An American couple on a hike through the Himalayas endure more hardship and self-scrutiny than they bargained for in this travelogue.
Neuhaus, a successful psychotherapist, and his wife Olga decide to fulfill his boyhood dream of seeing Mount Everest not by climbing it but by joining a package tour to a nearby spot in the Nepalese foothills with a glorious view of the peak. The company assures them that they would follow well-worn trails with ten other tourists, two guides and plenty of Sherpas to assist them, but the 19-day trek to 18,000 feet and back is still no walk in the park for two people pushing 60. The culture shock alone almost kills them: the filth, eye-popping poverty and primitive sanitation of Nepal; the appalling cuisine in back-country Sherpa inns (“I couldn’t believe that food could be so bad,” Neuhaus marvels after a serving of pudding that seems made from wall paper paste); the baffling and “fairly depressing” rituals at a local Buddhist monastery. Then there are the physical perils of grueling marches, yaks that almost trample them on six-foot-wide mountain tracks and the debilitating effects of altitude sickness. “I cursed [the tour promoters] repeatedly for encouraging us to undertake this trek,” the author seethes as his exhaustion and shame at his flagging pace mount. Fortunately, his training as a psychologist enables Neuhaus to see past his frazzled emotions and glean more measured insights on the importance of accepting one’s limitations, adjusting to the inevitable, valuing the effort as well as the outcome and opening up to new things without prejudging them. Neuhaus’ plainspoken but vivid prose also conveys the compensating delights of the trip: the austere beauty of the landscape, the graciousness of the Nepalese and the blessings of a warm sleeping bag after a hard day’s walk.
An absorbing, evocative meditation on a road seldom traveled.