the long walk: eric’s epic travels in nepal
posted: March 28, 2014
Eric Noll is a yogi, outdoor enthusiast, world traveller and a member of our men’s design team. He’s also the guy you’ll see doing Scorpion pose on a skateboard on our screenprinted men’s 5 Year Basic T.
The black market in Kathmandu is not, as Eric Noll will tell you, the place to pick up essential supplies before you embark on a two-month hike in the Himalayas.
“I bought a ‘Marmot’ 35-litre pack and a sleeping bag, but they were fake, and it wasn’t good. I was freezing,” he remembers.
But you can hardly fault the guy for the error. He was, after all, just 22 years old, straight out of university, and it was the first time he’d stepped foot off the North American continent—he’d never even been as far as Mexico.
And as Eric will tell you: you live, you learn. Especially in India. “I learned more there than I did in school—at least about myself,” he says.
Like so many great stories, Eric’s tale of travels is rooted in—what? No, not an insatiable thirst for adventure or an epic journey of self-discovery. Those elements were just a bonus. Eric went to India for love. Well, first he fell in love with his yoga teacher (“I think every guy should do yoga if for no other reason than there are a million beautiful women in the classes”), and then he went to India with her.
“I always wanted to go to Nepal. I have always loved the mountains. And she wanted to go to India. When we got there we were just going to stay in the south, but soon we realized there really was no plan. And when you open yourself up to something it just takes its own path.”
In their case, the path led them on a 30-hour train ride from Delhi to an ashram in the north where they meditated for a month. “You just stumble upon ashrams there,” Eric recalls, “and you have a connection and you stay at one until it feels right to leave.”
Ask him about his favourite places in India and Eric’s quick to mention Rishikesh, the Gateway to the Garhwal Himalayas and a city rich with ashrams (The Beatles famously travelled there in 1968 to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation training session at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi).
While in Rishikesh, the couple frequented “a little bench by the side of the road” where a man and his wife would cook them dinner. “They didn’t speak English, but we could still connect. We went back every day for two weeks. We were so happy, but they probably didn’t understand why. Even when I travel I still look for connections to home, and every night they’d light one candle and we’d eat the meal. He always charge us 20 rupees, but I’d pay 100.”
While the rupee could buy him food, storytelling emerged as another sort of currency, Eric discovered. “You collect stories and you trade them. We met an old man who told me that the stems of cilantro leaves will give you arthritis.”
Inevitably, the pull of the Himalayas was irresistible, and the pair began the Everest Base Camp Trek. “You could just walk for days. It was so humbling. You realize how small you are, and that there are still so many untouched places and things out there.”
They walked for three weeks straight, which Eric says is “meditative, when you think about it. You talk a bit, but mostly you walk.”
A deficient map that cost 10 rupees back at the Kathmandu black market was their only means of physical direction, but since there’s only one path in and one path out, getting lost wasn’t a concern, Eric says. “I was never scared, and we never felt threatened.”
The cold nights were spent in tea huts. On his back Eric carried his sleeping bag, one change of clothes, a water filter and his camera. He bought food from shacks along the path, the little teahouses where they’d sleep, or from the porters that they passed on their route. Eric once bought a 5-kilo bag of peanuts from a porter, which seems like a lot to lug around the mountains by North American standards, but is nothing compared to what the Nepalese sherpas carry.
“Giant cuts of yak meat, solar panels, flat screen TVs…and it’s all on their heads. They are taking it to base camp.”
At Mount Everest’s base camp, the couple turned around. But when they returned to Kathmandu, the city was a shock to the system. “We were there for two days and we had to leave. So we just kept on walking [this time on the Annapurna Circuit], everything else seemed foreign.”
One guy who the couple met while walking shared a theory that if you don’t come back to India within three years of visiting it, you probably will never come back. Indeed it’s been more than three years since Eric’s six-month visit, and he hasn’t been back. He’s certainly put miles on his passport since, and often to places where he finds himself again in modest shacks, but lately those shacks have been on beaches beside surf breaks.
Despite that Eric and his yoga teacher girlfriend are no longer together, he still practices three to four times a week, calling it his “escape.”
And even in his everyday life in Vancouver, India is never far from his mind. “India makes you let go, you can’t control anything,” says Eric. “It’s one of the most beautiful places, the food, the culture, the controlled chaos. Nothing is on time. You have to haggle for every rickshaw, every meal. It’s all a hassle, but it’s beautiful.”