|A common scene high up the Himalayan|
mountain range in Nepal (Ama Dablam
at the background, Khumbu)
Then I went to high school, then college, then switched to work life, and along the way – the memory of the story and the story’s magic somehow faded away.
It was 1998 when I re-‘encountered’ the word Himalaya. When I was planning for my first trekking trip in Annapurna region (Nepal Himalaya). Failing to find a team, I went on my own, decided to walk some 190km around Annapurna circuit and experienced “Shangri La”. Well not that endless bliss version as I have to suffer from altitude sickness, but there were special moments like seeing a ‘perpetual fire’ (caused by natural phosphorous ground leak) in the mystical village of Muktinath, and my illness’ magical ‘disappearance’ in the very same place.
FINALLY, my boy-dream of a “Himalayan Adventure” became a reality! Although my early boyhood’s imagination of Shangri La was very different from what I’ve actually seen – the Himalayan mountains, its villages, monasteries and people didn’t fail to impress me. I didn’t know it then, but I was probably forever ‘trapped’, lured by the experience or whatever magic the great Himalayan experience offered me.
Few years later (2001) I went to Karakoram (western Himalaya, Pakistan) for a K2 basecamp trip, then went back to Nepal 2003 (Khumbu), then again in 2005 to visit Langtang (Nepal) and to Tibet afterwards, again in 2006 for my Everest expedition (Khumbu), and last 2008 re-tracing my steps in Khumbu (Nepal). And just like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll just probably keep saying “I’ll be back…”
Now some reasons why I think one should someday visit any Himalayan place (be in Hindukush in northern India or Bhutan), or Karakoram, or Tibet or Nepal).
1. See a different kind of world! It’s not very common to see villages complete with monasteries, cultural monuments, religious items or local folks in their traditional clothes at altitudes above 9,000ft. Not to mention the beautiful mountain sceneries all around! Friends who joined me in my past trips acquired life-lasting memories (and picture-evidences to support it). Some experienced very new memorable things in their lives – and just like me, got addicted and kept going back – the ‘Shangri La magic’ I suppose.
2. Get fitter! High altitude activity is a great way to make your heart, and whole body stronger! In a thin air environment – the body will work harder, though difficult and challenging – the body gets fitter afterwards. One can normally feel a ‘younger, fitter body’ during the trip down, and days to couple of weeks after descending to low altitudes. When I did Everest, the TV crew who stayed in Everest BC for more than a month were all surprised to have felt stronger and better afterwards. I believe it was also transformational for them (i.e. individually I heard they were inspired to maintain their fitness). I guess this is the ‘stay young’ version of the Lost Horizon story.
|Pony Caravan - a common scene|
in Annapurna (1998)
3. Get leaner! Yes, one can lose significant weight if he/she stays in a thin air environment for a significant amount of time. There are conditions when the body ‘eats itself’ to produce energy – this normally happens when O2 in the body becomes so low that digestive function stops or is limited. In a normal trip when one is not sick, it’s common that only Carbs is absorbed at altitudes close to ~18,000ft, then digestive completely stops at ~25,000ft. (Body redirects/limits O2 use to more important bodily function primarily cardio-vascular and brain activity). Since the body needs energy, it will either ‘eat’ its stored fats (for those that carry extra fats), or muscle protein (for leaner types) to produce calories. I have an already lean body and for me to lose 5lbs of weight (my normal in an expedition) – that is already a lot in terms of muscle lost. If you are a body builder and about to compete – a high altitude trip is not recommended, but if you’re an endurance racer – a significant high altitude activity will improve your power-to-weight ratio and thus your performance. Not to mention that you’ll have extra red blood cells (O2-carrying capacity) that can boost your performance -assuming you race a few days after descending from altitude.
4. See wildlife! I’ve seen wild yaks, Himalayan thar (a kind of goat), deer, eagles, many kind of birds, colourful pheasants, fox, and many others. Nope, I have not seen a Yeti, unfortunately (or fortunately). :)
5. Meet people! You’ll be amazed to see and learn about other people’s experiences and feats! In my past trips, I’ve met many interesting individuals – some are so respectable or admirable that became a source of inspiration! Others are at least entertaining – a few ‘weird’ characters can just make your day or even your entire trip! ;)
6. Feel nature! The good and the bad. Remote and high altitude places normally offer both. If you feel nature’s wrath, be it severe snowstorm, or a windstorm… in a weird way – you may feel more alive and have more appreciation in life. I don’t know why – at least for me. If you see the good side – perhaps a beautiful sunset, a spectacular star-filled sky in a moonless night, magnificent wildlife, or majestic mountains - you may just feel more inspired. Inspired to see more, and inspired to live your life to the fullest!