My Trip To Nepal
|The following article is from the Spring, 1997 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.|
1996 Manx Rimdu Contest Winner's Story
by Geoff Biggs
This most exciting adventure started with me entering a drawing when I ordered some books from Snow Lion.
From the day I won the drawing last year until I actually flew to Kathmandu, I spent time getting in the best shape ever. I bought a great pair of hiking boots and started hiking. I also started amassing trekking gear. I began to rediscover the great outdoors.
I was quite thrilled to be going to Kathmandu and began to study my Dharma literature with renewed zeal. There's nothing like winning a trip to the land of Buddhism to renew one's practice!
After landing in Kathmandu and getting settled at the Shangri-La hotel, I took a cab to Boudhanath Stupa In addition to being the center of a mandate with numerous monasteries, monks and devout Buddhists in the area, the Great Stupa also turned out to be aplace for some great shopping. I found thangkas, bells, dorjes, prayer wheels, phurbas, and malas all for sale at very good prices in the stores that open on the square surrounding the Stupa. It was amazing to see the relative and absolute levels of Bodhicitta juxtaposed in such harmony.
In the day or two we had before going on our trek, I also took in the Stupa of Swayambhu. It is easy to identify because it is also the home of numerous monkeys. The Stupa at Swayambhu is on a hill and there are 365 steps to get up to the Stupa It offers a beautiful view of Kathmandu.
On our first night camping in the hamlet of Phakding (approximately 8000 ft.), I was up late at night and looking at the sky. There were more stars in the night sky than I have ever seen anywhere, even in places far away from cities in the U.S.
Next day's trek was up 3000 feet to the town of Namche (11,000 ft.), also called Namche Bazaar, so named for the market they have there on Saturdays. This was by far the most difficult hike. The road to Namache was full of happy trekkers. On that day I also learned about trail etiquette. Certainly one gets out of the way for people hiking faster. One especially gets out of the way on the uphill side of a group of yaks. The yaks, as gentle as they are, have horns that unfortunately point forward. It only took a few close encounters to pay them a healthy respect and get out of their way when they were coming through. The yak herders are also courteous in that they always make sure that the yaks had bells on, sort of a yak early warning system.
Just above Namche, we had our first view of Everest. Actually seeing the highest point in the world caused me to stop and realize just how far I had come. By winning a drawing for the vacation of a lifetime, I had come from the shores of California all the way to the other side of the world. At this point in the trek, Everest (Sagarmatha) was merely a mountain peeking over the Lhotse-Nuptse wall. The mountain that really piqued my interest was Ama Dablam, one of the most pleasant surprises on the trip. On the previous day, Singeli, our fearless trekking leader, had told us that we would see Ama Dablam and that it was a beautiful mountain, but nothing prepared me for how beautiful it was. The rest of the day was just a beautiful hike to the small town of Phortse, the only town in the Khumbu region where they grow buckwheat.
Now would be a good time to talk about our trekking leader and crew. I have nothing but praise for them. First and foremost was Singeli Agnew (originally from Montana), our trekking leader. Her easygoing yet serious manner instilled confidence and camaraderie in me. Her knowledge of trekking, Nepali, and the Khumbu region were invaluable. We were also blessed with a wonderful crew consisting of a sirdar (Nepali team leader) named Yila, a cook named Pasang, several porters, and a yak herder. These people did their jobs so well that I wasn't aware until halfway through the trek how much work they were doing. Anybody who can schlep 75 pounds of cooking gear 6 miles, up 2000 feet in elevation, and then cook a fantastic pizza over a kerosene stove at 14,000 feet definitely has my respect. Pasang, our cook, turned out some incredible meals; pizza, apple fritters, tomato soup, momos, and of course dhal baat, the unofficial national dish of Nepal. The rest of the crew, in addition to helping with the cooking and serving, were wonderful when they would come to our tents in the morning with washing water and hot chocolate. Yes, we were roughing it.
After hiking from Phortse (11,000 ft.) to Pheriche (14,000 ft.), we had the privilege of staying at Yila's lodge. Yila has a lodge/tea house in Pheriche during the trekking season that his wife and children run. Pheriche has a commanding view of Taboche, yet another stunning mountain. We spent an extra day in Pheriche to adjust to the altitude.
On to Kala Patar and its beautiful view of Everest. We set out on a gorgeous hiking day. The temperature was in the mid-30's, but by that time we had become quite accustomed to the cold. Along the way, it actually warmed up to about 50 degrees in the afternoon, so we stopped to take a short siesta on the sun-warmed rocks. When we arrived in Lobuche later that afternoon, our wonderful crew had all of the tents up and dinner was being prepared. The next day was to be our ascent of Kala Pattar.
The next morning greeted us with clouds and snow flurries. Though the weather was sloppy, we decided to go anyway. By the time we had reached Gorak Shep, the weather had turned worse with more snow and more cold. Several trekkers and I decided to turn back to Lobuche. However, Cate from my group, and several other trekkers decided to make a go of it, and actually made it to Kala Pattar, the Everest Base Camp.
Now that the hiking uphill part of the trip was over, my thoughts turned to Mani Rimdu, the Buddhist/Sherpa dance festival that would be taking place in Tengpoche several days later. Unfortunately, Yila, our sirdar, had heard from the other sirdars and trekking leaders, that the Rinpoche at Tengpoche had moved the Mani Rimdu festival to two days later. By that time, however, we would be back in Kathmandu. When we heard this news, we were extremely disappointed and frustrated. Oh well, the change in schedule made me realize that I and all the other tourists were not the reason they were putting on the festival, and that my disappointment was of no importance in the grand scheme of things. We were, of course, going to go to Tengpoche as it was on the way back to the helicopter port at Syangpoche, and we were at least going to see the monastery there. We hiked the next day from Pheriche (14,000 ft) all the way down to a small village called Deboche that is right next to Tengpoche. This gave us the chance to visit the local nunnery and be treated to Tibetan tea by the nuns. They were quite hospitable and excellent hosts.
Tengpoche Day. Today we were supposed to attend the Mani Rimdu festival. It was raining and it had rained and snowed the better part of the night. Dirt roads had become mud, mud, and more mud. We slogged up the trail from Deboche to Tengpoche. Slogging uphill in mud is a tenuous exercise at best. Traction is only a sometimes thing, and often we would lose one foot backward for every two steps forward. Once we got up to Tengpoche, we were amazed at the number of trekkers. Even though the festival was two days later, there were a myriad of tents set up. After attending the morning puja in the monastery, Cate and I were walking around taking pictures and doing the usual tourist gawking. On the previous day our trekking leader had told us about Michael Schmitz, who spoke German, Tibetan, and English and worked at the monastery as translator/tour guide/water conservation engineer/general ambassador of good will. We happened by his office after the piya and asked hm if it would be possible to have an audience with the Rinpoche sometime later in the day. As friendly as can be, he said in his booming voice, Well, let's just see if he's not busy right now! and led us through several doorways, under several arches, and around several buildings. Sit right here, and I'll see if he's available. In a few moments, he came back with the Rinpoche and some hot tea. What followed was beyond all my expectations and more that made up for not being able to see the Mani Rimdu festival. Cate and I were privileged to spend approximately the next hour and a half talking with the Rinpoche about faith, Buddhism in the west, the impact of tourists on Tengpoche, and our personal beliefs. He was a very personable man, as was Michael, the translator. He took a large part of his busy day to be with us. Immediately after our audience with the Rinpoche, Cate and I sat down and tried our best to reconstruct our conversation with him. This experience was the highlight of the entire trip.
There many more experiences of the people and the most beautiful mountains in the world that I would love to relate, but the high note was meeting with the Rinpoche. The trip was a quintessential blend of hiking, vacationing, adventure, and spiritual retreat all rolled into one. I only hope that the person who wins the drawing this year has as wonderful an experience as I was blessed with. Namaste.
(Ed. Note: Tiah Foster, from North. Dakota, is the winner of the 1997 Mani Rimdu drauting and urill be attending the festival at the end of the year!) ä_æ