Ten years ago, my brothers and I took a trip on Virgin Atlantic to Hong Kong, en route to Katmandu, Nepal. It is a strange thing to sip martinis and watch the latest Austin Powers International Man of Mystery movie while flying over the forbidding Karakoram mountain range.
A day later we disembarked into the night of a medieval city that smelled of a million dung fires. The culture shock was jarring. I didn't know whether to clear customs or register my consciousness with the local deity, maybe Kali, the creator and destroyer of all things, whose grim countenance we found that October night in Durbar Square.
Kali reminds the Hindu faithful that life cannot exist without death.
Several days later my brother took ill, so we missed a river trip and trek adventure, and instead slogged through constant drizzle among village farm plots beyond the last tourist stop, the Nirvana Guest House, on the far side of Lake Pokhara. We rested and then ventured further.
Far from the well-traveled trail to the Annapurna base camp, we were welcomed enthusiastically by a man named Krishna and his family who lived in a small hut at the edge of a millet field. The wife dashed quickly away toward town, while Krishna entertained us with gestures of welcome. There were only two walls on his hut, no shoes on his family's feet and apparently very little to eat. Krishna spoke no English, but made us tea and showed us his children and his water buffalo.
Some time later, Krishna's wife returned from town with Krishna's brother, who walked under an umbrella, wearing black shoes, a clean shirt and a watch. The brother asked where we were from and then humbly requested that we write a simple letter explaining how hospitable and welcoming Krishna and his family had been to us. He explained that the letter would provide sufficient imprimatur for Krishna to begin building a guesthouse of his own on his meager plot of land, thereby improving the circumstances of his family considerably.
My brother and I were struck by the cachet that our mere presence as Westerners had in this part of the world. I worked as a landscaper back home, but in the millet paddies of the Himalayas, I had the power to transform destinies.
Events like these can make travel worthwhile, moving us beyond the complexities of history and cultural differences to the simplicity of revelation. I could suddenly see that education is a journey all its own, one that can lead two siblings to places worlds apart, even though they live in the same town.
The educated brother perhaps was troubled by news of the world that Krishna never had to contemplate. With increased knowledge comes increased responsibility. But Krishna may have had relationships with deities that could provide solace in times of distress.
Flying home we looked down on the thousands of miles of foot trails that cover the denuded foothills of the Himalayas. Hundreds of villages are linked only by word of mouth, custom and myth.
Tony Evans is a staff writer for the Idaho Mountain Express.