Thursday, May 14, 2009

Around Annapurna

Now that I am back in Jerusalem, reflecting on my trek, it is hard to know where to begin.  I lived and learned so much in my three weeks around Annapurna.  Accompanied by my guide and porter, I passed through such a vast array of landscapes and cultures!  We began in semi-tropical rice paddies, climbed to nearly 18,000 feet, crossed the frigid Thorung La pass in heavy layers of down, descended to the arid Tibetan plateau, and finished in rhododendron jungles near the lakeside city of Pokhara.  Along the way, we toured ancient Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries, ate dal bhat (lentils and rice) twice a day, and met countless Nepalese villagers, young and old, who invariably welcomed us with a smile and their traditional greeting, “Namaste.”  I lived with animals—dogs, mules, yak, water buffalo, goats and cows and roosters and hens—and watched people plowing with yoked oxen and hand-cast iron blades, exactly as they would have two thousand years ago.  I marveled at monks painting mandalas, women weaving scarves, last light lingering as alpenglow on eight thousand meter peaks.  I reflected on the way the Nepalese encounter, constantly, so many of the things that we, westerners, work so hard to deny or hide away: excrement, blood, pain, the beauty of imperfection, and, inevitably, death.   I have walked along two rivers, the clear Marsyandi and the black Kali Gandaki, which lies at the bottom of the world’s deepest gorge, between the great peaks of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna.   Fearfully at first, and then with greater confidence, I crossed long and narrow suspension bridges festooned with prayer flags casting into the swirling winds the sacred Tibetan words om mane padme om—hail to the jewel in the lotus.. I formed close connections with other trekkers, from all over the world, and fulfilled a lifelong dream of viewing the Himalayas, which were magnificent, far surpassing even my highest expectation.


I also travelled on a kind of parallel inward journey.  Henry James noted, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” I hope that I finished the trek a little different from the person who began it, with a stronger sense of awe and gratitude.  Over the long days on the trail, despite—or maybe because of—the intensity of the beauty around me, I sometimes struggled with loneliness and homesickness; during those moments, I sought to make a mental shift, to view my solitude as a blessing and opportunity for growth rather than a trial to be endured.  I missed my family and friends constantly, but tried do my own work on my relationships with loved ones as I journeyed on in their absence.  The Talmud teaches: “M’shaneh makom, m’shaneh mazal—to change your place is to change your fate.”  Halfway around the world from my usual “place,” I recognized the power of this teaching.


I hope to write a book on my time here, and it will take me quite awhile just to wrap my mind around the incredible things, times, people, and places that I experienced.  For now, then, falling back on the old maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words, see the link below for a bunch of photos from my trek.  Shalom, Namaste and Enjoy!


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