We stepped into Sam's Bar, a popular bar hidden upstairs in a street of Thamel. The music was loud and the place crowded, but the atmosphere relaxed and welcoming. Scanning the room, we looked for Robin and saw him, one elbow resting on the counter, beer in hand, chatting with some Nepali friends.
Arboring hair as white as the himalayan snows and a short trimmed salt and pepper beard, a small round belly and smoking cigarettes, Robin didn't appear, at first glance, to be the adventurous type. But I only needed to exchange a few words and look into his deep blue eyes to know that this man had a true understanding of Life. An understanding built on passion, experience and suffering.
After his first time in Nepal, Robin fell in love with the Himalayas and envisioned a Trail that would cross the entire mountain range. With great determination, he transformed that fantasy into reality, mapping around 4500 km through the Himalayan regions of Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Tibet.
He created the Great Himalaya Trail.
We met Robin on three different occasions: once before starting the Trail in September, once while coming back to Kathmandu in November and once after finishing, in February.
On each of these encounters, we shared Trail stories over a few drinks. With reggae music in the background, and punctuated by Robin's unfaltering sense of humour, the conversations seemed lighthearted, but I couldn't help noticing the profound philosophy behind it.
Below are a few excerpts from our exchanges with the man, not always quoted in his own words but coming out as my interpretation. Hopefully the essence of it remains intact:
First meeting in September:
"There is something special about the Himalayas.
These mountains are merciless if you are not respectful towards them. If you have something you are uncomfortable with inside yourself, these mountains will know it, and will bring it forward for you to face.
Listen top the mountains, be in the moment. Be part of the world around you, become it. Nepal is a fluid place, everything flows like water, don't try and go against it. People who want to do the GHT with a rigid mindset will invariably fail. Be flexible.
It's harder to learn how to think in the mountains than actually think. Follow your instinct.
It would be totally foolish to go out there without local knowledge. Meet the people and listen to them.
Wherever you go, whatever route you choose, there is no right or wrong. Everything is perfect. Everything will unfold the way it should.
Second meeting in November:
When you are in the mountains, you forget about your job, your family, the bills you have to pay and the world in general. You are here, you are in the moment. You see more, you hear more. Your senses are more acute. You are more Alive.
Everything you do in your everyday life becomes irrelevant. The things you possess, your job, your social media popularity, these things don't define you. Who you are in the mountains: this defines you.
No attachment is the key to bliss. We are all looking for is not happiness, because happiness comes from attachment to material things or people. In the mountains, we experience bliss.
Third meeting in February, after finishing:
There is no harder Trail in the world.
When you get to the end, you experience this sort of anticlimax. Not quite a hollow sensation, but a mixed feeling of great achievement and inescapable termination. Something really big, that was your life for so long finishes, it's as if you die a little.
After such an experience, you know more who you are. You know that you can do anything.
Nothing is impossible".
The Great Himalaya Trail has changed Robin's life considerably. It has now also changed ours. I am grateful for all his advice and for showing respect to the bunch of inexperienced, dewy-eyed rookies that we were at the beginning. We have now grown.
Thank you Robin for your time, your wisdom and for the delicious meal last night!