The saga from my trip to India continues this week. I was at a point of the story where I was steadily climbing up towards a pass I had to get over at 18,000 to 20,000 feet in elevation. I was 10 days into this climb when I mistakenly chose a path that shot up so far and so fast I wound up in a predicament. I ran low on water needed for cooking my meal that night and I recognized signs of altitude sickness. I had a burst of adrenaline that allowed me to get very high in elevation, probably around 17,000 feet, but I made my way up there too quickly.
It got dark so I knew it was time to stop and re-calibrate. I laid back for a little while to figure out my next move. I began to hallucinate and was generally not thinking clearly. I was beginning to shiver. I’ve had enough experience in the mountains to know that before my decision-making process got any worse, I needed to make my way down a few thousand feet. This usually ends those symptoms. While I was laying there collecting my thoughts I looked up at the sky and saw a meteor shower that was mind-blowing. I have never seen such a black night lit by meteors showering like a Chinese firework show. I’ll never know if it was really as intense as I remember it or if some of it was due to my mind playing tricks on me.
It was an incredibly intense and spiritual moment for me seeing what I call fire on the mountain. As much as I wanted to stay and see more, I needed to get moving before the situation became any more dangerous. I have learned from other mountaineers that when your mind goes there, it just gets deeper. It begins to get difficult to convince yourself to get to safety. I made my way down in the darkness slowly, but steadily, until I reached a snow bridge where I boiled some water and made tea. I am immediately felt better as it warmed my bones.
I found a level spot to set up my tent and thank my lucky stars to have experienced that moment and to have reached safety. After a few more days of steadily moving up I finally reached the pass. All around me for as far as I could see was a blanket of snow and peaks that were quite a bit higher than I was.
The Himalayan mountains are vast and incredibly beautiful. I crossed paths with a few Tibetans carrying heavy loads. I would get a friendly greeting usually but they weren’t stopping to chat. The few people I saw had a pace going that would’ve been hard to keep up with. There were a few pony trains carrying stacks of corrugated tin, lumber and wooden boxes of who knows what and going who knows where. The pony trains were shepherded by people dressed in bright clothes with lots of bells around the ponies’ necks and lots of loud whistling to keep the ponies moving over the rough terrain. I could hear them coming from far away. I would find somewhere to get out of the way and watch them pass. It was a spectacular show to see the colorful train moving through the otherwise gray and lonely landscape. I will post some of the photos of the characters on our Garden Works website.
The air was thin but I felt great and energized probably from the adrenaline that rushes through you when you know you are about as lost and off the normal grid as can be. From that point I had a few more days of mostly downhill steps. I was headed towards the Indus Valley where I heard about a road that would provide me a good chance of catching a ride to a village where I could begin my journey back to Leh. That would be the end of that 150 mile walk. I thought that would be exciting enough but what happened next will forever change my life.
As I approached the end of the valley I could see the Indus River and the lush green grains being farmed nearby. I stopped to look down a steep drop off that would take a day to traverse down to the valley floor. What I saw was a circle of maybe 5,000 people congregated around a pedestal in the middle. I couldn’t figure out what I was seeing at first. The outer fringes of the circle were mountain people dressed in traditional mountain garb, usually bundles of yak hide with the hair still on it. As the circle drew in closer to the pedestal the robes worn by the Buddhist monks were a saffron shade. The closer to the pedestal people got the darker the color became. The monks seated closest to the pedestal wore ruby red robes. I think they were the higher up llamas.
As I quietly, stealthily, walked in closer I realize what I was seeing. The Dalai Lama had come out of Hermitage and was speaking over loud speakers in Tibetan to the people of this Buddhist region. You can’t imagine how heavy it was as no one, not even the children, were making any noise or moving around. They were looking at the reincarnation of Buddha. This would be a once in a lifetime moment for most people and definitely for me.
I slid in to get seated on the ground with everyone else. I didn’t want to disturb this moment for anyone. They noticed me but did not mind my being there. Some offered me little bits of snacks to show that they were cool with my being there. I couldn’t understand anything being said but I could understand the gravity of the moment just by looking on their faces as he spoke. This lasted about three more hours, I could have sat there for days watching the scene, one I will never forget.
I got quite a few photos of faces and of the Dalai Lama that I will post on our website. I will always be grateful that the paths that I chose along the way led me to this place, totally accidental as are all my travels. When he was finished speaking, there was a mad rush towards some army buses. I joined everyone in the rush and found myself on the roof of a bus with as many people that can fit on the roof of the bus. We careened through the mountain air for a few hours until we reach a village where I jumped off to rest a few days so I could begin the next leg of this journey. I couldn’t guess what would come next after that.
I am hoping that you stay strong and brave through the next phases of this world-changing moment we are all experiencing. Hopefully we can emerge through this as better versions of ourselves. If ever there was a moment to reinvent ourselves and our businesses and way of life, this is our chance to improve on the things that need improvement and get rid of ways, habits and things that need to go.