Friday, December 28, 2012

Meru- The center of the universe

I had applied for the post of a Liaison officer to the Indian Mountaineering foundation and my application had gone through. I was to accompany a British expedition to Meru. I had been to the Meru Advance base during my reccee of Mt Shivling. This was a very serious climb compared to what I had done. This would give me a chance to see a serious climb and I would like to support it.

I travelled to Delhi and stayed at the IMF hostel. I got the Telephone number for the place where the team had lodged and I called the leader. This was the first time when I talked to someone from abroad and I could make very little from the talk. The leader mentioned that he would come to the IMF and pick me up and introduce the team.

It was late afternoon when Paul and John came to the campus. We had a round of introductions. Paul mentioned that he had to clear the gas canisters that were on a different flight. We went to the airport and it shocked me to see the pain in clearing such a simple thing. What would these foreigners think? Then we travelled to the Connaught place to meet the team. I had no equipment of my own and Paul arranged for a jacket, an ice axe and he bought me a pair of Approach March shoes. I also met Noel, Dave and Phil. Phil was from South Africa.

We were to leave the next day. I met a Sherpa from Mount Support, Uttarkashi and we went off for dinner. He had climbed Nun and was on the way back, He was carrying a Yak Skull with horns and he asked me for a favor, by carrying it to Uttarkashi.

The van arrived at IMF and it was packed with equipment and the climbing team. I sneaked in. It was hot and I removed my t shirt to join the bare naked gentlemen.

I asked Paul if he had seen the 1000 ft free climbing film by Patrick Edlinger. He smiled and mentioned that his film featuring John Dawes had won the IMF award.

John gripped my hand and looked at my fingers. I felt that they were too delicate for a climber of John’s match. John was just over 5 feet but he seemed like a very powerful climber.

We travelled via Rishikesh to Uttarkashi and reached at nightfall.

The next day, Paul and I went to the Mount support office where he had arranged for porterage. Paul had already been to Gangotri to climb a new route on Bhagirathi-3 pillar. He also mentioned that John had purchased a simple bike and had cycled all the way from Uttarkashi to Gangotri which is a height gain from 3000 feet to 11000 feet. John had negligible experience in ice climbing but was a renowned rock climber.

We went to the Nehru institute and hired a tent for me. We started for Gangotri early morning and reached by noon. Phil, Noel and I reached Bhujbas and on the later day trekked to Tapovan.

The rest of the non-climbing team had set up camp at Tapovan and I made few aquaintances.

The rest of the climbers arrived on a later day.

For a few days the team spent time in bouldering at Tapovan. I could now see ace climbers at work. Whenever I had time I would try my hand at bouldering easier stuff. The approach march shoes were bulky and slipped off . They did not have any grip on the tiny holds on granite.

Dave surprised me one day by giving me brand new Rock shoes with brand name “Kamet”. I was overwhelmed as I never dreamed that I would have my own rock shoes. (Kamet is the highest mountain allowed for climbing in India. The sacred mountains, Kangchenjunga and Nandadevi were banned for climbs.)

Phil gave me few lessons on rock climbing and I realized that I had very less strength. Phil mentioned that I should practice Yoga. The importance of Yoga was told to an Indian by a South African. One seldom has value for home grown stuff!

Everyone gathered in the mess tent for dinner and there was a round of Quiz. Steve Quinlan and his wife had trekked to Tapovan. They would join the group. Steve was a guide in Yosemite Park. Dave’s would in father-in-law would draw some wonderful water color paintings. I was influenced by his style of using Water proof pen over water colors. I was carrying a small sketching kit and I started to sketch to mountains around me.

We swapped cassettes. 'Joline' was a hit. I was introduced to Reggae through Gregory Issacs\ Dennis Brown. My 'Indiana Jones' hat changed heads. Although I was very shy with girls, I started talking to Celia and Alison.

I carried a load to the advance base with Phil, only to realize that I had carried all the unwanted stuff.

I liked the fact that this was a free team that had similar ideals. No porters used above base.

I started taking afternoon baths in a nearby stream. We visited the Upper Tapovan. I met Col. Bajaj, the NIM Principal. He had retired long ago and was the first Indian to reach Antarctica.

The weather turned bad and there was lot of snowfall. One of the guys was hellbent on cooking apple pudding. A stroke of bad luck and he poured in salt instead of sugar. He started again. I felt cold in my tent and Johnny lent me his feather jacket. The team left for the climb.

Steve and his wife were going to trek across the glacier to Vasuki Tal. They had left already and I decided to catch up. I started with a water bottle and an apple. I got down on the Gangotri glacier through a small breach in the moraine that allowed me a gradual descent. Soon I was making way through the medial moraine ridges. There were lot of small lakes with emerald green water. I got across and I started up to Nandanvan. I met the two at late afternoon. I ate the apple and then I turned back. I saw the remains of a campsite probably for Mt. Bhagirathi-2. I made a safe return to base. It was a nice one day trek, which I had completed very fast.

One of the day's Dave and I went off on a scramble to Baby Shivling and we almost climbed half of it. Celia and Alison were very good rock climbers and they did a nice route on Baby shivling ridge with Noel.

The Meru attempt succeeded in setting a high point on Meru Sharks fin which was still virgin.
Johnny had escaped a fall while descending from a snow cave; his mountain boot fell off.

My travel date had approached and I bid farewell to my friends. I had tears in my eyes as I moved away from the camp, where I had stayed almost for a month. It would be nearly impossible to meet my friends again. With the equipment from them, I could start on my own.

Two days later, I caught a train from Delhi to Pune. I returned to my work and the memories of Meru started to disappear.

I had a Phone call. It was Paul. Paul and John were in Pune to meet me. They had been to Goa and had thought of visiting Pune on their way back. I invited them for a dinner. As they arrived, Johnny put a string of 20 carabiners around my neck with a 250 ft of Expedition rope. I was so moved at this gesture. Then, Johnny added his tent. They had given me all the essential stuff that I could not have afforded then!

I thanked them from the bottom of my heart.

They had a flight to catch at Delhi. The train was completely booked and then I found them a place on Ahmedabad coach. They had a very long travel ahead of them.

I had a nice mail from Phil after he reached South Africa. He was going for climbing in Peru.

In December, I got a mail from Paul. It was sad news.
Philip Lloyd had died in a fall during a rock climb in Patagonia.

I mourned for the loss of a new friend and my Climbing instructor as I wrote a letter to his family. Phil's father wrote back to me expressing, " I never knew that, my son had friends all around the world. He talked about you and the Meru climb after he was back."

Till death does us apart, we humans rarely reflect on the impact.

Meru, according to the Hindu Mythology is a sacred mountain at the center of the world.

Mount Meru (Sanskrit: मेरु), also called Sumeru i.e. the "Excellent Meru" and Mahameru i.e. "Great Meru", is a sacred mountain in Hindu, Jain as well as Buddhist cosmology and is considered to be the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes. It is also the abode of Lord Brahma and the Demi-Gods. The dimensions attributed to Mount Meru, all the references to it being as a part of the Cosmic Ocean, along with several statements like that the Sun along with all the planets (including Earth itself) circumbulate the mountain, make determining its location most difficult, according to most scholars.[1][2] However, a small handful number of western scholars have tried quite hard to identify Mount Meru or Sumeru with the Pamirs, north-east of Kashmir.

The Suryasiddhanta mentions that Mt Meru lies in 'the middle of the Earth' ("Bhugol-madhya") in the land of the Jambunad (Jambudvip). Narpatijayacharyā, a 9th century text, based on mostly unpublished texts of Yāmal Tantr, mentions "Sumeruḥ Prithvī-madhye shrūyate drishyate na tu" ('Su-meru is heard to be in the middle of the Earth, but is not seen there').[4] Vārāhamihira, in his Panch-siddhāntikā, claims Mt Meru to be at the North Pole (though no mountain exists there as well). Suryasiddhānt, however, mentions a Mt Meru in the middle of Earth, besides a Sumeru and a Kumeru at both the Poles.