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      Live from Rural Nepal: Giving Thanks in the Middle Himalaya

      To experience life amid remote settings, on the paths of ancient cultures and inside the homes of strangers, to venture far outside one's comfort zone – this will change a person. At the very least it will certainly give you something to write home about. An REI colleague of mine, Jessica, just sent us this dispatch from rural Nepal, where she is currently taking REI Adventures' Nepal's Royal Trek. Read her story below:

      A local woman sorting grain on REI's Royal Trek in Nepal"'Wait, where are you going?'

      This was most often the response I got when telling friends that my upcoming Royal Trek in Nepal included 4 days of trekking in the Middle Himalaya. Annapurna they knew. Everest Base Camp was to be expected. But where exactly was the Middle Himalaya? To be honest, not even I was quite sure. My trekking route had been carefully selected by my Nepalese guide, KP, and its exact location was a closely guarded secret. This wasn't a route that appeared in any guidebook or travel show. For the next 4 days, he assured my group, we wouldn't see another trekker – and he was right.

      This was not the Nepal my friends had told me about – carved Mani stones, tea houses and mile-long yak trains – but a chance to experience rural Nepal in a way that has virtually disappeared. Our route loosely followed the trails Nepalese royalty once used to travel between India and the Chitwan jungle where the high-born could hunt and entertain in style with their elaborate entourages. REI Nepal trekking tents pitched where a king's castle once stoodLong forgotten, today all that exists are narrow paths that are used by villagers to graze cattle and goats. Yet upon reaching our campsite, perched in a high meadow overlooking the twinkling lights of the Kathmandu Valley far in the distance, we certainly felt like royalty. Our tents are literally situated where once a local king's castle stood.

      Down here in the middle hills, the days are still warm, even in late November. Each morning the day unfolds with the first pink rays of the sun catching the snowcapped peaks of the Langtang Range on the horizon. Those high, cold trails wait for us too, but we're in no hurry to leave this place. Who would want to leave such a profusion of flowers? We wander along hillsides covered in bright yellow mustard, red poinsettias, orange marigolds and fields of buckwheat darkening from summer white to a deep rust. Shady woods give a break from the sun and hide the last of the season's orchids for those who have the sharp eyes to spot them.  It's a beautiful, almost magical place.

      A local woman gives marigolds to an REI trekker in NepalThough the views are inspiring, it's the local people we meet that makes the Middle Himalaya so special.  Everyone we pass has a smile or a greeting to share. We visit a school where the students are delighted to see us. Only REI groups ever think to visit here, and on the 6 or so times each year they stop by, it's practically a holiday. Teachers and students welcome us with bouquets of poinsettias and garlands of marigolds. Some kids hang out and mug for our cameras while the shy ones duck behind their friends.

      We stop for lunch and to watch a few dances before continuing on our way. Local families invite us into their homes where we meet the new baby, appreciate farm tools over 100 years old and are offered cups of the local brew: a semi-potent liquid distilled from corn and flavored with cardamom.

      A local farm on REI's Royal Trek in NepalLife is changing here. The picturesque thatched roofs are slowly being replaced by more durable tin. New roads linking the larger cities are beginning to overtake the grazing trails and footpaths. Young people are leaving the family farms to find work in Kathmandu. Having the chance to truly be here, today, you can't help but feel blessed to have appreciated the beauty of the middle hills before trekkers seeking to get off the beaten path find it – before modernity takes it over.

      The other evening I was chatting with Wynne, my fellow REI trekker from New York. We were talking about how different it was to celebrate Thanksgiving here. Our simple, candlelit chicken curry dinner in the middle hills was a far cry from the typical hustle and bustle of long car rides to visit family, cooking, cleaning and shopping. Looking at the vista spread below us, Wynne remarked that she couldn't imagine a more perfect way to celebrate than with our group of happy strangers. Perhaps I was still aglow from my cup of the local moonshine, but I couldn't agree more."

      Where have you ventured off the beaten path? Tell us how it impacted you.

      Below: Jessica with the Langtang peaks in the background.

      Posted on at 4:40 PM

      Tagged: Middle Himalaya, REI Adventures, Travel, nepal and trekking

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      What an experience! Thank you for sharing this with us, Jessica!!

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      Thank you for sharing your experience. I wish there were more bloggers doing this so we can all get an idea of what it's like to travel with REI. Sounds beautiful, peaceful...just where I need to be. I love the picture of the tents overlooking Kathmandu. :)


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