Postcard from the Field #4

Richard Blum, our legendary Chairman, wrote a lovely memoir, An Accident of Geography. AHF was featured in the book, so his co-author, Thomas Hayes, interviewed and researched to learn about Nepal and AHF.

This spring, nine years later, Tom finally came to Nepal with the AHF team. We asked him to share his thoughts as someone who knew a lot about a country he had never set foot in. This is the third in a series about his adventures. - Erica Stone, President


On Horseback

Tibetan ponies are what they are called, but they are actually horses of shorter stature. By reputation sure-footed, sturdy, and resilient, they have strong hindquarters and grit well suited for mastering steep Himalayan inclines, traits I came to prize during the four days we rode along Mustang trails and roads.

You can hire jeeps and land rovers to arrive more quickly at many small villages below the Tibet border less than thirty miles away. Government-funded roads built in the past dozen years made this leap into the 21st century possible.

Yet traveling the ancient way on horseback (and occasionally on foot), as the AHF team has done for nearly three decades, has to be an adventure vastly more rewarding. If you have experienced guides and horses (we did) — and if you can handle the rigors (I did, despite a few surges of anxiety).

In the saddle 20 hours in all, our mounts carried us along many miles of roads and trails with spectacular views. Time to free your mind, wherever it would take you.

Horseback meditation in Mustang is glorious. Darting spires of white clouds in azure blue skies (top photo), distant snow-capped mountain ranges, steep cliffs etched by high winds over the millennia, mesmerizing vistas across wide valleys.

Discomforts? Oh yes. Cold mornings with sub-freezing wind chills required two bandanas across my face, five layers of clothing above my waist, and runner’s gloves on my hands. By mid-afternoon, riding into valleys under bright sun, I had peeled off most layers and turned my attention to incipient aches. With my legs too long for the stirrups, my quads cramped. My lower back strained to keep my head and chest riding high, especially when my stalwart ride, Chiampa, shifted into a canter just this side of a gallop. Hold on!

A half hour north of Dhakmar, Chiampa led our team of nine mounts up a steep incline that propelled us onto a high pass five hundred feet above the village. We could see for miles. Thrilling.

Far below, three miles away, was our next stop, Lo Gehkar and its historic monastery dating to the eighth century. That is the spiritual destination where Richard met thirty years ago one of the great living masters of Tibetan Buddhism, Chogye Trichen Rinpoche.

I’ll tell you about those anxieties and two greenhorn setbacks next week. But today let’s celebrate. It’s the birthday of AHF’s legendary chairman.

To read Richard’s enchanting short story about the Rinpoche, click here.

Tom Hayes