“A week ago, my Facebook feed dropped on me a very astonishing piece of news. Amongst a pile of junk I was sifting through, I almost scrolled past it. Until something very familiar caught my attention.
It can’t be, can it?
Was it the same pair of eyes?
“The Amazing Ascent of Baruntse by Baru”, the news read. But more than the words it was the picture of Baru that made me stop and stare.
The year was 2014. October was shedding its weight. And I was in the middle of yet another package tour with a travel company that specializes in them. It was my second one with them and as usual I had isolated myself from the group and sat alone with my Ipod, mesmerized by everything whizzing past outside my window.
The silence amongst mountains hurtling towards Heaven, the snow on the cone of their summits, the snaking rivers skirting past the bottom of the mountains into nameless vales and villages and the sun playing peek-a-boo with the tall and mighty deodars; these are emotions beyond description.
The closest I have felt to God is when I was at the feet of the Himalayas trying in vain to pin point the exact spot where they touched the skies. It was a never ending task I had set for myself every time the bus journeyed in the vicinity of the Mountain Ranges. Needless to say, I failed at it but it always made me happy and rearing to go.
Certain creations of Nature are meant to be fathomless. And so they should remain.
One particular nippy morning of that week turned out to be a shimmering surprise. An unexpected stopover bang in the middle of apple orchards on one side and a sheer drop into a valley on the other awaited me. Hopping off the bus with the silence of the trees for company, the group was asked to hike up a trail. The surprise was apparently at the end of the hike.
It was a fairly steep hike and soon I left behind everyone else. The crunch of my sneakered feet pierced the eerie silence that loomed around me. Suddenly I sensed someone behind me. Scared, I came out of my reverie. I stood still and looked back like a shivering kitty.
That moment is still etched in my heart with the glow of a million fireflies. In a matter of a single second I joined the hallowed company of fellow humans who have fallen in love at first sight.
The kindest, warmest pair of brown eyes in my planet smiled back at me. As if asking me to continue my hike, they prodded me to move. My poor heart was so overwhelmed with love that I had completely forgotten where I was. In the middle of a forest, that’s where!!
To this day I brag about this. The only time I fell for someone at first sight!
For a Tibetan Bhotia, Shemru was small. Handsome and middle-aged, the odd streaks of white tugged my heart strings. The violin in my head was already playing an as yet unheard of symphony.
The next 20 minutes were a blur. We walked together as our feet played an orchestra for the wise old Himalayan Cedars lining along the sides of the trial.
And at the end of the tiring hike was a natural cave. A lone man with a tiny torch asked me to roll up my skinny jeans and step into the water.
A dark cave. Knee deep water. Did I mention there was no one else around?
The lone man assured me that he was a priest. And that the cave was actually a temple!
I turned around to look for Shemru. He had sprawled on the floor next to the cave. And acted as if he had dozed off! Well, I could say he was out!
With a very deep sigh, I went in with the man. Fear gripped me but I didn’t let the man feel it.
And lo and behold! What do I see!
My first! I had to be in a bendy Japanese bow like contortion to look at everything inside but the spell binding formations created due to the onslaught of dripping water on rock resembled an array of Indian Gods!
There was an Elephant faced Ganesha and a very life like huge Shiv Linga, that still manage to reside in my memory palace. It was too damp and humid to stay inside for long. So I was out in a jiffy.
Shemru was up and abound and he leapt in joy when he saw me coming out. For a long while, until the rest of the group hiked up and did a tour of the cave, I sat beside Shemru. Time stood still for us and we waltzed in our love.
It was time to go. Obviously I didn’t want to. I knew I will never see Shemru again. But we all end up doing what Life forces us to do. So with my heart weeping tears for a stranger I met half hour ago, I hopped on to the bus. But I couldn’t sit still when those deep brown eyes looked at me with such sadness from the other side of the window. I quickly got down and hugged Shemru for that one and only time and squeezed the wild flowers into his hands I had plucked a while ago. A quick pic later I was on my way hiding back tears that refused to pay heed to my pleas.
Ever so often I look back at this picture of me looking at the camera and Shemru looking at my hand holding the tiny flower. For the longest time that picture graced my Facebook page. I was the only Lalitha with the Bhotia on its search pages!
Baru’s ascent of Baruntse, a mountain in the Khumbu region of Eastern Nepal, close to Mt. Everest, made news for various reasons.
The most vital of them all being, its the First Canine Ascent of a Himalayan peak! Do the other reasons even matter?
Baruntse is a 7000’er(over 7000 metres/23,000ft) in the Himalayan Range. And the arduous climb all the way to the summit is by all means a gruelling one. You would need all the paraphernalia usually required to hike up an icy monstrosity. Not to forget the crippling altitude sickness that could lay you low any moment.
Baru, a stray Tibetan Bhotia made it all the way to the summit without crampons, a down jacket or snow goggles. None of the accoutrements mattered to it! Least of all altitude sickness apparently. It simply attached itself to a group of climbers and kept climbing until it reached the very top.
What warmed my heart even further is the fact that Baru resembles Shemru. I stared. And stared, really hard at the picture. I couldn’t make out if it really was Shemru.
Maybe all Bhotia’s look the same. Maybe it is Shemru. Who knows?
But one look at the picture took me back to that mountain road somewhere in Uttarkashi and swept me into the warm golden hug of a brown eyed Tibetan all over again, whose unconditional love still burns bright in an unbroken part of my heart. It’s the only avatar of love that didn’t break me, shake me or weaken me to my bones.
Steady, comforting and never fading, it only glows brighter with each passing day.
Shemru came. Loved me for a little while. And bade goodbye.
And just like that, Shemru unassumingly fixed my broken self in a way no human ever can.”
So…Are you feeling the honeyed sweetness of nostalgia? Do you hear that door in your memory palace that’s creaking open slowly and whispering, “Oh! I don’t know! I feel like I have read this somewhere!”
Well then I take full credit for creating that imagery!
Just so you know, this is not a plagiarised work of art. Regular readers of my blog would have read this post of mine sometime in March 2019, when I was recovering from a bout of Pneumonia and delirium. And well, what do you know? I am even guilty of having written an entire post on dating Mr. Delirium during that time!
My reason behind taking you back in time to this chance encounter with Shemru is because this episode happened when we were on our way to Yamunotri descending from Gangotri.
Climbing down in altitude, especially on a vehicle is quite tough. Not just to the driver. Going round and round the mountain while coming down makes one very nauseous. So timely breaks and a friendly Diamox helps.
On one of our many breaks during the journey downhill is when this chance encounter graced my life and its one, I hope will be the last of my memories to fade…