My Tibetan Odyssey: In search of Gods in the highest of places

Mountain climbing as an obsession is a selfish endeavor, and there’s just no way to get around that fact
       -Beck Weathers in ‘Left for Dead' on the 1996 Everest disaster.

I spent the better half of July/August in Tibet, which boasts some of the tallest peaks on Earth. Like many before me I was inspired to witness with my own eyes what all the hype was about. But the endeavor itself in terms of the rigours of high altitude and cold nights is a huge ask for the human body - Lhasa the main airport into Tibet sits at a stupendous 4000m; 13,123f!

For the Tibetan people, their homeland is a place of the mighty gods taking material form at the tallest peaks in the Himalyan (Everest), Kailash (Kailash) and Transhimalyan (Nyenchen Tanglha) ranges. For climbers to ignore this simple fact and not to make offerings and receive blessings in return is an error not to be made whilst in Tibet, or in neighbouring Nepal. Climbers if truth be said live on a knife edge and justifiably are a superstitious bunch. I suppose, as an amateur climber, I wanted to test my mettle in one of the most raw and unbridled lands known to man. George Mallory, the first to lead a climb on Everest, when asked why he wished to climb Everest, had quipped, “Because it is there”. We don’t know if Mallory was successful as he never came down, but his body was later discovered by a team led by Conrad Anker in 1999 at 26,700f on the North Face of Everest. Sometimes, the price to pay for these tall dreams is a very steep one.

Everest base camp (top elevation 5200m; 17,060f; 10.8 %Oxygen)

Everest 8848m (29,029f), from base camp 

On the evening of day 4 in Tibet, I found myself with 6 others in a Yak tent at the base of Everest. July being the Monsoon season is not a good time to climb Everest (best being May and September) and it is often hidden from view by massive storm clouds. Although, that being said the views of Everest are supposedly better from base camp on the Tibetan side than the Nepalese side. But, luck was on my side as I discovered bright and early the following morning whilst stepping out to brush my teeth, the weather had dramatically changed and the whole of Everest in all her grandeur was visible to the naked eye (see pictures)!

Miyolangsma, the Bon goddess of Everest, is believed to sit at the peak of Everest (Everest is always called 'she' in deference to her). It is to her that Tenzig Norgay, the first to summit Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, is said to have expressed his gratitude to when he reached the summit. Tenzig Norgay, is said to have followed her up the mountain and that she allowed him to be the first to summit Everest. Not surprisingly, on occasions that allow, it is not unusual to see Sherpas carry up various shrines to the summit for blessings (see picture below). Although, compared to the 1990s and since the commercialization of Everest, deaths on Everest have reduced, much of the risk now is taken by Sherpa's; with as many as one in three deaths being reported in some years. 

Two Sherpas at the summit of Everest with a shrine to Buddha

The thing I discovered about Everest is that once you’ve clapped your eyes on it, the possibilities are rife. 

Mount Kailash kora (top elevation 5630m; 18,471f, 9.2, 9.7 %Oxygen)

The mount Kailash kora (diagramatic representation on the left) is a circumlocution around Kailash amounting to 54km in total. It is a religious right for four of the oldest religions in the world – Hinduism, Buddhism, Bon and Jainism, but also performed by many tourists like myself every year. It holds special significance and is believed to be the center of the universe (the mythical Mount Meru); its location in synchronization with the Earth’s poles and from it stemming some of the worlds largest rivers (Sutlej on the West, Brahmaputra on the East, Indus on the North, Karnali on the South – the largest tributary of the Ganges). Hindus believe that Kailash is the home of Lord Shiva, the God of Destruction, and by destroying he creates. The scripture, the Shiva Purana, says "There is no sin in the world which cannot be destroyed by circumambulation. Hence one should dispel all sins by circumambulation alone". 

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