Updated: Jan 10
Bunny takes a rare photo op at the peak of a particularly spectacular summit, where violet and green rock dazzles the eye. She shared the entire journey with me in a special cotton bag inside my backpack each day.
Kenan asked me, “So, what have you learned from your journey?”
“Love is the only way”, was my immediate response.
It seems so simple, so obvious. We all know this right? Then there is the question, do I live this way?
14 days with no electricity, in a tent, trekking 6-8 hours per day in whatever weather presented itself up 7 peaks the lowest 4,825m and the highest 5,260m. Our schedule was demanding; up at 04.30, discussion/mediation from 05.00-07.00, breakfast and final preparations before 08.00 departure, then the actual trek to our next destination, pop into camp, 17.00 – 19.00 discussion/mediation, dinner at 19.30 and then fall into bed before we began the next day. Had I lost my mind? No, what I was looking for was my heart, because I felt I had lost it and above all my connection to said heart. This was an adventure to and from my heart, inside and out.
Silence was the theme of the trek. The majesty of the mountains lent themselves to this opportunity to bring consciousness to the noise we make, inside our minds and hearts, and outside in our physical actions, behaviors, and expressions.
Awe inspiring landscapes gave us the gift of silence, naturally, effortlessly. At times the very act of speaking seemed an insult, a diminishment of the beauty.
Friends who have been on this spiritual trek with Bartolomeo Lanza of the Sheva center Lugano, have shared with me their experiences in part, and they all told me, having the experience myself would be the only way to even begin to understand. They were right.
Some readers have been with me since I returned, and they have commented, “You are different, your energy is different.” My challenge is to translate this energy into a narrative which allows you a glimpse into my experience with words and selected photos.
Note on the photos, a young Swiss French man on our trip, Nicolas Ferrier, became the defacto photographer and his talents are, lucky for us, astounding. Among many things for which I thank him on this trip, his photographs are the most tangible.
One day, which we spent in silence from 08.00 – 17.00, I was accompanied by what I later called my personal narrator. Inside my mind was a peaceful voice, storytelling about everything she saw around her, expressing her joy and gratitude through the art of narration in a chatty and natural way. When we met in the evening for our discussion/meditation session I spoke of her, this voice which seemed disembodied from me reveling in her stories. I asked Bartolomeo, what to do I do with this constant narration? Adroitly he answered, “Love her, embrace the Narrator Nicole, maybe one day you will liberate her, and you will tell your stories for a living.”
That evening I began a narration in writing to share with Claudio upon my return, I missed him and writing my experience seemed one way to be close with him in my heart while I was far away in body. As I set about narrating this journey now, I am acutely aware that this story may grow. As the rings and layers of the experience reverberate in my heart, in my life, new realizations may come to me and I may be compelled to add them. Each day is new, as I integrate the impact of this journey into my everyday life; the profundity of the tangible difference between living in love and living in fear with all the strategies that help cover fear up. It has in fact taken me a long time to write this post because each day new results present themselves, memories of a moment or experience visit me, and in the spirit of this journey I am kind and patient with myself in this narrative process.
At a certain point I commented to Bartolomeo how for me this trip had several dimensions; our own personal journey, our multicultural group of 8, the trek, the 7 Ladakhi men who took care of the camp, the food, and the horses, the interactions we had with other people along the way (when we met them) the Himalayas and the nature around them, plus the weather and its effects. With his characteristic smile sparkling directly through his eyes he confirmed, for those who wished them, the layers were both deep and broad.
The Ladakhi men who took care of the camp, the food, and the horses; They are a story all by themselves. These men woke before us, did the same trek as us, set up our camp, cooked and served us our food, and went to bed after us and every single day at 04.30 they greeted us in our tents, individually, “Good morning! Ginger tea, black tea?”. Each day I heard them as I lay half-awake in my tent, giggling, joking, full of joy; hail rain, sun, darkness, whatever was happening outside, from inside of them radiated a purity, a joy which reminded me to be grateful to wake up and be alive.
Morning of our departure for ‘civilization’ I cried tears of gratitude when we parted with our camp crew. To my left Phunchok Dawa the cook; playfully holds up peace over Jigmath one of the two young assistants; from the same Nomad village the other young helper on the far right, Chojor; with his arm around Stanzin head assistant to the cook and practical man extraordinaire; to my immediate right behind him is Jigmath Dawa our local guide a man who personified the Buddhist principles of peace and kindness. Immediately behind us is my tent.
Our camp horses and their men; top center they traverse a particularly steep path with Jigmath Dawa in red, Phunchok Dawa with yellow hat in hand, and head horseman with his back to us clutching his walking stick, all calm and attentive; bottom right zigzagging up the approach to a pass; center with their second man; right 2 horses in their gear.
Each morning the two horsemen would sing a prayer to the horses as they cleaned them off, and carefully dressed them for the day, the final bit being the cargo – kitchen, camp, and our personal things. Each night they would do the same in reverse. On a rare day we came to camp at the exact same time as the team and were gifted with a magical spectacle. The entire team worked in harmony to prepare our movable village, it was as if to watch a dance and the horses played their part. As each one was freed from the burden of its cargo and then their individual dressing they would bolt off and throw themselves on the ground rocking back and forth to scratch their backs now free. Next, they would pair up and gently clean each-others flanks with their muzzles and teeth. Once this ritual was done they would wander off to eat, frolic, and generally be free until the next morning when the horsemen would canter off to retrieve them while we were served our tea.
Bartolomeo was our overall and spiritual guide and each day Jigmath Dawa, our local guide, led us through the varying landscapes with a smile and a gentle ease. Rocks, mud, scree, river crossing, he was consistent in his good cheer and calm. He would assess each river crossing and enter the water himself to rearrange rocks so that our feet could stay dry, then he would hike all day with wet shoes and feet, he never blinked an eyelash. I took note and was humbled by his actions.
Jigmath Dawa, our local guide, contemplating a peak of 5,000m.
Phunchok Dawa and his team wowed us daily with their creativity and imagination. At 4,000m he made us a chocolate cake. Three times momos were made 100% from scratch, rolled lovingly by hand for us to feast upon. They made pasta in an effort to please the Italian pallet, as well local specialties including - khambiri bread which is a sort of steamed pastry like dumpling that is eaten as bread with the meal, than-tuk soup full of vegetables and homemade noodles which warmed us on a cold night, and my personal favorite, dahl and rice with papadams. One particular specialty which has now rekindled a childhood love; each night there was soup before the main course, and one of the soups they called ‘popcorn’ soup as they served it with popcorn which was to be as well sprinkled on top of the soup. When I returned to Lugano I bought a bag of kernels and now enjoy on occasion corn popped on the stove with a little olive oil at the bottom of the pan.
Featured center Phunchok Dawa and Stanzin working their magic in the kitchen with two portable propane burners; top left ingredients, utensils, & finished products; bottom left Phunchok Dawa frying up chips while Jigmath Dawa serenely looks on.
Various angles of our camp, center right & middle left the kitchen tent. Top left our tents seemingly perched on a precipice; bottom left view from Nicolas’ tent of the kitchen tent.
Beyond a place of culinary magic, the kitchen tent was the warmest, driest place to gather at any time of day in which the tent was in use and naturally my inside happy place. Many an evening I visited the team there, sitting in silence as they went about their business, or quizzing them on some food or ingredient. Inevitably laughing uproariously with them in every case, the kitchen tent was always a serious source of laughter and glee. Phunchok Dawa, father of twin 12 year-old girls, is from the same place as our local guide, Jigmath Dawa, Zanskar, as well they are cousins and both radiated a kindness and peace that made them a positive and inspiring presence on our journey.
Phunchok Dawa and I just before we parted, in the distance Jigmath and the dog who accompanied us of his own accord for 3 days over 2 peaks.
While I highlight here specific members of the camp team, truly each of them was magnificent in their personal way and added context and texture to the fabric of our journey. Stanzin with his rock star glasses, jaunty walk, and anything can be done attitude pitched our tents and dug trenches to make them waterproof. As first assistant to Phunchok Dawa in the kitchen he was often the first of their team on the daily trek acting as the teams scout. Jigmath and Chojor the all around helpers were mini phenomenon; each distinctly different and both full of joy and kindness. Jigmath sweet and shy, Chojor full of mischief and mirth. The latter was always available to lend a hand and put a smile in our hearts. On our last evening we shared our decadent dessert in the meal tent and Jigmath led his group in song with a voice so ethereal my heart nearly wept; each of these men in their way contributed to our journey and as I write about them more than a month later my heart swells with gratitude and love.