Hiking to happiness in Nepal
Adrenaline surges through my body, as the drooping suspension bridge is seized by a sudden windy flurry. A rainbow of Tibetan prayer flags draped over the side utter fiercely in the gust. I glance through the metal grate at the 100 metre drop beneath my feet, the milky rapids below snarling back at me. My heart leaps into my throat and I clutch the wiry handrails in a vice-like grip.
Gingerly I shamble across the swaying bridge, anxious not to hold up my comrades behind me. A deep exhalation escapes my lips as I reach the sanctuary of the other side.
CRASHING THROUGH BARRIERS
Crossing the Larja Dobhan gorge on the Everest Trail is not for the faint-hearted. It’s one of many experiences that have dragged me out of my comfort zone across a nine-day trek in the Himalayas. But then, I haven’t travelled 7,000 miles for Mai Tais and sun loungers. What draws me to the roof of the world is rehabilitation. Hunting mountains promises amnesty from a paralysing depression.
My mental health had been under siege since the death of my only brother, followed soon after by a painful breakup. So when an advertisement for the Nepalese trek flashed across my Facebook feed, promising an adventurous reprieve, I didn’t hesitate. The expedition has us hiking halfway up the Everest Trail, before forgoing the crowded Base Camp route for more remote trails, and superlative views of the mythical mega-mountain itself.
Obliging my need to crash through comfort zones, travel company Flash Pack thrusts me into a group of strangers, themselves solo travellers in their 30s and 40s. The group is a lolly scramble of people of all shapes and persuasions, but our social anxiety fades as we bond over altitude-induced pins and needles, and hot rum punch.
LIFE ON THE EVEREST TRAIL
“Jam jam!” needles our Nepali guide Dakman, a wiry Kathmandu native with a roguish smile and debonair taste in sunglasses. This is the signal to get moving and we renew our passage along a cobbled track, winding through vibrant green foothills that are overshadowed by towering mountains draped in blankets of moody cloud.
The trail is teeming with enterprise. Industrious merchants sell bottled water, Snickers and San Miguel out of small shops. Porters carrying burdens thrice their size overtake us in sandals. Sherpa ranchers bark orders to donkeys laden with food and gas bottles.
Spirituality flows through the Himalayas like its rushing white rivers. At its centre is Buddhism, permeating the sense and imagination. The soothing fragrance of incense seeps from open windows as we ramble through richly-coloured villages. Rambunctious children offer mischievous smiles and shout “Namaste!” as we wander past. Huge bells chime as we spin intricate prayer wheels for good fortune, while flags draped over trees, bridges and stony cabins glitter like Christmas lights.
HAPPINESS AT HIGH ALTITUDE
From the trading mecca of Namche Bazaar, Dakman leads us on an acclimatising climb up to a tea house at 3,800 metres, the oppressive altitude slowing our ascent to a crawl. Up here the landscape captivates with its immense scale. In the distance we can just make out Everest boldly challenging the heavens. Equally breathtaking is Namche below, its vibrant tricolour roofs contrasting with the Herculean peaks.
A small plateau overlooking the valley offers a soul-stirring perch to practice yoga as Dakman nervously leads us through his repertoire of poses. Smiles and laughter ripple around the circle like dominoes.
EVEREST BY TWILIGHT
At night Everest turns on the charm, glowing under a lustrous canopy of stars and a shimmering full moon. I venture out into the -12°C air wearing all the clothes in my pack and pan my eyes across the cinematic landscape. For miles in every direction there are only mountains; a conference of giants chaired by imperious Everest. Slowly the cloud rises, engulfing us in its misty embrace. In this serene moment, it suddenly dawns on me that I am happy. The sensation is etched onto my brain like Sanskrit inscriptions carved into the Himalayan topography.
I can’t feel any of the paralysing emotions that had been plaguing me at home. My head might be in the clouds but my mind is the clearest it’s been in a long time.
I feel renewed. This trip might just have saved my life.