The recent earthquakes in Nepal have shaken us all. Whenever there is a natural disaster of this magnitude there is an element of “there but for the grace of God go I.” Even if we do not live in or near the areas that are hit by tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes or earthquakes, it is always possible that we have or would visit, too. I think about my travel to Nepal in 2012 with my then 17 year old daughter. She studied meditation and Buddhism at a monastery in Kathmandu (as part of her senior project) while I trekked to the Annapurna Base Camp.
We crossed paths with people multiple times, and one group we ran into at lunch one day was comprised of four or five young men, generally guided by Bishal, a native of Katmandu. He had a connection with the brothers who were traveling together. I think they had decided on a whim to hike to the 14,000 + foot Annapurna Base Camp. The brothers are from a small town in the Hudson Valley where my mom still lives. I expect coincidences all over the world, but was still amused to meet these guys who shared my love of the small but steep Shawangunk Mountains.
I surmised that they had decided fairly impulsively on the hike because while my friend and I studied the list of recommended gear (which included a sleeping bag rated to zero degrees), they had struck out in sneakers and no gloves. We donated wool socks to keep their hands warm and I dubbed it the youth versus equipment tour. We ended up at the same lodge that night and paid for the smelly kerosene heater to be lit from underneath the table so that we could all linger after dinner and chat, and listen to one of them play his fiddle with his stiff and barely moving fingers. (Yes, did not have hiking boots, but did have his fiddle.)
We crossed paths once again at the Base Camp itself. They were initially going to spend the night at a lodge just below (meaning a couple hours hike) but heard a prediction for snow that night so they decided to make for the basecamp or would miss it entirely. Indeed, a blizzard raged, producing two feet of snow that afternoon/evening, so we (about twenty of us) parked ourselves around the long table where we ate, again paid to have some heat under the table, and played cards, told stories and munched dinner provided by the staff there. We took turns telling travel tales and our world of that one room was populated by people from Nepal, Mexico, Japan, Switzerland, France, Austria and the United States. We exchanged emails and promised to be in touch.
I have heard from Bishal off and on over the past three years, a friendly Hey how are you, or a comment on a Facebook post. He went on to get the proper equipment and post photos from the Everett Base Camp and other places along with thoughts about the beauty of nature and the importance of getting out to see it.
After the recent quakes Bishal reached out to request help. We sent some money directly to him which felt good, if small and not enough. He posted pictures of bags of food that he shared with his community and family. Now living in a hostel and having lost his younger sister to injuries from the quake I continue to think about the massive losses the Nepali people must navigate. I have no doubt they will make their way but at unfathomable expense.
I have committed to writing about our experiences so that others may have a glimpse into what was before it undergoes this next transformation. The majesty of the mountains will endure, though travel through is deeply affected. The culture(s), too, will permeate everything they do, but I will write from my lens, and offer my view from my seat on Top of the World as I continue to contemplate how to support these people facing the biggest challenge of their lives.