Prayer flags, much like humans, are not meant to remain still. They need to fly and flutter freely through the air and space spreading peace, compassion, and goodwill as the wind lets them dance in every direction and the colors – red, white, green, blue, yellow – fade in the sunlight. From pole to pole, house to house, the ground to the top of a stupa, I would go so far as to say that no other country is more closely associated with flags than Nepal.
It is a to sight to behold when one climbs up the steps to the temple complex of Swayambhunath and one no one should miss out on when in Kathmandu. Its affiliation to the Buddhist belief can be felt here the closest. However, as serene as the scenery is above the reality down below in the belly of the city looks rather different, where the prayer flags are only a small part of what the wind carries through the air. Every road and street to the narrowest of alleys are filled with dust, sand, and fumes, which forces many to walk around with facemasks. Most of them are of a simple kind, the ones you would see in a Hospital. Others are either black or dark blue and are of a thicker and advanced material. For once I’m glad for the coming of the monsoon season when the rain turns dust into shallow mud pits and the pollution is not as unbearable. Then the weather is mild with no hint of humidity; a more than welcome change after the heat of Mumbai.
Beside the stupa of Swayambhunath, Kathmandu is a treasure trove of cultural heritage with historical places such as Durbar square and structures like the temple of Kasthamandap and the tower of Dharahara. This heritage, unfortunately, was threatened three years ago, not by the hands of Men but by the forces of Nature. An earthquake of a devastating magnitude not only damaged or, in the case of Dharahara, destroyed much of these historical landmarks, but killed many Nepali in the process. It is, to me, a bittersweet thing that tragedies such as these bring people closer together to rebuild what is part of their identity. When their loyalty is tested with the rubbles of their history and the blood of their kin. They may have come out unscathed, but a part of them suffered and died, nonetheless. The people of Nepal continue to look into the future optimistically and face seemingly insurmountable odds with bravery and the sweat of their brow.
My heart is with them on this quest, but in these days I’m facing my own quest of a more selfish kind. In a literal sense, I am facing mountains and ridges, hills and forests – wonders my whole being is aching for. Not just any mountains, but the ones that are richest in history and legends, revered by many and subject to the greatest and oldest epics known to Men.
Someone told me that you can see the Himalayas from Kathmandu when sunshine and blue skies reign supreme. However, it is not this time of year and the ranges in the distance are veiled in clouds and mist like a curtain as I wait in anticipation for the call. But it is me who has to make the call and draw the curtain aside. Being an idle member of the audience won’t bring me closer to the towering peaks that turn even the greatest of Men into a prostrating servant. The holy mountain of Kailas, the residence of Shiva, according to the Hindus, and the crystal of the range where the four great rivers – the Indus, Ganges, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra – draw their omnipotent strength from.
I, of course, won’t walk amongst those giants, for that, I’m lacking the required skill, strength, experience and guidance. For the time being it is sufficient for me to get close enough so that I can see them with my own two eyes. Until then, I don’t think I can fully grasp their scope, their dominance, their majesty. It is beyond everything I could picture in my mind.
That is what I’m preparing for; an approximately two-week trek through the Langtang National Park, located north of Kathmandu. It will be the first trek of this kind in my life, but based on the mixed feeling of excitement and fear, I don’t believe it won’t be the last. As the lama in Rudyard Kipling’s book ‘Kim‘ exclaimed: “These are the Hills of my delight! Shadows blessed above all other shadows! There my eyes opened on this world; there my eyes were opened to this world.“