Thursday, October 6, 2011

Return to Nepal

In 1998, I visited Nepal for two months on my first real trip abroad, as sort of a culminating experience to several years of hard work in school. The trip was amazing. Everything was fresh--I was a novice to such travel, and I couldn't have picked a further place to go. I made my way up to Everest Base Camp, and also spent a great deal of time in other parts of Nepal, like the Chitwan, Pokhara, and Kathmandu. I got to know many people from Nepal and other countries. Truly one of the greatest experiences and times in my life.

However, due to the unfortunate theft or loss of my money belt in Lukla, some of my plans for Nepal and India were left unfinished.  That belt of course had my life in it—all my money, my cards, my passport. The situation was a disaster--every traveler's nightmare.   

I spent a week or two piecing my identity back together. There were consular interviews, Interpol interviews, faxed communications with the folks, secret passwords and wire transfers, and lots of credit extended to me by kind Nepali people in the meantime. It all worked out, but for a while there I was a complete wreck. Add to this that I got bitten by a rabid dog on this trip, and had to self-administer six rabies vaccine shots. These were the best of times, these were the worst of times, as Dickens said.

One of my plans for that 1998 trip was to trek the Annapurna Circuit, a world famous trek around the Himalayas in Central Nepal.  It is said by some to be the greatest trek in the world.  Unfortunately, I just didn’t have enough time left to undertake this adventure, which was estimated at 21 days.  I had to be content to leave Annapurna for some eventual day down the road.

Thirteen years go by.  

I am older, and find myself in a different place in life.  Physically, mentally, professionally, personally, socially. Priorities change. Technology. History. 

Nonetheless, I always thought someday I’d return to do Annapurna.

Then, over the last few years, rumors occasionally caught my attention, suggesting that parts of the Circuit are in jeopardy, due to the construction of roads.  And then more recently, I read somewhere that some major road would be finished in 2012. If I am to believe what I read, there is a "Now or Never" thing going on, and I should be paying attention.

So, at some point this year, I got a little more serious.   

Maybe it was when my friend Larry told me, “Do it, Scott…nobody will do it for you.”  

Or maybe it was that ongoing internal discussion--Why should it be SUCH a big deal to get away for a bit?  The expense?  Not THAT bad.....The time?  OK, that’s tough, but really, one extra week?....And don’t Europeans do this sort of thing a lot? And with my age, shouldn't I be making this a priority now? Go see the great paintings later in life...climb the mountains now.

By early summer, I realized I’d be discontent with myself for a long time if I didn’t seriously try to knock this one off the list sooner than later.  

So, I talked to my friend Seth, who was already in Nepal.  We talked about running the Circuit, and we initially agreed to do this, although I struggled with this idea later.  I talked to friend Rich about going, and he actually was willing and had the availability.  I went to Kayak and started searching airfares, and the numbers and timeframes became more real.  I talked with work, and work was graciously  accommodating of the extra time.  It all somehow came together.  

One of the funniest moments in prep was after a week of watching a certain airfare, having a conference call with Rich and mutually hitting submit with our credit cards.  On CheapO Air. We were very excited...."We're doing it!" After that, there were the emails, the phone calls, the communications, the miscommunications.

What to bring? What shots to get, and how to get them cheaply? How big is your pack? Right underwear for chafing? Insurance? Hiking sticks? Sleeping bag? Visas? Pillow?

So, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, I found myself meeting Rich at 7 AM at Sea-Tac Airport, with backpack, ready to set off on a 40 hour journey to Kathmandu. Our flight: Sea-Tac to Chicago to New Delhi to Kathmandu.  Two days later, we meet Seth at the Hotel Marshyangdi in Thamel, change our dollars for rupees, and then soon head off on our eight hour drive across Nepal to the start of the Annapurna Circuit trek.

 I'll write up the actual trek in a separate post, soon to follow. But for me, a significant part of the trek was just getting to the starting line. Not the easiest thing to do with such a big trip, in my rather established life. Another big part of the trek for me was just taking in the changes to Nepal and myself after all this time. And the hills. The hills were still big. But like I said, I'll write about that with the next post.

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