For two months I lived in an isolated Himalayan village, hemmed in on all sides by soaring, snow-capped peaks. I’ve passed through places like this before but had never stayed long enough to fully adjust. This time, when I finally did leave, it seemed the world had changed and the city had become a terrible wart on humanity.
For those two months in the mountains the closest town was a four-hour hike away along a winding valley that flooded and became impassable after heavy rain. There was no reliable electricity, internet or telephone.
Each morning I woke to the sounds of bellowing cows and bleating goats and climbed a makeshift ladder onto the roof. The pre-dawn sky, lighting the horizon that stretched into Tibet and burning the night clouds off the peaks of some of the world’s tallest mountains, was one of the most serene images I have ever seen. A week after I arrived I climbed the mountain that hung over the village and looked down. Below the ice-line everything was brown. The elevation was too high, the wind too fast and the earth too arid to sustain much life. The village itself, a cluster of homes surrounded by a complex series of irrigated steps, was an oasis of green in this sea of brown. I peered down on the village and the endless peaks beyond and I cried. I had never been in such awe of the world and so enthralled by the natural beauty that surrounds us.
Life inside the village was simple. We woke at dawn, ate when hungry, harvested crops when ripe and slept once an infinity of stars appeared above. We were in sync with the rhythm of the world around us.
And then I left. The village was in a national conservation area and my permission to be there had long since expired. My visa for Nepal was also coming to an end. After two days of travel, when I finally arrived in Pokhara, the nation’s second largest city, I was in shock. I had never been so disgusted by humanity. Everywhere I looked nature had either been covered by concrete or with trash. The sounds of goats and eagles were replaced with car horns and screaming children. Vendors hawked their wares on every corner and billboards hung over every intersection. It was a disposable culture where everything was commodified and nothing was real. But the only thing special about Pokhara was its proximity to places not yet overrun by the consumerist utopia; every city is a destruction of the world’s natural serenity. Every television, billboard and automobile just a feeble attempt to fill the void in our soul as we bulldoze our connection to the planet we came from.
The saddest tragedy in all of this is how quickly I’ll forget. I’ll go back to my job, get drunk with friends and drift back into this world. Car horns, human screams and billboards will become a normal tapestry of life again. The greatest destruction is not physical; it is what happens inside each of our souls when we grow comfortable in a world where our very lives have been turned into commodities.