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Things I Learnt Hiking in the Himalayas

May 7, 2018

 

Travelling into a third world country for the first time was always going to be eye opening. Add to that the fact I'd never been Asia before and I was in for a shock. Then finish it off with my decision during the planning of my trip to deliberately kept myself culturally ignorant, (to create a more honest reaction when I arrived) and I've got a recipe for learning a thing or two. That's exactly what I did during my month in Nepal. Below are a just a few things I learnt, I chose to exclude the more personal and more pointless ones for your faith in my sanity. 

1: The Sherpa are an incredible people
(The 'Sherpa' people are the native ethnic group to the Himalayas's). As I climbed above 4,000m above sea level for the first time I was out of breath and could feel my legs burning as I tried to get in enough oxygen. I was then overtaken by a local man carrying over 80kg of steel beams on his back for a new house. To add to the insult the man was blasting 'Gagnam Style' out of his phone as he walked. Regardless of his musical taste I had to stop and admire how the Sherpa people are incomparable to other humans.  

2: The human body is capable of extraordinary adaptation.
While I am definitely no Sherpa, the longer I spent at altitude the more my body adjusted to the conditions. Having spent the 6 months prior to the trip living and working at sea level, even starting the trip at 1,700m was a challenge. When I reached 5,000m I experienced some altitude sickness which is no more than a lack of oxygen to the brain.... Yet two days later I carried a bag of 18kgs over a 5,400m pass. Also, as I hiked back out of the mountains, due to a lack of money I chose to 'starve' myself and was eating only a single serve of rice and curry to refuel myself from 7hrs of hiking. On every one of my trips I've been amazed at how the human body can adapt to physical challenges when mentally forced to. This trip was no different and it reinforced the knowledge that when I feel like I can't do something, I know I'm just being lazy. 

3: Three minutes is a long time. 
The 2015, magnitude 8.1, Nepalese earthquake reportedly shook the earth for around 3 minutes. 3 years on I coincidentally started my hike in the center of the worst hit regions (Near Jirri and Chivalaya). The amount of damage and rebuilding that is still there today left me wondering how bad it must have been immediately after the quake. It was put into context when someone told me "Try to imagine the length of a minute silence. Now during that minute everything around you, your entire world, is being shaken to pieces. After the first minute it doesn't stop, nor at the end of the second minute". After the third minute all the Nepalese could do, those that could do something, (9,000 dead and 22,000 injured) was pick up the pieces. 

4: I strongly despise tour groups.
I won't go into too much detail now (I think I'll save the full rant for a separate blog) but I passed many, many tour groups on the main trail and after a series of negative experiences I had, tour groups just don't sit well with me. They seem to be full of people travelling with the wrong mindset. I'll try channel my frustrations into a more creative and positive blog than the blatant rant I'm likely to write now. 

5: Simplicity is undervalued.
We can survive with so much less than what we are afforded and realizing this can unlock a new way of looking at the world. Going back to living with just the basics and not missing any of the extra luxuries I had at home helped put things into perspective. 'Need V Want' is an old saying but really delving into that concept while being surrounded by poverty opened my eyes. The need for a new shirt/car/tv/hat/book/drink/chocolate bar can seem pretty ridiculous when you are staring at someone hasn't eaten in days or when you know that money could be used to help a 12yr old escape a brothel.... ( gofundme.com/makenoisenepal ). 

6: Nepal, and the greater world, is facing a plastic crisis. 
In the mountains the traditional way of getting rid of rubbish was to throw it into the river and let the rainy season wash it away. This wasn't ideal but wasn't much of an issue until a western influence brought in plastic. The prevalence of plastic is pretty hard to ignore when travelling past rivers completely clogged with plastic. The effect of the plastic in those regions (remote, barely populated and minimal consumers of plastic) has me terrified of what we are really doing to our planet in western cities. Our rubbish collection programs are so good that plastic consumption is an issue that is 'out of sight, out of mind'. All the plastic we use has got to be sitting somewhere though and causing damage wherever it is. Please use less plastic. Every piece you don't use will help. 

7: To learn about yourself you need to spend time with yourself. 
(This does not include being alone with the distraction of technology.) The things I've learnt on this list are a result of spending time with myself and my thoughts. We live such busy, information intense lives that we can sometimes get so caught up in the information overload that we don't stop to fully process what we are seeing/hearing. Unplugging from the chaos around us, stopping to think about how we actually feel about what we are experiencing, allows us to get a better understanding of who we are and the choices we should make. 


8: The quickest way to learn about yourself is to challenge yourself. 
Under duress we see what we are truly capable of. Being challenged and having to step out of your comfort zone will also reveal a lot about your character/personality (for better or worse.....). Seek out alternate opinions, different locations and new experiences. Do this with the mindset that your way isn't always going to be the best way and you learn plenty.

9: I'm extremely proud to be Australian. 
The saying 'you don't know what you've got until it's gone' proved true again as I traveled out of 'Straya' for my second time. I love the diversity, the laidback nature, the standard of living, the mateship, and the landscape of my home. I know it's not a perfect country and that 'home is home' but I really think Australia is pretty great. I look forward to travelling overseas again so I can again experience the joy I felt when I saw the coast of W.A out of my plane window. Coming home feels good. 

10: Racism is stupid. 
This isn't something new I learnt on this trip. I was already aware that it was 'stupid' (I use 'stupid' as I lack a clean word in my vocabulary to accurately describe my feelings towards it). The reason I write about racism here is because I experienced a very, very minor case of it. While travelling to, and in, Nepal I had two main experiences where I was treated differently based on my skin colour. My experience fortunately wasn't overally negative nor discriminative, but I was treated differently because my skin colour is white. Coming from a multicultural and (in my experience) accepting country, I couldn't believe that I was treated different based on something as insignificant as my skin tone. I can't imagine how frustrating and hurtful it must be for those who have truly negative experiences. Those who are excluded and/or shamed based on their colour. Please see the person, not the race. 

11. Slavery is horrendous. 
Yet again this isn't something new that I learnt but my experience in Nepal exposed me to a new understanding of how bad it truly is. While sitting in the SASANE office in Kathmandu I was offered a cup of tea by a lovely young girl who was extremely polite. When she left the room to make the tea, the CEO of SASANE told me that she was 13 years old and had been rescued from a brothel just two months earlier. I felt like I had been punched in the face. I don't understand how in 2018 we as a society can pretend to be ready for hoverboards or other ridiculous technology when we can't even treat other humans correctly. How does a 13 year old girl with such a happy innocent smile deserve to be put through what she had been put through? Please help make a difference to the worlds slavery issue (there's currently over 30 million slaves in 2018) by donating to gofundme.com/makenoisenepal

12: Communication is undeniably powerful. 
Interestingly, while this was my first trip that wasn't advocating for Deaf/hard of hearing youth, I think this trip was the one where I best understood what it would be like to not be able to hear. Knowing only English and not being able to effectively communicate what I wanted was at times incredibly frustrating. There is also the anxiety that comes with being treated differently, and at times laughed at, because I didn't understand the local language. I'm not unintelligent (although this blog may be contradictory) but in Nepal not being about to express my thoughts or personality in conversation made me feel like the shell of a person. I learnt as many Nepalese words as I could, yet I know that my experience would have been significantly different had I been able to communicate better.  Communication is power. 

13. I'm grateful for my life. 
As I wrote this sentence it seemed overly dramatic, until I realised it's not. There were a couple of times whilst hiking (getting altitude sickness at 5,200m and crossing a very icy and steep pass at 5,400m) that the possibility of death was present around me. Not likely, but present. For me those experiences made me feel alive. We live such medically protected lives in the western world that it sometimes feels that freak accidents and old age are the only threats to life. Having an experience where death was present reminded me just how mortal I, and the others around me, are. After having this experience and then returning back through a poverty stricken area  I've realised how privileged I am to live my life. The opportunity to travel, to experience, to speak with my friends and family, and to be alive. I'm grateful for today, and for tomorrow and I plan on enjoying it as best as I can. 

@whattomhasdunn
whattomhasdunn.com

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