Monday, May 09, 2005

Himalayan Rendezvous

Its about an interesting rendezvous that helped me realise some profound truths and it happened with me when I was on my second mountaineering expedition somewhere in the Garhwal Himalayas in 1998. Our nearest road head was Gangotri, a very famous Hindu pilgrimage. It has a temple of Lord Shiva and Parvati. The landscape is very picturesque with salubrious winds all through the year. Through out the entire journey to Gangotri you can see scores of sanyasis walking from one pilgrimage to another. Normally they complete one circuit of Rishikesh, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunoti, a distance of most than 400kms. Most of them are educated, who have left their homes for reasons of their own. They wont refuse any food offered to them, but surely they wouldn't take lift from you in your vehicle, even if you offer them one. They may cover a mere 10kms a day. But they will walk. Some do it alone but most of them will be at least in pairs. After you cross gangotri, there is a mule track of 18kms to Gaumukh. This is the spot where water melts from the gangotri glacier, which feeds the Bhagirathi River that joins the Alaknanda River to form the mighty Ganges. A place, which actually makes you feel closer to god.

This stretch between the Gangotri and Gaumukh is treacherous, with gain in altitude as you climb up to Gaumukh. The Bhagirathi River is ice cold through out the year and in winters the surface of the water freezes. The temperatures are near zero in summers and subzero in winters with very high wind chill. It is here you witness some really astonishing side of these Sanyasis. While most of the tourists, climbers and trekkers wrap themselves up in all possible winter clothing, these Sanyasis wear literally nothing more than saffron coloured cotton dhoti and most of them are with bare chests. There accommodation if often some old torn canvas tents, mostly the ones discarded by the climbers after use. What is even more astonishing is that they even take bath twice a day in the ice-cold Bhagirathi!!! And they meditate sitting on a flat rock on the riverbed in chilly winds most of the day.

The most important thing, which strikes your mind, is not their acclimatization. Its not even about tolerance to such adverse conditions. But it is their ability not to feel the adversity at all. You need tolerance only when you feel the suffering. When I asked one of them as to how do they manage to live like this under so much cold, all he said was that he just concentrates on Shiva and not on the Cold. He added, " Your body feels what your mind sees." What a profound empirical evidence for what we saw in the film "The Matrix"!!

Subsequently whenever I used to feel very cold during many a days and blizzards that followed and which are common as you keep climbing up, I tried to remember what the Sanyasi had told me and used to divert my attention to something more interesting. And Lo behold! It worked. This singular wisdom, which I gained from that inconspicuous sanyasi, serves me well even today. When I got back to the Himalayas a couple of yrs ago, conditions were even more difficult. But I had learnt my lessons well by then, thanks to the Sanyasi. It is an undeniable truth that mountains teach you a lot, if only you keep your mind open. Ask any mountaineer and he will agree!

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