Saturday, 11 April 2015

Lose Yourself

I’ve met a lot of different people travelling, and never heard a single one claim to be on a quest to find themselves. Rather, the expression is used exclusively by people who don’t travel, to deride those who do.

No-one travels to find themselves. You travel to lose yourself.

A few weeks ago, I woke from a heavy night’s sleep on a thin foam mattress. I stretched and cricked my neck, slipped on a pair of damp boots, picked up a half finished toilet roll and walked across the courtyard in the dead of night to shit in a hole in the ground. This was a new experience. As new to me as looking up in awe at the rugged, snow-capped mountain that stood sentry while I squatted in the darkness. 

The human mind is adaptive. It creates patterns of behaviour in deep, impenetrable ways, and then leads us along their grooves and contours. Most of the time they lie beyond the boundary of conscious perception. In the midst of our routines, in the company of people we know, places we are familiar with and secure in, we exist with little conscious thought or effort.

If you want to unravel those patterns, and understand how and why you make the subconscious decisions you do, why your behaviour repeats itself in ways you pretend not to notice, you’ll probably have to pay someone to listen to you talking. And then, you’ll have to pull at every loose thread on every piece of clothing you ever wore, and keep pulling, even when you know that to do so will mean the loss of the thing forever. (Keep pulling).

Or you could transport yourself from your own environment to a different one, where everything you know, all the systems, responses and perceptions you’ve accumulated and learned over the years, are irrelevant. Where the instincts you rely upon every day are suddenly blunted, useless, and you have to grow and sharpen new ones. Where you have to think and feel in order to survive. And you might not have thought and felt like this for years.

From childhood we cultivate a method of survival - a strategy for overcoming fear and insecurity. For me, a suit of armour, comprised of layers of false confidence that made the world less daunting and conquerable. Made fears and obstacles appear surmountable, even when they were not. I have outgrown it - it no longer protects, but restricts. Every step I take shakes a little more of the cloak from my shoulders. 

Every man or woman who ever laid foot upon the road knows its magic. The feeling, rising up from the dust, through their weary soles and reaching into the heart. It might be hard to grasp, intangible, but when it strikes you, in a sunset, a new vista, a new adventure or new friend, it is unmistakable and enthralling.

Pace around the same tiny cell and you’ll get to know it like nowhere else on earth. Or walk out of the door, and dare to tread some new path, discover what lies beyond. It doesn’t have to be distant, dangerous or intrepid - it just has to be new. 

The only thing I can guarantee you won’t find out there, is yourself.

And that’s because we’re always one step behind ourselves, watching, thinking and interfering. Fearful, lest we step too far, too fast or too firm.

You might.

I hope you do, because that's the whole fucking point.

Until next time then....


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Sab Chalta Hai

Stop and look about yourself in India, and you can't help wondering how anything gets done. It is the very definition of chaos: dishevelled, disorderly, in apparent disarray, and riddled with corruption and inequality.


And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music
I'm probably not quite ready to hit the dancefloor just yet, but I am standing at the bar tapping my feet. This afternoon, the last before I fly home, my friend Srila told me I had just wobbled my head like an Indian. I glowed with pride.

First of all I had to block out the background noise; the traffic, horns, throat clearing and shouting. Then I got used to people not saying please or thank you. To having doors closed in my face and people barging in front of me in queues or wherever I happened to leave room. To having my personal space invaded by those who stand centimetres away when there is acres of space elsewhere. To putting my life on the line every time I got in a taxi or tuk-tuk. I got used to cows in the road, to head wobbling, impossible directions, to arduous administrative obstacle courses and haggling with rickshaw drivers.

Then I realised that if everyone is impatient, rude and inconsiderate, then no-one is. When everyone drives badly, no-one drives badly. The rules are, there are no rules. And nobody dare break them. Order, or a semblance of it, rises from the midst of this chaos because the denizens of the crazy zoo are tuned to its frequency.

Or, as Indians are fond of saying, “Sab chalta hai.”

Everything walks,
Everything flies,
Everything goes....

And so it does.

It might look chaotic then, but extraordinary organisational and administrative feats are being achieved all around. The tiffin system in Mumbai epitomises this – 200,000 freshly cooked lunches are collected from homes and apartments in the suburbs and delivered to offices, schools and shops around the city every day. Five thousand dabbawalas execute this logistical miracle, making a mistake once in every six million deliveries. Nothing is written down, there would be no point - most of them are illiterate.


Down in Auroville the Europeans are still scratching their heads and bickering over how to create utopia, but in a corner of Mumbai, neither planned nor intended, a million people crammed into two square kilometres of slum developed a micro economy based on recycling, clothing, leather and pottery, that turns over a billion dollars a year. Dharavi.

There is poverty in Dharavi: poor sanitation, a lack of clean water, overcrowding and appalling working conditions. But there is work, and community and a sense of people trying to improve. All religions are here, living together peacefully and productively. Crime is low. Opportunity is high. I was shown around by one of many local guides who saw a chance to dispel the slum myth and cash in on curious tourists. Sab chalta hai.

Men are huddled in a dark room, ancient ceiling fans chopping through the thick, stifling air, smashing up plastic that has been gathered from the city’s trash. Smashing it, sorting it, grading it. Then it is crushed in giant machines (themselves manufactured in Dharavi, naturally) washed and sent off to be recycled. Two metres away in the next building, ten guys sit around their sewing machines making shirts. They sleep in the loft upstairs. They’re happy, smiling and welcoming. And they make 200 rupees a day (£2). No Dharavi produce is labelled or marketed - just sold off into the outside world.


Sab chalta hai? Well, almost, but not quite. There is one toilet for around every 1,500 people. Much of the sewage diverts directly into Mahim Creek, an open waterway running through the middle of Dharavi. It fucking stinks, as you might imagine. What else it does, in terms of sickness and death, I cannot say.


Ten kilometres east of Dharavi is the dumping ground of Deonar, where 5,500 metric tonnes of rubbish are deposited every day. The mounds of garbage rise as high as a twenty storey building. There is no guided tour here.

Sab chalta hai suggests things don’t need to, or won’t, change. That action is futile. And things do need to change in India, because the colour, character and effervescent humanity is just one side of the coin. The other is grubby and unmentionable.

Describing the incredible tapestry of life in the places I've visited, I’ve always been conscious of the loose threads that hang from the bottom. The men, women and children who sleep on railway platforms, under trees and in the gutters. The human beings who make for the shadows, where they blend so subtly into the darkness that it seems as if no-one notices them at all. The disenfranchised, the dispossessed, who seem to have more in common with the animals they share the streets with than the rest of the country.

          There are some who are in darkness
          And the others are in light
          And you see the ones in brightness
          Those in darkness drop from sight

A hierarchical society structured on caste cannot function without inequality, and it streaks through the heart of India like a skidmark. The fawning deference and subservience in the hospitality industry has its roots here, in a deep, implied inferiority or superiority, depending upon the happenstance of one’s birth.

Likewise the inequality between the sexes. And not just inequality, but a sinister, violent menace lurks just below the surface of everyday life. It’s betrayed by the furtive, rapey glance of a young shopkeeper at a passing western girl, and the sad testimony of a friend who has stopped noticing being groped in Old Delhi, it happens so routinely. In the streets where women don’t walk, the way men’s heads twist around to follow a female figure – not with a smile, which I guess we’re all guilty of, but with a feral urge to possess.

Plenty of them think it is acceptable to beat their wives. Marital rape is not a crime. In a country of such spiritualism and enduring humanity, these things need to be hoisted into the spotlight and addressed. 

I love India. Love it in a way that I honestly never thought I would ten weeks ago. I've seen extraordinary things, every day; eaten incredible food, every day. I've met people, from India and all over the world, who have blown me away with the depth of their humanity and the sheer brilliance of their stories.

I don't want my last word on India to be negative, but these undertones rumble away quietly in the background, all the time. The music is blasting out around them, and the people  are dancing around the cow shit and the tired, prostrated bodies of the derelict. It's a great tune, and a great dance, and maybe it wouldn't be quite so crazy without them there. But they're there, and I wish they weren't.

Sab chalta hai only gets you so far, and if anything's going to change, someone's going to have to make it.

It won't be me. 

I'm going home.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Old and new, black and white

Travelling is exhausting, so it’s always nice to finish up a trip like this with a relaxing week somewhere that allows you to really unwind and reflect upon your experiences. And so on Friday, upended by a ferocious hangover, I negotiated the living hell of Kathmandu airport and flew to that famous oasis of peace and tranquility, Delhi.

Delhi feels like a proper modern city. And then, somewhere in the middle of it all, is a proper old city: an insane hive of furious, impatient humanity that infuriates and delights in equal measure. Walking along Chandni Chowk, the spine of Old Delhi’s bazaars, I feel as though I’m on some sort of crazed fairground ride. I keep stopping to take it all in, which is probably the equivalent of holding onto the rail for dear life.



For reasons that elude me, the pictures I took here look much better in black and white. Perhaps it's because the colours don’t really matter; that the frenzy of human activity stops your brain from rendering them anyway. In monotone it somehow stands still for you to try and comprehend, which of course you can’t.


It had rained in the morning, and the streets were not clean. What I’d like to think was mud swished around everywhere, and a dead rat, trodden and trampled into the ground, perfectly flattened, was so matted in street slime that I barely noticed it. I was the only one that did. Miraculously, through this knotted tangle of streets, gridlocked with cycle rickshaws, scooters, carts and people carrying impossible loads, we emerged at Jama Masjid Mosque. 


The only sensible thing to do was to enter the courtyard where a semblance of peace prevailed and we could stand unmolested. And then, to climb the minaret, a little aerial into the sky, so that we could look down on the ant farm below.

...they were always climbing things, as though perspective were the key
If perspective is the key to understanding, then I don’t know what this aspect contributed to my grasp of Delhi. Or India. Maybe the real epiphany comes with the realisation that the whole thing is so utterly incomprehensible that trying to understand it is pointless and irrelevant. When people stopped emerging from the stairwell, we climbed back down.


Back at ground level and I realise that Delhi feels different to other cities in India. The people more aggressive and impatient, rickshaw drivers more irritating and persistent. I find myself rising to them, ratcheting up the curtness of my refusals, and then out intimidating a security guard who tries to "fine" my friend 500 rupees for smoking somewhere she shouldn't have. I'd rather not be like this.

A shiny, clean and modern metro system has burrowed a warren beneath the grubby streets. It swallows us up and pops us out further south, in New Delhi, and for all the similarities with the Old we might as well have emerged on the dark side of the Moon.



I won’t roll out the familiar cliché about two cities in one, because Delhi is numerous cities in one; sacked and rebuilt time and again as empires and rulers came and went. New Delhi is just the latest of them, planned and built by the British after 1911 as their capital. Further south is Qutub Minar, a twelfth century minaret standing improbably among ruins, themselves built upon the older remains of Dhillika, which had served as capital for the Tomars and the Chauhans for centuries.

If the chequered history of Delhi tells us anything, it is that mankind is forever destroying and recreating. There are times, when manhole covers are left off and their fetid contents fill the air, when men urinate freely and grope women in the street, when children throw plastic bottles into the road with churlish grins, that it seems as though Delhi is destroying itself again, from within. 

I hope not, because it's actually quite a nice place. And if you lay down on the grass in Lodi Gardens of a Sunday afternoon, it's surprisingly peaceful and relaxing too.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Kathmandu: The Valley of Ashes


Nobody has anything nice to say about Kathmandu. “One day is all you need…it’s a shithole…the pollution is terrible…the best thing there is the flight home…” etc etc.

I was looking forward to debunking all that negativity, cutting through the smog and chaos to the clear, pulsating heart of my latest favourite place.

But I can’t. 

Because they were right. 

Kathmandu is what happens when the human race is left to its own devices, when a city develops unchecked. It chokes and strangles itself, smothering history with a blanket of fumes. Walking around it is like being miniaturised and sent inside the diseased lung of a dying smoker. Thick on fumes, thin on oxygen. 



I’m staying in Thamel, along with everyone else in the universe who owns a backpack. The streets are crowded with enthusiastic hawkers peddling everything from tiger balm and hash to miniature musical instruments. I politely decline all the friendly offers, weaving in and out of the traffic and trying not to fall into the sewers. The shops are flogging the familiar array of North Fake, pashmina, khukari knives, antiques and t-shirts. It's almost mesmerising, peering into them and wondering where on earth all this shit has come from.



I decided to walk down to the old town of Patan, which was a mistake. My eyes were stinging, nostrils welded shut with trapped particles of smog and my throat hurt. And that’s with four layers of cloth across my face and sunglasses on. I’m not alone – most of the people here look like they’re on their way to rob a bank.



The main Durbar Squares, in Kathmandu and Patan, are incredible. Crammed with temples, stupas and pagodas and closed to (most) traffic. I finally get to see the real city at work. Around them spreads a labyrinth of passageways and tiny courtyards. Everywhere you turn is a temple, stupa or shrine, or a doorway leading to some other discrete space; the gateway to another universe. If Kathmandu is a lung, these are the bronchiole, infiltrating the hidden depths of the city, but the pollution permeates them too, and even here I feel stifled and repressed by the air.




On my third morning in Kathmandu I did what I probably should have done on the first, and got the hell out of there, hiking up to Shivapuri Peak with flagrant disregard for the Lonely Planet’s warning:

From the monastery it’s possible to climb steeply for about three hours to reach Shivapuri Peak (2725m) returning to the park entrance for a very long day of around seven hours. This is a serious hike that you shouldn’t do alone. Take a map, plenty of water and preferably a guide

I took plenty of water.

It was beautiful up there, climbing up out of the smog and racket into moist jungle; red monkeys, butterflies and birds for company. Most of the six mile trail was stone steps and it took two and a quarter brutal hours to reach the top. The only people I encountered were two nuns, and a guy living on top of the mountain hanging out his washing. From there I looked down upon the city, sprawling into every corner of the valley as if it has been poured from the sky.



East of the city, at Bodhnath, is the largest Stupa in Asia. A never ending carnival of devoted Nepalis, monks and tourists circumambulates it in a circus of colours, smells and sounds. It is ridiculously photogenic and tourists scramble for shots like this:



I make a few laps and the repetitive, clockwise pilgrimage is hypnotic, metronomic. Yet all the while, there in the centre, the shifty looking eyes of Buddha sit perfectly still. I stop walking to look up and into them, and they look back and into me. I can't think of anything other than the eyes of Dr T.J. Eckleburg, looming over the Valley of Ashes.

I love Nepal and Nepali people, and I wanted to love Kathmandu. I tried, I really did try. Little flashes of the place really excited me; watching a game of chess on the pavement with twenty odd spectators huddled around the board, kids playing cricket with a stupa as the wicket, exploring minute passageways and uncovering hidden treasures in tiny courtyards. 

But the sad reality is that these moments are shimmers of gold in a steaming mountain of shit, and I just don’t have the stomach to wade through it looking for them. Maybe it's because I'm nearing the end of my trip. Maybe it's a hangover from the wasted 5am starts in Pokhara, or maybe I just can't survive on the fumes of the Valley of Ashes, even under the Buddha's watchful gaze.




*
This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.....but above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg 

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatbsy


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Pokhara: Busy Doing Nothing

Bhutan was a great place to visit, but it was hardly relaxing. With a guide, a driver and an itinerary, there wasn’t much down time, and every other day we were in transit. So it was a welcome relief to hit Pokhara, free to do as I pleased. And it pleased me to do fuck all.

Pokhara has what the Lonely Planet might describe as a “Laidback backpacker vibe.” Some of them have been laid back here for the last forty years by the looks of it. I can't be too critical - the most strenuous thing I did on my first day was get my beard trimmed. With scissors, because I went during the daily power cut. It took most of the afternoon.


I stepped it up the next day by hiking up to the “Peace Pagoda,” walking out of town and suddenly seeing a little of the real Nepal, so close to all the bars, cafes and shops of Lakeside. An alarming contrast, and a reminder that this is an impoverished country. But the people are even friendlier out here and every one of them proffers a cheery Namaste.

Up the hill and down the other side, I forked out the 350 rupees for a boat ride across the lake back to town. Being the only passenger there, the guy seemed reluctant to waste his time taking me over, so sent me packing with these two kids instead. Not wanting to still be out on the water at Christmas, I soon gave in and did the rowing for them, while they sat up front and enjoyed the ride. I asked for a tip but they’d scarpered before we’d even made the shore.


It’s a calm and peaceful place all right. I happily while away a few days either side of the trek here, eating sensational pain au chocolate in Café 17, drinking almost London standard espresso in Pokhara Java and generally mincing about with nothing to do except shopping for knock off trekking gear.



Oh, I did wake up at 5am on two consecutive mornings. Apparently, dawn on the top of Sarangkot is a “religious experience.” The rising sun lights up the Annapurna range, and the gathered masses who have taxied then trekked their way up the 1250 steps gasp in awe and click away on their cameras. But not when the view is completely obscured by cloud. Both days. Aaaarggghhhh.



Truth is I did so little while I was in Pokhara that I shouldn’t even be writing about it. But I thought if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to post this photograph that I took down by the lake, which would have been a shame.





Mountain

From Pokhara, Mount Machhapuchhre appears a near perfect triangle, steep slopes rising from the ridge to a pointed peak. From the east and west, it is completely transformed, a second peak materialising behind the first and giving rise to its name - Fishtail.


Machhapuchhre looks special, and is special; sacred, and closed to climbers. It is the dwelling place of the Hindu God Shiva, who lives on its summit, and for this reason man is forbidden from stepping foot upon it.

The only sanctioned expedition to climb the mountain was made in 1957, led by Colonel James Roberts. Wilfrid Noyce, who had been part of the 1953 Everest team, spearheaded the assent but stopped 150 feet short of the summit out of respect for its religious significance. That’s one story at least.

Another possibility is that they were prevented from reaching the summit by heavy snowfall. Roberts lived in Pokhara until his death, and it is thought that he may have influenced the decision to declare the mountain off limits to climbers, possibly because he didn’t want anyone else to succeed where he had failed. In the preface to Noyce’s account of the expedition, he wrote:
Everybody seemed to be climbing mountains in Nepal and I flew at once to Kathmandu in a fever of anxiety lest some trespasser had already had the effrontery to ask permission to attempt Machhapucchre…..it became for me the ideal mountain, a personal possession yet out of this world, unattainable but mine by illogic right

One man, however, almost certainly attained the prize that eluded Roberts. In the early 1980s a New Zealander named Bill Denz probably succeeded in an illegal, solo climb. Reading a little about him, I would say it is highly likely that he did. It's a secret that died with him, either way, in an avalanche on Makalu in 1983.

The Mountain Museum in Pokhara is housed in an incongruous aircraft hangar, with a curious collection of artefacts on display. By far the most interesting of them are the clothes and equipment from various expeditions, and the photographs of those who undertook them.

The pictures are extraordinary, this collection of men from all over the world, all different backgrounds, united by a shared and primal spirit. It is there in their eyes and how they hold themselves; confidence and poise, born out of a deep, indomitable will to test mind and body against nature, and succeed.

From my short trek I kept glimpsing Machhapucchre, but never clearly enough to really capture its splendour. Instead I am left with a handful of unsatisfactory photographs, and feeling unfulfilled. The sense that it kept slipping through my fingers, and knowing it is beyond the compass of man, only adds to its intrigue and appeal.

Which is not a bad thing. To be in the grip of something unattainable, that possesses, drives and obsesses, is at the heart of what it means to be human. For some men, those things aren’t people, ideas or dreams, they are mountains, and they live inside them all the same. George Mallory, on his first Everest expedition, wrote to his wife:
Everest has the most steep ridges and appalling precipices that I have ever seen. My darling...I can't tell you how it possesses me

It did so until he died trying to reach its summit, of course, epitomising all that is heroic and tragic in the lives and deaths of men who never turn from pursuing the things that elude them.


Monday, 30 March 2015

Reconnaissance


Here’s how trekking works for me: I get the map out and scribble down the times it takes to get from place to place. Then I set out to smash them. A seven-day hike in four days. No guide, no porter. Ten kilos on my back. Man on a mission.

I just don’t know what the mission is.

I soak it all up on the way. I look around, take the odd picture. Pause to marvel at butterflies, stare up and around at the wonder of my surroundings. Get slapped in the face by the view when a peak appears out of nowhere. But I walk fast, climb fast.

“It’s not a race,” I keep telling myself.

But it is.

I start at Nayapul, seething with contempt for my fellow trekkers. The place is a palette of obnoxious colours, everyone bedecked in their North Farce jackets. Most are in groups, Nepali porters carrying up to 100 kilos of their baggage at a time. My blood boils.

They’re soon in my dust. I stop to drink water, chat to some Chinese guys and realise what I’m missing: the camaraderie, meeting new people, the shared adventure. But time is short and this is meditation for me. An hour later, up through the valley in glorious sunshine, I reach the small cluster of restaurants and guesthouses at Hile.

“Is this Heil?” I ask.
“No, it is Hilly,” comes the reply.

Of course it is.

Hilly
I lunch with two American girls who are plodding their way up to Annapurna Base Camp. We’ve all ordered chicken noodles and they’re a long time coming. A cockerel that has been crowing for the last half an hour suddenly falls silent.

After lunch comes an assault on the stone steps up to Ulleri. This is relentless torture, no matter how fit you are. I feel a few spots of rain and a storm rumbles somewhere out over the mountains. I haven’t even thought about the weather, let alone prepared for it. I reach the top in a heart and lung busting hour, calves and quads on fire. At the first sign of shelter, it begins to piss down. I order a sweet tea, change out of my sweaty shirt and hang out with a new friend who shudders every time the sky cracks.


It clears an hour and a half later and the two American girls appear from the top of the steps, wet but smiling. I push on to Banthanti and stop at the last guesthouse in town, plans to reach Ghorepani scuppered by the weather. After a shower I warm myself by the fire as a lone Japanese man dries his socks. We don’t share any words, he and I, just smiles and a cold beer.

I’m out of the door at sunrise, and at Ghorepani for breakfast. It’s an hour's hike up stone steps to the vantage point of Poon Hill, but I go the wrong way and walk for ninety pointless minutes instead. I enjoy spectacular scenery and solitude but am angered by my mistake, and grapple with it.






When I do make it up Poon Hill, the view is completely obscured by cloud. I meet three Canadians up there who have just trekked the Annapurna Circuit. Everything happens for a reason. After lunch I press on again, and just as I am turning out of town, the two American girls home into view again.


The climb up to the Deurali pass is another toughie, through splendid rhododendron forests with just birdsong and an occasionally buzzing fly for company. At the top, the cloud is rolling in as though it is being slowly exhaled by something, and I take food and water in an empty hut.

I’m through Ban Thanti (as opposed to Banthanti, different place) at around four, ready to kick on when the rain comes. Down here in the valley, rainforest all around, moss and moisture in every breath, I decide to cash in for the night. I’m the only trekker staying in the village, and the sole entertainment comes when a buffalo is slaughtered somewhere and my hosts set about butchering their share of the meat and drying it around the fire.


I’m striding out towards my third night sleeping in my clothes on a thin foam mattress, defecating in a hole in the ground fifty yards away, and “showering” in water dripped through a plastic bag with holes in it. There is no flat ground here, just Nepali Flat: infinite ups and downs. But it is easier now and I am ready to make some serious time.


Which is when I move to overtake a group of German medical students, but end up talking to them instead. We stop to look at a monkey up a tree. Something is dripping on us. It isn’t rain. If birdshit is lucky, what’s monkey piss?



They’re getting a jeep back to Pokhara in the afternoon, while I am pressing on. Over lunch the rain comes again. At the signpost to Landruk, I have to decide between dropping down into the valley and trekking for another day on my own, or joining them in the ride back to town.


Decisions this stark are hard to make. They stand around waiting for mine. I stand around hoping for a clap of thunder to make it for me.

In the back of the jeep I am tearing myself apart trying to understand the choice I made. Have I quit on the trek, or just chosen a better path? What part of the experience led me to end it, or have I been guided by some silent epiphany?

*
It was the summer of 1988 and I was ten years old: our first holiday to Italy. The clearest memory of that trip is of my sister and I turning around in the back seats of the Volvo, staring through the rear window to prolong our last glimpse of the land left behind. I remember the teary-eyed look we exchanged, the sentiment we secretly shared.

Bouncing around the rear of the jeep with six enormous rucksacks, staring back up the valley at the imperious Machhapuchhre, resplendent in the fading sun, I felt the same thing. That some invisible and unbreakable thread now connected me to that place and knowing, for certain, absolutely and inevitably, that I would return.

I didn’t know it when I set out, but this wasn’t so much a trek as a sortie. Reconnaissance.


You might not get what you came for, but you always leave with something.