Great trek, leeches and all By...

A MEMORABLE PLACE A

November 25, 2001|By Special to the Sun

A MEMORABLE PLACE

A great trek, leeches and all

By Heidi Nevin

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I have been living in Nepal and India learning Tibetan Buddhism for the last five years. This summer, my little sister, Liv, came to visit me in the Katmandu Valley. She is a beautiful, athletic, ambitious young woman from California; the transition from the stimulating pace of Berkeley to the utter calm of that Nepali village was not easy. She was ready for an adventure.

Two days after Liv arrived, the royal family of Nepal was murdered in their palace, and the nation lay silent in a state of stunned despair. Local transport came to a halt for several days, and there were curfews, so we had nowhere to go and nothing to do but listen to the cuckoos and the steady dripping of the monsoon rains.

Liv sat on her bed across from me reading aloud from a Nepal guidebook, dreaming of a trek in the nearby Himalayas. Dazzling snow peaks, pristine mountain air and wildflowers were what she had in mind.

Never mind repeated warnings of monsoon-season delights such as leeches, torrential rains, contaminated water, landslides and attacks from yetis and Maoist rebels. To my horror, these descriptions seemed to excite her even further. Her eyes sparkled with determination, and she begged me to go.

I've never felt like such a boring, no-fun, rotten big sister in my life. What was worse, leeches or Maoists? But she really wanted to go.

The political situation slowly eased, and things appeared to return to normal. And it just so happens that my Buddhist teacher has a remote Himalayan retreat center in the region of Helambu that I'd been longing to visit. I couldn't avoid Liv's pleading eyes any longer.

We set out across a long suspension bridge and straight up the face of a steep mountain accompanied by my Tibetan boyfriend, who served as our guide, and our friend Sarah. That first day took us up 5,370 feet in altitude, a seven-hour climb through emerald cornfields, terraced paddy fields, mossy forests writhing with leeches, wildflower meadows, sun, fog and sudden downpours.

It was spectacular and thrilling when we dared look up from our boots and pant legs, which we were scanning for leeches. We stumbled into a trail guesthouse at nightfall, nearly in tears from exhaustion.

We met a wonderful lama -- teacher -- who gave us Buddhist meditation instruction, and we were invited to stay in an empty retreat room for the night. We fell asleep that evening to the soft fluttering of prayer flags and a full sky of stars glittering above us. The trip that I had dreaded had turned into the adventure of a lifetime. I pressed my cheek against my sister's and thanked her.

Heidi Nevin's hometown is White Hall.

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