Sunday, October 15, 2006

Om my God!!!!!

I spent the last 5 days driving and trekking through Middle Earth. I have never camped or trekked before, and doing it at thousands of feet above sea level was quite an experience, let me tell you. It became the most difficult thing i have ever done. i realized that trekking is the quickest way to test your limits and challenge yourself, but it is also the surest way to figure out life. I read The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho before i left and all i could think about was pursuing my destiny and listenig to the Language of the World and connecting with the Soul of the World. At the beginning, the trek was so hard. i mean, i thought i was going to die. the higher we got, the thinner the air became, the steeper the mountainside got, the more my body had to do, and the less oxygen it was getting. i took so many breaks. i couldnt even pay attn to the scenery around me, all i could focus on was the next step. right, then left, right, don't twist the ankle, left, brace against that rock, right, avoid that slippery pile of goat/dog/cow/bull/horse/donkey poop, breathe, breathe, breathe!!! i couldnt even look ahead to where the faster part of my group were, high above the mountain. i was overwhelmed by the prospect of reaching there. i kept relating it back to the alchemist and to life; couldn't be too concerned with where the path was headed, since i wasn't leading myself. i had to focus solely on being able to reach there at all. each step and labored breath was a step closer to my destiny, and led to a more complicated, dangerous and steep part of the trail. the first day we trekked 1500 ft straight up. i had alot of time to contemplate my life and what i want for it, as i struggled up those amazing rocks. often times all i could think was breathe, step, breathe, step. but step i did. when we finally reached camp on the first day, i was sick from the chappattis we had for lunch, and had the most terrifying experience of my life, trying to pee while crouched on teh side of a mountain. my foot slipped at one point, and i watched the dislodged rocks tumble in a small dust cloud thousands of feet below. i tried to focus on the solid part of the mountain to my left and not on my impending death. an upset stomach on a narrow mountain pass barely large enough to accomodate one foot at a time is a nightmare, i assure you.

i realized that my whole life up until this point has been steps on a trail that brought me to the base of the himilayas. all the missteps, the falls, the hospital visits, the triumphs, the joys, the learning, all have been preparing me for my visit to heaven. the himilayas defy description and resist capture; i feel as though every picture i took disappointed the mighty vistas they were trying to sadly immitate. the mountain air was clean and impossibly pure, the water seemed clean and rushed by fast in small brooks and rivers. reaching camp on the first day felt like such an accomplishment. i sat on a rock and tried to talk my stomach away from the ledge it was about to jump off while everyone else set up camp. i was the only one who had never been camping OR trekking, so everythign about camplife was new to me.

once our tent was set up, alex laid out my sleeping bag for me and i gratefully fell into it. i read and napped till dinner. i really appreciated her help and her consideration; she had a tough day. poor gurl had trouble with her asthma and the elevation, the thin air took away her breath and she had alot of trouble getting it back. she then had to suffer the indignities on riding a donkey up to camp and getting kicked by it and hit by a crop swat meant for the brutish beast of burden.

the donkeys camped with us as well, and every few moments were punctuated by the strange, inhuman sounds of the donkey herders as they yelled at, yanked at and hit the poor beasts. it was cold when we got to camp, which was a flat field with a great view of teh surrounding mountains. the sunset was like everything else: amazing,pure, clean, inspirational, heaven, divine and felt to me like proof of Allah's greatness.
It was cloudy though, and as the night went on, we saw lighteniing from far off rain clouds and the explosive booms of dynamite being used to blast away rock to build roads. we huddled in the dining tent, sitting down around a table, passing the time playing "psychiatrist". it was freezing! then the food began to arrive. first a hearty soup came, and we ate 3 or 4 bowlfulls each. someone came, cleared it away, and we waitied for chai. in its place, 5 more courses arrived, including dessert. nuts, just nuts. we were all very thankful for the hardowkring men who were catering to our every need. after dinner, we sat by teh fire and listened to siri tell us a long story about dreams called "the kinyata are waiting for you" or something like taht. i tried desperatley to warm up while gazing at the stars. the stars were amazing. there were so many stars, it was like the deep blue of the sky and the white light were mixed, like cookies and cream ice cream,impossible to distinguish from one another. i couldnt pick out any constellations, the stars were all so bright and brilliant. i felt like i was looking into the milky way.

after star gazing sand futile attempts at warming up, i had to visit the toilet tent. let me explain somethign to all u folks who have never camped before. every time u camp, u have to dig a hole where everyone can relieve themselves so that when u leave u can bury it and "leave no trace" in nature. this amounted to a 6 ft tall gray narrow tent that loked (if this is even possible) like a nylon port o potty. u walk in, zip the door up and squat over a foot deep hole. yeah. in the cold darkness. right. exactly. the stink is incredible and when its hot outside, there are flies. it is pretty gross. the worst part was that the ziper on the tent began to malfunction and then simply not close. so i was now left with the new challenge of trying to squat over a muddy hole without falling in and holding this tent door shut in the freezing cold and pitch blackness.
sleep was fleeting, it was simply too cold to sleep through the night. i had all my layers on, to no avail. i missed sun rise b/c of this fitful sleep and emerged to the rest of camp cheerily sipping chai and eating breakfast at 8 am.

Our second day started off so much better than the first. we were trekking through amazing forests full of tall old trees, moss covered slopes, rushing brooks and sunlight filtered through the leaves. beautiful, peaceful and quiet. every step of the way i thought of tolkien's words and scenes and stories. i wasn' the only one with these thoughts, everywhere we trekked looked like the scenery from the LOTR trilogy. as i walked, i imagined ents, elves, dwarves and mordor as we trekked and trekked. i always wondered how the charachters in these epic stories i love manage to trek for days and days and walk for miles to get where they needed to. once they were there, tehy didnt sit down to rest or congratualte themselves; they had to fight a battle/save someone or commit acts of heroism. doing this trek gave me an inkling of what that might be like, focusing on each step in front of you, not thinking about anything other than getting there. no one in the expedition speaks unless necessary, saving all their breath and energy for the amazing physical challenge they are undergoing.

i also thought about tibet and nepal. the refugees in india we keep running into often trekked over these mountains with the few belongings they had in a life or death escape from persecution. i had so much trouble doing this trek while i was being catered to and it was merely an exercise in personal acheivement; i wondered if i would be able to physically step up and survive such a traumatic life altering experience. i feel like if the people i loved were in danger, adreniline and sheer determination would make me able to do anyhting, but i've had my body give up on me and not follow any orders. i hope i never have to find out.

As the day went on, we left teh forests behind and were on the rocky narrow barely there maountain trails that went straight up. the air got much colder and clouds rolled in. i was able to look ahead and see where the group was a little more on this day, the idea of a destination was less overwhlming. i took some breaks, but not nearly as many as the day before and was often alone on the trail. the guides were farther ahead, the rest of the group behind. i sat on a rock, looking out at the desolate beauty of the himilayas. there was no one as far as i could see. the rest of my group were on either side of surrounding ridges, unseen and for the moment, not existing. the wind blew, moving the amber grasses back and forth. the mountains had brightly colored moss clinging to them, and at places downt he mountain i could see a few low trees. the moving grasses looked like sea anemones, and the moss clinging to rock looked like seaweed and barnacles. the wind felt like a strong ocean wind during autumn.the whole thing looked strangely aquatic, as if i would discover this underwater world during a scuba expedition. i sat and watched and tried to listen to the Language of the World. All i felt as i listened to teh wind and watched the ancient nature around me was content. i suddenly understood why people forsake the world of people and move into the mountains for solitude and answers. i could have sat there forever. the cold and the wind stopped mattering, becoming an extension of the heartbeat and breath taht kept me alive.

Shortly after my solitude was interuppted by the rest of my group, we reached the highest point of the trek, called Koali point. (i think, dont quiote me on that)i also have no real idea of how high we were, since everytime i asked i got a different answer. we took some truiumphant pictures and continued on to the spot that our lunch was promised. it got even colder. We had a dog that joined us at the start of our trek and followed us all the way up, down and around the mountains. She was a black mountain stray we named "Kala" (the hindi word for black)and she was a wonderful companion. She was blind in one eye but had no trouble with the mountain paths or passes, no matter how narrow or rocky. we stopped to regroup after the highest point and as thunder clapped above us, we decided to spereate. most of teh group decided to trek to camp and have luncht here while a few people would have lunch in a more sheltered place and try and make it to the koali pass. i deciede not to go b/c it was already so difficult for me, so cold, and there was no gurantee that there would be a view at all b/c of the intense cloud cover. we skipped off, singing songs from the sound of music and screaming as lightening and sleet started. the sleet became hail and all the downhill trials full of rocks became slippery and perilous. as i pointed this out, i heard a yell and a thud. alex slipped and crazked her elbow on a big rock. as we stood in the hail that soaked us, the first aid response began. siri ran to alex, preparing to immobilze the arm and xochi threw me some spandex she had for teh sling and i ran (carefully) over to them to help. siri was like a hero, so quick to help out and get alex down the mountain. the hail got worse, the thunder continued and the downhill became even more dangerous. alex and siri took shelter under a big fir tree and nikki and i squatted under some sort of flowering bush/tree that we have in CT. the longer we sat there, the colder and more soaked we got. the hail became the size of kix cereal. it coated the ground and turned our previously sunny day into a winter wonderland. our guide came to check on us and we got up, determined to make it to camp, tired of being soaked. we careafully picked our way down the mountain, singing the twelve days of xmas and then the song that never ends on the top of our lungs (since we couldnt remember the words to the 12 days, lol). we triumphantly made it to camp shortly after and ran into the dining tent to try and get warm. it was nutz! the hail continued and was no longer melting. the temperature dropped and it started to freeze as we waited for chai, hot food and the rest of our group. the amazing guys of red chilli had already set up camp for us so we didnt have to struggle in teh hail. we shared whatever dry clothes we could find and reveled in the weather, the adventure and the thrill of being alive. it was one of the most incredible things i have ever experienced.

there is something so unvbelieveable about looking up and seeing the snow capped peaks of the himilayas. sometimes i felt like it was a set, a backdrop, not possibly real and part of my experience. i couldnt stop looking at them and would just stand and stare at them, during sunlight, clouds and at night.

the last night there i saw shooting stars. they were shorter and faster than the ones i've seen back home, so swift my eye barely registered their passing. at first i just thought my eyes were tired, full of smoke from the fire and playing tricks on me. but one of our guides (in training) exclaimed when he saw them as well, and i spent the next hour watching for them, sitting by the fire and talking about diwali and the indian army with him. he plans to join after he gets qualified as a rafting instructor and a trekking guide. he was training during ours. it was interesting listening to his perspective about military service in india (he wants to be an officer and believes it is every young indian's duty to serve the Mother) and the american sponsered war on terror. i tried to explain to him the idea of national service, the service movement in america and how i spent the last two years serving my country, but without guns, fatigues or military training. i'm not sure he really understood what i was talking about, but it was interesting anyway.

we trekked with this very competent adventure company, named red chilli, that took care of all of our needs. they had donkeys that carried all of our suplies, a chef to cook for us and a crew of guys to set up and breakdown uor tents, take care of our things and generally provide for us. i repeat: i was trekking in the himilayas with a personal chef. take that, angelina and brad. they're in india right now, and i gurantee they aren't getting to experience anything half as cool as me.

the third day was the hardest since it was all downhill. we walked in between heards of sheep and some goats and again i was strongly reminded of the alchemist and santiago's flock of sheep. sheep sound alot like people when they are all bleeting together. i laughed so often, as i suddenly found myself in a mountain valley, in the middle of flocks of sheep, attempting to count them. the cutest thing i have ever seen: the youngest lambs are kept in tiny pouches to stay warm that are strapped to teh donkeys. instead of the normal luggage or crops they carry, there were all these adorable lamb heads poking out, bleeting at us.

the mountainside that we trekked through was beautiful and full of small hardworking people who greatly expanded my ideas of what humans are capable of doing in order to live. their houses, farms, roads, and irrigation systems from the river all seemed done by hand and incredibly difficult. they were harvesting, planting, building, breaking rocks, going to school, gathering leaves, cooking, laughing, herding cows, staring at us as we stared at them. my knees were about to give out halfway through and this was the first time i yearned for it to all be over. i prayed i would make it to the end and started to listen whenever anyone discussed the time or expected distance of our destination. i have no clue how these folks spritely run up and down the mountains without a second thought. we finally started wakling on more flat ground where the trails where easier to navigate. we made it through one more village and the cars were up ahead!!! siri gave us all high fives as we got to the bottom of that last hill and i felt like screaming and jumping up and down (as if my knees could even have handled it). we took some pictures and all i could manage was a rather loud "Holla!" as i looked out over the river below and back up at the mountainside we had just made it down. I think taht shows that no matter where i go, america goes with me. maybe. or maybe vapid mainstream culture has infiltrated my brain so deeply that instead of an articulate way to express the most important physical achievement i've ever accomplished, all i have left is the overused vernacular of commercial hiphop. who knows.

i loved it and cant wait to trek back home. hear that muju uncle? sierra nevada, here we come!

i'm in rishikesh right now, and yesterday we moved to the orphanage. the american woman who runs it is an imposing figure: tall, in her mid to late sixties, a doctor and definately used to doing things her way. the orphanage had over 50 children and several other institutions. most of the children are nepali refugees and often have at least one (not good) parent alive somewhere. there are kids there as young as 3. she told us that as the children get older, it is hard to keep them at the orphanage. they fetch a high price (the gurls do) and the boys get high dowry. they are skilled children who speak great english, learn classical dance and have a vocation. apparently 2 of the gurls were recenlty sold, one for 80, 000 rupees, and another for 60,000. the orphanage cant do anyhtign about it, they have no rights since those children still have living parents somewhere. the orphanage is full, and they only take some police cases. three children sleep to a bed, its so crowded. they are trying to build and expand.

it’s funny how things work. I was just observing that I felt a bit let down by the “inner journey” portion of this trip, not really feeling as though I had had the chance to be alone with myself. I had hoped that we’d get to experience something along the lines of guided meditation with ourselves, maybe guided reflection. I had just come to terms with the idea that I wouldn’t be able to really get that this trip. then we get to the orphanage. the woman starts telling us about the mountain center and tells us she will teaching us Reiki 1, and initiating us into it. someone asked what rieki is and she responds “ reiki is the channelling of the earth’s energy to heal yourself and others” . Whoa, I think. We went from talking about what state we were from to harnessing the energy of the world. Am I living in The Alchemist? Next she tells us that we will be going on a day long vision quest. One day we’ll spend in the woods by ourselves with nothing more than water and our journals. Another whoa. I start worrying about being alone with myself in the woods. I just finished reading Holy Cow by Sarah MacDonald (which turned out to be a really enjoyable book by the way; if anyone has some time and wants to hear a little about what travelling in India is like, pick up this fun read) and she focused so much on her neurosis and how difficult it was to be alone with herself that I think it rubbed off on me. But I was surprised by how quickly “the Universe” (as we always say within our group) answered my frustration. now it looks as though I have the spiritual retreat that I was craving. I’m not sure what it will be like, since we will be up at this mountain retreat center that the orphanage uses during the summer. it is a three hour drive up the mountains and had no electricity. we will be responsible for all of our own meals and will do yoga everyday. we'll be doing service to help the center:white washing walls, collecting leaves, planting an indoor garden for food during the winter, organizing their soon to be open coffee shop and helping the women's collective that combs angora rabbits to make creulty free angora scarves. I will miss Eid b/c I will be at the mountain center, so doesn’t look like I’ll be able to see Yusef’s family again before I leave. the upside of all of this is that we’ll be back at the orphanage for Halloween and get to celebrate it with the kids! we’ll be missing out on diwali, so it looks like we’ll be lighting fireworks with the kids once we get back. I’m excited! Halloween and fireworks, a piƱata and masks! Woohoo!

Oh yeah. before i go, i wanted to share my wonderful health experience with you fine people. it seems as though i have an ameoba of some sort. a water born bacteria/parasite, something that keeps me from ever feeling great. i went to a doc here in rishikesh and am now sufering the indignity of having to give samples of various bodily fluids so that we can isolate which ameoba i have and presecibe accordingly. great right? my doc's appt cost 100 rupees. a lil over 2 dollars, to see a doc. india is crazy.

hope all is well with everyone.
COMMENT!!!! once i leave for the mountain center tomorrow, i'll be out of touch for 8 days, cut off from the world, electricity and a catered to existence. should be great.
love light and sheep:)


mujtabag said...

"i loved it and cant wait to trek back home. hear that muju uncle? sierra nevada, here we come!"

I hear you! The mountains will be waiting, Yazi. (That's one of the many great things about mountains)

Hope you feel better soon


Muju Uncle

Mariko said...

Oh wow. I can see the mountain range now. what am i supposed to write other than "wow."

I hope you feel better soon. Nothing like feeling 100% so that you can enjoy everything to its fullest.

mujtabag said...

I looked up Red Chilli Adventures:
it sounds as though you climbed to Kuari Pass. The full 7 day trek gets to 4265 metres = 13860 feet altitude. You got there on only your second day, so you had almost no time to acclimate, wow, that must have been rough! Awesome job, Yazi!

marilee said...

Your words helped me to visual and take in the experience (although of course, nothing can compare to actually being there!). Thanks for bringing us all along on your adventures with you...i'm so glad you CREATED this opportunity for yourself. i love and miss you - know that i'm thinking of you, darling. all's good on the home front. :)

Frick said...

Your entry is amazing! Not only did you have an incredible environmental experience, but now cut off from the world in a mountain retreat? Sounds perfect for self reflection/discovery! I love the details, the descriptions, I can definitely picture it. My favorite was the correlation to the trek in LOTR, and I really understood! I want to go see the movie just so I can think of you're wonderful experience and live vicariously through you. I'm watching LOST now and their camping story isn't as cool as yours :-P