Thursday, May 24, 2012

Everest Calling - Dingboche to Nearby Hilltop to View Mt. Makalu

25th April 2011

Today we scrambled up a hill to get a view of Mt. Makalu, the 5th highest mountain in the world. This was just an excuse. The real purpose was acclimatization. When we reached the summit of the hill, Makalu was behind a veil of clouds and mist. It had started snowing. But a sense of accomplishment prevailed upon us all. There were snow mountains all around. The descent took much less time but it was most annoying - every step, I had to be sure I would not slip and fall. Mud loose stones, slipping beneath my feet. I wished I were a mountain goat.

I am confident I will reach Laboche, our next destination.

Yesterday’s garlic soup was yuck. Today’s rice stinks of garlic. Couldn’t have much.

Breakfast was oatmeal with pieces of apple!!!
People were eying apple as if it were exotic strawberry.
Each apple costs 100 or 150 Nepali rupees by the way.

I and Anubhama were the two women who reached the hilltop.

Nandu carried my carried for me yesterday. Thanks Nandu.
Now on, I don’t think I will carry my back pack. I will have to lock it and give it to the porter.
My colourful monkey cap, bought for 300 Nepali rupees has proved to be a good purchase. When you are out in the cold, you really want to cover your ears. It hurts badly when they are not protected and warm.

Below are pictures taken during our climb up a lesser hill to view Mt. Makalu.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Everest Calling - Pangboche to Dingboche

24th April 2012

The exertion is without reward. For me at least. I have seen the mountains and the snow. They no longer hold any attraction for me. The only thing that will redeem all that has been spent in these 18 days – will be a good view of the Everest.

After you have gained considerable altitude, what hurts is not the walk but the stop. Your body becomes warm when you walk. And that saves you.
When you stop, after you have reached your destination, it starts cooling and after that it’s terrible. It starts hurting.

We reached Dingboche, where we were to spend two days, one for acclimatization.
After resting for some time, we went to the bakery in the vicinity and had a variety of pastries. The most attractive was a chocolate cake topped with mountains of cream with chocolate sauce poured over it, making it look like a mountain range.

I had a walnut pastry. It would have tasted better if it had been warmed. She had in fact warmed it and it was still cold! But after all the food we have been eating, it tasted really good. When we walked back, it was snowing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Sun, The Moon & The Stars

Once you have smelt the smell of the mountains, you will return to that smell. Again. And again.

This summer too, like every other, I will return to the mountains.
And return to it’s rivers, its streams, it’s lakes. And it’s Sun.

The cold Himalayan mountain is a paradigm in itself. Life takes on a new meaning. And people attain new perspectives.
These higher and finer aspects apart, hot water becomes worth its weight in gold. The soul thinks of the Sahara desert with a wistful yearning.

And it is a paradigm where shadows are dreaded and sunshine becomes part of our prayers.

The cold Himalayan mountain is a very powerful context.

As I gain altitude, little by little every day, I will get closer and closer to the sun and watch the fascinating interplay between the Sun and the rest of us on earth – water, mountains, snow, air, trees and people and their dwellings.

For instance,

I will glide along India’s longest and highest ropeway, 4 kilometres long, from Joshimath to Auli, peering from the window of a cable car down at the tops of fir and oak trees. Heart in my mouth, I shall look down at the valley below, lit by the Sun, and its little multicoloured miniature like dwellings. I shall reach the winter ski resort with it’s powdery snow and watch for the first time, how people ski.

As I trek uphill, the entire valley will be covered in green. But the few leaves that fall along the trail of the Sun’s journey on Earth will be more privileged than entire forests that lie in shadows. For those leaves will have a halo around them, each one of them will turn into filigree, and glitter as if a computer graphics designer worked on them to create ‘special effects’.

Heard of Hanuman who, when he was a child had set out to reach the sun, taking it to be a fruit? They say he never reached the Sun and was sent back with a curse upon him that made him forget his prowess.
I say, that was a lie.
What actually happened was, he caught it and then, upon seeing it wasn’t a fruit, tossed it away and the Sun fell into a lake on the mountain below. It dissolved in the water. That’s how, the lake is full of a million suns, scattered on the million wavelets – one sun upon each wavelet.

Have you ever seen a shaft of sunlight snapping into two in mid air?
It’s the mountains. Their peaks are so sharp, they can even break sunlight.

Snow. Sprinkled on this mountain top. Smeared on that peak. Powdered snow. Paste like at times. Narrow streaks of white here. But liberal patches there.
Layers of cream on brown earth. Like vanilla and chocolate.
Coarse like powdered sugar. Fine like talcum.
Glistening sparkling. Playing hide and seek. As the sun and the clouds battle to lay claim.

And then, on a certain peak, snow, milk white all day will turn into peach as the setting sun shines it’s last rays on it.
The clouds all around will soak in honey, milk, rose water, sandal, silver, gold, saffron and lilac as the sun sinks lower.
Some will be sprinkled with turmeric, others, lavender and yet others, vermillion.

Ever elusive, but once in my reach, I will know snow. Soft as feather from far, heavy as a stone when near. So cold, like a thousand needles, when a ball of snow will hurt my hands, I will crave the Sun so my fingers may feel like my own.

In the battle between the Sun and the clouds, once in a way, clouds will claim the Sun and more clouds will claim the rest of the sky. It will begin to rain. When the weather begins to clear I will remember to look at the sky for that magical mix of sunlight and water in the sky that is called rainbow.

One of the trails, 20 or 30 kilometers long will require that I turn on my torch to guide me in the dark.
As I walk I will suddenly stop now and then, switch off my torch and go blind.
If you want to be enveloped by absolute velvety darkness, you have to go to the mountains.
I will then look up at the sky and see what I haven’t seen in one whole year.
A clear sky packed, sprinkled, smeared, sprayed and painted with stars. I will see in one single night sky what it is not possible to see in all days of the year put together, from a city.

When I see the moon, consummate or crescent, I will know and yet not know that it is the sun’s light that the beautiful moon reflects.

As I drive up and down the mountain roads, its bends and curves, I will see stone cutters bringing down their jack hammers on boulders, to borrow from the mountain, another narrow strip of road, in return for that strip on the outer edge it had eroded, the monsoon of last year.

When I see their wives and little children, brought here to haul gravel on their heads, taking their afternoon nap on the edge of the road, lying on a thin sari spread on the earth, sometimes, not even that, oblivious to the dust, sound, heat and light that’s beating down on them, when I see them sleeping like babies, I shall wish I could sleep like them.

Standing by the ghat of the great river, I shall see people standing waist deep in Ganga, facing the sun, offering prayers to him.

I shall step in to the river, slowly, one shivering breath at a time, braving it’s cold glacial waters.
I shall turn to face the sun and thank him for this life, for this beautiful world, which would not have been, if not for him. I shall pray that he may shine and never die.

And I shall plead with him not to be too harsh, not to take lives, but to be kind and to slip behind clouds when the homeless and the shelter-less walk and toil outdoors.


This post has been written for the The Lakmé Diva Blogger Contest, , hosted by Indiblogger:

Monday, May 07, 2012

Everest Calling - Value & Appearance

It dawns on the team that even with the changed, less strenuous plan (Gokyo and Chola pass removed), we have a difficult task ahead. There is a possibility some of us will not be able to make it. We wish we could have pushed our return to Delhi by 2 days.

I am all for it. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A lot of money has been spent. Many days of leave from work have been taken.
Just 2 extra days – if they redeem all that has been expended – time, money, energy - why not?

But half the people are not for it. They have more important engagements. I don’t understand them.
Moreover, the Lukla – Kathmandu route is the busiest in South Asia! That flight will be difficult to reschedule.

So now there is talk in the team about having to choose between Everest Base Camp (EBC) and Kala Patthar – that is, if both destinations become impossible for some of us.

The thing is, from Everest Base Camp, you can’t get a view of Mt. Everest. The mountain, though taller than all others, is hidden from view by mountains adjacent to Everest, Nuptse or Lhotse.

I will probably go to both but if I have to choose,…
The obvious choice for me is to get a view of Everest, that is to go to Kala Patthar and not base camp.
But surprisingly, for so many of them, base camp is the choice.
I wonder how. You can’t see Everest from there.
Is it not important to get a view of the tallest mountain in the world? I ask them.

‘The trek is called EBC. I will choose EBC. I started with EBC as the destination in my mind, so that’s where I shall go’, says someone.
So it is the label that’s making all the difference to the people!
If that spot – which is just another spot in the mountainous terrain – were called something else and not a grand sounding name such as ‘Everest Base camp’, would people still choose that spot instead of a view of the grand Everest? No. probably not.
They choose this because of the label. ‘Everest Base Camp’ has a grand rind ring to it.

It has a ring of accomplishment, a ring of achievement to it.
It will look good on Facebook, Twitter, Orkut or whatever media people will use to tell the world ‘We have been there’.

It’s probably the kind of a spot that we have been seeing or walking past all these days, nothing extra ordinary.
But we are living in an age appearance. Not significance.

It’s alright even if, having come all the way, having spent 65000 rupees, 18 days of travel, 16 days of trekking through rough weather, you go back to India without getting a view of Everest. As long as you are carrying with you a label – the label of visiting EBC.
Who has heard of Kala Patthar? Though you may get to see Everest from there?
If you tell people you went to Kala Patthar and saw Everest, people may not perceive it as an accomplishment. But if you tell them you went to EBC, they will give you a standing ovation. Even though you never actually saw Everest.

Small reminders of the fact that we are living in an age of appearance, in an age of marketing.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Everest Calling - Intensity vs Longevity

Having reached our destination, we walk quickly to our hotel, and drop on the carpeted wooden benches laid along the walls.
Blood, that was warmed up by all the exertion, is now cooling.
The room keys are handed out; we are to walk a few steps to our room and drop our bags
That short walk in the well protected indoors seems harder than the kilometers we just finished in the moorlands.
For our blood is cooling now.
As the evening sets, it becomes colder still.
All of us gather around the Tandoor at the centre of the dining hall.
We sit inches away from it, and thrust our hands forward at the flames with a vengeance and soak in all the heat they give.
And when the heat starts cloying our hands, our faces, we move back.
And then it’s the turn of the cold to tease our back, our ears and we move a little forward.
It’s perfect now. I wish we had a Tandoor in every room for the night.

They bring in kerosene and yak dung, feeding the Tandoor from time to time.

My friend is stoking the fire.
There is a kerosene tin full of yak dung at our feet. No more.
As the evening makes way for the night, the fire is becoming weak. And it’s getting cold.
Friend tosses more yak dung into the Tandoor. There isn’t much left.
We still have 2 or 3 hours to go before bedtime.
It’s cold.

We have two options. To make the fire stronger. Or to make it last longer. Intensity or Longevity.
Although all of us know it is important to choose the second option, we can’t resist the first.
For we are by nature, capitalists. Short sighted.
We have no thought for tomorrow.

We are consumerists who want more and more now, this moment. We will consume all resources.
We measure our prosperity in terms of GDP. And rush towards extinction, instead of walking slowly towards it.
Warmth is not enough for us. We want heat. We will borrow all the fire from tomorrow, squeeze the last spark and sizzle today.
When the cold comes, we shall see.