I push myself up from my writing recliner and drag my finger across a row of travel journals. Tap a finger on my lower lip. Walk over to my work desk and drag the same finger across another row.
Chewed up purple Nepali homemade binding; I angle it out and ponder the hand painted elephant and cow atop each other on the cover. I can’t remember my exact reasoning at the time for choosing the blank pages of this particular yet-unwritten book, but feel now that purple is too chemical a color for my Dolpa memories — which are all strictly scripted in high-altitude grays and blues. And while the experience was as heavy and sacred as the beasts on the cover, at 15,000 feet these animals would be as mythical to those looking down, as we at lower-elevations consider the gods when looking up. No. The choice of journal was all wrong; saying something also of my miscalculated expectations of the journey. The latter, I’m sure, the very reason that I now remember one particular day on that trip as the most reality-quaking of my travels.
It’s for this day that the same finger that dragged across my bookshelf now searches in the tattered purple journal.
I come across a page splattered with large bleeding holes of black ink and the quip, “did you know that pens explode at 14,000 feet?!”
I laugh just as much at the comment itself as at the fact that I had correctly guessed that my future self would find this self-delivered jest, one day, funny.
I scan my thin and weak scribbles and suddenly sympathize with the exhaust evidenced by the simple bullet points that I hadn’t the energy to even expand upon.
I return to the top of the page and see in the corner that I’ve documented only:
11 hours trekking
I return to the bullet points – some so faint and foreign that I can’t remember the associations of things I clearly thought would burn in my permanent memory so deeply that I’d only need a single term or phrase of prompting. And for those lost associations, I feel a bit of sadness: does a memory cease to exist if it’s not remembered?
Then I read a note that sends my head back in a fit of laughter.
In the bullet-pointed memory, KT, also known as Sangheeta in this story, is looking at me blankly. Her cheeks are scalded red by the high altitude sun and wind. Her face is still covered in dirt from when, at the top of a 15,000 foot pass, a supposed dinn-powered whirlwind attacked her before being chased off with protection mantras and a few well-aimed stones by our Tibetan guide.
It’s with these eyes, black like the bleeding ink of my exploded pen, that KT turns to me after taking slow account of our surroundings:
A little frightened, I touch her arm and tell her, “KT, I just want you to know that this is the most culturally shocking place I have ever witnessed in my 7-years of travel.”
To this, she turns around and shows almost no reaction. Then she scans our surroundings again and comments, “No. I think I’ve seen this before.” She concludes her sentence in straight-faced shock, “on National Geographic.”
It’s the altitude and the exhaust and the absolute absurdity of where we’ve found ourselves that suddenly sends us, with this serious comment, into high-altitude hysterics. Her tears of laughter clear tiny pink streaks down her face and, in a place where there are no mirrors except for the face in front of yours, I am left forever wondering if mine have done the same.