by Donald Yates
Is this what it’s all about? Bagging a mountain?
Over 100 years ago, the hill walker Hugh Munro, listed, then climbed 279 of the 280 Scottish peaks higher than 3000 feet above sea level. They became known as Munros. He was saving the highest till last but miss-timed his run; he died at 63. Since then, it has become a popular hobby among hill walkers. Several people I met in Scotland a few years ago, proudly told me of the number of Munro’s they had bagged during weekend trips. But Scottish peaks are in the little league compared to the Himalayan giants that stretch up ten times higher to the sky.
I resist the ‘bucket list’ concept, from the film of that name, because it reduces life to a mad scramble for things to ‘complete’ while the King of Karmic Justice, Yama weighs up whether I’m rebirthed as a frog or a Prince. And yet here I am sidling up to the Mother of the Universe — Sagarmatha to the Nepalese — Chomolungma to the Tibetans, but named Everest by the British after their surveyor general in India. Just like Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s characters Edward and Carter, I’m hoping to witness something truly majestic. But this morning, just like in the movie, all I see is clouds.
Boyhood fantasies of climbing to the top of the world; approachingthe gods. Cliches? Or a reality? For here I am sitting cros legged at dawn beside Kamal ‘omming’ to Kali, the primordial Hindu goddess of time and death. I’ve climbed to this hill in Dhulikhel, next to our mountain resort in an abortive attempt to see the sun highlight the Himalayas, but have been invited to join in the morning devotion of three locals. There is just enough room in the tiny shrine for two of us to sit in front of a stone image of Kali.
“Oṃ jayantī mangala kālī bhadrakālī kapālinī.”
It’s just a normal part of Kamal’s life. He and his two youthful companions Bijay and Rijendra were on their way to work on the earthquake ravaged road. Kamal has an easy presence and I imagine him as the ‘old timer’ in the work crew. I later discover he’s a year younger than me and I’ve been retired for 13 years. Bijay and Rijendra sprawl outside on the grass — chatting, checking their mobiles, laughing. Rather than being distracted, Kamal occasionally breaks off from his mantra and his deep chesty breaths to turn and join the lad’s conversations.
Earlier, Bijay had handed me two wicks and lit them with his cigarette lighter.
We had circled the shrine, then placed our smouldering wicks in a bowl at the entrance. Kamal had taken off his shoes and entered.
“You can go in too, if you like.”
There’s no-one else within cooee of us, except for the little boy, Shanka, who had been watching us closely, hoping for a pen. I’m a bit wary. Should I be worrying about my new Air Nikes at the doorway? Closed eyed enlightenment at the risk of being taken down? No, I can easily walk barefoot off the mountain. More important to sustain this –
Just this stentorious breath from my companion……..
Just this moment…….
“Enjoy your stay in Nepal.”
He came from the east
Dark, wizened and slow
Bearing gifts of gold
Blossoms, red ochre and cleansing water.
Namaste, we come from the west
Clad in trekking garb
Shod in Reeboks
Bearing cameras and eagerness
To glimpse the sun paint a silver strip
On the eastern edge
Of the triangles topping the roof of the world
Small birds twitter
Trucks bellow their melody.
To the south
Tier after tier wait
To be captured on a Chinese scroll.
Kali Temple bell tolls
I’ve been to Everest and back. I am an egg-shaped rock, a boulder shaped in a time when rain fell in metres a year instead of centimetres as it does now. I am being rolled along by the mighty Yarlong Tsungpa river — returning me towards the sea from where I came fifty million years ago. As part of the Indian Plate I crashed northward into the Eurasian Plate and was warped up to form the biggest bulge the earth has ever seen. My home plate is still pushing north by the breadth of two fingers each year — that bulge is not likely to weather away. As part of the cataclysm I was squashed, heated, metamorphosed to a fine crystal matrix. When those above me wore away, I surfaced at the mountain ridges, broke off and tumbled into the raging Yarlong Tsangpa. My edges wore off as I rolled and smashed against my brothers and sisters. This river has shifted backwards and forwards across the floodplain and left me here exposed. I was OK till The Friendship Highway undermined me. Now I perch with my head hanging out over the netted wall of the road cutting staring down at the terrified faces of eleven Australian tourists motoring by on a writer’s journey, wondering if I’m going to have a great fall off the wall onto their bus like a giant Humpty Dumpty.
The big league — The Himalayas
Planned then abandoned
A dozen years back
When spots re-appeared
On the scan
Of my wife’s chest
Seven years this side of grief
Discovering a new joy
A Bhutan adventure
In the shade of the Himalayas
Now two years more
Lured by a Writer’s Journey
I am in Nepal
Flippantly telling our guide
“I’ve always dreamed of daring Everest.”
“To us its Sagarmatha, the sacred peak.
I will fly you there to pay your respects.”
Now, tears welling
Like a bellows
Gasping at the Buddha
Framing a panorama
Fairytale white peaks
By clouds trailing leeward
From their ridges.
At the zenith
Four thousand people have tried to bag you
Less than 700 have climbed you
And over 100 have died trying.
© Donald Yates
Donald Yates lives in Daceyville, Sydney. He writes songs and poetry, performs in poetry slams and is currently working on a memoir and was a writer/traveller on Taste Of Tibet 2017.
Photos by Jan Cornall except where indicated.
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Next Writer’s Journey trips heading out:
Backstage Bali, Oct 14–21, seven days, mountains and ricefields retreat.
Moroccan Caravan, Mar 4–17, 2018. A camel riding/writing adventure into the Sahara. Add on a five day residency at the end.
Haiku Writing in Japan, Mar 27- April 3, 2018. Walk the Nakasendo Way in cherry blossom time.