Episode 015: The Puja
Asking Everest’s Permission. This afternoon we had our Puja ceremony to try and get the mountain’s blessing before beginning the climb. A couple of monks arrived from the Rongbuk Monastery down the valley to conduct the ceremony. They began by creating several intricate sculptures out of yak butter and tsampa, a roasted barley flour. Once that was all finished, we headed up the hillside above our camp to the little chorten we built a few days ago. The two monks set up shop and began a cacophony of tibetan chanting and bell ringing. It was really interesting to watch and I climbed all over the hillside trying to film it all! At the base of our little stone stupa, we placed all of the items we wanted to be blessed during the ceremony. This being a climbing expedition, there was a plethora of ice axes, crampons, ascenders…and an Apple G4 Powerbook laptop computer. Hey, just because I’m not climbing the upper reaches of the mountain doesn’t mean I haven’t got anything to lose! The ceremony was wonderful and lasted for an hour or so with about two hours of pre-puja setup. I was thinking it was going to be very formal and alien to me since I don’t understand Tibetan, but the monks sure were nice and inviting. They smiles a lot. It was very relaxing and casual, providing ample time to watch and reflect upon the climb ahead. Lhawang and the rest of the Nomad team are very generous and invited anyone passing by to join us. The team of Russians from St Petersburg joined in the festivities and we just all sat under the impossible bright sun, drinking chai, watching the monks chant away and ring bells and throw rice into the air. I’ve never really been a very religious person, but this was certainly a spiritual ceremony that I can really get behind. It was just wonderful.
Total Running Time: 19:15
Dispatch 13, April 16, 2003, Everest Base Camp
The mountain is alive. I walked up to 18,500’ today against a heavy gale. By the time I got within range of finally seeing the full grandeur off the north face of Everest, the cloud called a lenticular made it clear today wasn’t the day.
When I returned to base-camp, clouds of dust seized everything in their path. Climbers covered their mouths or stayed inside a tent covering their hot “Sherpa Tea” lest it should become a cup full of mud! Just sitting here will surprise you. Everest is a complex environment.
Everest is a fascinating adventure thus far, even without being on the mountain yet. The people who expedition here are friendly and forthright and some are strictly commercial and profit driven. They come from Russia, New Zealand, China, Korea, all over America, and offer cultural gestures and information about destinations they call home. Some keep to themselves overly concerned about live television broadcasts from the summit to prove that risk and death can be averted. I think that is a shame, it is overlooking the real story behind Everest, it’s heritage. It is not just world’s highest mountain, it isn’t just a pile of rock and ice that produces gold, it is a people’s sacred landscape, it is a peoples story.
It is not my place to lament the ambitious, I too am guilty of coming to Everest and sharing my perspective and reasons. I believe everyone has the right to their style. But, maybe I’m old-fashioned in believing that if I focus on climbing the mountain, I stand a better chance of relaying the experience when I get down safely and after I have thought about it. I’m also not superhuman so should I make it I’d rather take it in and preserve the experience of having the mental capacity of an 8 year old for the descent and not in troubleshooting broadcast software at below 0 degrees. Everest is not that forgiving. Everest, the experience, is more valuable than that.