After an hour-long drive up a bumpy, windy road outside of Pokhara, we settled into a charming Japanese style B&B for a few days to prepare for our trek. The locals are from the Gurung cast and still live much like they did hundreds of years ago, farming the hillsides with rice and wheat, grazing their cattle and goats, as well as more recently profiting from the seasonal influx of foreign trekkers. In this area at the base of the Annapurna range you can find a guesthouse in every village. Our B&B faced the spectacular Machapuchare mountain peak, meaning “Fish Tail” because of its unique shape. At almost 23,000 feet tall, it is revered by the Nepali as a sacred place for the god Shiva, thus off limits for climbing. Flanking the impressive Machapuchare peak are the majestic Annapurna peaks I and II.
For our trek I hired two porters to help carry our bags and Tejas. I decided three days round trip would suffice for a simple trek with the kids. Tejas, who had just recovered from the stomach flu, spent most of the trek perched on the shoulders of our dear porter, Babu Ram.
Tara and Tejas overcame their initial resistance and began enjoying the simple, slow rhythm of trekking, walking through little farming villages, stopping for meals, enjoying the views and intimate nature of travel on foot. Trekking in the foothills of the Annapurna range was surprisingly easy since guesthouses and restaurants pepper the well-worn trail every few hours.
More ambitious trekkers could find greater challenge and solitude further up the mountain, but for us the foothills were just what we needed.
I spent most of the trek in my beloved 10-year old purple Brazilian flip-flops, called Havaianas. Because we were globetrotting, I didn’t want to pack big hiking shoes for this short trek. So I let Tara wear my tennis shoes (at 13 her feet are already the same size as mine) and I tested the flip-flop tradition of many of the local porters and sure enough, they worked great. Although it was funny to see that since I was in the Himalayas 17 years ago, the porters had upgraded their footwear to nice hiking boots. Still I enjoyed the ease and cool ride of my good old Havaianas.
Even here in the mountains, Tara continues to chip away at her studies. There are certainly times when we both feel anxious that she’s not doing enough. The truth is that the foreign lands are the children’s classrooms and the experiences and people they encounter are their teachers. Tejas is fine because he’s only four years old. But for Tara we have to make sure she can solve equations with variables and negative exponents, and that she can write research papers and cite her sources. In the fall, she will reenter the California public school system, so we have to keep her studies on course. Her reading comprehension and writing skills are quite good, so History and Literature aren’t a problem for her. It’s Algebra where she stumbles. I’ve grown to trust how this experience of stumbling seems to always give way to an exquisite “Ah ha!” moment. I usually hear a big “OOOH! I get it!” from the other room, after some huffing and puffing about one problem or another. It’s an electric moment that arises after she has grappled with a problem sometimes over a couple of days and reassures me that everything is going to be okay, even better than okay.
It’s precisely this self-paced aspect of homeschooling that allows her to move quickly through the easy subjects while slowing down and digging into the more challenging ones. I’ve seen firsthand how this has built Tara’s trust and confidence in her ability to learn and solve difficult problems.
After our two weeks in the mountains, we returned to Kathmandu to await the arrival of my mom and stepfather. We were all excited to see them, and I was particularly eager to see my recently published book, which had just arrived from the publishers while I was away. The book, Sublime Dharma, is a translation of two Tibetan texts on meditation that I had finished 13 years ago, just two days before Tara was born. When I became a mother, I put my scholarly studies on the back burner so that I could focus on being a mom and a teacher of yoga and meditation. Holding this book in my hands, I was filled with the feeling of a heavenly body or an old friend orbiting back around into my life, stirring my old passion for Dharma and translation work. It also reignited my 13-year dilemma of whether or not to begin this work again. I’m still hovering, unable to see the answer clearly. It’s certainly a common question for many of us mothers who put our career or studies on hold to raise a family.