I was recently organizing my bookshelf a bit and came upon a National Geographic magazine from April 1977. This particular issue, which came to my hands by way of an estate sale, has had more influence on the course of my life than any other piece of writing. My mother had bought the magazines in order to make paper beads, but luckily this issue was spared, and I was able to come upon it on my winter break during freshman year in college.
I had always known that I would want to study abroad, but I somehow knew that going to Europe was not going to be my choice. I sought a more complete re-ordering of my world view. When I read, in this article about Nepal, that the author had to walk three weeks to get to this remote region on the Tibetan border, I almost couldn't believe
that such a place still existed in
today's world. I thought of all of the things I was attached to in my
life and wondered if I could live without for a year. I took it on as a
personal challenge of the greatest magnitude.
I didn't walk on this exact trail, but I walked on a few similar to this.
It turns out that I never made it to the specific region (Dolpo), that is mentioned in the article, but I did end up spending two years living in Nepal. Reading it again, I find that it is laced with the seduction of exoticism, but then again, if it wasn't, would it really have gotten a young midwesterner like me to get her first passport, learn Nepali and commit to a year in distant country? The second year was on a Fulbright a couple of years after the first experience.
Painting by Tsering of Dolpo depicting the sacred mountain of Dolpo, called Shey (crystal mountain).
One of the things that strikes me so many years later is that there was a photo of a thangka painting in the original article, and that, as much as the article itself, was what got me hooked. This was my first exposure to Himalayan art, which has been a constant source of inspiration and a subject of study for me ever since. I still love the clouds (and have traced their history through history from the Uighurs to Mongolia to China, Korea and Tibet), and the way that rocks are represented. I did make it to the lower Dolpo valley, which is not a restricted area like the Upper Dolpo region in the article, and found that the rocks really do look like that!