Postcard from the Field #5

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 fifth in a series about his adventures. - Erica Stone, President


Long Day, Two Lessons

Our team of nine Tibetan ponies presented us with fantastic vistas at the high pass atop the steep incline north of Dhakmar. That climb of a few hundred feet and a touch of adversity at the end of this long day in the saddle and on foot were memorable for me in other ways.

On the incline, the only sounds you could hear were our horses snorting, small bells tinkling at their necks, their hooves digging at the hillside—and winds gusting at our backs. At altitude, these animals exhibit such purpose, loyalty, and impressive strength. I felt great admiration and appreciation for them and our four Loba horsemen.

We followed a dusty trail, traversing until we entered a narrow passage between two huge boulders. When my horse drifted to within what seemed like inches of the boulder to the right, I leaned hard left. Bad move. My saddle rolled ninety degrees… and I so did I! Lesson One.

Luckily, the opposite boulder was so close I could break my fall with a stiff left arm. Within seconds AHF’s lead horseman for many years, Tashi Wangyal, rushed from behind, braced me at the ribcage, then boosted me upright. Phew. I had not been on horseback in decades and it was showing.

Our final destination this day, Tsarang, remained a few hours’ ride beyond the high pass. Much of those trails and roads were downhill. We walked the steeper descents to spare our horses from injury.

In all, we would be riding or walking seven hours.  

In Tsarang—the second largest village in Upper Mustang—we visited the monastery and a sparkling new nunnery with its magnificent prayer room.

Later that evening, near the end of our supper of lentils, rice, and vegetables in a cozy yet smoky kitchen, I felt weary. Suddenly, I couldn’t swallow without pain. I assumed I had eaten too fast. Spicy foods? No, the onset of a spasm of the esophagus…brought on by fatigue, hunger, and dehydration. I had not drunk enough water that day. Lesson Two.

My AHF colleagues and our host helped me onto a long bench in a cooler room. A delightful young nurse from the health clinic AHF supports confirmed my vitals were steady—except for lower oxygen saturation. But I still couldn’t swallow. Even sipping water was painful. “Try drinking a Coke,” Norbu said. That was it: A few sips of Coke (with its sodium bicarbonate) were the cure. Norbu to the rescue.

Next week: on to Lo Manthang.

Tom Hayes