Mysticism: Keeping Mountains out of Mountaineer’s reach
‘In the world of ordinary and predictable be a riddle, cropped in a mystery, inside an enigma… Michael Bessey Johnson”
Post by on Tuesday, August 10, 2021
After serving for more than 32 years in the armed forces of the country and having trudged the terra firma of India with myriad terrains punctuated by an equal measure by the surprises it throws at you, I may dare say that the thrill of venturing deep into the valleys of Himalayas ,the greens of tropical jungles to the scorched earth of the Thar desert is a package in itself which not many amongst are lucky enough to brave on. Shinnying up steep rock and ice through any mountain range is no child’s play. Armed forces of the country provide an excellent opportunity for its members to clamber such peaks which are not known to the common public even in the wildest of their dreams. As climbers we prefer to have unlimited access to everything in our grasp from buildings to boulders, cliffs, walls etc. To the uninitiated let me clarify that out of all the sports which are in the realm of human reckoning, mountaineering is one sport which requires a stout heart, calm mind, and iron shins to weather out the highs and lows of mountaineering. It is one of the most loneliest sports in which the sportsman has to rely more on his reserves of energy, enthusiasm, tact, skill and forbearance than any other sports known to the mankind.
Mountains do not forgive the faint hearted and seldom give second chance to climbers who try to correct the basics of their being midway in their climb. The world over there are mountains which have been kept out of the ambit of a mountaineer’s reach either due to their difficult climb or else due to an intangible mysticism that surrounds their halo of importance. This mysticism stems sometimes due to the belief of local people, deities or else centuries of hearsay passed on from generations to generations by word of mouth connected to a particular mountain. In the Australian continent, the world’s largest monolith ‘Uluru” falls under the category of ‘Unclimable Mountains’. ‘Uluru” or Ayers rock is a massive sandstone monolith in the center of northern territory’s arid Red center. ‘Uluru” is sacred to indigenous Australians i.e. the ‘Aanagu” people thought to have started forming about 550 million years ago. When people ascend ‘Uluru’ despite having been told not to do so they offend the locals to no end.
Uluru mountain has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and Australia’s most recognizable landmarks since 1930s. For the Anangu population Uluru is just not a sandstone massif but a palpable life force connected to an ancient aboriginal knowledge known as Tjkurpa. This Tujukurpa wisdom is understood by them to exist at the base of the mountain and is identified through the stones, trees and desert found there.In fact as per them their power and knowledge is not on Uluru’s summit, so for the Anangu population there is no reason to climb it. People are informed of the cultural sensitivities before their ascent, both by the sign boards and Anangu people themselves, but the sacred gatecrashing goes on. The locals of Australia call these people as ‘Minga” or ants.
Turning our gaze towards another continent ,the USA we find another equally un climbable mountain Tse’ Bitai .It’s an indigenous name for ship rock the volcanic plug in the American southwest that resembles like a bird with folded wings. First climbed in 1939, by four Americans, ship rock has been closed to climbers since the 70s after a fatal accident. The nearby Spider rock and Totem pole have been closed since 1962. Now coming to our own sub-continent i.e India we will find dime a dozen mountain peaks or hills which are willynilly kept out of a climber’s perch to his dismay. In 1994, Bhutan banned all climbing above 6000 meters and then in 2003, in deference to the spiritual customs of Mahayana Buddhism all climbing was stopped in the Western Tibet. But the icing on the cake in the western Himalayas for the banning of mountaineering and allied activities goes to the 6714 meter high the Mt Kailash the most venerated peak for the 4 major religions of our world i.e. Hindus, Buddhists, Bons, and Jains. More about it later in this article of mine with a personal reflection on the pilgrims of KM Yatra which I met on my way to the Tri junction point while in service way back in 1991 while posted at Pithoragarh.
While Hindu religion enjoins on everybody to undertake the famous ‘Char dhamyatra’ to attain salvation, but nothing comes in comparison to the annual pilgrimage to the famous Mt Kailash in the TAR (Tibetan autonomous region). The 6714mts /22,156 feet high Mt Kailash is not truly climbable for the difficult and steep path it leads to its top. It is believed that only one individual Milarepa, a Buddhist monk had climbed the mountain till date. Whoever wanted to climb the top was unsuccessful and their life ended up with a mysterious death. It has been ingrained in the psyche of the pilgrims that climbing the top will disturb the Gods and invoke his wrath in myriad forms. Well there is nothing offensive to come close to the Gods as it appears at Mount Kailash. Having interacted with various batches of pilgrims coming all the way from the famed KM Yatra way back in 1991/92, I observed a distinct change in their demeanor and general outlook towards life.
Hindus as a community are given to the fatalistic attitude towards their day to day existence, which these pilgrims exhibited in a much more pronounced manner having weathered the Dolma pass and trudged the circumferential Mansarovar and Rakshastal lakes. I was in for a big surprise when I found out that some pilgrims particularly the aged ones had in fact just completed their last will back home before embarking on this hazardous yatra with a copy of the will safely ensconced in their baggage should they not come back from the yatra. As per these pilgrims the hearsay regarding un climbing of Mt Kailash springs up from patchy records found in the past of Buddhist wanderers who have claimed with singular conviction the fact that whosoever attempted to scale this venerated mountain top ended up with long hairs and nails and an accelerated withering down of physical and mental faculties eventually leading to his death.
In fact according to some Geologists Mt Kailash is not a natural form of mountain but is like a pyramid with about 100 different pyramid like structures giving it the present shape of a large conical mountain. With the spate of mountaineering expeditions launched, giving hardly any concern to the local sensitivities surrounding some of the mountain tops the world over; it’s feared that a clash of interests of stakeholders may lead to a situation which may see future banning of this wonderful sport activity in its entirety. Nothing could be more tragic for the budding mountaineers than this development.
(The writer can be approached on his email….firstname.lastname@example.org)