“Great things are done when man and mountains meet,
This is not done by jostling in the street”
It is one of my favourite poetic quotes, and yet a trip to Nepal would make me think otherwise, on just how dynamic our perception of the world is. I have always aspired to the challenge of climbing mountains around the world, yet an encounter with the organised chaos of Kathmandu was to offer another cultural experience. Nepal was to prove challenging; yet it is these challenges that we remember most dearly.
It was October 2012, and I had organised a two-week expedition to climb to Base Camp of Mount Everest and to summit Mount Kala Pattar in the Himalaya region of Nepal. The earthquake tragedies in Nepal had not yet occurred and I was blessed to still see Kathmandu’s World Heritage Sites. I am no stranger to the losses that occur in natural disasters, and yet I seem to escape them. I was summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa when the surprise earthquake occurred in my hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand in September 2010.
Nepal is diverse and incredibly humble, it holds its treasures in ways we may not always easily identify. I was entranced by Kathmandu’s mystical madness, as I bounced along turbulent roads. The governmental crisis over the past decade is reflected in a country struggling and coming to grips with poverty. Yet the Nepali people appeared gentle and understated as candles were lit and prayer wheels were spun. A number of cows, goats, chickens and dogs all wandered aimlessly along the roads of Durbar Square. A cow idled past me; I don’t know where he came from, or where he was going. More beeping from the horn ensured the cows moved, often dawdling to the side of the road. Very few people and animals ever looked frightened, and despite the population pressures of a megacity, calmness and serenity hovered over Nepal. Buddhism beliefs are powerful in this region and I reflected on many quotes I had read recently:
“Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think” – Buddha
Chitwan National Park
I have a love of discovering national parks, and Chitwan National Park was to be my home for two days. Chitwan was established in 1973 and is listed as a World Heritage Site. Its name translates to ‘Heart of the Jungle’ and contains more than 50 different species of mammal; including the rhinoceros, tiger, deer, monkey, elephant, leopard, sloth bear and hyena. Approximately 70% of this national park is covered in forest hardwood species and small clearings of grassland.
It was a balancing act to begin with, but soon enough the canoe was gliding down the muddy river. I observed more elephants lumbering like tractors through the forests transporting people on their unforgettable elephant safari. We arrived at a clearing, where we gingerly got out of the canoe, relieved as it was slowly filling with water. For the next few hours we trampled through the jungle. Plants with their scientific names and their medicinal properties were explained. Our guide claimed there were over 470 plant species, which scientists are still identifying today. There were dramatic species; particularly the killer vines as they gradually strangulate other plants and trees and reduce their ability to photosynthesize. Leeches were another experience and it was fascinating to pull them off and watch how quickly the blood would run. Leeches have an anesthetic in their saliva to numb the skin area while they sucked blood.
Our last stop was the elephant-breeding centre with the baby elephants attracting most of the attention. They were considerably tame and their playfulness and attention seeking mannerisms had most people captivated. I couldn’t resist the urge to touch the baby elephant, only to discover how prickly his whiskers were.
“Do elephants cry?” I asked.
“I have seen,” my guide acknowledged. “A baby elephant that had lost its mother. It cried for some time.”
Mount Everest Base Camp
Trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp involved a dramatic and ever changing landscape. Mount Everest is referred to as the fat man in a room full of beautiful ladies. I could see why. The darker rock provided a stark contrast to the surrounding mountains that glistened in snow. Yaks, donkeys, porters and trekkers continuously pounded the trails emphasising the growth of mountain tourism. Oversized loads of baggage carried by both cattle and porters looked grueling, but they did not complain. Prayer flags fluttered in the wind across bridges that spanned deep gorges, carved by roaring rivers. Buddhist shrines were nestled amongst valleys and hill peaks, whilst monastery prayer chanted in the distance to the beating of drums.
“Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds” – Buddha
Rhododendrons, junipers and pine trees stood proud against the wind on steep slopes. Jagged mountain peaks soared to the heavens, teased occasionally by wispy clouds. Trails were engraved into the mountainside surrounded by loose gravel and steep slopes.
“Watch out” was all I heard before I was sharply bunted off the trail by a wild horse. I rolled down the steep slope and screamed for help. It was a reminder how vulnerable we were in this hostile, yet beautiful environment. Despite my bruises, I was determined to continue the trek.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path” – Buddha
As I approached Base Camp I river danced between the large boulders, remnants of lateral moraine from past glacial activity. Tents provided a speckling of colour in the distance, and I reflected on the bravery of those men and women and their mountaineering expertise. Sir Edmond Hillary has been my inspiration to visit this part of the world and many Nepali people could not find words powerful enough to express their gratitude for his honourable achievements.
From monasteries and mountains, forests and farmlands to shrines and summits, it had been an unforgettable adventure, laden with fond memories. I was richer for the experience.
Mountain of pride
Where climbers stride
On top of the world
Where treks unfurled
Climbers who dare
And have no fear
To climb the highest
Amongst the finest