A MAN’S quest to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life led him to begin writing a book which he hopes will inspire others.
A chance e-mail at work provided the ideal opportunity for Jose Casas to take up the life-changing experience he had been searching for.
The creative support specialist from Chester’s Bank of America said: “One day talking with a friend of mine, we agreed we both enjoyed nature and loved places where you can be in silence to listen to yourself think.
“I told him I wanted to go to the Himalayas, on the lookout for silence and wisdom from the monks, to learn how to live a happier life with eternal peace.
“We sit at our desks day in, day out, but there is so much more to life.”
A week later Jose, originally from Galicia, Spain, received a circular e-mail from the company’s main office in London.
He said: “The e-mail was to tell everybody about a charity trek in Nepal through the Himalayas. The trek was planned a year before but somebody dropped out at the last minute and the organiser of the event was offering it to anyone who was interested.
Jose raised the £1,000 sponsorship needed for the trek, organised to raise funds for the Esther Benjamin’s Trust for deprived and disabled Nepalese children.
With help from wife Monica, 35, colleagues, friends and his six-year-old daughter Michelle and her classmates at Saint David’s Primary School, Mold, Jose reached his fundraising goal.
On September 24, he flew from Manchester Airport to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu where his adventure began.
He met the rest of the team who would join him on the gruelling hike.
The day before the group arrived, a man was killed in a landslide on one of the mountains.
With little physical preparation for his trip, Jose braced himself for the most challenging adventure of his life.
He said: “My first day was very exciting. After we discussed our plans, we went to an excellent Nepalese restaurant for a traditional welcome reception and dinner.
“The next day, we took a bus to the base camp in Pokhara, a small city in the north of the country.”
The team were accompanied by 13 Nepalese guides who carried luggage and equipment and provided them with facilities such as tents, a portable toilet and cooking facilities.
Jose said: “We took another bus to Kaare, when you begin you can see small houses everywhere, the narrow stone stairs bordering the way up to the mountains where you can see the beautiful lakes Phewa and Pokhara.”
Jose began his ascent which he found incredibly tough.
The journey was made even more perilous following a downpour, which made the route extremely slippery.
Jose said: “Nepalese women carrying their children on their backs passed us without any sign of tiredness or difficulty. The local people can load 100kg on their backs, which is remarkable for their stature. They have amazing strength and vigour.”
Few Nepalese children are lucky enough to attend school and most are forced to work.
The Esther Benjamin’s Trust built schools in Nepal to give more children the opportunity to receive an education.
Jose said: “In my mind I had the hymn Kum By Ya, which my daughter sings: I was nearly crying. We have so much here and we don’t realise how much we have.
“This year, my daughter told me she didn’t want much for herself for Christmas and she would rather poor children had something.”
The team walked for more than five hours a day, but bad weather caused delays and the group were forced to make up time by walking for eight hours a day.
Jose said: “The porters were fantastic. Their job was so hard, but the whole time they had smiles on their faces, they never complained.
“Some days it rained a lot, and leeches appeared climbing all over my feet and legs. I didn’t feel them, but when I looked down I saw myself covered in blood.”
The hike took the team on an ascent starting at 1,200m and reaching 4,200m.
Jose said: “Fortunately, the weather improved a few days into the trek, the sun was shining and the mountains were covered in snow, which was delightful.
“We passed through the beautiful village of Chhomrong. I saw children coming out of school, very happy, singing and waving to us saying ‘namaste’ (hello). The deeper meaning is ‘greetings the God in you’, a very wise and beautiful translation.”
Jose was surprised to find children at school on a Sunday, but guides explained they have a different calendar.
He said: “It made me realise the time does not exist, it is a concept created by us. In fact, the feeling there was as if time stopped and the only important thing was the present, every single moment has value and nothing else matters.
“After seven hours of walking, I felt I didn’t have the strength to keep going. I realised the only way to carry on was to focus on every step without thinking about the end goal.
“I think living in the present with faith is a good lesson to apply in every day life.”
Jose’s trek took him on over thousands of steps in and out of villages, through a hanging bridge and over turbulent rivers.
He said: “As the mountains got closer, the altitude got higher on each step. Around us were glaciers, wild rivers, crystalline waterfalls, mountain goats, buffalos, beautiful birds and exotic vegetation, it was magnificent, but it was difficult to breathe because the altitude.
“That night we had a spectacular view of the Milky Way – the stars shone like diamonds, it was truly an unforgettable night.”
Arriving at the Annapura Base Camp, Jose saw a stone temple called the Climbers’ Memorial, where Nepalese people pray to God for their wishes to come true.
He said: “They believe the wind takes their wishes to God who lives in these mountains.
“I was surrounded by a breathtaking and mystic scenery, the magnificent mountains were so close I felt I could touch them, and then I thought to myself – I did it!
“After all these days of tiredness and dangers, I had achieved my goal. I climbed up to the temple leaving my wife and daughter’s most precious wishes which they had written, their wishes were now at the top of the world! It was a magic moment for me.
“I was very grateful and gave thanks to God for having this opportunity to be in this majestic place where silence rules.”
Jose was relieved to finally be able to call Monica and Michelle to let him know he was OK.
He said: “On the last day, I thought about all the beauty, spirituality and simplicity of this wonderful country and the generosity and kindness of Nepalese people.
“Before I left I had become like so many other people. I spent most of my life sat at a desk, but true happiness does not come from materialistic things. Life has so much to offer.
“It was a very touching, inspiring and life changing experience – it was so deep I decided I had to write a book of this adventure including a hint of the spiritual sense I encountered.
“I don’t really follow any religion, but I truly believe in spiritualism and the meaning of life is to help others.
“We have lost a connection with each other along the way. My aim is inspire people to change their life, following their dreams and achieving them as I did.”
For more about Jose’s journey, visit www.serenitymind.co.uk. To find out about the work of the Esther Benjamin’s Trust, visit www.ebtrust.org.uk.