A shortage of ponies keeps us, with bags packed and stacked at the doorway, hesitantly stationed in the tiny trail-head town of Jomsom.
Today, Sangeetha and I follow our whim through the the alleys and to the corners of this little sand and stone town.
We also weave our way in and out of the veins that sustain this community; the food, trekking equipment and hiker miscellaneous stores touting the treats one more often wants than needs.
In a Tibetan antique shop that my curiosity, running out of corners to investigate, leads me into, I greet the two men in the entrance in Nepali.
“Oh?! You speak Nepali?” one asks with surprise.
“No. Some Hindi. Only a few words in Nepali,” I shyly correct.
He switches to English and inquires as to what I’m doing in the area. I explain that we’re trekking into the Dolpa, but are stuck for lack of ponies. When he asks for what purpose are the ponies, I explain that we decided that if we’re going into such an off-the-map area, we might as well bring needed goods; in this case, some 200 pairs of shoes and socks. I then turn the question back to him, “and what do you do here?”
To this he states, “Well I don’t live here. I’m just travelling through as well. I build schools and plant trees in Mustang.”
Mustang is an equally remote corner of Nepal and I reply, “Oh? You’re doing good work!”
He squints an eye and says, “but you don’t actually know that, do you….”
And I wink back, “No I don’t. But doesn’t my trusted enthusiasm make you feel more inclined to do good work, even if you’re not already?”
He laughs and claps his hand on the table, “You’re right! That’s the right kind of optimism!”
He then spies the pendant around my neck that I had silversmithed in India. As he quickly scans the Devanagari script, he poses to me, “Parvat, huh? And where is Shiva?”
While most people immediately read and interpret the scripted word to mean that which sits across from it in the dictionary, “mountain,” I have not missed his reference to the Goddess Parvati and her relationship to her consort, Lord Shiva.
I answer, “Shiva’s at home.”
To this we both laugh out loud together. I then leave the store, as one should all good jokes, in the linger of laughing.
There is an appropriately dusty and crooked sign at the entrance of Jomsom that identifies itself, proudly, as being the capital of a windy valley. And as evidence of this claim pushes me around on the street, I muse to myself just how fitting this trailhead town trait is….
How many times have I heard a noise, turned around, and found a whiplash of footsteps haunting my own. This quick of the eye, evidenced only by the tail of a shadow ducking behind door or bush, makes my heart stutter with the question, what exactly is on my heels? Is it a guardian spirit? Or just the over-excited realizations of my immediate future rushing ahead to catch up to me? Is it deja vu running up to the door of my reality, knocking and fleeing, leaving only its ominous giggle? Questions unanswered, I conclude only that the wind is powerful. It seems to sweep our skin of any secreting soul, assuring the only state in which we are allowed to pursue this quest: naked. If uncomfortable, it still seems only right that we go through this purification ritual before our pilgrimage; it’s a gentle reminder that for all the stores touted “necessities,” and supplies with which we might stuff our sacks, nothing we can carry will protect us more against the forces of nature so much us our naked faith and trust. Yet this wind, as much as it is kind and cleansing, it is equally brave and daring. And at the same time as it purifies and prepares us, it bullies us around. Shoving our shoulders back and shouting, “Are you really tough enough? Are you?” Luckily, in our, perhaps naive, joy, all we can do is nervously laugh. And this good humor dismantles the push in the Wind’s shove as it does the power of all bullies. So we take our beating in the ring of the Wind, accepting that this practice, of cleansing, of submitting, of toughening, of trust and of good humor, will all, in the Dolpa, serve us well.