Of Gods and Goddesses and Mountains
By D. Deonarain
Chomolungma. To the Sherpa people, she is the Goddess Mother of Mountains and home to Miyolangsangma the deity of Inexhaustible Giving.
Sagarmatha to the Nepali people. Divine brow head of the sky. Mother and live giver.
Everest to most outside of Nepal and the Mecca of climbing…
…but I am not there yet.
I am in Kathmandu.
In Kathmandu, divinity and the throng of humanity pulse, flow, and swirl together. From the moment you touch down on the soil of this burgeoning city you are caught up in it. The airplanes let loose from their metal hulls a multitude of people who bustle past statues of the great Garuda, Hindu messenger God, Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, and the placid Buddha, ever watchful. The wave of humanity buoys you through the arrivals gate, through the visa station, the custom queues, and past the spinning baggage belts only to finally to wash you onto the shores of the arrivals carpark. Here wait another throng, drivers now, standing with name placards beckoning the newly-arrived to their taxis and buses. In the vehicles themselves, deities in miniature bob on dashboard and spin smoothly suspended from rear view mirrors.
Statue of Garuda at the gates of Kathmandu Airport
It doesn’t take me long to settle into the flow. My two previous trips to Nepal make my arrival into Kathmandu familiar yet still tinged with the exotic and strange. After a warm welcome by the organisers of the Himalayan Rescue Association I am deposited at the hotel. I do my best to settle in, to relax, but I am restless. I’m already waiting impatiently for the flight to Lukla and onwards to the Everest trail. It is a week away. Daily meetings at the HRA’s Kathmandu offices do little to distract me from the feeling. I do my best to review permit documents, extensive equipment and medication lists, standard operating procedures, camp setup plans, and all the details that go into a venture of this scale. I meet my counterparts and colleagues whom I will work along side with: Deirdre, a charming Irish-Australian GP from north Sydney with a world of remote medical experience, Pawan, a Nepali Doctor recently back from work at Oxford, and Prakash and Lhakpa, the logistical gurus who have over two decades of Everest Base Camp experience between them. We forge fast and firm bonds. We share the common pulse of excitement which comes from kindred desires—things yet to come, things familiar to some and completely new to others. My restlessness is pierced though only by the sharp dagger of longing: a longing for my wife, my son, my home… so far now though in my heart with each beat. I pray to the gods that they are well and that I will be returned safely to them.
My time in Kathmandu coincides with the Hindu festival of Holi- the colour celebration to honour the gods and welcome the spring, love, and the triumph of good over evil. I slip from the hotel room to bring lighter hues to my mood. It’s not long before I am a mosaic of carmine, daffodil, orange, violet, and sea green. Exultant cries of ‘Happy Holi!’ can be heard everywhere. Bhojpuri, Bhangra, and Bollywood music from all corners of this ancient city rumbles through streets and alleyways. A boy just older than my own son runs up to me, pauses, then hurls a small plastic bag of paint which explodes on my thigh. He runs away again, laughing. A string of teenagers slather my face with colours. “Happy Holi, Uncle!” is their refrain. From a rooftop, I am doused with a bucket of paint-water from three stories up. The crowd above laugh and cheer. “Happy Holi!” I smile and wave up to them. Like much of Hindu worship, it is done with joy and it draws me in closely again to my own roots.
Brief time out from the Holi celebration
I am amongst them now, these gods and goddesses and mountains. They are omnipresent but still just that intangible. I know in the weeks to come their presence will grow both within and without. Already I dream of the cold touch of stone prayer wheels in villages of the remote Himal, of the curling tendrils of pungent incense smoke, of the sharp and cold mountain winds that drive the snapping prayer flags endlessly sending ‘Om Mane Pad Me Om’ a thousand, thousand times into the valleys below.
Chomolungma. Sagarmatha. Everest.
Dr. Dinesh Deonarain is a Fellow of the Royal New Zealand College of Urgent Care who is in Nepal on assignment. He is volunteering for the Himalayan Rescue Association as one of the Everest ER base camp doctors for the 2019 climbing season. This blog follows his experiences in the high alpine of the Everest region.