To knock Everest off

Kathmandu :

After the Mahabharata war, the victorious Pandavas refused the coveted throne that had cost them numerous lives including their own family members. Instead, they resolved to go to the Himalayas for final atonement. As the five brothers climbed the glaciers, one by one they fell off and vanished in the alpine wilderness. Only Yudhister, the righteous one, survived the ordeal.

But he wasn’t alone. On the trail, a dog had walked up to him, trotted along and remained a faithful companion. When the gatekeepers of Paradise refused to let the dog in, Yudhister said, “If the dog isn’t going, I am not coming in either.”

The Western-style ascent of the Himalayas is a very recent phenomenon. Though the Survey of India in 1808 and later Royal Geographical Society had started making daunting attempts to map Everest, a long exasperating battle was waged tenaciously, if we borrow Sir Edmund Hillary’s allegedly informal expression, “to knock the b****** off”. It isn’t a coincidence my book, ends with this quote from Sir Edmund.

When I read out the poem at the launch of the book, pointing out alarming cultural differences that conquest of Everest demonstrates, Genevieve Bloomfield responded eloquently. “Sir Edmund like all Anglo Saxons feels with his head where Yuyutsu, an artist, thinks with his heart.”

My photographer friend Andreas Stimm sent photos and asked me to write poems about Everest. Before I could think of the history of western conquests of Everest beginning with British attempts to more violent ‘siege’ types of expeditions to the modern-day programmed tours and lavish mountain flights, I had my own mythology and real life beliefs to deal with.

Our scriptures describe Himalayas as ‘Devataatama,’ the place where souls of the gods live. For centuries our people have made journeys to the region with motives ranging from worship, meditation, escape, spiritual quests, tests of personal truths and self-immolation. Kailash has been considered highest and most sacred place in the universe.

Mountain here in Nepal is not just an outdoor sport, nor is it a menace, a malevolent external agent or some lethal agent you have to crush or conquer to prove your physical stamina. You don’t simply take a mountain as a solid mass. You don’t simply climb a mountain and name it after yourself or your relative or your beloved boss. Nor is it a bull to be sacrificed to prove your manhood.

Mountains here are part of every average human being’s emotional life. They stand as real life members of the family; their names, legends and lives mingle with ours. They are woven into the dreams of the people. Hence, there are Didi-Bahini mountains, or god and goddess mountains as in the case of Gauri-Shankar Himal. But at people’s level, Gauri-Shankar are merely lost family members. In spite of the growing Western style of mountain climbing, mountains continue to be real life characters in the emotional dramas of the Nepali people.

In our perspective, you don’t climb a mountain to knock it off. At the most, you break a twig before entering a mountain forest. Since mountain is a goddess, you bow down and worship, utter a mantra before setting your foot on her chest. It’s Chha-mo-lung-ma, the mother goddess of the winds of the world. There are accounts of climbers who’ve lost limbs or lives in this colossal grave. They hate the mountain for being rough with them. But here, where the mountain is goddess, you don’t conquer a fierce goddess by fighting her. You bow down, learn humility, decorum and million other virtues. And you climb over her head; you become part of her crown, a jewel in the crown of the most magnificent lotus of the world.

Devoid of this reverential attitude, the Everest has today become the ‘highest garbage spot in the world.’ I’m told Sir Edmund isn’t very happy about the Lukla airstrip that he once so vehemently advocated and helped in building. With unrestrained tourism and ecological hazards resulting out of senseless modernisation and globalisation, one day, maybe, we will literally knock the Everest off.