Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thinking of Aubrey

Back in May I heard through some friends about an American girl who had apparently gone missing up in the Langtang area (You can see my original post HERE). Word came just as the Maoists were in the middle of shutting down the country. This added to the confusion, and I was among the many people who assumed that the strike had delayed her return to Kathamndu and she was either stuck in Dunche or Syrabru, or after getting frustrated with a lack of transportation had decided to walk back via Gosainkund and Helumbu. As we clear the middle of August she has still not turned up.

I'm not sure why her story still sticks with me so much, but I find that at least once or twice a week I think about what might have happened to her, or where she is, or how hard this must be for her parents. Now I have never met her, and what I know about her comes to me only through the facebook page they created for her in the search and what I read in the media. The thoughts continue mostly though because she disappeared doing one of the things that I love most in the world, and from what I have read about her, she had in some similar approaches to life and travel that resonate with me.

There is nothing like getting out in the middle of the Himalaya and walking the trails of those mountains, and in some ways doing it on your own adds to the experience. There are many people who would scold me for writing that, as traveling by yourself especially in places with potentially dangerous terrain puts yourself more at risk and potentially in a bad situation. I stand by it though, and there are few experiences like it. A lot of people ask me what I like about trekking so much, when I tell the stories it just sounds like a lot of walking and work. But you can't convey all the little moments, like coming around a bend and having three wild goats come up onto the trail, or turning the corner and seeing a snow covered peak that had been hiding behind a ridge, or discovering a four hundred year old monastery three thousand feet up above the trail. When you are on your own there are no distractions, there is just you, the trail and the mountains and rivers around you. You can take it all in, at your own pace and as you like.

Reading some comments on some media websites, especially in the States, there were a lot of ignorant comments about how trekking by herself was such a terrible idea. Mostly written by people that have never been outside their state I would assume, it doesn't take one long to realize  once here that this is one of the safest destinations on the planet. Despite the sometimes dangerous trail conditions and the sheer number of tourists that come through regions like Langtang, Nepal boasts an extremely low rate of fatalities for foreign tourists. The Nepali people are some of the least threatening people on the planet, and even more so up in Buddhist regions like Langtang, and doubly so when it is a region that knows that tourism is their bread and butter. Langtang has very few villages that even exist for reasons other than tourism, Langtang Village and a portion of Kyanjin Gompa excepted.

I even traveled here during the height of the insurgency, in 2002 and 2004. The Maoists had blown up a control tower at the airport in Lukla, scaring away many tourists. There was such a backlash against them for this that while I was hiking on my way to Everest from Jiri they had actually spray painted slogans in English to win over tourists saying things like "Foreigners are welcome to see our sacrifice." My point in brining this up is that it is for the most part extremely safe and aside from some petty theft, foreigners are rarely ever the target of violent crime.

All of this makes Aubry's disappearance  so much more of a mystery to me. Langtang is not a trail that you can lose, there are high mountains on either side of the river and basically one trail. If she had just gotten into physical trouble with the terrain via a nasty fall or something, someone would have seen her or her belongings not far from the trail. Besides my understanding is that she disappeared somewhere between Lama Hotel and the police checkpoint before you get to Langtang village, a portion of the trail which is relatively free of any scary drops or precarious cliffs. As for abduction by locals, it just seems so out of character for that region. She was there at the end of the high season, how could someone not notice with all the people, both Nepali and foreign going through. Again there aren't many trails through that valley. Also why? Sure everyone likes white woman, but it's dangerous. White folk tend to stand out in Nepal and India. As many people assume that we are all rich and have connections many also view messing with westerners as potentially a very dangerous undertaking. Even if someone had decided to traffic this one girl, many many people would be reluctant to work alongside or get involved. Where would you bring her that she wouldn't stand out? Lastly the traffic strike that followed paralyzed the whole country for over a week, how were they moving around?

All of this kind of went through my mind as I passed some of her missing posters on the trail in langtang. What could possibly have happened to her out here? I'm reminded when I see them still up at Bhat Betini, or Phora, or in Thamel. We can all hope that this will still have the best possible ending, and my thoughts go out to her family. The only thing I would maybe say to them if I could is that Aubrey was doing something that few people ever get to do, she was experiencing something that few people ever dare to experience, and she was living like few people ever get to live. While her disappearance is a tragedy, her life seems to be an inspiration.


  1. Thank you so much for your words!

    From a friend of Aubrey who misses her terribly.

  2. Thanks, Brian. I do not know you, nor do I know Aubrey. However, I have also spent time in Nepal and I could not have said your words better. It is what I have been trying to convey to the many many people in my small part of the world. And--I agree--if I need to state to people just why I loved to trek by myself--well, those folks just didn't "get it". Your words are both inspiring and honest. And beautiful.

    Thank you, my friend.

  3. There are a very few cases of sensible seekers... young westerners who disappeared in Nepal and in India due to what is called cultural confusion. Sudden U-turn in life after coming from a very tied and loving family. The culture shock of realization that one is very privileged and then some join the simple lives of the local destitute and neglected...the stateless, the homeless...trying to comfort them with knowledge and presence in exchange for love, solidarity and shelter...sharing the little they have together. Experiencing the simplicity of a semi nomadic life that is no more complicated and stress-fully controlled by consumerism,aimless security. Becoming someone else...anonymous and extremely happy with the little things they have left to care and share etc.

  4. You are a complete asshole, and maybe you should be telling people on this blog that Aubrey is not the only female hiker that has died on this trail, and there is an unsolved murder on the same trail. Anyone that let's there daughter travel alone to this hell hole should be warned. I hope Aubrey will be found. Get your head out of your liberal ass and leave this comment to have a balance to all the other airheads that write on this site.

  5. Anonymous, clearly no one should ever leave their house, because you know people die out there. Should no one hike on the Appalachian trail because people have been murdered or raped? Grow up. Maybe in your comments you could add specifics to any other missing woman on that trail, as I know of most of the missing cases in Nepal from the last decade, and can't recall another like Aubrey's in Langtang.

    Over 500,000 tourists come to Nepal a year and in the last fifteen less than a dozen have been killed or gone missing. Many of those missing cases are due to weather and trail conditions. I'll put those ratios against any travel to Florida or other vacation spots in the States, or most other first world countries.

    Also you don't know me and your assumption that I'm liberal is very far off the mark. I'm not some pot smoking hippie that wants to sing khumbaya, but I've been around the world a couple times and have trekked on every continent aside from Antartica. Everything outside the US isn't some scary place teaming with brown people that are lined up ready to kill Americans, contrary to the opinions you may have formed from watching TV.

  6. Ok Bonehead, I have been around the world as well, but i would not let my daugter travel alone in langtang were there is mostly poverty and opportunity for evil. Also check your facts, there is another woman who has also never been found in the park. There have been over a dozen deaths in the park in the last 5 years, again check you r facts. I guess it's ok to lose a few lives for the benefit of self exploration. Of coures we only have million of pristine acres of national park land in the US which is also perfectly safe. You know what I hate, that people think that by going to third world countries to explore there culture somehow elevates them over the rest of us that just don't seem to get it, in there eyes. Yeah, ok Nothing worth risking to see an impoverishedd land with a buch of beggars

  7. "Poverty and opportunity for evil"- You really sum up your ignorance with this single part of the above post. Langtang is not some poverty stricken hell hole, that valley especially sees a regular flow of tourist dollars and most of the structures there exist only for that purpose.

    There have not been over a dozen deaths in that park in the last five years either, if you want to link some facts feel free, but the numbers you're claiming are garbage.

    As for the 1 million pristine acres in the US that are "perfectly safe" you may want to check your statistics. Between getting lost, attacks form grizzly bears, accidents with terrain, or even rape and murder many people do go missing in US national parks too. The crime rate in some US parks far and away surpasses anything here in Nepal.

    Although your last two sentences don't make sense, I get the basic idea of what you were trying to say. If all you see is poverty, than you're blind to what is mostly here. If you want to continue to post, make it constructive, try to form whole sentences, and back up your assertions or I'll be deleting them.

  8. Hi Anonymous,

    as a Nepali citizen I am feeling sad about you and your opinion towards my country. Nothing in South Asia is more diverse and has so many different cultural aspects to offer to visitors around the world than our beautiful little nation. Compared with crimes in the USA Nepal is still a safe place for visitors. I feel perfectly safe in my own city and neighborhood and do not need to worry about my kids. Crime is an international issue and no country is free of it. The internet makes that unhappy events such as half a dozen missing foreigners amongst half a million foreign visitors annually are blown out of proportion.
    To call my country a hell hole is actually highly offensive...not only to us Nepalese but also to those foreign visitors who come in big numbers again and again to be our guests.

    It seems that you are a quite arrogant person to speak up like that. I would not dare to walk alone in the country side of the USA with people around like you who has no respect for people from other cultures. In Nepal millions of foreign trekkers have walked alone since Nepal has opened for foreign visitors. Poverty is large indeed. Nepal has been exploited for over 200 years by an elite tat was in power by sheer support of external forces. Now we are in transition to form a federal republic and that is actually a situation well known in the few hundred years that your country the USA has come into existence. The people of the USA had their share too with civil war and slavery, exploitation, poverty and beggars all over the nation. Big countries have had big problems too to get their house in order. Especially in terms of crimes and murder. So do not point your finger at us but seek out yourself, why in the richest country on our planet more murders and exploitation of the poor happens in a day than in Nepal in a decade.

  9. Yes I deleted your posts Anonymous.
    The rules are simple, if you can post in clear sentences, without name calling and make claims that can actually be backed up, then by all means please post. Otherwise please stay away. Write another ignorant, name calling, and half punctuated comment and I'll block you from posting all together.

    Your IP signature tells me you are from Flushing New York, a part of Queens. Now this got me laughing quite hard, because the murder rate in Queens seems to be far and away higher than what it is even in southern Nepal, let alone Langtang. It seems ironic that a man that would live in a location like this would lecture others about where they allow their family members to travel. Just saying.

    @Dogscreatejobs, don't take the comments from anonymous too seriously. Most Americans for the part aren't quite so full of spite. Ignorance is unfortunately a condition that exists in all countries among a certain portion of the population.

  10. Brian, this is a beautiful post. My heart goes for Aubrey and her family. Heard about her missing a few months ago and wanted to update myself on how things were coming along and came by your post. I am also a Nepali and i totally agree with your view points on how we in Nepal treat American.

    The people in my country love having foreigners over and they would do anything on their part to help the travel of a foreigner be a wonderful and beautiful experience.

    Although we are a third world country, being poor does not mean we resort to evil activities as anoymous is stating.

    I am praying for Aubrey to be located soon. Have faith in God she's safe.

    And Brian, god bless you for your beautiful work!! very rarely do people travel around like that or even get a chance!! Happy and Safe traveling


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