The conventional wisdom for traveling in the Himalayas is
this: if you want to see the rhododendrons blossoming you go
in the springtime; if you want to see the mountains you go
in the fall. In either case the window of opportunity is
In 1998 and 2004 I was in Nepal in May and the trees were thick with delightful rose and white and yellow flowers while the mountains were invisible. Intent on reversing the pattern, I spent the better part of this October in places where I expected to see the panorama from the Annapurnas in the west to Chomolungma in the east. All I saw were thick banks of clouds with an occasional peak peering through. The conventional wisdom did hold in part, however: not one rhododendron flowered.
In an attempt to view the peaks, though, I visited places I had never seen before. Instead of flying from Katmandu to Pokhara, I took a taxi across the central part of the country and stopped at Gorkha and Bandipur. In Pokhara I climbed to the roof of my hotel and from there up to a splendid viewing platform which may have been the highest point in the city. From Pokhara I taxied to Sarangkot one day and most of the way to the World Peace Stupa the next. Back in Katmandu I took the tourist bus to Nagarkot and stayed two nights at a hotel where “breathtaking” views were the order of the day. In each place I saw only snippets of the Himalayan peaks. But each place was also an experience all its own.
Aside from standing in the presence of the peaks the main reason for this trip to Nepal was to visit the temple at Muktinath in the heart of the Annapurna range. It had been on my radar for some time but getting there was daunting — a two week trek. Then a road was built —although it was notorious for its poor quality — and you could get up and back in a few days. For the last few years you can fly both ways with an overnight in between — in good weather, that is. My flight from Pokhara to Jomsom airport was cancelled and I got an eleven hour taste of the road which asphalt had never touched. Three days after arriving at Muktinath my return flight from Jomsom was cancelled because of high winds. This time I waited a day and got to fly back to Pokhara.
The temple and sanctuary at Muktinath are a world apart, subtle and hardly noticeably different. You’re there, performing all your usual activities with your usual perceptions and thoughts and feelings and you ask yourself — the next day and the day after that — “Who was I then”? because who you were then and who you were before that is no longer who you are; there’s been a change.
I had bought an iPad a few weeks before I left home. The only reason I upgraded from an iPod was so that I could back up photos from the SD cards. What I discovered, while I sat in the Nirvana Garden Hotel’s garden in Katmandu, enjoying my first breakfast, was that I could write and edit what I wrote, something not possible on the tiny iPod. I typed out some thoughts I was having in the moment. Then I wondered who I might want to discuss those thoughts with. So began a sporadic diary and email missives to 8 or 10 friends, some of whom responded and some who just ignored me. You can find my mostly-unabridged in-the-moment experiences (or as well as I could recall them later that day or the next) along with the photos I sent out at the time here.
Let’s not forget Katmandu.The city is endlessly fascinating. Each time I think of returning to Katmandu I picture myself walking the streets, seeing temples and shrines everywhere, getting lost and finding a site I remember from an earlier visit. That's exactly what I did this trip. I had no idea where I was most of the time, no idea if I had ever been on that route, and then I would see a sanctuary or a corner or a chowk or a water spout that I had photographed 10 or 15 or 45 years ago. Yes, it's noisy and crowded and polluted, and the traffic is dangerous, and it was hot and muggy in late September and October, but it was like I had come home. Maybe not home — more like a dream that never stops revealing itself.