A Worldview from yet a Higher Elevation
We had decided to get up at four in the morning of 6 November 2008, but couldn’t, due to extreme cold. It was meaningless to be troubled, because there were a lot of foreigners and we were informed that the breakfast would be prepared for them first. We were full of curiosity regarding that day’s journey. We were preparing to feel the ecstasy of it. We were marching ahead past the Thorang-la Pass, the highest point of the round Annapurna trek as well as the topmost place of our journey.
Mailadai (the immediate younger brother of the eldest one among three or more brothers) came into our room to call us around 4:15 in the morning. ShreeOm, Mani, Thakur and I quickly got up, fighting the cold. We completed our morning jobs and got down to the dining room.
A group of foreigners had moved towards Thorang-la Pass.
We had Rara noodles. As per the doctor’s advice, we took water in garlic juice, some Cadbury chocolates and chewing gums in separate bags so that we could take them out easily in need and keep ourselves safe from high altitude sickness. To be internally strong and to prevent ourselves from high altitude sickness, we took some medicine. In this way, we were mentally and physically prepared for the journey.
We moved in dim light at about 5 with our bags on our backs, and sticks and torches in our hands. Before we stepped uphill, I silently prostrated to the mountain God and requested him to accept my bow. Our relations with hills and mountains have ever been inseparable since time immemorial. We worship the mountains, and believe that we will be warded off from disasters. We believe that Gauri-Shankar and many of our other deities live in the Himalayan region. We make it to heights out of determination, taking pledges to scale them. We grow old, playing with these mountains, and rolling on their laps. Ganga, a perennial source life for us, springs out from these mountains. It is from such rivers that we learn our songs; they make up the source of our culture, ideals, civilization and ways of life. Today, a rare turn of luck has brought me to the lap of these mountains – especially Annapurna, and I am making preparations to climb the Thorang-la. Before setting my first step for the voyage, I thought it to be my prime duty to bow to the mountain in reverence. This is a modesty or honour I probably learnt from the mountains.
The journey upward had started. If anyone walks quickly at such a high altitude, there is a possibility of being sick. So, we were told not to walk quickly so that our breathing could be slow. We all had decided to walk together. We tried to walk but some of our friends began to walk slower than expected, and we found it hard to keep the same pace. Therefore, Baba, Mani, Thakur and I continued at our own speed.
The way was high, stiff and steep, and the hill was strong and hard. Everyone had to walk at a measured pace because if he stopped, he would feel extreme cold and if he walked quickly he would have a breathing problem. The mouth would go dry after walking for a few steps. Therefore, we walked drinking garlic in water and juice. Now and then, I had a bite of Marsh chocolate as well. It gave me some energy. The rest of the time, I chewed gum.
The moon was shining in the sky. Stars were twinkling. We were climbing over an altitude of 4500 meters. As long as we went up the moon and stars looked closer and our curiosity and excitement increased at the same speed. On the other hand we were highly conscious, as we feared high altitude sickness.
Our friends, particularly Samba and ShreeOm, had been left far behind. We were not worried because the doctor and Mailadai were with them. To ease Samba, Baba heartily offered to help him carry his luggage, but Samba didn’t agree. At any rate, he was determined to carry it himself. Baba got upset as Samba reacted, taking the offer as a as a criticism on his not being able to walk steadily. Mani and I convinced Baba. As Govinda had felt difficulty in walking the previous day, he didn’t want to take the risk, and hired a horse for that day’s journey.
We arrived at Thorang-la height after climbing for an hour. There were some hotels and restaurants. The hotel staff informed us that those hotels were full of tourists. We stood at Thorang-la height for ten minutes. Standing only at one place could chill us further. So we moved here and there. Our friends arrived. They also expressed their desire to stay at the top for some time, but we moved instantly.
It was already dawn. We didn’t need torchlight. The juvenile light of the early morning was bright enough to show us our way. We walked straight for some time and began to climb uphill again. Silvery snow greeted us on the way. I wrote Mani’s name in the snow and drew into his attention. He jumped with excitement. His ecstatic excitement fetched me some happiness too.
A long queue of trekkers was seen walking on the way even after passing Thorang-la Pass. They were from different parts of the world, who enjoyed trekking in the mountainous region. I was really excited to see such a big number of foreigners climbing the mountain in queue.
It was quite late. I silently thanked Ramesh and ACAP once again for managing this journey. Nepali tourist guides and porters also were seen among the foreigners. It was like a rainbow. The moving rainbow over white snow and blue sky really looked very beautiful.
Excitement suddenly rises on seeing a long queue of people trekking in such a journey, and it increases our confidence in moving and reaching the destination easily.
We were climbing upward. As long as we climbed, the snow-capped mountains looked shorter. The stars also looked as if they had descended down to earth, making us feel that we could reach our hands out to them in a moment. It was real fun.
Walking on the snow in spite of a weary trip uphill, I was feeling extremely cold. The cold grabbed our palms though we were wearing thick gloves. It was difficult for me to continue holding the juice container. In spite of that, we took some snaps standing on the snow. It was not that easy to operate the camera but nobody could tame their desires for long, at such a sensational time.
Gradually the sunrays fell on the earth from beyond the peaks. The snow got drenched with sunlight. The air really looked bright and pure. We experienced a slight rise in temperature, as the sun shone bright in the eastern sky.
I turned back after reaching the top. Other friends including Samba had been left far behind. They looked as if they were not walking, but crawling. Mani and Thakur were on the lead from the beginning of the journey. At the same time Kiran also arrived and we walked together. Ujjwal and Yagya were walking rather well that day.
I realized the significance of black goggles. All the trekkers had used black goggles to protect their eyes from the sun. I didn’t have goggles. Goggles never appealed me. But rays reflected from the snow directly hit the eyes. The eyes could not be opened. I moved ahead opening my eyes very little and looking only towards the ground. For the first time, I realized the importance of goggles I never expected to put on.
I won’t forget black goggles while mountain trekking in the future.
Walking slowly with half-closed eyes, as I looked upward, a big crowd of people appeared. They were dancing, shaking hands, embracing and taking pictures. Wow! It was the ultimate destination of the journey – the peak of the journey; the center of attraction. It was a fountain of inspiration for walking further even after eight days of rigorous movement and extreme tiredness. It was Thorang-la Pass, the border of Manang and Mustang. I attempted to get there in one go. The emotions not only filled me, but overflowed along the way. The excitement and the exuberance of ecstatic emotion took me to a state of flying. The feet stepped quickly though it was difficult to open my eyes. The feeling escaped from me.
‘Thorang-la Pass – 5416 meters’ was written on a pillar constructed at the top of the Pass. The pillar was fully covered with flags and ceremonial muslin. The faith of Lamas at the peak could be explicitly seen here. We have a ritual of worshipping the Mountain God, height, the sky and water. The ritual was presented at its best here.
People were taking pictures by the pillar. At Baba’s suggestion, we also took some pictures. Some foreigners also were doing the same. A young white lady said to us, “Come and take a picture with us.”
I also mingled with them and took some pictures. We don’t need to know people to share happiness. The familiar ones are needed to exchange sorrows. Everyone was exchanging congratulations with one another. I also exchanged congratulations with some.
There was a small coffee shop at Thorang-la Pass. We had hot coffee in the chilly weather. Though it was expensive the service was more important than the price.
Mani, Thakur and other friends arrived. We again had fun and shared our excitement. Again there was a photo session and the exchange of congratulations.
Some white hills attached to Thorang-la Pass looked still higher. I thought about exploring those hills and viewing the world, reaching still higher.
I climbed a few steps but the obstinacy was not practical. There was neither a track, nor any equipment for climbing. I returned.
“It’s no good staying here for long; our brain will swell and it will create problems,” Kiran said. It hadn’t been long since we had arrived so we hadn’t fully enjoyed ourselves; we had not fully celebrated; we weren’t done floating on the snow. Mani said, “We should organize a poetry concert before we move. It will be historic and unforgettable.”
“Where is the banner?” I asked.
“It is with Ramesh.”
Ramesh hadn’t arrived.
“Here goes my poem, and I shall move downhill after this,” I said and recited a poem.
The foreigners also listened to the poem. They appeared quite happy as they knew that we were on a poetic journey. They had never expected that they would get a chance to listen to poems on such a high and deserted peak. Nor had I ever imagined or dreamt of reciting a poem in such a height. Therefore, there was no boundary to our happiness.
A group of foreigners took pictures with us again. This time they were not taking pictures with Nepali trekkers, but with Nepali poets.
I came to know that a descent of around three hours would take us to Muktinath. Muktinath is one of the greatest pilgrimage centers for Hindus. I had a desire to take a bath in the hundred and eight water spouts there if possible. Though, that became impossible because of the chill, I had been craving to wash my hands and face at least. We needed to walk further ahead in order to reach Jomsom. We had planned that day’s stay at Jomsom.
I closed my eyes and stood still for a moment before I left Thorang-la Pass. I wanted to feel the ecstasy and enjoy the journey with full contentment. This piety associated with height, the purity of environment, its freshness and novelty hold the capacity to fill every heart with ecstasy, however unhappy or pauperized it might have been. Once transcended from the plane of sorrows, avarice, jealousy and intrigue. The matchless attraction and beauty of the pious and pristine sublimity make the human heart leap up and fly as does the white cloud under the blue firmament. In fact, it is beyond the interface of beauty and ecstasy that man attains Shivatva – the highest order or transcendence in Lord Shiva’s Being. That point where the Shivatva is attained perhaps forms the abode of Lord Shiva, and in fact, the abode of all gods for that matter. This was what I experienced, standing on the Thorang-la slopes, overwhelmed by the unparalleled charm of a pristine beauty.
Having sat for a while with closed eyes, various ideas emerged in my mind. I remembered every step, experience and weakness of the journey. Love has a great significance in life. To oneself, it is a great achievement. If a person doesn’t love himself, he cannot love anyone else. First and foremost, a man should know and should love oneself. I touched myself, opened up and found several spots to be mended. Similarly, I remembered my relatives for some time and I really was thankful to those who had helped me come to that state, directly or indirectly.
To love oneself is to find and correct persistent errors and weakness.
“Shall we move now?” Baba asked.
“Let’s wait for some time,” I said.
He didn’t say anything.
There was a long queue of people coming from below as I returned and looked down from Thorang-la Pass. I contemplated: on the days gone by, how many people might have walked this way! We also had come through the same way, just now. I scanned the trail along which we had to go. Some people were going down. After some time, we also would move through the same way. After that others and yet others … To move upward and downward is nothing but continuation.
I took out my diary and wrote thoroughly again.
In spite of a relentless walk
for all these years,
this way we treaded along
could never become ours.
What is ours
is merely the journey
and it’s so, ever.
The moment of standing at Thorang-la Pass was the sublime moment of the journey. That was the last stop of the upward hill. We had walked for eight days to arrive here with curiosity, passion and excitement. To anyone that asked us, we said, “We are on the way to Thorang-la Pass.” After arriving at this spot, all excitement, passion and curiosity froze and became like the snow. We gradually eased ourselves. After the end of curiosity, passion and excitement, the body gets tired. We were exhausted several times along the way, but were not tired. Now I really felt tired for the first time as I had to go downhill after the end of the journey uphill. As far as our eyesight reached, we saw just the returning route, without curiosity and excitement. The remaining journey would be brightened by the experiences, the series of events, the scenes and the knowledge gained from our conversations with people on the journey till date. In spite of the slow pace due to tiredness, the same light would show us the way to reach the end.
The same thing happens in life as well. The second half comes to be less encouraging, less exciting, more exhausting, lonely and tiring. I had just crossed forty, a year ago. Time had come for me to prepare for the second half. The body chilled as I contemplated. However I thought, in the second half of my life, the gained skill, experience, obstacles and knowledge would prevent me from going into darkness, as I had learned by this journey, and it would help me to be better managed, balanced and capable of achieving more. Thinking this I was encouraged to accept and enjoy the second half of my life happily.
I smiled to myself.
Translated by Mahesh Paudyal
BIO: Bhisma Upreti is a Nepali poet and essayist. He has published 6 books of poems and 8 books of essays. He won the first prize from the National Poetry Competition organized by Royal Nepal Academy. His works have been translated into English, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Serbian, Slovenian and German; and have appeared into various anthologies and journals from across the world. He is joint secretary of Nepal Chapter of PEN International and also a member of the Traditional Poetry Writers Association of the World. He lives in Kathmandu with his family.