A curious cluster of 32 monks, some as young as eight, chant in a loud, hypnotic hum that resembles a didgeridoo. There’s a brutal clanging of symbols, before the chant softens to a mosquito buzz, and a final roar of tribal drums.
Perched atop a mountain monastery in the Himalayas, I am contemplating peace, poverty and potholes along Nepal’s road, and life’s journey itself. I am on a ten-day G Adventures trip through Nepal, searching for the Himalayas’ soul, far beyond ego and man’s incessant need to conquer Everest. Can a human ever really own Mother Nature? Mother Everest has claimed enough lives to suggest she’s had a gutful.
My inner and outer search begins in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital still grumbling and crumbling from its 2015 earthquake, which claimed more than 9000 lives and destroyed 600,000 buildings. In Thamel, where the hard-core trekkers congregate, I have even bought walking poles, where, in my more whimsical moments, I imagine I am a hiker. Yet I eschew Everest; for me, it’s about conquering my monkey mind.
I bump into a fellow travel writer friend who is on a different tour trekking the valley villages destroyed by the earthquake. We scratch our heads. We know what we’re doing in Nepal, just not what we’re doing with our lives. The constant curse of the travel writer. Where in the world to belong?
My tour takes me to Bhaktapur, one of the oldest cities in the Kathmandu Valley, known for mandala paintings. A particular sand painting reminds me of life’s impermanence. And so it is with Nepal. Until 2008, this was a Hindu country but once it became the Republic of Nepal, all religions were accepted. Now there are four major religions: Hinduism which accounts for 80 per cent of the population; Buddhism (15 per cent); Muslim (3 per cent); and Christian (2 per cent). But despite its diversity, there is no modern-day conflict between religions. Rich nations have so much to learn from the poor.
I visit SASANE, a project in which women who have been trafficked into either the sex industry or slave labour are rescued and in turn train to become paralegals to assist other survivors. Another project of this group, the Sisterhood of Survivors, teaches those without an education valuable hospitality skills which they share with tourists.
While the mighty mountain for which this region is renowned sits to the east of Kathmandu, I continue west, in search of more stories. By the half-way point of my trip through the birthplace of Buddha, I have already been adorned by lucky scarves upon which are imprinted various Gods and Goddesses; sashayed clockwise around several Stupas to avoid offending higher beings; spun hundreds of prayer wheels; and visited a number of inspiring charities. Tucked into my pocket is a Buddhist prayer flag, to be blessed by monks. At Monkey Temple, home to a World Peace Pond, I am encouraged to toss a Nepalese rupee into a bowl for lifetime luck. I miss spectacularly.
We leave the Kathmandu Valley and shimmer down a windy road into the belly of the Darding Valley, past steep, terraced mountains before arriving in the Kurintar Valley. Nepal’s holy Trisuli River, which eventually ends up in India’s Ganges, stalks us for hours on the right, before we stop and trek across a suspension bridge and into Gur-ka fighting country. I deploy my walking poles and a dollop of courage.
At our remote lodge, the mountain mist is slung low, like a pair of gansta’s jeans. After days of being flanked by mountains, we arrive in the flat, fertile stomach of the Chitwan Valley. Smiling women carry heavy produce loads on their heads. They are dressed in bright clothes as this is also the home of Chitwan National Park, home to Bengal tigers, rhinos and crocodiles, among other predators. Colourful clothing is believed to scare away the dangerous animals.
Secure in canoes and jeeps, we dress in the muted tones of khaki and beige. It evolves into a 14 rhino, three crocodile day. Back in my room, I search for the spiritual meaning of crocodile. Crocs symbolise courage, strength, honour, patience, speed, fear, cunning and primal power.
On the last leg into Pokhara, the Annapurna Range plays a game of peek-a-boo in the distance. Part of the ancient Silk Road, most travellers head to Nepal’s third largest city for its proximity to the Himalayas. Watching the rising sun over Annapur-na One, Two and Three, and the mystical Macchepure which is considered so sa-cred no one is allowed to scale it, I have no urge to climb. The SASANE women have taught me that courage doesn’t exist in the peaks of our lives, but the valleys. Chitwan’s wildlife reminds me that we are never truly alone. And from those scarred streets of Kathmandu, I learn to forgo the notion of belonging and instead, embrace impermanence.
This article is part of our wilding campaign at Dumbo Feather. For more stories, inspiration and ideas for re-connecting with the wild and protecting what you love, purchase Issue 56—”Embracing the Wild” or subscribe.
A 10-day Himalayan Highlights small-group National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures’ trip is priced from AUD $2199pp, including accommodation, some meals (allow AUD $300 for meals not included), a chief experience officer (CEO) throughout, transportation and most activities. Prices do not include flights. For more information or to book, please call 1300 180 969 or visit www.gadventures.com.au.