Kali Trek

Shiva’s consort is known as Parvati the loving, Laxshmi the beneficent, Kali the insane.  She is a mountainpeak, beautiful and unapproachable; she is rich earth water kissed, basking in sun and sky; she is a sickle-wielding monster whirling murderous storms, black wind ice and fire exploding from her eyes.

Up the Kali Gandiki valley mighty rivers plunge aggressively, tumbling off massifs, cascading from cliffs, precipitating mist over a sweet smelling ecosystem lush with innumerable greens.  Tropical jungle at lower elevations melds into alpine forest as the path climbs up and up and up so extremely steep that land slides everywhere unconquerably dynamic, stone defies gravity and the views belief, it is paradise reaching for heaven.

I walked deep into another century alone following a trail of yak shit sometimes no wider than my toes trying to ignore acute vertigo by not looking at the rock-smashing rapids a suicide leap below.  Up over a pass I went, down a bit into the next settlement, then back up and up for days.  Trudging through endless mountain forests up a giant’s staircase—where did all this granite come from?  Oh yeah, that riverbed 4000 meters below.  The gods must’ve carried it up.

I could barely hoist my feet above my chest to take the next step, yet I met caravans of men and women bearing unbelievable burdens strapped to their foreheads all along the road.  Small squat strong-bodied people porting priceless treasures like batteries and tarpaulins in gigantic bundles like ants in no hurry singing.  Plodding deliberately by.

Sometimes I passed boy shepherds leading hundreds of mules or goats and the jostling braying herd tippi toed the razor’s edge as I sucked my body into recesses painstakingly etched out of the cliff-face by no-safety-roped work gangs chiseling bits out of the mountainside and dropping rocks which fell fell fell through space and landed in resounding booms echoing down the valley.  They’re making a new road.  There are plenty of good suspension bridges already; soon the Annapurna circuit will become easy to “do”, and busloads of well-heeled tourists won’t experience any apperception of the truth of the strength it requires to survive and prosper on the rooftop of the world.

They’ll not see a no-legged shepherd ambulating with his ass and arms to keep up with his flock a long way from wherever he began and not even close to the destination he must achieve before he can rest; they won’t continue on past him in enforced meditation alone in the silent mountain vastness around a corner into a sudden wild ganja field and walk disbelievingly through a forest of skunky plants twice a man’s height where little kids and old ladies are rubbing buds to make fresh hashish; they won’t drink fresh water from natural trailside streams while having a chillum of that then stop in a village to eat simple dahl baht with which to replenish so much fuel spent (the way it’s meant to be had).  Smile back to black toothed old women stripping corn and scattering it to dry in the sun having a nice long stare at the curious alien strolling through their clan’s town.  Hear a lilting flute in the middle of nowhere and imagine it’s a ghost who’s inhabited the region for two thousand years.  Empirically experience the scents, which remind you of a place you’ve never been, are conduits to an instinctual knowledge so easily obliterated by fossil fumes.  Take a two dollar room in a kind family’s house and a ten cent bath from hand poured by a pretty young daughter; get naked three miles high.

Channel the stories.

Observe earthen retaining-dams maximizing every possible nook and cranny etched into the mountainsides, geometric lagoons cut into infinitely various formations so ingeniously its breathtaking reflecting the clear high-altitude sun gleaming like jade: healthy rice swaying.  Bright sari clad women stooping and gathering stalks into baskets, filthy loinclothed men replowing yesterday’s fields, guiding unthinking great buffalo beasts through waist deep fecal mud.  Whole villages working together spreading bull shit, singing.  Cousins, siblings, neighbors, friends, enemies; a totally transparent life lived mutually dependently.  Each family inhabiting a single compound for the elders through the great grandkids through the chickens and goats, keeping each other warm in the winters.  The too-old to manually labor anymore spinning yak wool and cleaning washing caring for and educating the young.  The young learning life’s devotions and skills by observing their perfected performance.  The strong-for-now “supporting” the weak-at-this-time, the other way around, the obviousness of the life cycle, the role for each man woman and child determined by unquestioned duty to the whole.

The people eeking sustenance out of their Mother, providing also food also for the animals, which are reciprocally vital in the evident God-plan.  The not killing the animals for their meat.  The loving non-altruism.  The each taking according to his needs and allotted tasks depending on his personal strengths.  The bounty of nature, the adaptability and cleverness of man.  To reap and harvest and sew it, and moreover to appreciate the beauty of it, and be devoutly thankful for his special status, his elevation above the merely alive.

Obviously rural Nepalis must be presumed to be sophisticated parties who can logically weigh the potential benefits versus risks of continuing to live in such “primitive” conditions (although of course I found it charming that a dreamland like theirs still exists… limited glimpses of modernity must seem likewise desirable to people to whom a little bit of money means a trip to the doctor for a sick child) though unrest and dissatisfaction ensue when an enviable object is unattainable to all but a few.  Anyways the point is moot, the farmers didn’t ask the men with guns to make the decisions, they just did.  Whether or not I should perhaps feel guilty about Western capitalist imperialism maybe one day seducing these lovely mystical people, they’re making a new road.  And another culture will recede into the canon of the forgotten, or at best become unreliably remembered history, told to strangers for profit, exaggerated idealized demonized lies.  To grandchildren a millennium removed watching television with the A/C on, nostalgic ramblings of nothing.

Night fell quickly.  I was swallowed by complete darkness until my vision adjusted to perceive trillions of stars.  A candle lit on a mountain nearby, wound its sedate progress to its lover’s bed, blew out, and again fell total dark, and the stars.

I pondered the magnitude of time.  Because of the roar of the river.  I pictured all those particles being dislodged and washed downstream, a good deal of mud-movement over the course of a day, a week, a millennium.  Over the rocks they’ve flowed beginning before me, before mankind, never ceasing for an instant even when all the lights go out and everything must quiet and dream.

I realized the limits of my abstract mind, which cannot possibly fathom the True Deep Time involved in slowly depositing all those atoms downstream until the deepest gorge in the world was carved, and happily closed my eyes, and thought about the eons old light of the stars, as my ears grew accustomed to the ceaseless sound of water over stones, until I was no longer separated from infinity.

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