheel Of Life, The Life Of The Buddha, and The Mandala. I was tired and found most of his discussion very boring. It was also the realization that he really wanted us to buy something, but I knew for me it was impossible.

Lucky and I walked to our hotel through the dark streets. I heard some dogs growling and before I knew it there was a pack of dogs behind us. Lucky didn’t seem to notice or care very much but I was petrified. They must have smelled my fear because they started growling at me. Lucky was un-phased and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I told him I’d see him at the hotel and took off running. I was scared beyond any reasonableness. The pack of dogs chased me of course. It was as if there was a magnet pulling them after me. I ran through the door to the hotel and slammed it shut just as the pack of dogs caught up with me. It had been my fear all along that caused these things to happen. I waited for Lucky, he calmly walked through the barking pack of dogs at the door who didn’t really pay him any attention.

The next day, Tuesday the 21st, I flew to Pokhara on a Royal Nepali Airline plane. When I got to airport there was a man there who somehow knew what I was doing. A friend of the HRA or of the Gurungs, our communication was difficult and slow, but he was very nice and helped me to get aboard the plane to the airstrip in Ongre. I had to bribe the airline guy a little and my new friend, whose name I sadly don’t remember, told him that I was bringing medicine for some people out there. I showed the airline guy the cooler with the vaccine and the newspaper clipping but it was in English so it was of no use. They let me on the plane anyway. I would not have gotten on that plane if it wasn’t for the kindness of my helpful Nepali friend.

My backpack was stowed in the cargo hold underneath the plane and I sat inside near the window with the cooler in a stuff sack on my lap. This flight I tried to enjoy the scenery. There were more clouds and turbulence and at a couple of instances it looked as though we were about to crash straight into a mountain peak. A more harrowing flight I’ve never had, but since I’d already thought I was going to die of rabies it wasn’t as troubling as it might have been. It wasn’t nearly as terrifying as being chased by a pack of dogs through Kathmandu streets.

At Ongre I grabbed my backpack out of the plane, threw it on and started walking to Manang hoping that the people would still be there and that the vaccine would be useful. It was dry, cold and sunny, exactly like the high desert in New Mexico. The trees were short and I would be surprised if the soil didn’t contain cryptobiotic organisms that are so essential for the desert ecosystem. I walked fast and worked up a good sweat. When I arrived in Manang they were surprised to see me. Dr. T.G. wasn’t there, she was on a short break, Govinda told me. Neither were any of the other Nepalese people who had been bitten. They’d all left already for Pokhara to find treatment. They were probably half way over Thorung La. I was sad but the HRA people said not to worry, that someone else could use the vaccine in the future. Rabid dog attacks were not uncommon. I left them the vaccine, the thermometer and the curtain and thanked them profusely, especially Govinda, for all that they had done.

I visited Mitchung Gurung, Kumar’s dad at his new hotel. I tried to explain the bill, but he didn’t seem to understand. Or perhaps he didn’t want to understand. He mentioned something about how his wife would not have let that happen, would have gotten a better price. I did not argue, but just left him the bill and told him to do with it whatever he thought was right. I stayed that night in Manang and visited the HRA outpost again that evening. There was a person in the gamov bag. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. We took turns stepping on the foot-pump to simulate a lower altitude. The gamov bag was made out of thick red plastic material, of the sort they use to make waterproof river rafting bags. I was very sorry for the person in the bag, they didn’t look well. I was glad it wasn’t anybody I knew.

I slept fitfully again that night and did the usual wake up in the middle of the night and hunt for the dog under the bed. It was getting old, but I couldn’t seem to stop it. That morning I was packed and ready to go at 5:30 am. I ate a bit of Tibetan Bread and started walking. I walked all the way to Ngadi or even farther and stayed the night. Again I had the search-for-the-dog-in-the-wee-hours episode, woke up early and started walking. After a second grueling day I arrived in Besisahar, it was dusk, I was almost crying from the pain in my limbs. Some villagers saw me, teenage boys, and they joined me on the trail. They walked with me, but we did not talk. I was very uncomfortable, but it was just foolish paranoia. I thought that they were trying to rob me when really they just wanted to know why I was so upset. They were laughing and took an interest in me, but I couldn’t communicate clearly. At 6:15 the next day I got on the bus to Kathmandu, the ticket was 135 rps. It was raining and the roads were muddy, but that didn’t seem to slow us down. At one of the stops I disembarked and smoked a cigarette that someone offered. It tasted like seventh grade. The bus ride was otherwise uneventful. I had become accustomed to the tumultuous road.

Kathmandu was a welcome sight. Lucky and I ate dinner together and had won-ton soup. It was the first meat I had eaten since we arrived in Nepal. He told me about how after Kumar and I left on the helicopter the Mitchungs had invited him back into their home and enthusiastically plied him with plate after plate of Yak meat for the entire day and into the evening. He said he had felt incapable of refusing and that later, in the middle of the night, he had horrible intestinal trouble and spent the entire night running outside to deal with explosive diarrhea.

Chapter 7: Was the Dog Rabid?

Back at the Tashi Dhele I spent the next several days bedridden. Lucky and I had some dumpling soup the night before and I didn’t handle the meat inside the dumplings, whatever sort it was, very well. It was the first time I had eaten meat since I was in Nepal, at least the first time that I was aware of. There was also the fact that I was taking the rabies vaccine. I was taking the grapefruit seed extract again. I was still very weak and couldn’t move much or eat but didn’t know why exactly. Lucky watched me helplessly lying in bed for an entire week, wishing there was something he could do. The people who ran the hotel brewed up some folk medicine for me. It was green and bitter. I drank it thinking that my health couldn’t possibly get any worse. I don’t know if it was the medicine, time, my immune system or some combination thereof but I eventually recovered. Sometimes I think I got better because I just couldn’t bear dying, especially not to the same Jimi Hendrix and Dire Straits cover band we heard every night.

Our room was on one of the upper floors. Every single night I heard the same Nepali band play the same rock songs over and over again on a nearby rooftop restaurant. It wouldn’t have been so hard to listen to, except that they played every single one of the songs verbatim and the vocals couldn’t have been more identical with the original singer’s vocals and music. These were no ordinary musicians but masters in the art of mimicry. We went to see them one night after I felt a little stronger and they were just regular Nepalese dudes, playing their hearts out. I thought there was no way that a Nepal native could make his voice and guitar sound exactly like that. They were SO good that they made it look easy and they may have, in part, saved my life by not letting me give up the fight for life until I had solved the mystery of who the fuck was playing verbatim rock covers.

The night after that we went to see some authentic Indian music. Lucky had met the Tabla player and become friends with him. It was stunning music made by three musicians respectively playing a drone instrument, a Sitar and Tablas. Lucky had made friends with the tabla player while I was laid up in bed. The concert was outstanding. We sat on the floor and the master musicians explained each of their instruments in both English and Nepali. Now that I was feeling better I really wanted to learn to play music. I had seen a few mandolins in shop windows from time to time and after the concert I asked the Tabla player if he knew where I could by a relatively decent instrument. He gave us his card and recommended his friend’s shop. The next day I bought one for 2,000 RPS. (about 40 US dollars at the time). It was made in Calcutta or somewhere in India and had a nice sound compared to the others. The shop owner recommended it after we told him that his friend, the Tabla player, had sent us to his shop. I didn’t know how to play the mandolin but I had enough music theory to understand it and figure it out a little bit. Those were nice distractions. A mandolin is a very easy instrument to travel with.

I got my day 7 rabies vaccine shot and was told I wouldn’t have any trouble getting the last two shots in France. Louis Pasteur invented the vaccine. On my penultimate day in Kathmadu, Nimesh, Lucky and I went to see the Scientist and Dr. Ratala at the Veterinary Hospital. The trip was not fruitful, they were still waiting for the stain to be delivered and knowing the Nepali postal system we had realized that it might never arrive. Hopefully they had been wise and chosen a private courier. Furthermore, I had noticed the Scientist had been waving the slides around in broad daylight after he and Dr. R. had emerged from the shed with the dog in two pieces. The rabies virus is destroyed in the presence of sunlight and fresh air. I really doubt that either of the tests could have shown anything. My impression was that those guys just didn’t have the proper equipment or technique, but they were awfully nice to try and not charge us for it. They said that the mice had not died yet and that they therefore had no evidence that the dog was rabid, but they didn’t have any evidence suggesting that it was not rabid either.

I visited the HRA one last time and they told me some strange news. Mitchung Gurung’s brand new hotel had burnt down in a fire. This was the hotel for which the porters I passed on the trail had been collecting rocks. The same hotel where I had visited him and given him the unwanted medical bill. Someone had left the hotel’s brand new oven on overnight. Since it was so cold up there, all the water in the plumbing had frozen so there was no water to put it out. They could only watch it burn down. I was very saddened by the news and wondered why such an awful thing happened to such kind and generous people. We also learned that there was another guy who had been attacked by the wild dog or wolf that day. In between the time that Kumar had saved the woman and her baby by throwing rocks at the beast and the time that the Nepali men had beaten it to death on the banks of the river, the dog had run down to a village not far away, bitten someone there then returned that night to Manang and met its end. The guy in the other town, also Nepali, had made it to the HRA outpost in Manang a week or so later and got the rabies vaccine that I had delivered.

Lucky and I went sight seeing in the popular section of Kathmandu, near the monkey temple, on my last day. I couldn’t buy anything but it was nice to be among the living again. We had our picture taken with a Sadu, one of the holy men who are allowed to smoke hash. Lucky had decided he was going to extend his visa for as long as possible and apprentice himself to some local artists to learn mask making. I asked him to check in with the HRA once in awhile to see if there was any news about those villagers from Manang that had gone to Pokhara for treatment and to check in at the Vet Hospital to see if the rabies tests had worked eventually. He tried to convince me to stay longer, to put off France for another day. He had been an exchange student in Europe during college, so he knew what Europe was like. I had never been there and told him that I really had to go while I still had a chance. We wished each other the best of luck and said goodbye at the airport.

Paris looked exceptionally clean. I went to a clinic to get the penultimate shot and let the nurse take my stitches out. It was a mistake because the wound hadn’t properly closed yet. The scar is larger than it would have been had I been more patient.  Every scar is a story. Scar stories in some instances are wont to be remembered. If I hadn’t been able to live the story of this scar I would not have seen the other side of Nepal, the parts tourists, trekkers and backpackers never see. I would never have met the amazing people who helped me, who took time out of their already full lives to offer aid and resources. One thing that surprised me was how many people had dog bite stories of their own. Nearly all the doctors and nurses had some story about their run in with undomesticated street dogs who bit them, usually when they were quite young. It really helped me gain perspective to see an event I had thought of as cataclysmic and unique was actually quite common place and just another day in the life of that place.

Lucky spent five months in Nepal but never found out from Dr. Ratala and The Scientist if the dog was rabid or not. Supposedly the mice all survived, but again I’ve never had any confirmation of the results or lack thereof. There’s no choice but to believe tests were inconclusive. We also never learned what became of the other victims. There have never been satisfactory answers to the many questions that still remain. Was the dog rabid or just very hungry? Did it attack me because I was alone on the trail or for some other reason? Did taking the vaccine on a non-standard schedule make a difference? Why did it attack so many other people? Were any livestock attacked? Was this the only rabid dog attack or, like the news article claimed, were there more wild dogs and more attacks than just the 7 that I was able to confirm? Would I do it all over again given the chance? The only conclusion I consistently reach is: Ke Garne!

Someday I hope to go back there, finish the Annapurna Circuit and see if I can find the many wonderful people that the event of getting attacked by a wild dog allowed me to meet. I still wonder at times, during the full moon, and other nights when I cannot sleep, if the dog was rabid or if I haven’t been irrevocably changed in some other ways.