their backs, each held on with a namlo, or burlap head strap.
Barefoot women with sun-cracked feet carried dried yak
dung in their dhokos, fuel for cooking fires. At sunset I
reached the Riverside Lodge.
Karma, the caretaker, was in his early 20s, with small silver hoops adorning both ears. I thought of men his age back
in the United States attending college and parties and dating. I asked him about living in Langtang. “Life here is like
anywhere — sometimes good, sometimes not,” he replied.
Four days later, I arrived at the shepherd hut near
Gosainkunda Lake, where I met Mani Lama. We were both
crossing the still-frozen sacred lake at 3 a.m. Mani suggested we
go together since I was traveling alone. After crossing the pass,
we parted, I headed south into Helambu and Mani northwest.
Opener: A village in the
Boudhanath Stupa. This
page from top: Worshippers
at temple; a festival at
to help me better understand the Tibetan culture that was
thriving in Boudhanath, a small community 20 minutes outside Kathmandu. Nepal had welcomed masses of refugees who
fled Tibet in 1959 and granted land around Boudhanath Stupa
(traditionally a mound-like structure used for meditation),
one of the largest stupas in the world, built in the 14th century,
to Rinpoches (an incarnate lamas or highly respected religious teachers) so they could rebuild their monasteries that
had been destroyed in their motherland. I was young, curious, adventurous and working as a journalist/travel writer in
the Pacific Northwest, so off I went. What I discovered was an
entire country whose people were living harmoniously amid
economic challenges, making daily offerings to their many gods
and goddesses — Shiva, Parvati, Padmasambhava, Bajrayogini,
Lord Buddha — in gratitude for each day.
Serendipity gave me the precious gift of living 16 years
in Nepal, where I combined cultural immersion with
my work. Now, I own an independent travel company in
Sausalito, arranging custom and small group tours specializing in Nepal. I’ve been thinking lately about the essence
of travel and how it’s not just the place we visit but the
revelations and lifelong friends made along the way that
complete the experience.
Although my travel writing work in Nepal included
explorations of villages throughout the valley and journeys
through the Himalayas, one particular adventure I had
stands out. I trekked from Langtang into Helambu because
I had heard this journey offered more cultural interaction
than the grandiose higher-altitude trails. At first, the villagers appeared much different than the city folk, wearing more
Tibetan dress instead of the customary shalwar kameez
(often defined by the strings of colorful glass bead necklaces
worn by Nepali women), but I soon noticed that their communal lifestyle in fact made them similar. Inner strength,
humility and human kindness displayed in performing the
simplest daily tasks make all Nepalese people special.
I began my sojourn in Dhunche to a cacophony of cuckoo
birds and breathtaking views of Manaslu, Dorje Lakpa and
Ganesh Himal. My home for the night was Lhakpa’s tea
lodge in Syabru.
A Tamang woman greeted me, traditionally dressed in a
Destinations / JOURNEY
gray chuba with a peacock blue pangden, the marriage apron.
Dinner was a choice between momos (steamed dumplings),
made with a pumpkin filling, and mashed potato with a cur-
dled yak cheese, both served with ground red chile and garlic.
Lhakpa lived in the Himalayas, but her heart belonged to the
world. “Before I close my eyes,” she said, “I will ask the gods to
bless everyone and protect trekkers along their way.”
Trekking into Langtang was challenging; trails ascended
steeply. I was slow, briskly passed by Sherpa porters, small
burly men wearing topis (hats) and carrying wood or stones
for building houses in dhokos, woven baskets that rest on