We are taking a rest day (again!) on the Annapurna Circuit in the village of Marpha. This day of rest wasn’t planned, but when we woke this morning to a fresh cool breeze and the mellow rays of a sunny spring, we lingered over coffee and the books we were reading and then said, “what’s the rush?” and decided to stay put.
Marpha is a peaceful place, quiet. I feel at home here. Our teahouse is run by an old Tibetan couple that smiles at us as we sit on their outdoor patio reading in the sunshine. Up on the hill at the edge of town there is a monastery to visit. There are crooked, narrow alleyways to explore. There are dirt-packed plots of potatoes and a rushing river to drop in on.
Last night in a tiny shop across the cobbled pathway from our teahouse, I bought an old horse bell from an ancient Tibetan woman. Settled amongst the beaded jewelry and the hand-woven scarves, it sat like a crumbling relic of the past. “How much for the bell?” I asked the shopkeeper. She seemed surprised at my interest but recovered enough to ask an exorbitant price. Our negotiations began and when it was settled she tried her luck on me again. “You want necklace? Tibetan blanket?” she asked, fanning her hand out over the table. “No, no,” I said, “just the bell.”
“What are you going to do with that?” Brian asked when I came out of the shop with the bell dangling in my hand. I don’t know, but the hollow thrum of this bell reminds me of these mountains. Wherever I end up now, I will carry the sound of the Himalaya with me.
In fact, the tinkling of a bell is the first sound I heard this morning, louder even than the roosters that crow unapologetically just outside our window. Now, the roosters have calmed down and the birds chirp sweet and unencumbered. Two men herd baby goats on the hillside, whistling and grunting commands. A group of schoolgirls in brown sweaters descend a stone staircase, their black hair flying like capes behind them as they move in a chattering bustle. By the sound of it, the world is alive and thriving.
Out here on the trail these days of rest are as important as the days of walking. When I walk, my mind is a loop of thoughts and ideas that rise and churn like the dust kicked up by my feet. When I rest, the ideas and emotions come ungenerated, as if they have been seeking me and in my stopping they have found the chance to track me down. A few months earlier, I had a conversation with another traveler about happiness. “Sometimes I feel that happiness is a moving target,” I’d told her, “I’m always seeking it. Even when I hit it, it moves, and I have to hunt it down again.”
“Perhaps you should sit still and let happiness find you?” she’d offered.
Today I sit still and let happiness come to me.
Now, with the morning behind us, Brian and I take a walk on a stone path through fields of wheat and flowers. We’re meandering, there’s no place we’re intending to go. Up ahead of me Brian is walking through a bright-green field and I watch his broad shoulders and strong arms sway as he navigates the stepping-stones beneath his feet. We are young and healthy, I think to myself, but it will not always be this way.
I remember the words of a French woman we met at a teahouse on the second day of our trek. As we sat on the cool, white benches of the dining room, sipping Nepali tea, we’d told her about our roaming and she was pleased to hear it. At 65, she’d lost her job three years back and took to traveling herself. “I only wish I’d done it years ago,” she said, not sadly, but with the satisfaction of someone who is living the way she wants to now. “Enjoy this wonderful space in your lives,” she’d said to us.
I watch Brian step carefully from stone to stone, his head bowed in concentration. He is aiming towards a stand of trees and whatever lies behind them. Perhaps we will sit down there like Buddhas in the afternoon sun. “Enjoy this moment,” I tell myself. “Enjoy it, enjoy it, enjoy it.”