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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Soaring into the Skies: The Enigma of Mountains

“All the birds have flown up and gone;
  A lonely cloud floats leisurely by. 
 We never tire of looking at each other  
 Only the mountain and I." 
 - Li Po

What are Mountains…?? Wiki says “a mountain is a large landform that stretches above the surrounding land in a limited area usually in the form of a peak.” But such a description is a very na├»ve understanding of an enigma called “Mountains”. It’s like describing at atom as an electron, proton & a neutron. An atom is not just a mere combination of electron, proton and neutron, instead the concept of atom is immensely deep and complex both scientifically and spiritually and so are the Mountains.

Majestic view of the Bababudangiri Ranges

Be it a 1000m, 4000m or 8848m all mountains have something that makes them enthralling and spell bound. Be it evergreen forests or Pine forests at the bottom and carpet of grasslands or sheet of ice on the top.. They all make a man look up and wonder in amazement. I remember my first encounter with a mountain was in Nepal when I was a toddler. I hardly have any images and recollections of that trip to Nepal in my mind, But what I can never forget, was the majestic ice capped peak of “Fishtail Mountain”. Probably at that age I didn’t know what a mountain was and what it meant but what got permanently imprinted on my mind was the image of a colossal peak souring above the clouds with a blanket of ice on it… It was truly majestic

The holy Gangbal lake at the foothills of Mt. Harmukh at an altitude of 3600m

The towering Kumara Parvath, rising up into the skies

What makes a Mountain especial is not just their apparent and obvious beauty but something lot more than that. A mountain is a symbol of permanence, endurance and mysticism. Looking up in the skies at a towering mountain hiding behind the clouds is always a humbling experience, one which gives me goose bumps. A mountain is not just symbol of physical endurance but mental as well. We never conquer a mountain, it’s just our inhibitions and fear that we conquer and in some way our body & mind in itself. It’s highly stupid of us to think that we can conquer mountains…generations have come and gone by, but what stays are the eternal mountains, unmoved unflustered.

Mesmerizing view from right on top of Ettina Bhuja peak 

It represents harmony of body and mind. One needs to constantly push the body and mind to the limits until they are one and neither, only a will thrusting us forward and beyond, not atop the mountain instead atop the spiritual pinnacle(or in some ways close to it). For me Spiritual pinnacle would be a state of Advaita state, where one sheds the inherent dualism of “I” and the world outside, to enjoy the bliss of oneness. The mountain does no different, it aligns our body and the mind, in the process melting our ego and prejudices, driven just by a singular thought and aim.. “ To step on the top”.

On the way to Kumara Parvath peak

For millennia and more, sages and rishis have wandered across mountains in search of spirituality and transcendence, peace and state of “Turiya”. In my case, I have always been enchanted by the mountains. Big or small, they have put a spell on me and I am in complete awe of them. For me mountains are true symbol of single unwavering, resolute expression of thought and goal. Looking from far below they all look so majestically beautiful, almost like canvas, work of a supreme artist. But therein lies the danger, with beauty comes dangers. If you thought everything was rosy here then one is in for a surprise, the mountains can be extremely savage and unforgiving, in some ways reflecting the true nature of life.

A view of the colossal  and majestic Harmukh Ranges

All my treks on the mountains have thrown great challenges at me and till now somehow I have just managed to scrape past them. Each one of the treks were unique and tuff in some ways but there are three of them which I remember fondly & distinctively, also they happen to be the toughest ones I encountered.
First of them is the trek to Ombattuguda and Ettina bhuja. It was a bone charring 44Km trek over 3 days in the beautiful Charmadi ghats. Hurdles encountered were the Steep slopes, immense heat, 10-12Kg of weight to carry, scarcity of water (since this was in the month of January and at one time we didn’t have any water to drink for hours of trek.) and if all of this was not enough we even got lost in the dense tropical jungle on the way to the top..!! But it was on the steep slopes of Ombattugudda peak where I got my second life…. Yes that’s true. The last 200-300m on the way to the peak was pretty steep with inconspicuous large craggy rocks hiding behind almost 3 foot long dried grass.. and not to forget the devilish 12Kgs bag riding on our back… to say the least it was tuff. That’s where I had lost my footing and had a near death experience…!!

The beautiful Ombattugudda peak bathed in gold of the dusk

Ettina Bhuja peak from far below

Second on the list would be the Gangbal trek, in the mighty Harmukh ranges in Kasmir. A 36Km trek with an agonizing climb over a 13000ft (~4000m) mountain to reach the holy and mesmerizing Gangabal lake (3600m) at the foothill of Mt. Harmukh. Challenges encountered here were lack of acclimatization (just one night sleep at Naranag which was our starting point of the trek situated at an altitude of 2100m), the chill factor and the immense fatigue at higher altitudes. I still remember one anecdote from this trip; it was the morning on the day we had to start our trek, both Maddy (my accomplice in the trek) and me didn’t have much idea about the route of the trek so I enquired about it from our guide, the effervescent Akhtar bhai. He nonchalantly pointed behind us at a colossal mountain towering into the skies and said “Is pahar ke upar jana hai aur phir uske aage nikal na hai..!!”. My reply “Ohh m********, pagla gaye ho Akhtar bhai…!!!”

Majestic beauty of Lidder Valley in Kashmir

Third on the list is the trek to Kumara Parvath peak in Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary near Subramanya. It’s was a exhausting 22Km trek with almost 1600m of vertical elevation to cover in a single day, through the dense tropical forest on to the glass lands to reach the majestic peak. This trek was pretty challenging and satisfying one at the same time since it had tested quite a lot of the skills needed to climb a mountain. Challenges encountered here were the extremely dense forest, the energy sapping humidity (it was so damn humid, at one point of time I thought I could fill a bottle with my perspiration in a few minutes..!!) , heavy rainfall, the omnipresent blood sucking leeches, the steep slopes and most fearful and challenging of all, rock climbing on near vertical rock face on slippery moist algae rocks without any harness.. a single slip of the foot could result in peaceful drop in the coffin..!! (it was a touch scary and climbing down on the vertical face was much tougher with almost 6-7kgs of load on the back).

On top of Seshaparvath among the clouds

Bababudangiri Ranges

But there are two things which are common to all of my treks including the above three. First being “FEAR”..yes that’s true again. Though majestically beautiful, these colossal masses do instill fear in all who wish to climb them. For me It is this fear which is absolutely indispensable but the trick is to not to let the fear overcome you instead to use it for your advantage. It’s what pumps adrenalin in our system and heightens our senses for the tough climb.

The ineffable Mt. Harmukh lingering behind

Second and probably the most important attribute of mountaineering and hiking, “Unwavering will and urge to go on”. There may be times when one is completely fatigued and it seems there is hardly anything left in the body to go on. The body starts giving away and one starts questioning the very reason of reaching the top. That’s when the relentless urge to reach the top comes to our rescue and gives us the boost to go on. Many a times I felt that my body was completely sapped of energy but that is when I turn to the mental picture of the mountain peak, thinking of the treasures of joy and view to be experienced at the top. The euphoria and joy of reaching the peak is just unexplainable.

On the way to Kemmanguddi from Bababudangiri Ranges

The infinite view from the peak makes me feel miniscule and humbles me as a person. The dusk and the dawn are an absolute treat which a mountain offers to all who lay besides it. Nothing ..nothing at all can come close to the feeling of stepping atop a mountain..!!!

Stunning view of the sunrise rising behind the mountains from Ombattugudda peak

But there is lot more to a mountain. It stands for and symbolizes something more subtle and spiritual. I believe the different levels or altitudes of a mountain represent the strata’s or stages of consciousness. The point of the summit epitomizes the “Prajna state” of consciousness where one is completely focused and neither desires nor sees a dream. Where one experiences complete bliss and In whom all experiences are unified.
From the summit the mountain expands and diverges out to the base, much like our consciousness which at its lowest levels called the “Vaisvanara state”. Where one’s mind is extremely diverging and experiences just the external objects, incapable of dwelling into the inner self. (Mind you the I have not drawn parallel with the highest state of consciousness, the supreme state “Turiya”, where one neither experiences the inner subjective world nor the outer objective world. It is unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible, uninferable, unthinkable and indescribable. It’s truly Atman or Quantum consciousness.)

Admiration for Nature..!!

Hence to me a mountain truly epitomizes the aspirations of the self and free spirit of humanity. It also symbolizes physical, mental and spiritual transcendence. Mountains do not embody any religion or religious dogmas instead they signify the esoteric tradition of spiritual evolution. They never have prejudices and biases, treating all as one and therefore deserve the name “Chomolungma” ..the Mother Godess.
I know that someday I will be in the lap of the mother among the clouds, when all the birds will be gone, just me and her, I hope to take my last breadth.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

The Ganga ..From Heavens and back…..

It’s not just a River but a Goddess and aptly so. Falling down upon the Earth to save humanity, it emerges from the mighty Himalayas making its journey through the high hills and cutting through them. The turbulence and the exuberance slowly mellows down by the time it reaches the vast plains.

For hundreds and hundreds of years “Ganga” has not just given precious water and has provided people with immensely fertile land, but also been a chief source of inspiration for all. It has nurtured and given shape to the life in Indo-gangetic plains. On the banks of Ganges is where all of Science and Philosophy originated. The “Ganga” has been a symbol of life and in some ways it shows the fragilities of life in itself. But that’s not it; even the mere water of Ganga seems to contain anti-bacterial properties and surprisingly higher proportions of dissolved oxygen which in turn supports a myriad of different species within it; Water so pure and holy that can wash away all impurities and sins of mankind. In all of ancient texts, we find enough testimony to the importance of Ganga, as without it the balance of life would be disturbed and probably there might not be any life at all on the plains of this country. Hence Ganga definitely and truly deserves a place as a Mother Goddess, which is being worshipped and revered by all.

I have always been enchanted by Ganga, its beauty, its stories and its myths since long. Lucky to be born in a city where the mother “Ganga” sets foot on, I still remember my childhood days when I used to threaten my auto driver that I would jump off the auto if he would not stop it near the bank of Ganga and there I would gaze at the mighty river for hours. As a child I was always told by my parents that Ganga is not a river but a Goddess of worship, something I could never quite understand. How could a river be a God or Goddess is what I wondered in my childhood, but I always loved being near it and gazing at it enjoying the cool breeze, the distant boats and never ending horizon, the clouds and the setting sun, all looked so mesmerizing. It took me years to truly realize and understand why this river is “Ma Gange”, the Mother Goddess, worthy of being worshipped.

But in a decade or so Ganga has lost all its grandeur and beauty in the plains, so much so that it is on brink of getting eradicated. Last week when I was back on the banks of Ganges in my home town to experience the beauty and calm of Ganga, I was hell shocked and felt terrible at what I looked. The myriad of fish variety were now replaced with tons of plastic and human wastes, the cool breeze was now replaced with a foul and unbearable smell, the calm holy water of the Ganga was now replaced with microbes and bacteria infested gutter water. Is this the same Ganga I wondered …??

Uncontrolled development, incessant pollution, industrialization and population burst have all reined havoc. The river has receded miles and leaving acres of farming land, most of the fishes and aquatic life forms thriving in the river have also being wiped out. The water is so polluted that it can make anyone sick by the mere sight of it; forget about washing away sins..!! All that remains today is the legacy of a majestic river falling from the heavens on its banks.

Looking at the apathy of Ganga I wondered of the good old days when it was brimming with water and spanned over the plain as far as one could see. In the monsoons the calm water of the river would turn into a furious and turbulent river with water level rising so much so that sand bags were needed on the banks to prevent water from entering on to the roads. I still remember praying to the Mother Ganga for help during my exams by creating a flood, not a large one to harm people but big enough to close down my school so that I could escape the fury of the exams...!!
It’s ironical that a river so mighty, pure and holy, worshipped by a billion even today, is in state of shambles. The very people that glorify and worship the river have turned it into a dumping ground and a toxic soup…again ironical. It seemed to me that the Mother Ganga was weeping..Weeping not at its own state but at the very people she nurtured and cared for; probably feeling betrayed and snitched as well. Like a cancer, the human race has multiplied uncontrollably wiping out almost all resources and life forms around it.

I do not intend to scream or howl for saving the river Ganga. I know for certain that our heavenly mother does not need any help…after all she is “Ma Gange”. On the contrary we are the ones who need all the help since It’s not the river which truly is getting eradicated instead its humanity being wiped out from the face of this planet and nature. The state of Ganga is the reflection of the plight of humanity. Nature is a self correcting system and it will soon exterminate the most potent cancerous cell to have ever inhabited this planet…… the “Humans”.

I lay somber on the banks, somehow managing to bear the foul smell, wondering that my children might never get to see the beauty of this holy river. For them “Ma Gange” might just be reduced to a handful of stories and a myth they never got to see.…

"Ganga Cha Yamuna Chaiva Godavari Saraswati,
Narmada Sindhu Kaveri Jalesmin Sannidhim Kuru"