(see photos below) Frankly, it felt too risky to take another group to Nepal in 2015. The 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit on April 25, 2015, and its continuing aftershocks over many months meant traveling there would be riskier than other years. The upheaval was political, as well, with unrest erupting into protests against a new constitution. Consequently, the border between India and Nepal was blocked, making resources–especially fuel—scarce. I was heartbroken and torn about whether to go personally, let alone take a trekking group with me. In my many trips to Nepal, I have faced the unknown repeatedly from unexpected changes in our itinerary to closed airports due to damaged runways from heavy rain. But nothing like this. The country was shattered. After a flurry of emails, my contacts and friends in Nepal gave me the go ahead in late July. I decided to chance it. But just in case something happened, I sent copies of my travel insurance to each of my adult children.
Once I made my decision, word spread that the trip was on, and nine self-reliant trekkers registered for the 2015 trek. Niru Rai, the owner of Adventure Geo Trek, a Nepalese travel company, and a native of tiny Basa Village, and I created an itinerary for my group that would require a moderate skill-level trek to his tiny home village located in the Solukhumbu District, South of Everest. Basa is so remote, it can’t be found on a map or Google earth. This is why I wanted to return. The untouched beauty of the region and the villagers’ kindness, resilience, and uncomplaining ability to adapt in a tough environment left me yearning to go back.
When I arrived in Kathmandu last year, an associate looked into my eyes and said, “The true friends of Nepal are coming this year.” My trepidations began to fall away. It felt good to be back.
In spite of the scarcity of fuel, Niru had everything moving smoothly. Man Bir, Niru’s assistant and the driver, met each travel-wearied group member by placing marigold garlands around their necks and said, “Nameste” upon arrival. In previous years, it seemed nearly impossible to cross the narrow, chaotic streets and breathe the thick polluted air in Kathmandu. I’d become somewhat accustomed to the honking cars, wandering cows, rickshaws, overloaded buses, vendors, rackety motorcycles, the visual cacophony of hopelessly tangled electrical and phone wires, and dazzling bursts of blues, yellows and oranges of the flowers and the women’s saris. This year, we strolled through relatively quiet streets, watching for bicycles and the occasional taxi or motorcycle.
As we visited the first World Heritage site in Kathmandu on our tour, Durbar Square, my heart dropped at the contrast with my prior visits. I had mixed feelings as we gazed at crumbling walls, stacks of bricks beside the shrines, and long poles supporting fragile walls. I grieved the architectural damage and cultural loss, yet there was still that magical something, like always. Murmuring practitioners chanted their mantras and performed spiritual rituals while smokey trails of burning incense scented the air with juniper berry and other spices. Tables covered with butter lamps flickered with a warm glow, and there were bright orange marigold garlands for sale near the temples and stupas that were being rebuilt.
My concerns about the trails were largely unfounded. We hiked unimpeded through tranquil rain forests and past small Tibetan villages towards Basa. As we drew near, five musicians playing horns and beating drums escorted us down the path into the schoolyard. After spending three nights there, we continued our trek on well-worn paths ascending, descending, crossing rivers, and walking through forests and tiny Tibetan villages. Most seemed to have stayed largely intact despite the earthquake’s best efforts to shake them off their cliffside perches.
As we made our slow way to Lukla, the end of our trek, we stopped to see Buddhist temples perfumed by centuries of incense, one containing fragile scrolls hundreds of years old. We camped in fragrant orange and lemon groves, in a grassy field with water buffalos nearby, on banks near the river, and in first class camping sites with spectacular views of the mountains. We delighted in sharing warming mugs of masala tea (black tea with ginger, cardamom, milk and sugar) while we rested in various teashops along the way.
Mid-day on our seventh day, we reached a 10,000 foot pass. Sitting by myself, I brushed tears away as I gazed across deep forested valleys without any man made obstructions, to fifteen of the largest jagged, snow-capped giants surrounding Everest. I felt uplifted and appreciated the wonder of being a part of the world around me.
Sydney Frymire is a Clinical Social Worker and Certified Life Coach practicing in Bethesda, Maryland. This is an excerpt from her memoir she hopes will encourage others to combine their skills and experience with their passion enhance their lives and contribute to solving some of our world’s problems.