An Ongoing Affair

It’s a bit unfortunate, culturally we are programmed to react better to mysteries, to the Unknown. What we see and know is carefully forgotten within the folds of memory; Nanda Devi is the second highest mountain peak in India and is known for being the mountain where a joint Indo-American expedition lost a nuclear-fueled device.

Both these definitions are extensions of our outlook in the present age, where success is always measured upwards and thought essentially as an amalgamation of incomplete wishes and fantasies we are keen to forget. The definition I keep for myself is an incomplete one, incomplete because I haven’t actually seen the mountain from either of its base camps. I have seen it multiple times from a distance and the closest I have been was a mere fifteen kilometers away, what essentially intrigues me is how my mind has embraced a concept which I don’t fully understand yet, but I am able to comprehend.

Mountains are seen as a perfect path to both enlightenment and escapism, this largely happens because mountains and their geography are looked through the western imaginative spectacle where they are no means to an end. Mountains didn’t have the place they currently have until the nineteenth century, they were not places where one could discover oneself but were viewed as places where one could get lost in a matter of seconds.

“To the Oriental imagination, mountains were holy places where gods and demons reside, in most of the regional languages the word “Summit” didn’t exist.”

Annapurna is revered as the goddess of food, providing Nepal with rain and rivers, K2 the savage mountain, Nanga Parbat as the killer mountain.

Nanda Devi does not boast of any such conceptions because she is nestled between two concentric circles of mountains that stand guard to her entrance so it’s difficult to acknowledge the influence she actually has in the region, Gaumukh is visibly the source of Ganga, Nanda Devi is one of the primary sources. Mythological, Meru is the center of the universe but in the topological sense, Nanda Devi is the center of the Himalayas.

To many Nanda Devi is revered for the tough approach to its base, it was acknowledged as the greatest puzzle in the Himalayas till Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman forged a way through the Rishi Ganga Gorge.

To the people of Uttarakhand, she is a deity, a sister, a mother, she is revered since her lore relates to the daily life of her worshippers. Some of the greatest tension and anxieties of local peasant women is nature of marriage where the bride has to change her residence after marriage, Uttarakhand like many South –Asian hill economies has been money order based, men are chiefly away from their homes and the Lion’s-share of household chores is done by women.

Nanda Devi faces a similar plight where she has to go away from her home and live with her husband on the icy –slopes of Mount Kailash. When one travels through villages a rather interesting picture is obtained, in songs Nanda Devi is seen as the source of life, they are transferred through generations and many have internalized them to a large extent.

Women cry when they participate in the twelve-year pilgrimage Nanda Raj Jat yatra, they are worried about their daughter’s well-being “ Why did she marry a recluse who lives on a hill, smokes and wears Tiger’s skin, What will she eat, Where will she sleep“ are some of their questions. These women travel less for the boons granted by gods and more for their daughter’s safe passage.

“Goethe said that architecture is frozen music, the architecture of mountains transcends both the audibility of sound and the vision apparent in visual art since they are in a constant process of change.”

What intrigues me beyond comprehension is Nanda Devi’s grace, from the time I was born I have heard the name Nanda Devi but couldn’t actually connect to the myth. Like all gods Nanda was always in her palanquin, and I was supposed to be at a reasonable distance. Then one day when I was hiking on the road opposite to Panchu Glacier I got the first glimpse of the goddess, sensations for unknown reasons is impossible to translate into words. I felt connected to the landscape, I wasn’t rushing ahead of time, wasn’t behind it. All of a sudden I had something to believe in and the belief was in front of me, something I could feel with every breath I took.

I was determined to come back and as they say “See the mountain for my own self”, I asked, made preparations but I could barely get myself out of the city. The trip was postponed for the next season, finally I was ready, the sleeping bag I was carrying was a bit bulky but nothing else posed a problem. Reached Munsiyari, and it rained, then some other preoccupation, it seemed that only when the blue moon came would I be allowed to go. My friends left but I couldn’t, the ambiguity didn’t even explain itself. After dinner I found myself alone in a room, not a star was shining in the sky as a sign of compensation.

Beneath all the speculation in the limited dimensionality of my head something told me that I was being too hasty, I wanted to shape my journey and in-turn wanted to shape myself, but this is never the course of nature where opposites are just sides of the same coin.

I wasn’t afraid that I would never again have the chance to come back, it just didn’t feel right to have a different ending than what I had anticipated and anticipation is nothing but the passage of time and so I wait till the day comes and I can experience my own myth I created around the mountain, till then I shall use the term An Ongoing Affair . Happy now knowing that the world is bigger than I thought and my own self just a tiny speck.

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