Kristen Cashman lives in Sonoma County, California, a region known for its rugged coastline, giant redwood trees, and world-class wines, all of which she enjoys regularly. She works as the managing editor of a small book publishing company and loves hiking with her dog and scuba diving with her husband. They have a farm where they grow fruits and veggies and raise sheep. Kristen wrote this piece for us in 2013.
I never fully grasped the meaning of the word “majestic” until I gazed at Kanchenjunga, the world’s third tallest mountain. My vantage point was the tiny Himalayan village of Sandakphu, 3,636 meters above sea level. My traveling companion and I — along with our guide, Rumba, and porter, Pemba — had trekked for two days to get there, willing our legs to propel us ever upward into steadily thinning air. A potent mix of feelings coalesced as I took in the panorama that also included Mount Everest, the tallest of the tall, to the west.
On the one hand, I felt powerful and strong, grateful to my own two feet for having brought me to the summit. On the other, I glimpsed the truth that I am but a tiny speck of dust in the vastness of nature and humanity. None of the mundane pursuits of everyday life mattered up there. The dwarfing magnitude of the vista moved me to tears, as though all the world’s infinite beauty, truth, and love had welled up inside me.
It was early November, one of the best months to visit the region (along with October and March to May), and, sure enough, we were rewarded with clear skies and high visibility. Rumba, the director of Hot Stimulating Treks and Tours as well as the Darjeeling café of the same name, has led treks in these mountains for decades, so he tailored the trip to our specific needs, took us on less-traveled alternate routes, and told us inside stories about the local culture. In the evenings we sat with him and chatted like old friends, comparing notes about our favorite rock ‘n’ roll bands and the very different worlds we lived in back home. My friend and I only had time for the 4-day/3-night Singalila Ridge trek, but Rumba also offers a variety of longer itineraries (up to 14 days) there and in neighboring Sikkim.
The prevailing culture here in the U.S. is all about me, me, me — it seems each of us thinks we’re the center of the universe. The Himalayan trek opened my eyes to another perspective, for in that panorama, there was no room for illusions of self-importance. Since then, when I find myself getting caught in my own drama, I call to mind the view of sacred Kanchenjunga and remind myself that I am tiny, the world is huge, and in the grand scheme my problems are fleeting trifles, so I might as well just enjoy.
From our 2013 archives