Hi everybody!

Well as you may (or may not) have heard in the news, the Maoists came out ahead in Nepal’s recent national election — good news for us on the verge of our entry into Nepal. Why? Because in recent years, Maoist unrest has occasionally made things less than safe in this wonderful country. But having just won a plurality in the election to establish a new constitution, the Maoists — now in a position to lead the country toward abolishing the monarchy and establishing a democratic republic — were full of good cheer as we crossed the eastern border and hopped a long-haul bus to Pokhara. We (and the people of Nepal) are keeping our fingers crossed that the political situation continues to stabilize and move in a good direction.

Hour zero of the 19-hour bus ride across the country…

… and sixteen hours later. Hang in there Derry, only three more hours to go!

We were headed to Pokhara to trek in the Annapurna region. In our guidebook, Derry spotted a listing for a trekking agency run by women, Three Sisters Adventure Trekking. Since 1994, the Chhetri sisters have been helping women become trekking guides (a role traditionally held by men), and providing women trekkers (and their enlightened husbands) with female guides and porters.

This seemed like a great enterprise that we wanted to support. We hired a guide and porter, and we all flew via Gorkha Airlines to a town called Jomsom, up on the Tibetan plateau (though still in Nepal) — very clever of us, because then we got to walk mostly downhill (or at least level) for the rest of our trek!

Sita (L), our guide, has been guiding with Three Sisters for six years. Hira (R), our porter and apprentice to Sita, joined Three Sisters in January 2008 and is training to become a guide.

Our trail followed the old Salt Road between India and Tibet. Although salt is no longer traded along this route, many other goods — carried by a continual procession of pony caravans — still are.

The people here are culturally Tibetan, and Buddhist imagery is everywhere. The eyes of the Buddha watch over our entry into each town…

…as we pass walls of Mani stones, each carved with the inscription “Om mani padme hum.”

Red doors welcome monks and visitors to this gompa (Tibetan Buddhist monastery), built in 1380, in the town of Kagbeni.

Out of time… medieval Kagbeni was our farthest point north on the plateau toward Tibet, in Nepal’s Mustang region. Is that yeti fur adorning the roof of the gompa?

Inside the gompa are many ritual masks used in ceremonial dances. Scary!

Traditional technologies are in active use in this region…

(weaving…)

(ploughing…)

… along with 21st-century solar cookers.

The apex of our trek was a day hike up to the holy temples of Muktinath, where Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims converge to receive blessings — especially on full moon days like the day we visited.

Sadhus (holy men) walk here from Southern India to, um, smoke weed with their buddies.

Rich Indians, on the other hand, take the express route…

As you can see, we were among mountains, although we did not freeze as in Sikkim (thank goodness!). Below you can see Dhauligiri, one of the world’s few 8000m+ peaks, in the distance.

And while the mountains were spectacular, the real treat of this trek was walking wide-eyed through timeless villages and cultures which seemed to take little notice of our presence.

(Sita and Hira in the winding lanes of Kagbeni)

Now we’re in Kathmandu, about to enter Kopan Monastery for 10 days of meditation and instruction in Tibetan Buddhism. As soon as we’re enlightened we’ll do another blog post! (Or maybe before, so as not to keep you waiting multiple lifetimes….)

With love, us

Advertisements