Joining the Circus in Kathmandu
The cooler temperatures have brought back a memory for me that I can’t help but think about every time the cold moves in. When I was courting Mimi, I used to tell her stories about that crazy trip to northern India. We went on lots of hikes in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and walked a 110 mile loop around Banff in Canada. Mimi was definitely ready, fitness wise, to get into the 8000 m club, for trekking in the mountains that reach above 20,000 feet above sea level. We knew the civil unrest in northern India would not allow us to safely hike around that area. We looked into another way to get around the Mount Everest area. Nepal is the mountain kingdom that had less danger as far as bumping into civil unrest. We learned that there were some Maoist rebels that were causing a little trouble at some of the border crossings in Nepal, so we decided to go for it and stay away from those areas. At that time, we had our three-year-old daughter, Mia, who loved spending time with her LoLo and Papa in the Ozarks. They were overjoyed at the idea of getting to keep her for two weeks; they weren’t overjoyed that Mimi and I were headed somewhere so foreign or about the desolate area where we planned to trek. They were mainly not overjoyed that Mimi was three months pregnant with Max. They also knew when we got something in our heads that there wasn’t much that could be done to stop us.
The flight to Kathmandu would take us to Bangkok and Hong Kong for a night. The night in Hong Kong was due to an unexpected layover, so we had to think fast about how to spend one night in Hong Kong and get something out of it. We went out to get some Chinese food and took a ride on a beautiful boat with sails, called a junk, into Hong Kong Harbor. From the sea, the lights of Hong Kong were incredible, as you would expect, from the city of 7 million people. We enjoyed our brief stay there, but we were packed to be in the Himalaya, not in a city. We were ready for the next morning’s flight which would take us over China into Nepal. I couldn’t stop looking down at the vastness of China. It went on for 10 hours. We would go an hour, and suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, a small city could be seen, squeezed between some mountains, usually with water nearby. Then we’d fly another hour or so with no sign of humans. I daydreamed about what it must be like in those villages… so cut off from the “progress“ of the rest of the world. There is no telling what cultural and farming practices go on in such remote regions, some probably thousands of years old.
By the time we could see the beginnings of the foothills of the Himalaya, it was still daylight. But now we were pretty jetlagged and lethargic. The captain of the plane came over the intercom to tell the passengers that Mount Everest could be seen from the right side of the plane. I tried to wake Mimi to come see… this is the closest we would ever get to Everest. We actually have no desire to get anywhere close to Mount Everest, but it is a sight to see. All of the passengers scrambled to get to the side of the plane that the great mountain could get viewed from, I think the pilot must’ve had to compensate for the shift in weight! All but one person… Mimi did not lift her head she was so jetlagged. I still give her trouble for that. Whenever she’s running late I’ll tell her if she hurries she might get a second chance to see the tallest mountain on earth!
We were close now. We made an easy landing in Kathmandu, gathered our backpacks and mingled into the circus. When I say circus I mean circus. There were sounds and smells and sites that were mind blowing. Everywhere we looked was a double take sight such as a Hindu sage with painted face and robes and hair down below his knees, or a group of Buddhist monks playing instruments. Monkeys were everywhere causing mischief. All of this was set against that azure blue January sky, underlined with the snowcapped Himalaya. We had decided to go in January for a few reasons. The views are at the very best with the clear, crisp air, it rarely rains in January and once we get up high enough the ice would be ice which makes for better climbing. Also, January is typically a good month for two nursery people to get away for a while, since there’s not much going on at the nursery at that time. Another reason we chose to go in January was our plan A, which was to find a helicopter that would take us into the Mustang Region. Not many outsiders have made it into the untouched, untraveled Mustang area which borders Tibet, so of course we had to try. We had two days to get into the region or we would have to abandon plan A and go to Plan B, which was a 110 mile loop around Annapurna 1 which is over 26,000 feet. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t plan to climb her, we would walk a circle around her staying in her shadow, and only high enough to where we wouldn’t need supplemental oxygen. We only had so many days to complete the circuit, so if the Mustang Region plan didn’t work pretty quickly, we’d have to get started on this trek.
We waited around the heli-pad at the airport the first day for eight people to show up, which would be enough people to make the flight for. There were five, so far, including us. We hoped that three more people would show up the next day by noon or we would have to abandon that dream. Mimi, I and the three other people wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for the three empty seats, so we had to give up and got our flight to Pokhara, which is the starting point for many treks into the Himalaya. When we arrived in Pokhara, the news was all over that a helicopter headed into the Mustang Region that day had gotten caught up in some serious headwinds and had gone down somewhere on the way. Apparently, the other three people showed up after we gave up. We got lucky. Those people’s search for Shangri-La ended in the ultimate Shangri-La for eternity. We would begin our trek in the morning. We had to find some camp fuel for cooking, as gas canisters are not allowed on flights. Pokhara is well equipped for any type of climb or adventure. The streets are full of discarded hiking gear for sale left behind by travelers to their sherpas after a trip was completed. They left gear they’d rather not fool with as they moved on to their next adventure. We found some cooking gas that night and found a good hot meal before resting up for the next day’s upward adventure. We could barely sleep from our excitement and fear of the unknown.
Next week I will start right here at the trail head into the great mountains with my pregnant wife, who could still out hike me. From what I can tell in the international news, Nepal isn’t faring very well in this pandemic in the congested cities, but the people living in the gorgeous mountain villages have not done too badly. They mainly spend their days outside doing what it takes to survive and thrive at these high altitudes. I know we all have to make some tough decisions this holiday season to keep each other safe. Mimi and I have officially canceled all of our Christmas plans for this year. We normally have 40 or so Martinsons at our house for Christmas Eve brunch, and Mimi‘s family comes in for four or five days to celebrate with us prior to that. For one year we will pass on our regular festivities and resume once all this gets under control. I will miss the regular stuff, but I also look forward to making the most of this holiday with a quiet, more intimate Christmas. I think we will survive one year of some irregularities, and it may provide time to spend reflecting instead of stressing. It will offer an opportunity to thank my lucky stars for so many things, including not getting on that helicopter that day.