Dear Friends,
It's been a long time since I've written a letter of this kind. The last one was seven years ago from Russia. Seems it takes a foreign adventure to motivate me to write. This time it was trekking in Nepal.

The idea was born three summers ago in the High Sierra. Ray Prendergast, Dick Raines, Clark Smith and I were hiking down a hillside when Dick came up with the idea of trekking in Nepal. Having been briefly in the Himalayas in 1971 when working in India, I immediately warmed to the idea. We set a goal of going before the end of the century, and pulled it off in October .

Our first trek was to the Annapurna Sanctuary, a basin formed by peaks ranging from 20,000 to 24,000 feet elevation . Our destination was the Annapurna Base Camp, at 13,000 ft. Getting there took five days of the most strenuous hiking we've ever done.

We entered Nepal at the Kathmandu airport. Twenty minutes in a taxi was all we needed to see that Nepal is a poor country, and Kathmandu is in trouble. The slums, the congestion, the condition of the streets, and the pollution were the worst I've seen. This is not to say that Kathmandu is not an interesting place. After you get over the fear of being hit by a jitney or stumbling in a pothole, it becomes a fascinating city.

Most interesting to me were the people. Far from being homogeneous, they represent many ethic groups (Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Sherpa, Indian, Tibetan) and several religions, mainly Hinduism and Buddhism. Nevertheless, they relate to qne another in friendly, easygoing ways, and are most gracious with foreigners. I particularly noted that they handle difficult situations with remarkable equanimity.

Take, for example, the traffic. Imagine a busy street, barely wide enough for two cars to pass. No sidewalks .or traffic signals. Shop keepers on both sides trying to get customers to come inside. Exhaust fumes so bad some people cover their faces with handkerchiefs or wear painters masks. Much noise from horns and motor bikes. Through this narrow street move taxis, trucks, motorbikes, rickshaws, hand-drawn carts, sacred cows, dogs, and many people. Traffic jams abound. Under such conditions, Nepali drivers and pedestrians negotiate their ways with amazing calm. Not once did I observe a driver shout or raise an obsene finger at another person.

After two days of sight-seeing,-we boarded a bus for Pokhara, Nepal's second largest city and a major starting point for Himalayan treks. The two-lane road between Kathmandu and Pokhara is carved into the sides of deep gorges along rivers that originate in mountain snow. Normally it's a six-hour trip, but ours took twelve. Reason - mudslide. There we were, in the rain, stuck in traffic that stretched for miles in both directions on a mountain road, part of which was still sliding into the river. Rumor was that there was only one bulldozer in that part of the country. We foreign passengers were pretty anxious, but our Nepali driver took it in stride. Eventually the bulldozer showed up to clear the boulders away, and we drove on.

I found Pokhara to be a much more pleasant city than Kathmandu. It lies between a large lake and a long forested mountain. The climate is subtropical, with bananas, papayas, and citrus trees growing all around. We stayed at the aptly named Harmony Guest House, a place I'd be happy to return to any time, before heading off on our trek to the Annapurna.

Like most trekkers in Nepal, and epecially those over seventy, we hired a guide and porters. Our guide, who spoke English well, got us up in the morning, made sure that we carried plenty of boiled water, and generally saw to it that we were well cared for. The porters, four friendly little men, amazed us with their ability to scamper up and down steep, rocky trails with fifty pound duffels on their backs. Unbelievably, the standard footgear for Nepali porters a pair of beach thongs.

The trek from Pokhara to Annapurna Base Camp took five days. Our guide, Oepak, planned so that we ended each day's trek at a guest house. These small hostels have been built to accommodate the growing number of trekkers coming from all parts of the world. Sleeping rooms were definitely spartan, with only wooden slab beds, a foam pad, perhaps a table, and a candle. No heat. One common bathroom with a water bucket, and a hole-in-the-floor toilet. Meals were mainly rice and lentils, eggs, potatoe pancakes, and soup. A room and two meals cost about $7.00.

While the facilities were ordinary, the scenery definitely was not. At the lower elevation, we walked up and down one foothill after another, along the edges of green rice paddies, in and out of jungle-like forests, through primitive villages, across streams on logs, and over rivers on suspension foot bridges. As we reached higher elevations, signs of human habitation disappeared and vegetation thinned out to only alpine grass. But all along the way, as we hiked over and around the ever-higher hills, we got views of the magnificent snow-capped Annapurna that were our destination.

Being at the Annapurna Base Camp was like nothing I have ever experienced. It is one thing to view the world's highest and perhaps most spectacular mountains from a distance~ but quite another to be completely surrounded by them. Of course at that elevation the weather has everything to do with what one experiences. Many who trek all the way to the Base Camp never get to see the peaks. We worried about that the afternoon we arrived, when fog, or perhaps it was a cloud, rolled into the basin. But just at dusk an opening in the fog revealed a panarama of gigantic pink peaks standing before a backdrop of deep blue sky.

That was the only really cold night we had. In the morning we walked around awe-struck as the sun slowly lit the peaks all around us. We wanted to stay longer but couldn't, as we needed five days to hike back down.

My three friends went on to do another trek in the Everest region, but I chose to explore the Pokhara area. Perhaps the story of one day's venture will give you the flavor.

Pokhara is situated beside a lovely lake, some twenty miles south of the Himalaya Range. Parts of the range can be seen from the city, but only parts because the view is blocked by a hill, perhaps 2,000 ft. high, which bounds the city on the opposite side from the lake. Perched on top of this hill is Sarangot, a tiny village famed for its view of the western Himalaya.

One morning around 6:00, I decided to hike, alone, up the mountain to get a morning view of the snow-covered peaks. I started out on a trail that I'd been told went all the way to the top, but after an hour or so realized that the trail and I had somehow lost one another. However , I continued to make my way uphill, along dike-like edges of rice paddies, around patches of brush, and through woods.

After a while, doubts about the wisdom of the venture began to cross my mind. I was about to head back down the mountain when I heard a woman's voice coming out of the woods. She seemed to be calling me, in Nepali, which I of course did not understand. In a second or two an attractive young woman emerged, walking poised and tall, dressed in a red sari.

Trying a bit of the 'Nepali I'd learned at home from tapes, I asked if this was the way to SarQngot. She said that it was'nt a very good way to get there. Evidently perceiving my wearyness from the climb, she suggested that I come to her house for a cup of tea.

She headed off along a rice paddy, and I followed. Shortly we came to an adobe-type house with a thatched roof, perched near the edge of a cliff. Far below lay miles of lush green valley, the lake and the town of Pokhara. (In California, such a view would be worth millions). Near the the cliff's edge was a little shelter covering a hand-hewn plank table and bench, where my host invited me to sit while she made tea and fetched her husband. But first she introduced her three-year old daughter who, after a shy moment, became thoroughly amused at my pidgeon Nepali.

The husband was a friendly man, perhaps late twenties, who, happily for me, spoke some English. He said he would show me the way to 5arangot. I protested, but he won out by saying that he had to go there anyway. But first he had to milk their family buffalo. I drank tea while he milked, then we headed up the mountain.

I would probably still be groping around those rice paddies if that good man had not taken me in tow. We hiked in and out of woods, over outcroppings of volcanic rock, around rice paddies, across dikes and ditches, up stone steps and along slippery trails for more than two hours before finally coming to Sarangot.

Along the way he talked, as others had, about Nepal's serious problem with population growth and consequent unemployment. Progress has been made, however, with their problem of deforestation and soil erosion. He said that most Nepalis support the monarchy because of it's deep historic roots, but dislike the present king, who is out of touch with the common people.

All this, mind you, and I had not had breakfast! 50 we went to the one tea house in the village that served food. My new friend had the traditional "dahlbat" (rice and lentils) and I ordered scrambled eggs, which were too greasy to eat.

But in that setting neither fatigue from the hike, nor hunger, nor bad food were of any consequence because there before us stretched a panarama of the world's most spectacular mountains -- the five Annapurnas, Macchapuchre, Hiunchuli, and Lamjung Himal. I think I will see that sight in my mind's eye every day as long as I live.

Happily, there is a road that winds it's way down the mountain from Sarangot, and I was able to hitch a ride back to Pokhara. A few days later it was back to Kathmandu for more sight-seeing, then three days in Bangkok before the 16 hour flight on ThaiAir back to L.A.

Life here is, I guess -I have to say, "normal". I work, as I have since returning from Russia, doing home improvements. Blair and Alan continue to work as computer consultants, and Jeannine writes for television. Their two daughters are now toddlers, walking and beginning to talk. I get much pleasure from seeing my children and their spouses grow their families.