ANG Sherpa and Pemba Sherpa were two mountain guides. They were tough, experienced climbers dedicated to their chosen vocation – that of climbing mountains. Now on the fateful day they had just about decided to climb the mountain … to the very top.
If their luck and the weather held, they would establish the four camps on the route. To say the least both were highly excited at the prospect that stretched before them. The mountain on which they would spend so much of their time was one of the lesser mountains to the north of the country. But it was awesome and daunting.
More than anything else, what started as a mere skylark was fast turning into serious adventure. In a company of score of men they had previously started out to trek to the base comp from the capital city. And after a couple of weeks had arrived in a blaze of glory. Only a handful of them were given the responsibility of making it to the top. The rest were assigned routine duties and to await the success or failure of the climb.
As climbers the others feted both men. And they basked in the glory.. Ahead of them lay several days of arduous climbing with a lot of boulders and snow to be negotiated.
Early in the morning hours the pair set off suitably decked out. Ahead of them lay the mountain – somnolent and majestic. The snows glittered. The going became increasingly hard as the day wore on and the load on their backs more of a burden. A slight breeze blew continuously off the mountain.
During the afternoon they paused for a break amidst a jumble of rocks and glacial ice – to recover from their tiredness and exhaustion. This was a familiar experience to them for they had climbed peaks before in the past. That experience proved the guiding force in preventing them from making mistakes.
Such mistake would be deadly since it would result in a fall down a crevasse or burial under a snowdrift. At mid-afternoon both mountaineers came sluggishly to a halt and camped for the night. It would be dangerous to move on with nightfall only a few hours away.
The next day the two men offered a simple and humble prayer for their protection and safety, before readying themselves for the day’s climb. Neither held any hope for a break in their labour of love. As mountain men they held a deep reverence and love for the many peaks that lay scattered on the land and as boys had always cherished the idea of scaling them.
As on the day before, they scaled the mountain face, the muscles of their arms and legs stretched to the limit of endurance. The wind blew steadily at them and they found the going harder and harder. Yet allowing themselves no respite they slogged up … and up. And the day ended for them when they bivouacked at Camp II.
Climbing to Camp III posed a couple of technical problems. Either they found the ropes a bit too short or a bit too long. The spikes often came away in their hands, as the snow was soft. But they persisted. They took a short break and rested their aching bodies. The wind would not let up, driving flurries of snow at their faces. It struck at their goggles meant to protect the eyes from snow blindness and tugged fitfully at their clothings.
The going was steep with frequent rock falls and many mini avalanches. Each step was made only at the expense of painful lacerations to the limbs. Their next objective seemed miles away. To make matters more difficult, the weather worsened. And a thick mist rolled down from the top.
The night was spent in exhausted slumber interrupted by fitful awakenings.
They awoke in the morning more cheerful and optimistic. But here a snag developed. They found they had to opt for an alternative and more devious route. What this meant for their oxygen supply and loss of time was obvious. Nothing could compensate for those two factors. The weather, which had held throughout the night, now snowed down in gusts and softened the surface so they had to slog right through it.
Both Sherpa spent the better part of the night at Camp IV huddled together, cold and miserable. It seemed nothing could ever warm them enough. The thick, protective clothing, which they wore, was only a token surety against the biting cold.
And now … the final ascent! But a short while after proceeding onwards they found to their dismay a major obstacle – one, which is the bane of, mountaineers the world over. An overhang! It lay before them as a mighty trap reaching out to crush them in its grasp.
Ang was the first man to speak out. His teeth gleamed white in the nut-brown face. “What do you think of that, my dear friend?”
Pemba, the younger of the two replied, “ I think nothing of it.”
All the technical problems were gone over with a fine toothcomb and all possibilities exhausted. They had to reach the top at any cost. Coming down would be no problem, as they would rappel away. Ang led the way.
For the next half-hour or so the besotted pair grappled with the overhang and it counted for a nerve-wracking moment. Later on they could think of the moment and the shiver would run down their spines. They would visualize the ecstasy of their being as they overcame this monstrous brute and relive in their minds the final stages to the very top.
See You In The Next Life
LAKPA Sherpa had one overpowering obsession in his life. And that was the Yeti. The strange creature that lurks in the forbidding Himalayas.
When he was a child he used to sit by his mother’s side listening to tales about the snowman. Now a couple of decades later he still carried with him the urge to locate and identify the elusive being.
With deft movements he stoked the fire in the hearth adding more wood and the sparks flew off. He stretched out his hands warming himself. It was wintertime and the cold outside was bitter.
There would almost always be snow, yet again if the temperature persisted. But Lakpa was not thinking of snowflakes or what its coming would do.
He put his hands behind his head and sighed in relief. He had just
finished a trip to the capital city and would not be going for another six
months. Six lonely months of staying in one place and trying to make the earth yield its crops. Potatoes. For all that he was worth, he thought and dreamed of nothing but this particular crop.
Then his attention shifted onto himself. The return trip had nearly failed because he had lost his way.
It was a thing that struck him as odd and strange. He sat back recalling the incident. He had gone to the capital city to buy bags of salt and other commodities. The trip had been uneventful.
But many things had happened on his way back. Things that he recalled with great clarity.
For one thing, after he had travelled a bit by bus, he had set out on foot for the mountain village. It had been a tiring trek due largely to the load of goods, which he carried on his back.
He had walked on trying to make it to the settlement before dark. But he had scant hopes of making it.
Then it had happened. He had blundered and lost his way. The dim light of the evening hours and the narrow track had served to confuse him.
Thick mist swirled around him as snow began to fall. There was snow everywhere covering the ground and the worn out path, which he was following. It served to make the whole caper dangerous.
Lakpa did the only thing he could in the circumstances.
He deposited his precious baggage onto the ground and sat besides it massaging his numb fingers.
There was no way he could start fire and no one around on the desolate patch of ground. What he longed above all was rest and the thought of home and a warm fire.
The cold chilled him to the marrow of his bones, and he shivered uncontrollably.
The thought of what lay ahead if he did not find the path frightened him. He had often heard stories of men losing their way. Then the thought struck him. What if he chanced upon the Yeti?
The place and time was ideal for such a prospect. Fear gnawed at his entrails and he strove to control himself.
Then a sound made him sit up. The sound was as if a heavy object was being moved in the clump of bush nearby. He got up to investigate thinking that some other men had come along.
What he espied froze the blood in his veins. It was a strange creature resembling in form and nature the indomitable, Yeti.
Then he stumbled and fell to the ground. From his prone position he say the form detach itself from the protective shelter of the bush. It lumbered across the snow for a brief period of time then vanished amongst some trees.
Lakpa lay stunned by what he had seen. It was an impossible thing to happen to him. Yet it had happened.
An occurrence that would not be repeated in his lifetime. The strange hairy beast had left an indelible imprint upon his memory. It was only later – after about half –an- hour- that lakpa round the right path again, more be luck than by judgment.
He continued on the fading light, fast tiring. But the thought of the comforts at home spurred him on. It was unbelievable but he had seen a creature closely resembling the Yeti. What a story it would make with his circle of friends.
Would anyone believe him and take him at face value?
No matter, he had seen it and that was all that mattered.
A life-long ambition to set eyes on the beast had been satisfied. He would forever and a day record the observation minutely in his memory.
The lights of the houses beckoned to him as he tiredly walked the remaining distance. He was more tired than ever in his life. With a weary sigh he crossed the threshold of his home and relieved himself of his bags.
But the story of the Yeti was burning inside him waiting for release. He knew he would not rest until he had recounted his adventure with the snowman.
And so his room was filled with excited and curious listeners as he told them of his meeting with the half-beast, half-man creature.
Of how he had lost his way and been blessed by the sight of the most wonderful of sights. Soon a collective sigh swept through the room as the rapt audience responded.
Coming Home For a Visit
HAVILDAR Sudeep. Got off the dusty bus and set foot on ground once more, after many hours of travel. He was tired, unusually so since it had been days, nay years, when he had done a bit of travel. He manhandled the bedding and trunk and set out the last few miles to the village. To the waiting arms of the villagers and his ageing mother.
The way wound over a rough path, beaten down by countless feet. He whistled as he moved along. The countryside was blaze with greeneries and a riot of colours.
The last bid of the land, to snatch some life before winter set in. It had been a long time, before he had followed the road that led to the village. Now memories of it came back to him. It seemed all so familiar.
He stopped by a stream, cold and pure. With sigh of contentment he relaxed by a big rock and set his baggage down. Thirstily he gulped down the water and wet his face with a sopping handkerchief.
He glanced, at the mirrored reflection of his face and grinned wryly. Somehow he had learned to be himself again. A man with an ordinary, commonplace name. And not as havildar with a squad of men under his command. These were two parts of himself that he recognized.
The main highlights of his life came back to him, in a wash of memories undimmed with age. He recalled the first day at school in shorts and shirts, slate and chalk clutched in one hand with a group of boys and girls. The head master, a towering figure who threatened punishment at every slight mischief. The years at school bad been good enough with passable grades.
Then an additional three years at a boarding school in the city, with a life vastly different than in the village. He had managed to scrape through. That year his father – a most respected figure had died, leaving him most sad. College was now out of the question. He elected to join the army. Then it seemed he was at the height of his powers.
And now, after the completion of training and years of service, he had matured into a full-fledged soldier. The epaulets, which he wore on the shoulder, had been earned by hard work. And sacrifices too numerous to be recounted. On and off duty, he kept in mind the time bound duties of fighting man and always ministered his energies, to be on call 24 hours a day.
Lost in thought, he walked along, mindful of the sights and sounds of the countryside opening up. Here could be seen the play of sunlight among the leaves of a tree, there the splash of wings as a bird took flight. The impression of sounds were also there, sometimes muted, sometimes distance – a presence all its own.
Somehow, a part of his mind was alert, directing his tired footsteps. And he sensed that the trail was nearing its end. He would be back among the circle of friends and family. He wondered vaguely where all the years had gone. Years of toil and sweat, of fun and frolic and service and work …
Youth was gone and what was there left, but manhood. Proud and defiant, the years had been good. He had been able to support his mother on the monthly paychecks, which he sent regularly. Devotion was the keynote.
Sudip negotiated the last bend and came in sight of the village. News of his arrival spread like forest fire and he was surrounded by brown faces and sturdy bodies of men, women and children.
The village had changed alarmingly. There were many more houses and more strange faces. He felt like a stranger in their midst. But the barking of dogs, added a welcoming note and his hesitation soon vanished.
Soon a stream of visitors came to his house which was double- storyed , ochre-coloured and had a verandah. There was his brother, the belle of the village and headman himself. The last made a honorary speech on his behalf. The soldier, unused to such civility, flushed with embarrassment. He presented a richly embroidered shawl to his mother.
Soon the days passed by in a hive of activities – swapping experiences with friends, being entertained by the folk singers and visiting old haunts.
The conflict, which had raged within his breast, was almost forgotten as he completely immersed himself, to pampering his self. But the end of the furlough came, only too quickly. It was the last day of his stay and he was with a group of admirers. Then after receiving the blessing from his mother, he again lifted the baggage to his shoulders and walked away to rejoin his unit.