Friday, June 11, 2010
Climbing to Tatopani
From the road a dusty path took us to a hanging bridge that must have been very recently created. I have been across bridges that had no netting and wooden slats rotted through. Where there were holes, a flat rock bridged the gap. This bridge however was very sturdy. At this time of the year animals could be herded through the river below, but in the rainy season, the bridge would be the only access to trade with civilization.
Just beyond the bridge we encountered an old chorten. It was inscribed with prayers for the deceased. The proper way to show respect is to pass the chorten to the left circumambulating clockwise just as you would travel around a stupa.
Suddenly, the path took a sharp, steep turn to the right and we began to climb the rocky steps. It wasn't too difficult at first. I took my time placing my feet carefully so that I wouldn't slip. But soon I felt unstable in my knees and ankles. Even though I was carrying nothing but a walking stick, the climb was very difficult for me. I am at least 40 pounds overweight, which everyone in Nepal generously offered to cure with vegetables, herbs, work and yoga. I stopped often and about a half hour into the climb I decided to take my pulse. It was 170 beats per minute.
About 10 years before this journey, I broke my ankle in three places. I still have a metal plate with screws holding it all together. When I broke my ankle, it was on a most ordinary hike in the Maryland woods, nothing like these gravel covered rocky steps clinging to the side of the mountain. A simple misstep and I had to have 4 people carry me out of the woods strapped to a board. "What would happen if I broke a leg up here?" I wondered out loud. JR told me that if I broke my leg on the mountainside that they could not help me in Dunche, they would have to take me all the way back to Kathmandu. He said that they would call for a helicopter. That would be fine for me, I thought, somehow we would figure out how to pay for the rescue, but what of the thousands of people who lived up in these hills?
I know that everyone was concerned about me. They never raced ahead even though I think it would have been easier for them to climb more quickly. They were especially worried when I began to feel dizzy, and they asked if I wanted to stay with one of the families living on the side of the hill. Could I do it? Could I climb all the way to the top? Yes... yes, I was doing it. One step was not too much to bear and what is a journey but one step at a time? JR sang folk tunes behind me and I focused on the glittering rocks and the beautiful terraces, and in that way we climbed. Although it was difficult and painful, the pain would be but a moment and the beauty would be just as fleeting. I was being honored by my extended family with this most precious gift of seeing a place that only a tiny fraction of the world will ever see first hand.
It takes a native 1 and 1/2 hours to climb that mountain. It takes a fit young American 2 hours to climb to the top. It took me 4 hours, but I did it. Life is not a competition, not even with ourselves, it is a journey made up of precious moments, each one to be savored as it is presented.
By the time we arrived, it was already dark.