Life’s Gift: Potatoes, Oreos, and Peanut Butter in the Himalayas

Written by Jacqueline Towers, 2016 India: High Altitude Education

Travel changes your perspective on everything, potatoes included. It turns out that all it took to give this underappreciated root some more love was a gruelling 6-day trek through sun-drenched valleys and rugged desert mountains, ice-cold rivers, and a climb up to a 17,000 foot high mountain pass.

Each morning before we started the day’s trekking just after sunrise, our friendly, hospitable homestay families or the camp cook would pack us each a lunch, most often consisting of chapatti with jam or cheese, an ultra-sweet juice box, a chocolate bar – and an entire boiled potato, still in its skin.


On day 1 of our trek, before being ferried across the Indus River in a tiny wooden cart hanging from a steel cable, we all tucked into our packed lunches. When I opened up my aluminum-wrapped potato, I said out loud, “Why is this random potato in my lunch, I’m not going to eat this.” The tiny aluminum foil-wrapped item that came with the potato was actually salt, and not a sugary delight as I’d hoped.

How wrong I was.

The potato, along with its salty seasoning, quickly became the first lunch item I’d eat along with the rest of the group, an hour after starting our trek, since that’s how often we got hungry. I’ll never be as hungry as I was on that trek, and I’ve made it a goal to look forward to each meal with such pure enthusiasm wherever I may be.


A couple weeks earlier, the group went on a mini-trek in Manali through lush green forests, crossed two rickety wooden bridges over raging brown rivers coursing with monsoon rains, and climbed up to a remote waterfall.

As we waded around in the freezing cold water, someone busted out their Oreo stash and within minutes someone’s full jar of peanut butter came out for battle as well. Oreo-peanut butter dunking and much merrymaking ensued. I wondered why Oreos and peanut butter had never tasted so good and why I’d been wasting years of my life not going on hikes with Oreos and peanut butter before.


It says a lot about my life back home that I have to hike up into the mountains in India to properly enjoy a boiled potato and some Oreos and peanut butter. I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that before this trip I struggled to experience one thing at a time, being so preoccupied with a host of mundane responsibilities.

I struggled to just be in the moment when my senses were overwhelmed with input from work, school, social media, and living in a big city. It took a few weeks in the mountains to help me realize that I can experience everything I want to – the burn of my legs as we go up steep hill #12 of the day, that first sweet chai and 15 whole momos after six hours of walking, and a boiled potato under a shady tree with the rest of the group.

Potatoes: full of nutrients but also FULL OF LIFE LESSONS.