Himalayan questions to ponder (essay)

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During our long wanderings around the Trans-Himalayan dessert, a reality, which is more real than any other reality, crystallized before us. Seeing other cultures that lead a millennial old way of life, the hours we spent walking under the sun and in the rain, the surreal views at 4000 m. above sea level (13 800 feet), the lack of any informational sources, little by little made us question everything. At these altitudes the mind gets clearer and the eyes see better. Life down in the plains seems absurd and filled with illusions.

How do you see these questions?

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In the world today nobody values bread as a food that gives life. In fact nobody even sees the connection between food and life. We wonder whether to eat burger for lunch or maybe go to a gourmet restaurant, why not try a bio, eco, natural, vegan meal from kelp and quinoa with no preservatives added or maybe pizza or pork, why not a French gourmet plateau with ten varieties of cheese. We eat rapidly while watching our monitors or read with hours the latest and most fashionable bio receipts and calculate the quantity of omega trans acids and the vitamins in a certain kind of meal. We so many kinds of foods and options that in fact nobody remembers the essence of the word “food”. Now foods just reflects our taste and way of life.

People at the harsh Himalayan valleys can only grow barley, peas and potatoes because of the atmospheric conditions. There are no stores. If there is some small local shop you can buy only biscuits.

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While we walk here, depending only on the provisions we carry in our rucksacks, the only thing we can think of is: “I hope there is someone who can sell us flour in the next village”. The only thing we want is flour. It is the only thing that will let us survive. At this moment we don’t even imagine any kind of meal and the biscuits at the store don’t seem appealing.

For the first time in my life when I see barley fields I think: “food”. For us, and for most locals, these small terraced fields, that sometimes are hours or days of walking from one another, mean survival.

Not so long ago people appreciated food and mostly cereals in the form of bread, as something holy. Maybe for most modern people the words “thank you for the bread you put on my table” are some funny anachronism that they never use before they start eating, but these words come from people who knew the meaning of bread. While walking the long kilometers I think: if people instead of eating and worshipping all that is “bio” they should take a bite from a bread and say to themselves how blessed they are and how blessed is the food they eat. I am sure that they will be happier and healthier than the others.

Why do you think we lost our natural connection with food?

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Meeting other mountaineers and tourists here made us think about other things too. Seeing how people don’t dare to recede much from the security of “civilization” without trying to take the comfort with them made us wonder. All or at least 99% of tourists here start their treks with pack animals, tent, kitchen, tent-toilet, tent-living-room, chaise-longue and all other kinds of useless things such as chairs, tons of food, special devices for purifying water, etc.

Why is it so scary to drink from the pure mountain spring or sit or lie on the ground alone into the wild? Most people wouldn’t do even this kind of “comfort” expedition. Going out of time is terrifying for most. Why would someone be terrified by the strong wind, stepping on the ground, bathing in the rivers or the summer rain? Aren’t we all nature? Won’t we all go back in the dirt and in the rivers that give us life?

The question that was nagging at me was: where does this negation and fear from uniting with Earth comes from?

The areas we walk in are so so beautiful that we often wonder if they are real or we are just walking in a dream. The odd thing is that it doesn’t seem that they affect in the same way the other tourists. Then I asked myself – does one need to be pure and to carry the magic in oneself in order to see it reflected in the outside world? What should this place be or look like in order to shatter these people?

When we don’t see miracles and beauty around us is it because they couldn’t be found inside of us? What do you think: does the outside world create the inside or vice versa?

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We had the opportunity to see the way of life of Changpa nomads who live ib east Ladakh, India, close to the border of Tibet. And it shocked us. Changpa nomads live at 4200 m. above sea level (13 800 feet) at the cold desert-like plateau Chang Tang. The only thing they own are the big sheep and goat herds that provide the valuable pashmina wool. Living conditions here are very harsh – according to the western point of view.

It is not possible to grow any fruits and vegetables here because of the climate. Nomads buy basic things as flour and sugar from the capital Leh which is 300 km. away or 8-9 hour driving with a car. The only fruits and vegetables they eat here are potatoes and turnip. Traditionally nomads eat dairy products, meat and barley flour products. Fruits are almost unknown to them.

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In the summer they climb at grazing pastures which are located at 5000 m. above sea level (16 400 feet) where temperatures at nigh fall below zero (32 Fahrenheit). In the winter they descend at 4200 m. (13 800 feet) with temperatures below minus thirty (minus twenty two Fahrenheit). They live at nomad tents or in stone shelters (these are piles of stones that protect you from the wind – they are not even houses). The only thing they use to make a fire and heat themselves are dry yak excrements and roots of thorny bushes that grow here. The remoteness of the region makes access to schools, hospitals and the likes almost impossible.

Changpa sell the precious pashmina wool at very high prices and they are definitely not poor. Every family has enough money to take its belongings, put them in a jeep and go live in Leh or some place with summer all year long at the low parts of India. Why they don’t is a question with no answer.

I think about this and I wonder: why do we all live where we grew up? Why is it so difficult to leave our dusty, polluted office and town and we think we have no other alternatives?

What if somewhere there is the paradise, outside of our established stereotyped life…

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