Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

March 20

March 20th, 2016

March 20

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Lazy days in Pokhara, a town that begs for aimless wandering (the kind I do best). Being an American with a grey beard seems to bring recognition. The people who first tried to sell me things now just smile and wave as if we are all old friends, and the faces up and down the streets are increasingly familiar (including the obligatory crazy ranting character and the guy who seems to always be groping himself). Yesterday on a walk up along the northern edges of the lake, I encountered westerners who were not, or were no longer, tourists. There seems a fairly large expat population, generally distinguishable by dreadlocks and hemp clothes. It is easy to see the attraction Pokhara brings–low cost of living for people with some outside income, access to teachings from the wisdom traditions, nearby spectacular scenery, and cheap momos. And everyone seems to remember you.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 19

March 20th, 2016

March 19  Pokhara again

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Pokhara is hot– I mean temperature. After weeks of hiking at high altitudes waiting for the guest house proprietor to start the dung fire in the small wood stove in the center of the common room, I find myself in a place where shorts and t-shirts are all that’s required. Having trouble with that adjustment. I read the menu at breakfast and discovered that in addition to eggs and hash browns, I could also order “creeps” — banana, honey, lots of other options. Then spent more time handling practical stuff with impractical web pages. Handle is not the right term. Attempted unsuccessfully is closer. Oh to be where success is measured by meters of elevation gained or KM walked than a silly check mark from a ridiculous web site. I had lunch near the north curve of lake near the paragliders touchdown point at the “Taal rest-o-bar.” Paragons of honesty they handed me a menu, then an addendum saying that today they had no gas to cook with, so they could prepare the following items over a wood fire. I was refreshed by the simplicity and they grilled up some amazing chicken wings. It’s really cool to see how everyone works within often unanticipated constraints here. Can imagine the melt-down a Buckhead clientele would have given the obstacles that occur here on a regular basis. Spent a good bit of the day working on an essay, the rest wandering. My favorite discovery goes back to yesterday when I saw two men finishing out some dense wood boards (looked like mahogany). Today, I passed them as they were framing out the boat they were building (in the style of the many dory-skiffs that populate the waterside). Clearly skilled builders, they had it all laid out including the oakum-like cording at strategic watertight points. Dusk fell over another hazy day, and I indulged myself with a Duvel before dinner and a fairly early night in– trying for the most boring person alive here I guess.

March 18

March 19th, 2016

March 18  Pokhara

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Pokhara is the Queenstown (New Zealand) of Nepal. Of course there are differences– the air is much more polluted here, but people also do other things besides cater to tourists. The city opens out onto a lake and offers lots of high adventure tours, coffee shops, and bars. This morning over breakfast I watched dozens of paragliders taking off from the mountain above, slowly circling to the lake, which was soon covered with kayakers and people paddling around on the Nepali version of party barges. The skies were also populated by ravens which seem to run off most other birds. Large purple-black heads and black beaks, confident and mouthy. From the rooftop restaurant of my hotel, I could look down on the strange configuration of the lakefront itself. There must be some odd property laws as there is a band of undeveloped land between the main road and the water itself. Within that band are tumble-down houses, small gardens, and even some cattle grazing. Then right at the water’s edge are ramshackle bars and restaurants that seem more or less temporary. It makes for a good vibe as the waterfront seems to belong to everyone instead of being dominated by real estate developers–a good town. Still, after finishing a trek, getting clean, and joining the rest of the people, it is hard to recapture the total body hum that is walking in the wild. There is an insouciance that comes from the privilege accorded a “paying customer” which is something never felt by the long-distance hiker–an undeserved privilege. I wish I could say I spent the day thinking and writing, but much of my time was dealing with recalcitrant and poorly designed web pages for annual reports and training back at Georgia Tech. Whoever made up the web content must have thought everyone had the bandwidth of a firehose, were not in a place where the electricity is off more than it is on, and where the routers work at dialup speeds. Such is the technological chauvinism of the west.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 17

March 18th, 2016

March 17  last day of Annapurna Circuit

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Finishing the Annapurna Circuit left me a little sad. On walking out onto the Simon Guest House deck that morning I knew that it was the last time I would be looking out on the massif I’ve been circling for almost three weeks. The peaks remain infinitely interesting as the changing light creates shadows revealing intricate formations that disappear as the sun moves on. Also there is no clear endpoint like Bluff or Kirk Yetholm, which is as it should be — a circuit has no end. Still, I found myself hiking down from Ghandruk to Kimche only to discover a long, dusty road down to the main highway to Pokhara. Not a way to spend the morning so I caught a wild ride bus from there– much more stimulating than dodging trucks and scooters in the dust and the diesel on the road down. On the walk to Kimche, the trail was completely flagged with stones and uneven steps, and I passed many people bringing up materials to Ghandruk and beyond. No porters carrying refrigerators on their backs, but plenty of people carrying bags of rice or sugar, lots of plastic drainpipe, and a pack train of eight mules carrying up sacks of something. At an early stop on the bus, a strikingly beautiful woman in traditional dress got on along with three huge bags of dried corn–easily 100 lbs. each. She and the bus helpers (conductors?), maneuvered them through the door and stacked them in the aisle, on the way to a market point about five km down the road. She seemed so slight but, like so many people living in a place where almost everything is carried by hand, she was strong and capable. Initially the road (not an accurate term) wound back and forth down narrow switchbacks with scarcely inches between the wheels and the edge which dropped off precipitously. It was like an amusement park ride, except here there are no regular inspections of the vehicle or the road. In this upper area tending to the flatland, there is an older architecture that is different from what I have been seeing. There are stone farmhouses, broad across the face with two stories. On either end are single-story rooms with sloping shed roofs, but the main house includes a bank of second-story windows with intricately carved casements and screens. The eaves have wooden brackets where they often hang ears of corn or basket materials to dry. Across the long face is a wide flat terrace where the farm produce is processed. After a long and winding ride down, the bus got to the highway at Naya Pol; then the driver opened it up, passing every vehicle he came near, blasting his horn, slamming his brakes, and swerving on and off the narrow middle band of pavement that made up the highway (the rest was gravel, potholes, and general rocky obstacles). This went on for quite some time until we arrived at the Pokhara bus stop, still quite a distance from the lake area where I had booked a hotel along with the rest of the tourists. Rather than a taxi, I opted to walk (guess I felt the need to make up for my short trek this morning) and spent an hour crossing the city past motorcycle repair shops, tailors, and open sewer/waterways. The Adam Hotel (booked via the web for good rate) is at the heart of the lakeside district near coffee shops, trekking stores, bars, and momo (dumpling) shops. A good place to unwind and organize the next adventure.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 16

March 18th, 2016

March 16 day 16 Ghorapani to Ghandruk

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I grew up in the rural mountains of Virginia in a house full of books, some good, some mediocre. I recall collections of the classics in similar bindings along with a lot of 1950s and 60s bestsellers. I read them all– the good and the bad. When I was around 10, I vaguely remember reading Maurice Herzog’s account of the 1950 French expedition to climb Annapurna, then the highest mountain ever climbed (or at least confirmed climbed). I remember well how the two successful ascenders lost fingers and toes to frostbite, as well as the long descent to proper health care. Clearly even though Nepal was, to a boy in the Shenandoah Valley, a place beyond reach or comprehension, the book stuck with me, unacknowledged and barely remembered. Today I hiked out of Ghorapani to the top of Poon Hill in the morning (not the sunrise with the glut of tourists who flooded the town today) and there, after all this circumambulation I got my first view of Annapurna I, the 10th highest mountain in the world, and the mountain that has somehow preoccupied me for 40 years. The lesson? Reading does matter, even unremembered, it forms memories, attitudes and aspirations. Something drew me to that mountain, and today I felt deeply that attraction. After coming down from Poon Hill and settling my bill at the Daulighiri Hotel, I sat a bit watching the sun move across the mountain faces — Daulighiri, South Annapurna, Nigili– drinking an extra cup of coffee comped by the hotel owner, a wonderfully kind man. Then I found myself hiking out in a tourist bubble. There must be a lot of short treks people can take from Pokhara, because suddenly you can’t even stop on the trail to take a piss without some trekker coming up the trail behind you. The first part of the day was a lot of altitude gain (the last I’ll need to do on the trek), so I hiked hard and fast to break out of the group, only stopping briefly in Deurali to get juice, which was an orange drink in a can with “orange sacs” included. Pretty tasty actually. It is evident this section is more on the tourist circuit where the walkers have porters, as each town lays out table after table of souvenirs which are always accompanied by burning incense, a smell I never much liked in the US but is completely appropriate here. Late in the afternoon I heard a noise up in the trees and saw briefly a couple of monkeys– black faces with light fuzzy fur around and long curling tails. Only saw those few, none later. Got to Tadopani and thought to stay, but pushed on which put me in a better position to get to Pokhara tomorrow night. The trail down was really good, and saw a number of sawyers cutting and moving hand hewn and pit-sawed boards for some large construction project. Transportation here is fascinating. The workers hauled boards up steep hills above the sawpit, then each carried a pile over to the huge woodpile they were assembling. On the way down from Tadopani, I met a man struggling up the steep steps with a refrigerator on his back– amazing. Found a nice new hotel– the Simon House– which filled up with people I had met on the trail, and there I had the first hot shower in a long time, looking forward to the flat lands tomorrow.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

A [Walking] Life

March 15th, 2016

A [Walking] LIFE

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What if the transcendental field were actually a field? Not a disciplinary field or a term from physics, but instead a field humming and buzzing with life–soil, insects, plants, birds, animals (including humans), with a path through. Gilles Deleuze returns to fields, to immanence, in his last essay, “Pure Immanence: A Life.” It is a work of old age. Nearing death, A Life deserves to be thought. I have recurred to this essay many times over the years but have only recently arrived at an age where I feel its richness, something I am still incapable of expressing even as it moves me. So instead I just want to make a tentative claim. Deleuze’s last essay can be read by walkers as their A Life. In those few pages (it is a remarkably compact piece), he does not mention walking, but does describe with uncanny precision the experience of non-self, the actual life that both appears and is performed by serious walkers. Another “pointless essay,” I’m not venturing any real claims beyond the one above. Instead I want to proceed in the manner of my friend Isabelle Stengers and try to think with Deleuze (a strategy that requires many quotations, but it is the only way I know how to proceed).

His opening sentences are by themselves a complete essay and a summary of A Life: “What is a transcendental field? It can be distinguished from experience in that it doesn’t refer to an object or belong to a subject (empirical representation). It appears therefore as a pure stream of a-subjective consciousness, a pre-reflexive impersonal consciousness, a qualitative duration of consciousness without a self.” Perhaps feeling old, Deleuze is making himself an ancient philosopher–a pre-Socratic–voicing a philosophy of immanence, a philosophy lost because of subjects set over against objects, lost because of the transcendence of the idea of self. As he says in the Nietzsche essay included in Pure Immanence, “The degeneration of philosophy clearly begins with Socrates.” So what would an a-subjective consciousness be? Practically it seems an impossibility as, at least to me, consciousness has always been the province of the self, but Deleuze want to speak of a transcendental field (and later pure immanence, the two of which veer together). So the question is whether it is possible to experience that field prior to or in spite of the fall into a subject-object existence. Clearly A Life is some sort of process of recovery.

Sitting in a library reading Deleuze can twist the mind. We fall, we grope, yet a-subjective consciousness remains elusive. But the field begins to answer, the field crossed on foot in a long ramble where, as all long-distance walkers know, the subject-object dualism is nonsensical. Minds are in bodies, bodies are in clothes and gear, which in turn are in the world. By that I don’t mean the World writ philosophically large, but rather the physical world being occupied and traversed: this path, this air, these sounds which do not appear to the senses as an outside, an object to be surmounted, but instead are the blurred zone of the becoming of field. Not being, not self– field! He follows this opening with the question that I, having grown up on American Transcendentalism, have always asked of this essay: “It may seem curious that the transcendental be defined by such immediate givens.” Although the Transcendental he struggles against is Kantian, let’s instead walk a bit with Emerson, because I don’t think Deleuze is terribly far from him here (though their paths soon diverge). The ecstatic moment of American Transcendentalism occurs in Nature: “In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,–no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” Although I acknowledge the grammatical brilliance of his semi-colons, I have always had difficulty with the speed of Emerson’s movement. In a few short sentences, he goes from the woods to the “currents of universal being.” As an inveterate walker himself, Emerson knows crossing such distance takes time. The speed of walking is the speed of thought — something much slower than the rapid transcendence Emerson executes here. Of course he has a philosophical point to make, one not to be found in the field but instead is enabled by the field. Emerson’s transcendence is a movement out of the “givens” of the path he actually walks, so even though his loss of “mean egotism” seems much like Deleuze’s a-subjective consciousness, in the process it loses its immanence.

So it is here that Emerson’s way diverges from Deleuze’s, but let’s follow it for just a moment to see how it aligns with, instead of moving away from Kant’s. Still from Nature: “The first effort of thought tends to relax this despotism of the senses, which binds us to nature as if we were a part of it, and shows us nature aloof, and, as it were, afloat. Until this higher agency intervened, the animal eye sees, with wonderful accuracy, sharp outlines and colored surfaces. When the eye of Reason opens, to outline and surface are at once added, grace and expression. These proceed from imagination and affection, and abate somewhat of the angular distinctness of objects.” This in some ways accounts for his rapid transcendence. As is clear from his transparent eyeball and fear of losing his sight, Emerson wants to celebrate what the mind brings to perception of nature which is, from the outset, considered as spectatorial other. Emersonian objects are refined by Emersonian subjects. Very much in a Kantian tradition, he wants to celebrate what the mind brings to those objects, the “imagination” and “affection” that temper the angularity of the material world. The other path, the one followed by Deleuze is through the “animal eye” along with all the other senses (including proprioception) that perform the crossing of the transcendental field. Given Emerson’s spatio-visual metaphors, his transcendence is a move up, a change in perspective that provides an intellectualized understanding, a bird’s eye view of the field. Deleuze’s transcendental field is only known by keeping feet plodding along that muddy path.

A serious walker–one who is tramping long enough for the daily world to vanish and to also move beyond an aesthetic appreciation of “taking a walk”–can recover the transcendental field that pre-exists the subject-object distinction with a different form of empiricism, one Deleuze calls transcendental: “We will speak of a transcendental empiricism in contrast with everything that makes up the world of the subject and the object. There is something wild and powerful in this transcendental empiricism that is of course not the element of simple sensation (simple empiricism), for sensation is only a break within the flow of absolute consciousness.” Wild and powerful–a good way to describe what he opens up in this passage. Walking presses the question of consciousness (simple or absolute) and sensation, both of which push the boundaries of A Life in the world. Where to begin? Maybe back in the field where we started. Without doubt, a general walk across that meadow, that field buzzing with life, is full of sensations perceived by all the aggregate entities found there equipped some sensorium (all the way to light sensitive minerals). Deleuze’s absolute consciousness senses this but does not articulate a sensation as that pitches the absolute consciousness into an opposition–sense/mind/subject vs. world/object. To have a sensation is to break from the field where all participate, interact, flow. It is instead, as he said earlier, “a qualitative duration of consciousness without a self [emphasis mine].”

He continues: “Must we then define the transcendental field by a pure immediate consciousness with neither object or consciousness with neither object nor self, as a movement that neither begins nor ends.” Here it seems he is using the term consciousness as a placeholder, a concept, to describe this movement or becoming within the transcendental field. “Consciousness becomes a fact only when a subject is produced at the same time as its object.” The world of becoming he wants to describe happens before that fall into subject/object. In terms of human experience, such events come in waves. We walk across that field, the low-growing shrubs crowd in the path. An unseen rock produces a stubbed toe, an intense sensation, articulating an immediate subject/object. No transparent eyeball or part or particle of God there. Just you, your foot, and that damn rock. But what was happening before the unfortunate incident? Was the walker–bathed in light and heat, surrounded by sound–a subject living in an objective world? In Kant’s transcendental philosophy, yes. In Deleuze’s wild and powerful transcendental empiricism, no.

We seem to be in some philosophical rare air here, but those out trekking for a long time, who move from the awareness that they are taking a walk into walking, find themselves living an act that is automatic, but not unconscious. This is why Deleuze’s idea is so wild and powerful. The walker is conscious, aware, but only occasionally finds herself as a subject set up against an object. An example: walking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal which is considered by many to be one of the best long distance treks in the world. Because of the spacing of villages with accommodations, people usually circle the massif counterclockwise. A constant topic of conversation amongst trekkers is the Thorung La, a pass 17,769 ft. high which requires careful acclimatization to prevent altitude sickness. A walker can approach a trek like the Annapurna Circuit as a circumambulation of a mountain, a way to pay respect to it and the path followed, a path “as a pure stream of a-subjective consciousness.” Or, because Thorung La is an obstacle, it becomes something to be conquered, a goal, something on a bucket list. There is perhaps no stronger subject/object distinction than man vs. mountain. That sense of self is a youthful philosophy, one of challenges, finely hammered arguments, or treks with rigidly determined itineraries and carefully marked scenic overlooks. The older, pre-Socratic Deleuzian circumambulator passes landmarks, marvels at the eagles overhead, shrinks from high swinging bridges, and of course occasionally takes bearings, but most often feels the path, the air, and light. That experience is by no means a construction of self or a movement into a different world. Rather it is the experience of pure immanence.

So what then is A [Walking] Life?: “We will say of pure immanence that it is A Life, and nothing else.” The experience of pure immanence is what he was sketching out earlier with the transcendental field. It is pre-subject/object and simply lived (not lived simply). The experience of pure immanence is in the walk in the field not leading to higher consciousness but instead to A Life: “The transcendental field is defined by a plane of immanence and the plane of immanence by a life.” Here is the payoff: Deleuze executes an ethical turn, wanting to embrace A Life not as a primitive experience prior to the celebrated constitution of the human mind, but rather as one I would call profoundly ecological. Such a life “is a haecceity [intensity] no longer of individuation but of singularization: a life of pure immanence, neutral, beyond good and evil, for it was only the subject that incarnated it in the midst of things that made it good or bad.” To experience the ethical not as a form of judgment but rather as a form of becoming both outside the trivially ethical good/bad and inside a transcendental field of fully engaged life, one experienced by many people in many places, but without doubt regularly lived by walkers. It is a life of traverse, of being always in-between: “This indefinite life does not itself have moments, close as they may be one to another, but only between-times, between moments….” Walking is always between. To stop at a scenic overlook, to marvel at the [Emersonian] spectatorial, is to stop. To be in a moment, not between. As he says in the essay on Nietzsche published in the same volume: “Modes of life inspire ways of thinking; modes of thinking create ways of living. Life activates thought, and thought in turn affirms life.”
A Life is not continuously lived, but when it occurs, it is performed: “A Life contains only virtuals. It is made up of virtualities, events, singularities. What we call virtual is not something that lacks reality but something that is engaged in the process of actualization following the plane that gives it its particular reality.” A day may begin with a plan and proceed by a map (the product of ichnographic vision), and by the end might have traced out that (usually digital blue) line, a plane that Deleuze and Guattari would call “territorialization” (in A Thousand Plateaus), but the passage is purely virtual. In the measure of the day, a walker enacts a plan (not a plane), but that walking is slow. Its measure is on the level of the between-moment. This virtuality is a-conscious because “Consciousness becomes produced as a fact only when a subject is produced at the same time as its object…” Consciousness, subject, object are retrospectively produced in the performance of immanence. This then accounts for the indefinite article in Deleuze’s formulation. We are never in the presence of THE LIFE. That would be Being, a definition that pinpoints life in the way GPS and a map captures position but loses everything else. The map does not include the eagles circling overhead, the smell of cherry blossoms, the squeak of dry snow, the slip of mud, a midday snack of a Snickers bar, and that sense of rhythmic totality walking brings. It is indefinite because such becoming always evades capture, even as it is beyond articulation– which is why Deleuze’s last essay is so damn difficult. So is walking.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 15

March 15th, 2016

March 15 day 15 Tatopani to Ghorapani

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I’ve never seen rhododendron trees– ones with trunks over a foot in diameter, but they appeared today on the hillsides along with huge clusters of bamboo, willows, and banana trees (some with big green clusters of fruit). The walk out of Tatopani was first down a dusty road, then across two swinging bridges– the second was wood and very shaky– and then a whole lot of climbing. I passed two TIMs stations. You have to stop at them and present your credentials, primarily so they can track trekkers who may become lost on the trails. The offices (actually steel sheds) usually have a computer, but because the electricity is rarely on, they enter the information in big red ledgers. They will let you look to see if anyone you know has passed in the last few days, but I wonder what becomes of those books. I guess they end up on a shelf, like the manuscripts in the Gompas waiting to be read by some researcher checking the nationality of the trekking tourists. About an hour in, I reached a crest and there opened a hillside valley completely terraced and largely populated. Lots of green which turned out to be wheat or barley, alternating with potatoes. I stopped at a small inn for coffee at mid-morning. The outdoor seating was beneath a huge blooming bougainvillea. The proprietor was pregnant and also had a very young child, but she smiled, laughed, and made me feel at home. It was actually a pretty rigorous morning, though I got to Ghorapani by 1:00. A lot of climbing including all those uneven stairs they have built into the mountainsides. Stairs always wear me out, so I was gassed by the time I arrived. There was a winding road, but I saw no vehicles though I did see plenty of pack horses hauling bags of sand for concrete projects, and many people carrying 50 lb. sacks of sugar, flour, or rice using shoulder straps and a forehead band. They really cannot look from side to side and can only mumble a greeting, given how heavy their loads are. The foliage and architecture was different today as well. Initially lower altitudes brought bamboo and banana trees, but later in the day large rhododendron trees. At Chiffre, the middle of the village was crowded with pollarded willows which had just burst into leaf. The sun made yellow halos through the leaves, resembling something from Dr. Seuss. In many places across the trail today there were strings of withered, dried carnations (looking like the strings I saw in Kathmandu). I guess they were part of a celebration some time ago, but now they have a forlorn look, like the faded buttoniers on a rented tux from last year’s prom. While I was in Tatopani, the electricity was only on about two hours, and rumor has it that Ghorapani hasn’t had any for three days, so I might have to skip tonight’s reading to conserve power. Ghorapani is a mountain town, so I chose a hotel with a big wood stove in the middle of the common room and have toasted my feet there ever since. I did duck out for momos (Nepali dumplings) which they serve with ketchup (something I can’t quite stomach). This is the last bit of altitude unless I decide to go to Annapurna base camp (not leaning in that direction). For now, just resting some sore muscles after a very long trek uphill, hoping for clear skies tomorrow morning so I can climb Poon Hill to see Dhaulagiri and the Annapurna Range.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 14

March 14th, 2016

March 14 day 14 Kalopani to Tatopani

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In the middle of the night, I was quietly awakened by cowbells, some cattle grazing next to the hotel. I’m getting used to those bells. You hear them in the strangest places– way out in the woods, or in a steep area where you expect nothing to be around, you suddenly hear the tinkle of a cowbell and there, in the most unlikely place, some cattle are grazing on what they can find. It is between seasons here just now– the stored hay is almost exhausted but the new grass has not quite come out, so all the animals are loose and foraging where they can. It is a stark contrast to the feed-lots in the USA, and so much more sensible. It was still raining this morning a little bit, but the temperatures were not bad and the water kept down the dust, so a long day walking on the road was not as bad as it could have been. On passing a guest house, I saw two brooms on a table, wet and shining in the rain. Brooms here are bundles of straw with very short handles. An extremely dusty place, people are constantly fighting it with these short brooms that can only be used by hunching over, close to the dust, and sweeping away. They often sprinkle the space in front of their house or business with water to hold down the dust they have just swept away. Not far from the brooms, I saw a man stripping bamboo. Now I’m down low enough for bamboo to flourish so, instead of willow wands from pollarded trees, they can strip, peel and flatten bamboo to make a lot of material including very large basket-woven sheets that make roofs for animal pens and sheds. As I got further down the valley the foliage changed so now there are orange and banana trees. The buildings shifted a bit as well, with some having flatter, slate roofs with interestingly articulated eaves all about. Will watch over the next days to see if that is a one-off aberration or part of a different style. Just below was Ghasa, a town with another military site like Jomson and a lot of buses parked ready for the trip up or down-river. On the way out, I passed a cluster of buildings where a large group of men were congregated in a courtyard with solemn faces. Near them a number of women were crowded in a small building moaning and crying. I don’t know funeral procedures here, but I felt as if I had intruded into the middle of a wake and made haste to move on. Moving down to the flatlands puts me further from the Buddhist world of the high Himalayas and into the Hindu section. I had another attempted conversation with a barefoot Hindu priest who was walking in the direction I had just passed. Once again I felt the difficulties of communication acutely as he wanted to say something I could not understand. Another signal that I was getting closer to a more settled area was a waterfall near Rupse Chahara. I could see the high falls at some distance as I walked, but on arriving I found a tour bus and several Land Rovers which had disgorged a host of tourists– Nepali and perhaps some from India–all dresses in bright clothes, laughing and waving at the sweaty American hiking through their photoshoot. I made it to Tatopani just after lunch, saw Kyle who was getting a shirt repaired at the local tailor, and went straight to the hot springs. After a cold Gorkha beer, I first washed in the area where the hot springs flowed through high pipes, then eased myself into the pool and soaked while the sky’s clouded and the rain began to fall. No matter, the water was nearly scalding, and I have never felt cleaner. A trip back up the hill to the Himalayan Inn for a room and a quiet late afternoon relaxing in what is now clearly a warmer climate. Tired but clean and happy.

T. Hugh Crawford

March 13

March 14th, 2016

March 13 day 13 Jomson to Kalopani

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The western half of the trek commenced today. Started with a heavy breakfast including what the Xanadu Hotel calls hash browns. Instead of some processed potato product, they were big chunks cooked in chile oil and lots of garlic– carried me through a long day’s hike. Early on the weather cooperated though I was still in high winds with dust that made me stop and turn to avoid the sting. Walked through Marpha, a village of orchards, primarily apple and cherry. I stopped at a house with a sign indicating they sold juice, but on walking in, I felt I was in someone’s dining room. A very nice older man sold me a bottle of world famous natural Marpha apple juice– fully organic, no added anything, and repackaged in an old Tuborg beer bottle. We spoke a bit–as best we could– and he gave me one of his apples, small and tart. As I drank the juice I remembered growing up in apple country, spending my days running around the orchards that surrounded my house, and going to Beecher Bowers’s roadside stand. On route 11 just north of Woodstock VA, it was an open shed with gallon bottles of cider and all sorts of in-season produce. I remember getting our Halloween pumpkins there, and how he had huge glass containers of bubble gum, penny a piece. One interesting architectural feature all over Nepal but pronounced here are the boxes of rocks they put up on the corrugated roofs to hold them down in the wind. The people who live in houses with flat roofs stack firewood high around the edges. I’m not sure if that also holds down the roof, or if it is just convenient to keep it there. All along the paths there are piles of carefully split and stacked wood, always ready to hand for the kitchen. Part of the walk was through a pine forest where they were hauling out many more of those hand-hewn beams. Some I saw measured 16×16 and were hewn with a broad axe from full trees. On crossing the river to the eastern side, I came upon a Tibetan gompa being restored through some international agencies. A man emerged from small concrete building on the edge of the site, a Tibetan monk who had fled his country when it was occupied. We attempted to talk a bit, but ended up with a few place names and a mutual admiration for the gompa. The architecture in this area is slightly different, with the houses a little lower, flat roofs, and built with smaller, flatter stones. They often put a band of herringbone patterned thin stones across the face of the building, then paint the whole side white (usually just the side facing the street. There were also some smaller structures that had been sided with peeled, flattened bark in the manner common in the mountains of North Carolina. The path ran along the river’s edge– it really is a gravel braided river just like the New Zealand South Island– and often went up steep hills to avoid slips and rockslides. As the day progressed, the weather really deteriorated and I got my first rainy day trekking in Nepal–more often it was hail. Had to get out the foul weather gear, the thunder rolled in but, given the high mountains it was difficult to tell how close the lightening strikes were. I was hesitant to cross the steel swinging bridges that span the river at strategic points, but finally had to cross, getting to Kalopani, a town with large, comfortable but cold hotels. Decided to call it a day on arrival which was a good move as the rain intensified. Still cannot understand why, in such a cold climate, everyone leaves the door open when they enter a room. I hate to be the cranky old man, but damn, it’s cold enough without making it worse. I guess I showed my concern because Ram, the man running the hotel, went across the street and came back with a large pan of coals which he put in a metal container under the table in the dining room. It had a heavy rug over it, so when I sat, it draped over my knees, keeping the heat in, it was an amazing gesture which I completely appreciated. Then he sprinkled incense over the coals so all smelled so good. It was brilliant. Had a great, heavy dinner and will recommence the trek south toward Pokhara tomorrow.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 12

March 14th, 2016

March 12 Day 12 Kagbeni to Jomson

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Breakfast at YacDonalds included good coffee and some horses just strolling down the street outside my window. A short walk today to Jomson, so lingered a bit, then went to the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery. On the way I passed a pile of wooden beams. Not sure what they are for (there is a large concrete building being constructed nearby), but they are hand-hewn and some were at least 10×10. Very likely they are bridge timbers. The monastery is also a school, so the compound is a group of dormitories with lots of kids running around. It is a free school for those who get in, taught in a traditional Buddhist way. The gompa itself is 585 years old with an uneven brick or stone exterior–can’t distinguish the material because of layers of red paint. The interior walls were frescos of various Buddhas, including one with many arms which I believe is the Buddha of compassion. At one end were large golden and silver statues of seated Buddhas and more of the cloth wrapped manuscripts. While I walked about, above somewhere in the gallery sthe monks were praying and making music– a strange and wild sound. The day’s walk was uneventful, following the Kali Gandaki Nadi River downstream. It has a wide gravel bed resembling the braided rivers of New Zealand’s South Island. This area is famous for its strong winds, and rightly so. Toward the end of the walk, it was howling directly in my face, bringing a veritable dust storm with it. As part of erosion control, there are a number of newly planted willow trees along the banks. Where they are older and more established, they have also been pollarded. I imagine willow baskets are useful. On the outskirts of old Jomson, there were three women at the foot of a large rockslide. Each was seated on a pile of rocks–at least 5 tons–making gravel. They sit cross legged, pile large rocks into short cylinders about 1 foot across, and pound away with rock hammers until they get the required size. A brutal way to make a living. Jomson itself is an airport town with many hotels lining the area by the landing strip, though horses wander about the streets along with the people. It does have a military base and many soldiers were training. Not sure if these are the famous Gurkha troops whose fitness levels are legendary since many grew up at altitudes higher than 4000 m. I bumped into Marty, the Los Angeles native who crossed the pass the same day I did. He has an infected toe and is calling off his trek, but is happy he made it over Thorung La. This is the Marpha region so there are a lot of apple products–dried, bottled juice, brandy. I had a two dollar flask of apple brandy with my yak steak dinner, tasty and slept very well a included good coffee and some horses just strolling down the street outside my window. A short walk today to Jomson, so lingered a bit, then went to the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery. On the way I passed a pile of wooden beams. Not sure what they are for (there is a large concrete building being constructed nearby), but they are hand-hewn and some were at least 10×10. Very likely they are bridge timbers. The monastery is also a school, so the compound is a group of dormitories with lots of kids running around. It is a free school for those who get in, taught in a traditional Buddhist way. The gompa itself is 585 years old with an uneven brick or stone exterior–can’t distinguish the material because of layers of red paint. The interior walls were frescos of various Buddhas, including one with many arms which I believe is the Buddha of compassion. At one end were large golden and silver statues of seated Buddhas and more of the cloth wrapped manuscripts. While I walked about, above somewhere in the gallery sthe monks were praying and making music– a strange and wild sound. The day’s walk was uneventful, following the Kali Gandaki Nadi River downstream. It has a wide gravel bed resembling the braided rivers of New Zealand’s South Island. This area is famous for its strong winds, and rightly so. Toward the end of the walk, it was howling directly in my face, bringing a veritable dust storm with it. As part of erosion control, there are a number of newly planted willow trees along the banks. Where they are older and more established, they have also been pollarded. I imagine willow baskets are useful. On the outskirts of old Jomson, there were three women at the foot of a large rockslide. Each was seated on a pile of rocks–at least 5 tons–making gravel. They sit cross legged, pile large rocks into short cylinders about 1 foot across, and pound away with rock hammers until they get the required size. A brutal way to make a living. Jomson itself is an airport town with many hotels lining the area by the landing strip, though horses wander about the streets along with the people. It does have a military base and many soldiers were training. Not sure if these are the famous Gurkha troops whose fitness levels are legendary since many grew up at altitudes higher than 4000 m. I bumped into Marty, the Los Angeles native who crossed the pass the same day I did. He has an infected toe and is calling off his trek, but is happy he made it over Thorung La. This is the Marpha region so there are a lot of apple products–dried, bottled juice, brandy. I had a two dollar flask of apple brandy with my yak steak dinner, tasty and slept very well at the Xanadu Hotel.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

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