Our epic journey began as an empty book. It only had the title – “To the Top of the World.” The rest of the pages would be filled over the next few days. All that was known was that it would be a story of 25 Mahindra jeeps which would carry us to Everest base camp from the Tibetan side. The briefing which took place at Kathmandu introduced some individuals into the narrative. As the days went by, words filled the pages – names, titles, and addresses of those who drove these jeeps started to dot the blank pages. Slowly, these mere labels became identified with faces and smiles. But very soon, they jumbled one into the other to become one – the convoy; one entity following the common passion of beholding the greatest peak on the top of the world – Everest! The convoy became the main plot of the story and the journey – the Goal.
The journey from Kathmandu (1400 m) to Saga (4640 m) was tough on some in the group, with the rapid rise in elevation. But witnessing the resilience of the local people put everyone’s difficulties in perspective. Staying hydrated was very important at this point of our trip. Inhaling camphor vapor helped overcome the discomfort to some extent. Colors started filling in and the characters of the plot no longer identified with the people or the jeeps. The vast expanse of the mountains ranges traversed on sometimes impassable roads were now the true “stars” in the tale. Mountain passes and the colorful prayer flags were very pleasing to the eye and soothed the mind.
The small train of vehicles moved forward and gained altitude in their majesty, crisp and rare, step by step getting closer to the goal. The convoy attracted respect from the locals, much in the same way that people in uniform do. We all felt an unexpected sense of pride to be part of this unique entourage.
The route from Saga to Shigatse to Lhasa was fantastic! It was not just the mountains that posed for the convoy, the lakes did their share of showing off too. Yamdrok lake was one of them. The bluer than blue waters of the huge lake seemed to swallow up the mountains it reflected. The clouds in the sky bowed down to join the feast. An added bonus in the form of mastiffs and yaks begged to be captured on camera.
The plot thickened as the pages of the story began filling with picturesque shots of Mother Nature at her best. Every turn, every switch back, was a better scene than the previous one, overloading both the mind and the various digital devices that sought to capture the abundance of majestic vistas! The rest of us seemed so minuscule, adding little or no value at this point. The view of Everest playing peek-a-boo as we got close to Rongbuk Monastery gave the much-needed boost as we were reaching an elevation of close to 5200 m. The last kilometer was a tough walk up to the monument, with windchill contributing to freezing temperatures.
Then came the Triumph! The ‘Epitome’ of all – overwhelming in magnitude, with beauty beyond comparison. Our goal reached at last! Pure unbounded joy, a feast for the senses, filling mind, heart and soul. The scale of Mount Everest humbled and took our breath away..quite literally. I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was in the presence of such majesty!
The urge to “be”, forced me to sit and watch the peak for a while. Then as I closed my eyes, I felt “nothingness.” What was me, meant nothing anymore. I was just a weave of yarn, each thread a mere memory that mattered no more. The vastness and expanse of the mountains simply took over all feeling. There was a sudden feel of a certain lightness in my being from that point. The serene beauty I beheld was at once formless and also had enormous physical form. What a humbling experience! I hope to etch it in my memory forever. Everyone had had their own piece of grace, secretly experienced as their own personal treasure, and quietly stashed it away in their minds. With heavy hearts and feeling blessed, we started the descent back to our abodes.
Ten days ago, at the start of the journey, 56 strangers banded together with a common goal. The subsequent journey to ‘The Roof of the World’, traversing 2400 kms and crossing 20 mountain passes (10 of which were over 5000 m), left us feeling like we had known each other forever. “Sharing is caring” was the motto of the journey. It was interesting how we all dropped our walls to find common ground, that enabled us to make lasting connections.
For me personally, this journey heralds a new beginning, a yearning to be one with Nature. It has opened the door to new ventures. It has given me beautiful insights, by drawing me out of the comfort zone of established rigid sojourns,right into an unparalleled universe of limitless expanse. A morning cup of coffee, which held such significance in my “normal” routine was easily replaced by a cup of hot water or black tea. I found a certain freedom from the routines I allowed myself to be habituated by in the real world. Both my body and mind acclimatized to the dizzying elevations and varying temperatures in a way I could not have believed possible. Neither could I have imagined being on the road, journeying for an average of ten hours a day!
I was thrilled I had the chance to be at the wheel a few times, enjoying the mountain ranges and switchbacks from a driver’s perspective! I find within me now, an unusual excitement – a hankering to tread similar paths. A new desire to truly “get lost” again seems to linger on! I wish and hope everybody gets to experience the wondrous Himalayas! It was a journey of a lifetime for all of us.
jayanthi Tirumale lives in Bengaluru, India.