We came back to Ghemi from Lo Manthang by Jeep in order to make it to the Yar Tung festival. Hiked an hour to get to a very high field tucked along the mountains. Along the way, helped a motocyclist in distress to fix his chain. He offered me a ride, but the uphill very rocky road didn’t feel very safe and I honestly preferred to walk. Rajul Bista, the man from Ghemi who had invited me to come to the festival, greeted us when we arrived. As it turns out, he is the nephew of the king, and seems to be the leader of this area. He fed me a large plate of food including some yak meat, and we hung out, watching volleyball and chatting about village life and the festival. Prior to this meal, I hadn’t eaten any red meat in over seven years, but something about being part of this festival, the remoteness, his generosity in feeding me, and his insistence that the yak lived a full healthy life at an even higher altitude, nudged me to give it a try. Within a few minutes my stomach was not so pleased. I didn’t get sick from it, but my body (and my soul) is not used to eating animals and went through it’s own process over the next day or so of letting me know of its displeasure.
Traditional dances began shortly with men and women gathered in a circle, singing and dancing along with a man plucking a four-stringed instrument. I felt so honored to be able to join them at this festival. I had hoped for horse races here too, but apparently those aren’t for a couple more days.
Being here feels truly like being transported back in time. Traditionally clad women from other villages continued to come down from the mountains bearing presents (all topped with a dollop of yak butter for good health) for Rajul. It was strange to see the poorer folk bearing gifts for the wealthiest among them, but it simply is how it was.
We returned here as the way out of Upper Mustang is pretty much the same way as it is in. As with the third day of the trek, today was a difficult day with multiple significant climbs and descents. Early in the day I listened to music through headphones while trekking. Jascha Heifetz, violinist, playing Brahms and Tchaikovski with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Glorious. Music has a way of stilling the mind’s ramblings which allow the senses to awaken more. The inspired nature of the music was a fitting match for the impressive vistas and mountains. Loved it.
The landscapes here are so broad and vast and almost entirely uninhabited. A road (certainly not paved) now connects Jomsom to Lo Manthang, so one could take a jeep on the jarring and dusty road if desired, but trekking is absolutely the way to go. Horses are the traditional way of travel around here and they can often be seen on the road and trails here.
During our down time, I taught the card game “Crazy 8’s” to the guides and porters here and they are having a hoot with it, dramatically slapping their cards on the table much like you’ll often see people in other countries doing with their dominos. I love the freedom I have here. Nothing to do but trek, eat, clean, read, write, meditate and rest, and perhaps play some inspired cards now and again.
Although I’m absolutely loving my time here, I am occasionally feeling a little antsiness about getting back to civilizations. Mostly I think it’s just the part of me that desires connection. There is still an interesting open question for me of navigating between using connection with women to fill an uncomfortable void space in me and my true and basic love for and attraction to women. As my meditation brings me more familiar and comfortable with the void, I am hoping that an easy and natural flow will continue to unfold in my life. My continued relationship with Little Teddy on this trip is perhaps soothing that un-nerved part of me. The more he can relax, the less need there is for anything to be quelled.
I do need occasional travel/retreat forays such as this on my own. I value self-reflection and growth and I play well in those fields when I am alone, especially when I am disconnected from any communications devices. Meditation is simply a way to exercise and strengthen the part of our minds that functions simply as true awareness. As we practice, we learn to turn off or at least dis-identify with the part of our minds which is incessantly active. It has been a treat for me to be enjoying meditation lately. I love the stillness and ease I seem to have as a result. Exercising the right part of the mind, relaxing the other.
Another long day hiking today, about 5 hours, with good elevation changes thrown in. Feeling guilty and a little shy for saying this, but I’m glad to be almost done here. It has been quite taxing on my body. Funny how most spiritual teachers say you don’t have to go to the Himalayas to become enlightened, but there is something special about this place that supports deepening and practice. Millennia of people in these mountains have devoted their lives to monastic life, practicing and deepening. While the monasteries surely have their power, I honestly think the most important factor here for me is not having access to a phone or internet. This helps to keep me from being distracted and keeps me focused on reading (Osho), meditating and writing. I also am very much enjoying doing this trek alone, as I have so much time to practice. It’s like being on a retreat with many hours for trekking and the remainder for resting and practice. I love using travel as an opportunity for personal retreat. To me, it’s the best of both worlds.
Kagbeni and Jomson – end of the trek
Trekking is grueling. Best to get in good shape before going, but nothing prepares you better than trekking itself. I feel like I’m in perhaps the best shape I’ve been in in a decade or more, but still this wasn’t easy.
Arrived to Jomsom yesterday by Jeep after another long trek to Kagbeni. Could have spent the night in Kagbeni (the beginning/end of the restricted trekking zone), but my porter/guide were off the clock as of today. Tom, my porter managed to hitch a ride on a tractor to Kagbeni. I felt happy for him as he’s been working very hard.
Although I am stuck in Jomsom as the planes need clear skies to navigate here through the mountains, I am enjoying a little more retreat time here and time to go through photographs. Being waylaid in Jomsom seems to be standard fare, especially during monsoon season. I could take a bus but apparently the road is interrupted due to landslides in places so 3-4 busses and some shlepping between transport points is required, turning the trip into about a 12 hour ordeal. I’ll happily just enjoy this time here in Jomsom and wait for the skies to clear.
Follow up note: It took 3 days for the clouds to finally break and the planes to start flowing in. While my porter went back out on a trek, I met up on my last morning with his wife and 4 children. They served me tea and local apple juice and gave me various apple-related presents. It seems sometimes that the poorest among us are the most generous when it comes to sharing what they have.
Finally hopped on a small plane which took me back to Pokhara. Met a woman on the plane from Kagbeni who now lives in New York City, and also a man who runs the conservation efforts of the World Wildlife Fund in Nepal. We all shared a nice dal bhat meal at a restaurant near the airport before we went our separate ways and I continued my return back to Kathmandu and the orphanage.
As a final note, I’ve been back in Kathmandu for a week now and am busily wrapping up my project loose ends here while readying to fly off to Thailand to visit my father and Sandra before healing back to the US in early September.
Amazing trek, wonderful summer.