GET OUT: Himalayan Heart

By on December 1, 2015

A small country and its people offer a host of valuable lessons for foreign travelers.

Author embracing all Nepal has to offer from basecamp on day four of a nine-day trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary. (Photo: Lindsay Goldring)

Author embracing all Nepal has to offer from basecamp on day four of a nine-day trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary. (Photo: Lindsay Goldring)

Jackson Hole, WY – Some vacations in the off-season offer much needed rest; others will connect you with family and friends. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the place you travel to can help change the way you see the world. Visiting Nepal is the opposite of business as usual; one step out of the Kathmandu airport will convince you, you have little control amid the chaos and soaring peaks during a trip to the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal.

After earthquakes devastated the country earlier this year, Nepal needs tourism dollars now more than ever. By visiting this beautiful country you will not only be enriching your own life but will be helping others regain pieces of their own lives that have been dismantled. However, before you enter the organized chaos of Kathmandu and venture into the high peaks, there are a few things that you will need to remember.

1. Feel pain, but avoid suffering

My first reaction after stepping out of the taxi into the mayhem of Kathmandu was to turn around and run home. New York City seems calm compared to the rickshaws, bikes, and maze-like quality of Kathmandu. Slowly, you will adjust to the overstimulation, but by then you will already be loaded onto an overcrowded bus headed to the mountains. At this point it’s best to take a hint from your Nepalese bus mates and get comfortable with the uncomfortable. The Buddhist tradition that permeates Nepalese culture dictates that pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional. The people of Nepal are nothing if not resilient, so when you’re trekking around the high passes of Everest and feel like you can’t go a step further, remember that the Nepalese will do the same hike in flip-flops before you have time to eat your breakfast.

2. There is perhaps no need to hurry… ever

Timetables are “flexible” in Nepal, and if you get to your destination within 24 hours of your expected time then you should consider it a success. Power outages, gas shortages, and transportation glitches are part of daily living in Nepal and shouldn’t be seen as something to get upset about. When waiting at the Lukla Airport, which is not so much an airport as 300 yards of pavement carved out on a steep mountain plateau, flights have been grounded for weeks at a time due to weather. Nepal will quickly teach the schedule-orientated Western mind that resisting a problem will not fix it. Equanimity is the name of the game in Nepal, and after a lot of practice one may learn to accept what is instead of desperately grasping onto the way one would like them to be.

3. Less is always more

Gross domestic happiness is more important to the people of Nepal then their gross domestic product. Simple living and big hearts have helped the Nepalese become “rich in life.”  The “more is better” mentality of the United States revolves around the acquisition of material objects, but Nepal will teach you to pack less so you can take away more. The sincere smile of an 80-year-old Nepalese man who lives in a small rock hut and has never left his home valley will make you think twice about that fourth pair of skis that you “must have.” As it turns out, internal happiness can create a successful life no matter the circumstances. Looking up at the Himalayan peaks, one would assume that Nepal is a land of extremes, but its people live in a world of moderation. The focus of life in Nepal is on connection, not consumption.

4. Perception is reality

Enlightenment, or the act of finding your “true self,” is what most Nepalese strive for in their daily existence. Their key to serenity is not the accumulation of an identity but working to scrape away what is not them. In the West, society has conditioned us to see value in ourselves after we have secured a spot in the pecking order of material success. When I saw the conditions that Nepalese people live in, I wondered how they would take to the conveniences and luxuries of my Western lifestyle. I made the mistake of thinking that amenities bring about peace of mind. After spending time in Nepal and interacting with the Nepalese, however, it has become more apparent to me that we are the architects of our own happiness. That here in the West a key secret to happiness may, perhaps, be realizing that we need much less. PJH

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