“Around the third hour on the third day of trekking uphill on a rocky trail in the rain, I felt a profound appreciation for the generous tolerance of my family. We had come to the foothills of the Himalayas by way of various story lines of my life, including President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address and my father’s death in 2014. These events led us to Nepal, and to a walk through the clouds.”
Anker Heegaard lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. His parents were one of the first Peace Corps Volunteers in Nepal between 1962 – 1964. They were highly inspired by the Kathmandu of 1962 back then. Heegaard returned to Kathmandu for the first time in 2000, when his wife was seven months pregnant with their daughter. Recalling his visit to Nepal in 2000, Heegaard writes,”The high point of the visit was a trek from Jomsom (the gateway to Mustang and the high plains north of the Himalayas) to Annapurna Base Camp. For those two weeks we were joined by five of the other former volunteers; the trail narrative was about the changes that had come about since the early ’60s — comfortable teahouses, swarms of Western trekkers, electricity in remote villages. While I felt as though I was stepping back in time, my father and his friends talked mostly about the improvements they saw and what it had been like to walk those same routes 38 years before.”
In May 2014, Heegaard’s father passed away in a road accident at the age of 77. Heegaard wanted to do something meaningful with the money inherited from his father and eventually decided to do something for Nepal. Heegaard was constantly in touch with his guide from the 2000 trip, Karma Sherpa. Heegaard and Karma came up with a plan to trek from Lukla to Tengboche monastery in the Khumbu region, and then visit Chitwan National Park. The primary objective was to celebrate his father’s anniversary at Tengboche Monastery. As a bonus, they arranged for Karma’s son, Gyalbu, to join us.
Heegaard and his wife wanted to make it to Nepal soon after the news of earthquake broke out. But, the idea of tourism in a wake of a disaster didn’t sound convincing and appealing to him because of the moral imperative to either be helpful or get out of the way. However, as things started getting back to normal in Nepal, they quickly departed to Nepal in mid- August.
Heegaard found a drastic change in Kathmandu city in the time span of 50 years. Says Heegaard: “Vestiges remain, particularly in old quarters, at the temples and historic squares, and in the ancient history of its style and architecture. Monkeys scramble through the trees at Swayambhunath and clamber over the stones of Pashupatinath. But the city is also choked with tuk-tuks and motorcycles, and trucks from India and China. Crossing the street is an act of faith. On our first day after arriving, we visited Changu Narayan, the Hindu temple of Vishnu, part of which dates back to the fifth century. This would be the first of many temple visits; most were standing as they had for hundreds of years, the patina of worship and age layering onto their incredible artistry. The central temple towers above, a double-roofed masterpiece of unrestrained creativity. Like many of its counterparts throughout Kathmandu that survived the earthquake, diagonal braces have been added for support. They are the only unadorned, uncarved wood in sight.”
Next up, they visited Bhaktapur. The ancient city was affected by earthquake and it was quite visible. But, it could have been worse. They were supposed to fly to Lukla the following day but, the weather didn’t favor them and they had to stay back. Heegaard preferred to not tell his wife that Lukla airport is renowned as one of the most dangerous airport in the world. Some things are better left unsaid!! The couple visited Bouddhanath late in the afternoon that day.
The next day, they boarded a plane and flew till Phaplu. “Over the next four days we made our way to Lukla, a journey that would have been a 10-minute flight over the hills. Distances on these trails are given in hours or days, never miles. The conversion rate between our speed and that of the locals is two or three to one; that is, for every two or three days we walk, they walk one. Jonas, however, is a mountain goat, and Gyalbu settled into his role as Jonas’s guide and companion, moving at a pace only athletic preteens and Sherpas can match. Monica and I moved through the clouds and rain with slow persistence. Annika toggled between our two groups,” writes Heegaard.
This post has been excerpted from the original blog post up on nytimes.com . Click below to follow Heegaard on his journey to celebrate his father’s anniversary at Tengboche Monastery, Nepal. Read the full version here