Kate Troll (katetroll.com) and I have just returned from trekking in the Himalayas of India, a trip initiated by our friends, Mary and Deb, and organized through Prabhu Singh Bhati, a very experienced tour and trekking guide. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll explore what we saw and what we learned—as much for my own benefit as for readers.
This is the story of 10 friends travelling together. Eight of us had deep connections over the last 20 to 40 years in Alaska. Two were newer and less known, but nevertheless happy and vibrant companions who are now special friends. All 10 of us are typically independent travelers. We’ve used guides for a day or two, but only two of us had ever gone on a totally guided/arranged trip.
India was different. Even though Kate and I have traveled to large cities and challenging destinations in Russia, Turkey, South America, Malaysia, Vietnam, and others, India intimidated us, primarily because of the sheer density of humanity: the magnitude of culture, population, chaos, and reputation for sanitation issues in Indian travel.
So we placed ourselves in Prabhu’s hands to arrange the trip, guide our first week and a half as we prepared to trek, and bring us together with professional trekking guides in Ladakh, the place of high passes in the Himalayas.
He introduced us to Old Delhi, gave us a thorough crash course in Indian history, and began the process of acclimating us to increasing altitude as we prepared to trek into the Himalayas: to live and sleep at altitudes as high as 15,000 feet; and to cross two passes of 16,000 and 17,000 feet during our 10-day trek.
We found the Indian people in every place, of all religions and philosophies, regardless of their economic status or caste, to be wonderful. They were irresistibly friendly and helpful, warm, and fascinating. The shared a love of good humor, and to be as fascinated with us as we were with them.
I could provide endless examples of people we enjoyed meeting, laughed with, took selfies with, asked questions about each other, discussed politics or culture with. They included our guides, helpers, and cook, shopkeepers, kids who walked up and said Hi and started to teach 10 chanting Americans the alphabet, kamikaze taxi drivers, monks who blessed Kate’s book and monks who removed their tennis shoes before entering the same monasteries we entered,
the police inspector in charge of security at a Buddhist festival who dreams of continuing his law degree studies at Harvard in a few years, and those we danced and sang with. I traded email and Instagram account names with a number of them, so hope to stay in touch. They were college graduates fluent in English, pony men who pack freight between villages in the high passes of the Himalayas, and random people everywhere.
Many spoke or understood English, although we obviously couldn’t rely on this. They also spoke their local language (Ladakh language = Ladakhi), Hindi, and often French or other European languages. And of course, we all spoke laughter and smiles, waiving arms, counting by number of fingers, and pantomime.
So— off to adventure!