October 16, 2000
Dear Family and Friends,
We arrived a bit bleary eyed in Kathmandu on September 18 and set out four days later for a 150-mile walk up and down around the Annapurna Himal. Kathmandu is a bubbling cauldron of sights to see, but they will wait until we are more bound to the city by Dana's work. The drive to the beginning of the trek was uneventful except for one landslide, a mongoose crossing the road (causing the driver to stop the car, turn off the motor and wait a few minutes because a mongoose crossing the road is a bad sign and so we had to in effect terminate one journey and start another), and a thousand gaudy trucks from India that each had to be passed on a zero visibility curve.
We were accompanied on the trek by Pasang Tamang, who carried most of our gear, winced every time one of us stumbled and nearly fell off a 1000 foot precipice, told us to go slowly when we could barely move, sang to us on the trail, prescribed garlic soup for high altitudes, taught Dana some Napali, and generally took care of us. Starting point was the village of Besisahar at 2690 hot, lush, and tropical feet. Over the next 11 days we climbed out of the lowland jungle into the desert rain shadow of the Tibetan Plateau. Each foot in elevation had to be gained a dozen times with the ups and downs of the trail.
The trek was a fascinating blend of incredible scenery and enthralling culture. You could have randomly pointed the camera every five minutes and nearly always have captured an image to contemplate. Nearly every day we saw massive mountains with legendary names - Manaslu, Annapurna I, II, III, and IV, Gangapurna, Tilicho Peak, Khatung Kang, Niligiri, Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchare. Mountains the size of Rainier don't even get names; in fact, they are thought of as hills. The villages change as the geography, flora, and ethnicity change. Everything happens outdoors - harvesting, processing, eating, washing, playing, weaving, woodworking, worshipping, socializing, with no thought to exclude the passerby.
The trail is a pedestrian thoroughfare with every imaginable thing being carried by man and beast. I asked a resting porter if I could try to lift the load of 8 foot wooden beams he was carrying for five days up to the village of Manang, at 11,600 feet. The load weighed over 100 pounds; the porter wore only flip-flops on his feet. In a hour we would meet dozens of such porters carrying bushels of apples, stacks of corrugated metal roofing, fodder for water buffalo, baskets of potatoes, crates of glass, stones for house construction, cages of chickens, harvest from the fields. Some did not even wear flip-flops. The path was shared with donkey trains headed for Jomson or Manang, Hindu pilgrims bound for Muktinath, and goats coming down from high pasture. Each donkey wears bells to warn of its approach, and the lead donkeys often bore pom poms on their heads to denote their distinguished position. The bells of an approaching donkey train create a mobile mountain symphony.
The trail is like a living ribbon binding together a bewildering array of lives and cultures. I keep wanting to write in lists because that is the way experience presented itself as we walked that narrow ribbon for 22 days passing each in turn medieval stone villages, mountain horses with wooden saddles and Tibetan blankets, Mani walls of carved prayer stones, suspension bridges across the Kali Gandaki, corn drying on flat roofs, marble steps leading up the mountainside, a water driven prayer wheel. The trail mediates experience, giving you one exquisite moment after another, a perpetual list of exquisite delicacies.
Dana and Rand