Whatever this man is–wanderer or evil monk, or saint or sorcerer–he seems touched by what Tibetans call the “crazy wisdom”: he is free. – Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely floats in the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere – in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that…leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight. – Lama Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds, taken from The Snow Leopard
On day four of our trek up to Annapurna Base Camp, I pondered the point of a pilgrimage. I knew that Paulo, my brother, and I were on a pilgrimage to see this magnificent place referred to by all on the trail as “ABC,” but I did not know what we would find when we got there. It sort of bothered me; after all, why go on a pilgrimage if you do not understand the point of your journey. I looked into the eyes of the weary travelers coming towards us on the trail, the ones who had already made the journey to the high altitudes and snows of ABC, and wondered what they were thinking. In most of their eyes I saw nothing but weariness, exhaustion, and perhaps exasperation: exasperation with the distance they now had to travel back to civilization. It seemed to me that on many of their faces was painted the knowledge of how far they had yet to travel, and the intense desire that they were already there, and did not have to make the effort to walk these long and hot miles back to the nearest road. To me these people seemed unaffected by what they had seen, and I wondered if they were on a pilgrimage like I was, or if they were merely fulfilling the itinerary set out for them when they planned a trip to Nepal: when in Nepal you go trekking, and the most popular trek is to ABC.
But perhaps I am just being judgmental. Perhaps these people were just really tired. But there was a distinct counter-point to these blank and tired faces – there were those souls walking towards us who glowed with radiance, who were powered by an inner energy, despite the days of hard walking and fatigue. These people were affected, they had found what they were seeking and more in the hall of the mountain kings that we walked towards, but what was it they had found?
As I slowly plodded upwards to my own mantra-chanting rhythm, step by step up yet another interminable himalayan stone staircase, I wondered what my pilgrimage was all about. What was the point of this journey? I had flown half way around the world over the course of five days to land in Nepal. I had then traveled eight hours on a mini-bus to reach a village near the start of this walk, and had packed a backpack, written emails, withdrawn money, and scoured maps in preparation for this five day march to a place which is defined as being merely the base camp for expeditions wishing to tackle the real challenge – the famous and menacing mountain Annapurna which rises above. Don’t get me wrong, I will happily do all these things and much more just to enjoy a fine walk in the mountains, but this one was about much more than just seeing the sights. I could feel the hidden significance within myself, but it bothered me that I couldn’t put my finger on that internal meaning, the reason for sharing this march with all these countless fellow souls from every country in the world where people have enough income to travel to Nepal, as well as with my brother. And so I marched onwards, wondering…