Little late but better late than never. Been in back in the States for about 2 weeks now and I’ve been thinking about my trip a lot so wanted to materialize some of these thoughts into words.
First off, Wow. What a trip. Definitely one I’ll remember always.
Honestly though, its pretty hard putting my thoughts and emotions into words. I’m filled with a jumbled mix of happiness, melancholy, pride, doubt, and a deep contentment to be home finally after all this time away. This trip by far has been the biggest and most complete step out of my comfort zone thus far in my life. It’s the furthest I’ve been from home and the longest period of time I’ve been away from home as well. I navigated train travel in India by myself, hiked to the highest altitude I’ve ever been to, narrowly avoided jail time in India, lived in a remote area of the Himalayas for over 2 months, and overall just plopped myself in the middle of two totally foreign country’s idiosyncratic customs, culture, language, and food.
There were many, many times when I felt like jumping ship and getting a flight back to America. Times like facing visa roadblocks early in the trip, experiencing the Indian judicial system first hand, languishing in Kathmandu while we navigated the molasses slow Nepalese government, and eventually feeling an overwhelming homesickness with a little less than a month left at the clinic in May. I truly am proud of myself that I stuck with it though and didn’t quit. In truth, I don’t think I would have lasted the whole time if it wasn’t for my wonderful wife. She was always available to listen to me and ultimately gave me words of encouragement to stay. She has always been that voice to reassure me when I’m in doubt which is one of the reasons she's my #1.
The pay off for staying was large and priceless though. Other than the great sense of pride I have for completing the trip to the very end, I had the privilege to hike and live among some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Hiking the Annapurna Circuit has always been this big dream of mine for as long as I can remember and now I’m able to check that trail off the list.
I enjoy looking back and thinking of some of my favorite memories, good and bad. Obviously the India prison story is one of my favorites— it’ll be another one of my favorite stories I’ll tell for the rest of my life. In Nepal, I look back fondly of the day I went to the gompa with Indira and Liz. It was just a really special and memorable day. Getting to the top of ~18,000 feet, a new personal record, is a feat I’m proud of and shows me that I can get that high, and now, probably even higher. The night Jenny’s water tank flooded in the middle of the night is a bit of a sadistic enjoyment, but all the same, I thought it was hilarious. I also loved all the small moments at peace while hiking in the mountains and enjoying the simplicity of sitting silently marveling at the mountains and natural beauty all around me. There was also this paneer tikka masala I had in India….oh man I’ll never forget each and every bite of that meal….
As far as the medicine goes, the pace and variety of medicine in the mountains was really satisfying. I do wish I saw more advanced altitude illness but I can always experience that when I eventually return to volunteer at the Pheriche clinic or Everest ER. I treated altitude illness and also experienced altitude illness symptoms first hand. I do genuinely feel that I made a difference in the lives of many of the patients I saw. The girl with a surgical emergency in her abdomen, the boy with severe altitude illness and brain edema, the man with a dangerous deep eye infection, and of course all the other blister blunders, diarrhea disasters, and constipation conundrums. I wonder if I hold the world record for manual disimpaction performed at the highest altitude? Going to have to contact Mr. Guiness about that….
At Manang our team treated over 300 patients and educated over 1000 trekkers about altitude illness via our daily lecture. That alone is a rewarding fact in and of itself. I hiked a cumulative total of over 230 miles with over 33,000 feet of elevation gain during the course of my time in Manang. I probably ate over a million kilograms of dal bhat and only got a diarrheal illness twice. All are pretty good numbers if you ask me!
There are a lot of things I’ll miss about Nepal. The most will probably be the slow pace of life (“Nepali time”). No one seemed to be in a rush, a stark contrast to the hurried life here in America. I am starting miss Indira’s food. I never got sick of dal bhat or vegetable curry, I could eat that every day for life. (Indira if you’re reading this, I need more Dal Bhat Power 24 hour). Fish curry on the other hand, or rather bone curry, is something I hope I never have to experience again. No more Nepali fish ever! Also I’m really really starting to miss being able to hike beautiful mountains at the drop of a hat. New England in the summer is so wonderful and I love the mountains here, they just aren’t as massive or epic as the Himalayas.
Things I won’t miss include the hypoxia in the mountains with it’s ever present dizziness and shortness of breath. I won’t miss the mountain dust or the Kathmandu smog. I won’t miss the constant fear of “is this water or food going to make me sick?” Being able to drink any and all water sources and any and all raw/peeled veggies and fruit was something I never knew I could appreciate so incredibly much. I won’t miss all those lost in translation conversations. I won’t miss the cold, I get plenty of that in New England. And most importantly, I won’t miss that growing nagging feeling of missing my wife back home.
I feel lucky in that Nepal granted me this deep appreciation for being content and happy with what I have in life. It imparted this sense of not rushing through life. Its a bit hyperbolic and idealistic to state everyone in Nepal is perfectly happy in their lives but honestly, many of the people in the villages within the valleys of the Annapurna circuit exude a deep happiness and satisfaction with their lives even though that have little in the way of worldly possessions that those in America seem to always be seeking. I’m lucky to have clean water, an infinite supply of food, a warm house, and the blessing of being surrounded by loving friends and family. It’s other things too I took for granted like paved roads, uninterrupted electricity, safety from natural disasters, public utilities and services that are dependable, fast wifi (haha I know, but for real, fast WiFi is amazing after being without it for 4 months), and overall a much more comfortable standard of living here in America. It really has made me appreciate how good my life has been growing up and living in United States.
The trip also has allowed me to shed off a lot of that useless noise. The stress of daily life here is ever present and was waiting for me when I returned but I feel differently about it now. Stressing about stuff out of my control doesn’t make any sense now. Anxiety and stress and worry about this and that doesn’t get a particular task done or make the task more enjoyable or make the task finished any faster, all it does is make life that much more unenjoyable and frustrating. It has that much less room in my psyche than it did before my trip to Nepal which I’m really thankful for.
This particular trip also has bestowed on me this feeling of how small the world really is and how connected everyone on Earth is presently. I mean the world is huge, people spend their whole lives exploring and visiting all corners of the globe, but in many ways this trip has shown me how “just down the street” we really are. One can be in any part of the world within just over a full day of travel. I could speak to friends and family instantly and share pictures even in the middle of the himalayas at over 14,000ft in elevation. I met people who knew friends I went to medical school with, who are from America a few towns from where I live, who have been to the same places in the world as I have. I feel that traveling imparts this compassion and understanding for others. It makes me feel more connected to those who live very different lives than me. The world isn’t America. There are billions of others living out life dramas everyday, some with much more difficulty than what I’m faced with in my own daily life at home. Traveling to other countries really does force me to appreciate what I have and truly realize how lucky I am. When it really comes down to it, no matter where you’re from, what language you speak, what food you eat, what religion you worship, we all want the same thing: to be happy, loved, connected. I’m blessed to have all of this.
I did find myself praying much more than I have in as long as I can remember. I guess it’s because India and Nepal are so steeped in religion no matter where you go. Sure, America has plenty of churches, mosques, temples, etc but in Nepal these relics are everywhere. There are stupas, mani walls, gompas, monasteries, prayer wheels, prayer flags, everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. I mainly prayed to Buddha (as I thought they were the one to most likely to be listening in that part of the world) to keep me safe over the mountain passes and during my solo hiking adventures in the Himalayas. I also prayed to many Hindu gods, mainly Ganesh (remover of obstacles), for a safe journey home among many other things that are important to me. It sounds dumb I guess, but for the first time I felt there was someone, or something, listening to my prayers. I hope this is a piece of Nepal and India I can keep close to me well after I’ve returned to the US and engaged back into the routine of my daily life here.
Ok, enough! I guess overall the trip not only allowed me to see a beautiful part of the world but also gave me something a little more intangible. I look at the world I live in with a different sense of perspective. I feel lucky and happy to be able to travel, to come back to the safety and comfort of America, and to also know that satellite phones are the worst!
Well a genuine thanks to all those who followed along for my weird little journey, hopefully it was interesting and fun and informative and maybe I made you laugh once or twice (possibly at my expense). But that is all folks! If I see you in real life I would love to talk about all things India and Nepal and HRA. Dhanyavaad and Namasate!