“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
An experiment with Magic Mushrooms
In Pokhara, for the first and only time to date, I experimented with Magic Mushrooms, a plant containing a psychedelic component that alters the 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, which became uncontrollable; 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 lying down, watching the color on the ceiling change to purple with geometric shapes that kept moving like in a dance. We were in another space of life. The following morning our neighbor curiously commented that we were very loud and alive.
Annapurna Circuit Trek
Visiting the Taj Mahal, experimenting with food or drugs, experiencing the madness of New Delhi, staying in a palace, witnessing Varanasi, cruising Kerala’s backwaters, or seeking spiritual answers were not the reasons I choose to travel to the Indian sub-continent. All that and much more came 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 should I travel but to the world’s highest mountains?
Annapurna circuit is 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.
I remember the many suspension bridges spanning a river that we had to adventure through, overcoming lots of dread. I think of how we arranged for a place to eat and sleep at the end of the day’s walk: we would 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 which consists of rice, lentils and side dishes, usually a variety of fresh vegetables, potatoes and cauliflower. It cost us less than $1 per day – what a bargain!
The other vivid memory that fills me with a great sense of gratitude happened on the last night before we crossed 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 inside a 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.