Himalayas mistreatedInstead of conquering sacred mountains, we should be conquering our social and political ills
The egoistic mind of the modern age is relentlessly motivated to triumph by ascending the mountains unlike the religious pilgrims and devotees of Lord Shiva who pay homage by circumambulating. The sages and wise men never had the dream of
spoiling the abode of the god by setting foot on the Himalayas, which otherwise would be a sinful act. They therefore considered the Himalayas in Nepal as devatma (God-souled).
Some 60 million years ago, the Himalayan orogeny took place bestowing only Nepal the highest mountain range in the world extending some 800 km from east to west, which included Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) of about 8850m height, the tallest mountain in the world.
The Himalaya mountains in Nepal are the devobhumi (where deities dwell) and tapobhumi (land of best practices of meditation, yoga and renouncement to reach oneness with god). They are sources of Vedic knowledge. A total of 3,830 glaciers in 3,902 sq km are the principal sources of life-giving gigantic perennial rivers such as Saptakoshi, Gandaki, Karnali and Mahakali, all feeding into the sacred Ganga, which flows down from the matted locks of Lord Shiva or Shree Pashupatinath.
In Nepal, the Himalayas have always been the source of peace, tranquility and enlightenment. There are 62 legendary shrines of Lord Shiva dotted in the Himalayan foothills, which include Shree Pashupatinath, the greatest and the most significant Hindu temple in the world and a Unesco world heritage site. The mountains of the Himalayas are not to be treated ‘materially’ but from the perspective of temples, monasteries, stupas, meditation, Hindu religion and holy epics. They include Mt Kailash (6,714m), where Lord Shiva meditated along with his wife goddess Parvati according the ancient Hindu scriptures such as Skanda Purana, Rig Veda, Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Problems in mountaineering
Seekers of knowledge renounce the mundane world and meditate in solitude. Forgetting that the Himalaya mountains shower the aura of spirituality and are the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bons, the egoistic and haughty minds from all over the world seek to ‘conquer’ mighty abodes of divinity by climbing them in modern times.
Nepal Mountaineering Association and the Department of Tourism (DoT), in contradiction to the age-old inherent spiritual philosophy and sentiments of the people of the Himalayas, have been granting approval to mountaineering expedition teams every year and earning a handful in royalties or foreign exchange in the name of tourism promotion. Mountaineering expeditions have been undermining the intrinsic values of Himalayas meant for a different purpose. Also, issuing fake certificates to an Indian couple who pretended to have scaled Mt Everest in May and many Nepali mountaineering Sherpas getting citizenship of other nations speak volumes about problems in Nepal’s mountaineering.
Foreign materials, such as oxygen cylinders, ropes, pitons, heaps of beer cans and mineral water bottles, instant noodle wrappers, toilet paper and many missing bodies are being accumulated in the mountains. It is a challenging, impractical or costly project to excavate, clean and transport away the accumulated garbage and rubbish lying at such high altitudes. Sacred rivers such as Koshi are also getting polluted due to the debris. Probably, we are fooling ourselves by entertaining an inconsistent practice like expeditions without recognising the traditional and spiritual significance of the sacred Himalayas.
Global warming and its adverse impact on the Himalayas is another serious regional and international issue. Climate change is the main factor behind the accelerated glacier retreat of at least 30 sq km every year in Nepal, which has inflicted a potential threat as it is triggering avalanches and increasing the risks of glacial lake outbursts. Human activities are also pushing the fragile ecosystem ever closer to instability.
Other sources of revenue
Genuine devotees may like to limit themselves to undertake holy walks for meditation and spiritual enlightenment. Just as a Buddhist, a Hindu, or any Tibetan would never contemplate trying to climb Mt Kailash, the same should apply in the case of Nepal’s mountains. Nepal should also amend the law to reinstate our ancient practice of keeping the Himalayas sacrosanct. Any lenience or a gap in policy may lead to reckless mistreatment of the Himalayas, and hence transgression.
When the highest mountain was scaled for the first time, it was called the ‘conquest’ of Mt Everest. Instead of conquering mountains by climbing them and spoiling their sanctity for material happiness, our action and policy focus should be on conquering poverty, political instability, mismanagement, unemployment, trade deficits, uncontrolled market price, poor governance, underdevelopment, corruption, impunity and violence. Instead of mountaineering, Nepal can specialise in other areas like tourism, adventure sports—rafting, bungee jumping and paragliding—trekking in rural communities, traveling in wild reserves, conservation areas and national parks, bird-watching, and so on. There can also be activities to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Himalayas but from a distance such as mountain flights, and devotional or educational trips to temples, shrines, stupas and monasteries. All these can boost investment and create mass employment, and be a huge source of revenue.
Dixit is a grants business and development professional