It’s taken a bit out of me to write this. As you can see, I have not blogged since I left for my Lantang Valley trek. When I first got back, I was enjoying the memories of the trek, got too engrossed in looking at the 500 over pictures we took of the journey. I started a post entitled “The Great 75km Lantang Valley Trek” but now it seems so irrelevant and too disrespectful to finish it.
My heart weeps silently. Tears start welling up when I think of the people, the country and the devastation that has engulfed it. I think of the children who will never grow up, children who will grow up without a mother, father or without a family. I think of women and men struck with debilitating injuries that will hamper their physical mobility. In a country where it is not uncommon to walk 10km to the next village, being disabled is a setback that is amplified a thousand times.
I hold Nepal fondly in my heart. It was a long awaited return, having been there 20 years ago, trekking the ABC circuit. I was eager to see what 2 decades had done in terms of development for the country.
Last March, as I sat in the van taking me to the hotel in Katmandu, it seemed like I just left the country a few years ago. Thamel – a maze of organised chaos. Honking cars sweeping up a whirlwind of dust every time the tires screeched. Roads still had potholes and electric lines ran hapzardly through out the streets complete with some local macaques tight-roping the lines. What was obviously different was the influx of Chinese business mushrooming on every other street and the Nepalese workers manning them speaking with a distinct Beijing accent.
However, developmental observations aside, I was surprised (pleasantly so) to find the people somewhat unchanged in terms of values. Not once did anyone follow me up or down a street, harassing me to buy their wares. When I bargained with shopkeepers, they were always polite and smiling, even when you had been in the shop trying over 10 trousers and ended up not buying anything. Krishna, our trek agent was professional in conduct. Our porters, Prakesh 1, Prakesh 2 were the epitome of porter gentlemen. They knew that my 6 year old daughter and 68 year old mother walked slower than an average trekker, so they always paced themselves so that they were behind us. When Prakesh 1 saw that my mother was getting really winded as the altitudes got higher and the trek was steeper, he quietly took her day bag from her.
So when the earthquake happened, we were all anxious about them. Were they walking on a trek? Or resting in equally dangerous Kathmandu? We had only spent 9 days with them but their quiet presence and helpfulness touched all of us. My sister managed to get a message from Krishna. He was alright but his village had been completely flattened. About 1 week later, we heard from Deepak, Prakesh 2’s nephew who was also our porter on his maiden trek in Lantang. They were all alright. Deepak’s father and sister however had been injured and were in the hospital. Collectively, we are putting together some money to help them with the basic necessities.
Then came the news that the worst hit village in Nepal was Lantang Village. The news hit all of us hard because we had spent 3 days 2 nights there and of all our stops, this was probably our favourite. Lantang Village is a short stretch of elongated plateau surrounded by snow cap mountains and glaciers. There were beautiful frozen waterfalls that you could see from the village. Little did we know that this Shangri-la was situated at the deadly confluence of avalanches.
Lantang Village’s Peace Full Hotel’s name tickled us to bits when we first saw it but after the first day, I concluded that it was no typo or grammatical mistake – the place was full of peace. It was hard not to fall in love with the little sky blue guesthouse with a cozy dining/reading room coupled with one of the best hot showers. The hotel owner was friendly and warm. It was the only hotel to offer us thick stuffed blankets to use on top of our sleeping bags. When a family of wild pigs came wandering down the valley, he excitedly came to the dining area to tell us. I rushed to the ledge behind the kitchen to peer down the valley – there was greyish mama pig and her 3 trotting piglets – before I could stop myself I asked, “You eat them?”, having seen strips of dried yak meat from Riverside to Lantang Village. Mr Peace Full looked at me with bemused eyes, “Oh NO! This is National Park. No killing! We are Buddhists – no killing!” Mrs. Peace Full was equally hospitable, showing me how she hand ground buckwheat into flour and making pancakes with it. I really hope with all my heart that they are alive.
When we trekked on from Lantang Village to Kyanjin Gompa, the route was simply spectacular. Flanked by mountains all around, with the narrow plateau dotted with yaks and wild horses. Almost all the farms were busy tilling the land in preparation of the next crop. Old women were squatting on some of the tilled land, sorting out the last batches of potatoes. As we walked, there were a few local women strolling on the route, knitting effortlessly while walking or chatting with their companion.
These scenes of everyday life and the raw natural beauty are the memories that touches me most, even more so now that I know everything that we saw there is no longer there by a terrible force of nature. May the survivors find the strength and peace within themselves to go on. May those who have passed on rest in peace. Om Mani Padme Om.