Chapter One

Journey to Nepal

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN IN LOVE with the snow. There is something about its perfect crystal whiteness that transports me to happiness. On frozen blizzard nights, when sensible men and women stay safely indoors by their cozy fireplaces, while their children sleep snug as bugs in a rug in warm beds, covered by blankets and fluffy down comforters, I walk alone in the wind-whipped snow, down lonely pine-trimmed lanes.

My fascination with snow began when I was a child. On cold winter mornings and frozen afternoons I played in the snow until, red-cheeked and frozen-fingered, I was called indoors by my mother. She handed me hot chocolate and then dried my soaking clothes, boots and gloves by the fireplace.

As soon as my clothes were dry and I had slipped them back on, I ran outside again to the snowy whiteness in our backyard, where I played happily until the sun set, and the first stars of evening began to appear.

I PROBABLY WOULD HAVE GROWN up to be a doctor (as my mother wished), or gone on to law school and become an attorney (as my father advised) if, on my seventh birthday, my grandparents hadn’t given me my first sled.

It was a bleached oak Flexible Flyer with fire engine red steel runners. The words “Flexible Flyer” were proudly stenciled in big black letters, for all the world to see, across the top of its blond oak body. I spent the better part of that winter—and many winters that followed—on top of my Flexible Flyer, rapidly rushing down every steep snow-covered slope I could find.

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE GLIDING ON snow. The cold wind rushes up to greet your face as you careen madly down a sharp slope. You steer with your hands and hope to gain extra speed by pressing your body as flatly as possible against your sled. Maneuvering quickly, first left and then right, I always aimed for the steepest downhill sections of the trail to gain maximum velocity.

I spent many freeze-dried winter afternoons perfecting my maneuvers for taking corners faster. As soon as I reached the bottom of a hill, I would immediately rush back up to the top again, laughing and dragging my sled behind me. Once there, without pausing to catch my breath, I would dive back on top of my sled and tear down the hillside again. Eventually I could sled down a slope faster than any of my friends could.

It was logical, I suppose, that as I grew older I would graduate from sledding to snowboarding. Skiing was too social a sport for me: it lacked the pure intensity and grace of standing on top of a four-and-a-half-foot-long fiberglass board while plummeting straight down mountains of snow.

Having successfully snowboarded most of the higher mountains in the United States and Canada, I packed my bags and two snowboards, said good-bye to my friends and relations, and traveled by plane to Nepal, to snowsurf the Himalayas on the roof of the world.

I FLEW ON LUFTHANSA TO Frankfurt, where I changed planes for Kathmandu. I arrived late on a cold January afternoon and, after clearing Nepalese customs, I went straight to the Kathmandu Youth Hostel.

The hostel was located on the eastern side of Kathmandu. It was a two-story brick and stucco building with very small windows. Inside, there were cots and lots of European college students. Most of them had come to Nepal looking for “enlightenment,” which they hoped to find while seated at the feet of a local Buddhist monk.

The food that was served at the hostel was simple but good. There were two hot soups, doughy pan bread and tea. After checking in, I ate and chatted with a blonde German college girl who was also staying there. Seeing my snowboards leaning against the wall she proceeded to ask me, in her heavily accented English phrases, lots of questions about snowboarding.

I answered her questions for about an hour, and then, yawning with fatigue, I excused myself. After washing with freezing cold water—since no hot water was left—I crawled into my sleeping bag, fell asleep, and had a most unusual dream.

In my dream, I was snowboarding down a gigantic mountain. The slope below me went straight down as far as I could see. I was riding on my snowboard, happily cutting in and out of the deep granular powder, when suddenly, from out of nowhere, a small, bald-headed Buddhist monk, dressed in a saffron-colored robe, appeared right in front of me!

I reflexively cut my snowboard left to avoid hitting him, but he remained in front of me! Then I tried cutting right to avoid him, but he was still there! It didn’t seem to make any difference which way or how I maneuvered my snowboard; he always managed to stay several feet ahead of me!

Accepting the fact that I couldn’t get away from him—for some reason it is easy to accept the most extraordinary situations as ordinary in dreams—I found myself staring at the short, bald-headed Buddhist monk.

A soft, beautiful, golden phosphorescent light emanated from and surrounded his entire body. As I examined him more closely, I found my gaze irresistibly drawn to his face, which was creased and wrinkled with many fine lines of age.

As I stared at him, the bald-headed monk looked back impassively at me. Then, quite unexpectedly, he winked. He then disappeared as quickly as he had appeared!

Looking ahead, I saw that I was rapidly snowboarding toward the edge of a cliff. Before I could stop myself, I shot over the cliff’s edge and—in a nightmarish turn of events—I found myself plummeting straight down into an endless chasm of snow!

I was about to start yelling when I heard a voice coming from my right side. In a firm male tone, it said: “Don’t give up. Fly! Use your mind. You can do it!”

Glancing quickly to my right, I saw that the monk had suddenly reappeared. He was standing in the air right next to me, and was falling at precisely the same rate of speed that I was.

“Fly! Just do it!” he said to me even more firmly. “What other choice do you have? Use your willpower. Do it now or you will die and never get to meet and help all the people that you are supposed to!”

Listening to him speak, I somehow suddenly knew just what to do: By pushing down with my feelings, I began to gradually slow my descent. By pushing down harder with my feelings, I was able to stop myself in midair. By pushing down as hard as I could, I began to slowly ascend. Using my feelings to propel and direct myself, I flew upward through the air on my snowboard, until I reached the safety of the cliff above. Then I stopped.

“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” I heard the same voice ask me.

I looked around for the bald-headed monk, but he was nowhere in sight. His ability to rapidly appear and disappear, and to speak without being seen, was beginning to annoy me.

“Don’t worry about where I am,” he said. “You will see me soon enough.”

And with his words still echoing in my mind, I was awakened by the sun shining through the youth hostel windows onto my face, to my first morning in Nepal.

AFTER WASHING AND DRESSING, I had a quick breakfast of hot tea and cold pan bread dipped in honey. Then I headed outside to explore Kathmandu. The narrow, early morning streets were already filled with people shopping for food and other goods.

I walked happily through the crowds, listening to the singsong sounds of the Nepalese shopkeepers selling their wares. As I strolled along the city streets, the pungent smells of saffron, cumin, and coriander emanated from the restaurants and spice stalls, perfuming the morning air.

I had entirely forgotten about my dream from the night before until I saw several bald-headed Buddhist monks, dressed in their brightly colored ochre robes, walking toward me on the street. Seeing them reawakened the memory of the levitating monk I had dreamt about the night before.

As I watched the monks walking toward me, I had the crazy notion that if I were able to focus my will hard enough—as I had in my dream the previous night—I would be able to fly up into the sky and hover above their heads! I laughed silently at the absurdity of my thoughts, and at that exact moment the approaching monks grinned openly and widely at me. I couldn’t help but wonder, as they strolled past me, if they had somehow telepathically read my thoughts, and if they were as amused by them as I was.

AFTER WALKING THROUGH THE STREETS of the city for about an hour, I began to approach the outskirts of Kathmandu. It was there that I had my first real glimpse of the Himalayas. The giant, snow-covered mountains rose from the distant horizon and disappeared from sight into the white and gray clouds that constantly hovered above them. Daylight and the shadows cast by moving clouds played back and forth upon their glistening slopes.

I stared at the Himalayas for what seemed like an endless time. Their effect upon me was immediate and magnetic: I knew right there and then that the time had come for me to surf the Himalayas!

THE NEPALESE RECEPTIONIST AT THE Kathmandu Youth Hostel arranged for me to get a ride up to the mountains with a local farmer, in the back of his yak-drawn cart. Sitting in his cart, on a pile of straw, next to my snowboard, I listened to the driver’s non-stop comments without understanding a word he said.

Every time we passed a temple or a large building, he raised his right arm and pointed to it. Then he smiled at me, and in an excited voice, said something in Nepali that I couldn’t understand. In an attempt to be polite, I smiled back at him and nodded my head affirmatively—as if I understood what he had just said—as we bumped and bounced along the rock and gravel road together.

After we had ridden in his cart together for several hours, the road turned sharply upward and I began to get a closer look at the Himalayas. I was totally transfixed by their rough and jagged beauty. Staring at them from the back of the cart, I had a sudden experience of déjà vu. I clearly sensed that in some way, and at some other time, I had been in these majestic mountains before, even though this was the first time in my life I had ever visited the Himalayas.

We gradually made our way up a high mountain pass. When we reached the crest of the pass, I motioned to the driver to stop and let me off; a small path wound its way skyward from that point to a higher section of the mountain than the road serviced. To get to the top of the mountain, I would have to proceed the rest of the way on foot.

After I had taken my snowboard and the rest of my gear out of his cart, I thanked the driver in English and waved. He smiled and waved back at me. Then he said something to me in Nepali as he pointed up to the top of the mountain. I thought I detected a tone of warning in his voice, but for all I knew he was wishing me good luck!

Turning around and waving good-bye to me, he drove off in his cart, leaving me alone, in the late afternoon snow, halfway up my first Himalayan mountain. Strapping my board and day pack onto my back, I began the long, slow, and arduous climb up the steep and rocky trail that led to the mountain’s summit.