Prayer Flags at Annapurna Base Camp

Perseverance and Impermanence in the Himalayas


If the air conditioner in Alleppey, India had been more powerful, we wouldn’t have come to Nepal at all. We’d planned to spend two months in Sri Lanka, split up by a short visit to southern India for logistical visa reasons. We’d imagined finding a town in Sri Lanka to settle in for a while, possibly a school for the boys for a few weeks. But it never materialized – we had a great time in south Asia, but we never found a school, or a longer term apartment rental, and as the temperature and humidity soared in India, I found myself scanning the map for the nearest place with cooler temperatures. “How about the Himalayas,” Seth suggested one evening as we waited for the air conditioning to kick on in our guesthouse room, “If we want cooler, that’s the place to go.” 

Annapurna Trail

Aspiring to Annapurna

When we decided to add Nepal to the list of places we would visit on our trip, I didn’t know what to expect. I saw photos of the huge mountains, and I thought it would be amazing to be up on top of them — but I didn’t know if it was possible for us. In Kathmandu and Pokhara, we spent a lot of time getting things together for a trek, and we decided to visit the Annapurna region.  I hoped we would be able to hike all the way to Annapurna Base Camp.  But I couldn’t imagine hiking for ten days.  

Kerala Houseboat

By Boat Through the Backwaters

The southern Indian state of Kerala is filled with “backwaters,” hidden canals and streams that villagers use for fishing, farming, and transportation. Half of the year the backwaters contain fresh water and the other half salt water. During our time in Kerala, it was the salt water period and there were different fish from the fresh water period. One of the most fun things to do in Kerala is to explore the backwaters, and we were lucky to spend a couple of days on different boats.

Jew Town, Kochi, Kerala, India

Losing My Religion (in India)

Kerala in April was a furnace of diabolical proportions, the air a humid stew. The locals wouldn’t stop telling us each day how unusually warm it was. (Yes, we’d noticed.) If Kerala truly is “God’s Own Country” as the state slogan reads, then apparently God likes it hot.

So we spent our time in the ancient city of Kochi, aka Cochin, trying our best to stay cool. We wandered the Fort’s back alleys, dotted with centuries-old mosques and basilicas. We ducked into art galleries and spice shops and hidden cafes, every building a secret find, elaborate wood and glass work dating from the Portuguese and Dutch and British periods. At high tide, we found patches of shade by the sea where clutches of men operated giant Chinese fishing nets with ridiculously complicated systems of cantilevered weights, ropes, and pulleys.

But what captured my interest most in Kochi was “Jew Town.” Yes, that’s the official name. There’s Jew Town, and Jew Street, and a host of other descriptors that all sound surprisingly, well, offensive if you think about them the right way.

Dancing Shiva

Trying Out The Tabla in Kochi

One of the things that I have been paying particular attention to as we travel to different countries are the different instruments and musical styles that we hear.  In Thailand, I got to try a salaw, which is very similar to a mandolin, and in Cambodia we saw bands of people who had been hurt by land mines playing clarinet-like instruments called khloy,  cymbals, drums, and cello-like instruments that you perch on your lap called tro.  A tro is a lot like a cello except that it has two strings, frets, and the bow was entwined in the strings. It was sad to see that some of the mine victims were missing limbs, and they had to find ways to make money that they could do despite their injuries.
Tea Plantation Outside Udupussullawa, Sri Lanka

The Revolution Starts Now

The day I turned forty-five, almost exactly double my age since the last birthday I celebrated in Sri Lanka, a bus weaved us along the narrow ridges that lead to Sri Lanka’s hill country. We were volunteering for a week with children of tea plantation workers, about as far off the beaten track as one can get in this little country.

“Village” is too grandiose a descriptor for Amherst Bazaar. Blink at the wrong moment during the vertiginous ride from Nuwara Eliya and you miss it. The village’s “commercial district” is maybe a hundred and fifty feet end to end: there’s the hardware store above which we rented two spare bedrooms, a couple box-like shops, and the notorious “wine store” where most of the town’s male residents gather each day from 11 am until they find their way home. And then there’s tiny St. Andrew’s Church, run by the visionary young pastor Rev. Luke John, our host for the week. What we didn’t know when we decided to come here was that within the walls of his church, a quiet revolution is simmering.

Finding Balance in Kataragama

So far we have been out of the country for 101 days. Just over three months. At times, we are starting to get tired of each other and our tiny rooms. But we have also started paying attention to small things and noticing amazing things about ourselves, our family, and the places we travel. I think we are all getting more intrepid in eating, adventuring, and other things. I have found that I am starting to be more grateful for everything — from running water, to transportation, to electricity — as I have seen and lived in places where these basics cannot be taken for granted.