Walking: the great equalizer?

ACTa 104

Another trekker’s declaration I read in a book about the Annapurnas lodged into my head and I’d turn it over, again and again, in my head as I toiled up a slope.

“No matter how rich the tourists, we all have to use our own two feet to walk in this mountainous environment, just as the locals do. It is the great equalizer.” (Stevenson, A Nepalese Journey, p.90 )

Not so in my point of view. The vast majority of trekkers come out here for recreation purposes; nobody is required to undertake the journey, it is not an act of survival or need that we hike (though some may be dragged along by an ecstatic partner). We understand the perils and choose to risk them. We pay outrageous prices for sturdy hiking boots and all the best trekking gear. When the going gets tough, we strap on knee braces and pull out the walking sticks.

These people, however, live their entire lives here. They –youngsters to stooped elderly folks– carry heavy loads on their back because they have to. They wear sandals because sneakers require money. Porters can be costly, and mules aren’t a dime a dozen.

It’s survival, hauling up fuel for the fire, flour and rice sacks, liters of water, stones for the house. There’s no home depot in the mountains, but the mountains provide everything they need. It just takes more patience and hard work in gathering the necessities needed for everyday living.

And, unlike us, they don’t have luxuries like choosing from a full menu, or having someone else prep and cook for them; if they want a hot shower, they’re going to have to use that wood and boil water just to take a standing bath. There is no final option of hopping into a jeep (or charter plane) out of the mountains and back to civilization, to another life.

Yet, with the apparent simplicity of life and despite the hardships of living in the mountains, they are content– I never did unravel the secret, but happiness is in the air, and even blows with the chilly wind of the evenings.

So, yeah. My respect, and long life to the people of the Himalayas, y’all.