Posted by: Sara Bartlemay
From Rishikesh, we took jeeps for 7 hours up a one lane road into the mountains, beyond row after row of green hillsides. Boaters will know what I am referring to when I say it was a class IV shuttle... We arrived around sunset, and I woke up in the Himalayas.
Our first mountain we climbed was 12,500 feet high. We could see it from camp - a double peak that extended far above the tree line. Its name was Chundesheilla, and it was not a climb for everyone. Everyone attempted to reach the summit, but it was a steep climb, using hands to scramble up in some places. After 4 hours of climbing, my lungs ached from the altitude and my legs decided I was too cruel to ever speak to again. (they still haven't forgiven me). But my heart so longed to reach the summit. At some points, it was so steep that I could not even see the top and yet my heart kept running up ahead, and then back to check on me like an eager puppy. Body and spirit separated here - my body wanted to sit and grow roots and my heart wanted to float on up with wings.
I found my own summit, sometime after seven hours of climbing. I took a side trail to the left and wound around to an incredible view point. The far horizon line rose in peaks and fell in cliffs - ranging from 15 to 21 thousand feet high. Before them, the earth wrinkled in dark green folds - heavily forested with deciduous trees and a few sharp firs pointing out. To my surprise, I heard copper bells. I followed my "personal summit" trail and found a temple built of rocks. People were singing inside and I did not disturb them. Instead I sat by the altar and watched a mountain hare eat the remains of a rice offering. The mountains around me seemed to resonate - each a giant holy bell ringing out into the crisp afternoon air. I tried to distinguish mountains from clouds for one was not necessarily higher than the other.
On the way down Chundesheilla, a shadow passed swiftly over the ground and for a split second it fully covered my body. I looked up and saw three huge vultures (of such a size they could easily be mistaken for condors) circle overhead. These birds who dwarfed me in their shadows looked as though they had bodies too dense for their 7 foot wingspan to support. I watched in mingled awe and fear. I think I have met five year olds who could ride these giant birds! They flew on, free falling out over the green valley below - rudder feathers stretched out like fingers feeling the wind.
It is hard to explain the effect that skyline had over me. Sometimes we are moved when we see beauty and desire to have it near to us, to keep it close because it brings us such joy. But in truth, often we are moved by beauty in its context. It radiates out such gorgeousness because of where it is and trying to remove it would be selfish and its luster would quickly fade. To really appreciate beauty, you must come to terms with the fact that you cannot remove it, possess it or change it. So all I could do was love them while I was there - interact with these mountains by climbing them, by sitting in camp on monolithic granite boulders and sketch them in the morning or sit staring sipping Chai before them at night - burning their rise and fall like the hospital heartbeat line into my own heart until it was time to leave.