Prayer flags drifted on the wind like long strands of kelp in a current. The sun sank low and orange in the west. The trip was ending? No, couldn’t be. Impossible. Sophia and I walked our clockwise circles, again and again, not really believing that in a handful of hours a plane would rise from the Kathmandu Valley and we’d be on it.

We’d been traveling in Nepal for five weeks, through sweaty jungles and mountains bright with snow and claustrophobic markets where old, hunched men sold metal beads, spices, cheap digital watches, hunks of raw water buffalo. There’d been elephants, monkeys, a man-eating tiger, and a moonlit horse nuzzling our tent with his big velvety nose. Countless children asking for chocolate. A gorgeous one-eyed woman.

Now we were back in Kathmandu making a final stop at the Tibetan Buddhist neighborhood called Boudhanath, site of the largest stupa in Asia. As we circled, gazing at the flags, it felt as if we were swimming underwater, holding our breath. Six egrets flew overhead, tracing an invisible path across the rooftops. The stupa glowed a soft, warm white.

Really? The trip was ending?

We followed the egrets, wandering a maze of hills and alleys, lost and happy-sad, wishing aloud that the sun would give us one more hour of light before we closed our eyes and woke up back home. Sure, there’s magic in America, but too often it’s hiding underground, unwilling to show its face for fear of being bought and sold, reduced by science, stifled, sucked dry. In Nepal, at least from what we’d seen, magic still lived in the surface world, jouncing along with the rickshaws and mopeds, burning in the night like incense. Enchanted—that’s how a friend had described Boudhanath before we left the States.

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