Annapurna Circuit

“No one remembers who climbed Mount Everest the second time.” – Edmund Hillary

“Namaste. It was a Nepalese greeting. It meant: The light within me bows to the light within you.” – Jennifer Donnelly

“Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.” – Jeffrey Rasley

I did not choose to travel to the Indian sub-continent to see the Taj Mahal, to experiment with food or drugs, to experience the madness of New Delhi, to stay in a palace, to witness Varanasi, or to cruise Kerala’s backwaters, nor to seek spiritual answers; all that and more came much later.  I wanted to hike the Himalayas.  At the time, I was very interested in Geology and hiked the Sinai desert extensively; thus, I thought where else I should travel but to the highest mountains in the world?

Annapurna circuit is probably the most popular trek in the Himalayas.  Still, in 1982 it had just recently opened to foreign trekkers, as part of a dispute resolution between two groups – the CIA backed Khampa guerrillas operating from the area into Tibet, and the local populace acting with the Nepalese army.  Pokhara was our starting and ending point of the month-long, 145mi (230km) hiking journey, which took a month to complete.

In Pokhara, for the first and only time to date, I experimented with Magic Mushrooms, a plant containing a psychedelic component that alters an ordinary conscious experience.  We mixed it with yogurt, and because in the first hour we did not feel anything special, we forgot about it and went to arrange our hiking permits at the police station, of all places.  Initially, it made me talkative and friendly, similar to the effect of smoking marijuana.  The Nepalese policemen were wearing red berets, and we had a lively conversation.  I shared my experience with the red beret, having been a paratrooper in the Israeli Army.  Then Dalit and I started laughing uncontrollably; gratefully, we were coherent enough to understand the mushrooms had begun to hit home, and quickly rushed to our motel room.  The hallucinations took over.  I vividly remember laying down, watching the color on the ceiling change to purple with geometric shapes that kept moving like in a dance.  We were in another layer of life.  The following morning our neighbor curiously commented that we were very loud and alive.

From the trek, I remember the many suspension bridges spanning a river that we had to adventure through, overcoming lots of dread.  I remember how we arranged for a place to eat and sleep at the end of the day’s walk: we would simply approach a house, greet its inhabitants properly with “namaste,” and said two words: Khana and Sutnu, which translates to Food and Sleep.  The villagers will nod their heads and show us an area on the floor to lay our sleeping bags.  They also served us with Dal Bhat, the local meal, consisting of rice, lentils, and side dishes, usually a variety of fresh vegetables, potatoes, and cauliflower.  It cost less than $1 per day – what a bargain!

The other vivid memory which fills me up with a great sense of gratitude happened the last night before we crossed the Thorong La pass, which at 17,769 ft (5,416 m) is the highest point of the Annapurna Circuit and is covered with deep snow.  We stayed at the only place available with 20-30 other tourists and Sherpas.  Our sleeping bags were squeezed one next to the other at the small ramshackle structure.  It was a famous spot among hikers, known for the two local Nepalese that managed it and served food, the Dal Bhat Brothers.  An American woman noticed Dalit’s badly beaten-up sneakers and offered her extra shoes.  If it was not for that generous act, I am afraid Dalit’s toes would have been frozen.  Whenever I think about it, I sigh with relief, and I scold myself for what I call a youthful lack of thoughtfulness.