[ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]
.The ground floor’s outer walls were painted the same burnt red color they’d seen in Lo Monthang, while the upper two stories, stacked upon jutting horizontal beams, were progressively smaller and seemed hewn from the rock itself.Faded prayer flags strung between two of the conical roofs flapped in the breeze.“Tarl Gompa,” Karna announced.“We’ve heard that name several times,” Remi said, “but the definition seems.indefinable.”“An accurate way of putting it.In one sense, gompas are fortifications of a sort—outposts for education and spiritual growth.In another sense, they are monasteries; in yet another, military posts.Much depends on the period of history involved and the people occupying the gompa.”“How many of these are there?”“In Nepal alone, over a hundred that I know of.Probably triple that number remain undiscovered.If you expand the area to Tibet and Bhutan, there are thousands.”“Why are we stopping at this one?” asked Sam.“Mostly out of respect.Wherever there are sacred caves, a council of elders is formed to watch over them.The caves here are not yet well known, and the elders are very protective of them.If we don’t pay the proper respect, we’ll find ourselves staring down the barrels of about a dozen rifles.”They climbed out of the car.In Nepali, Karna called out toward the gompa, and a few moments later an elderly man in khaki pants and a bright blue parka stepped from the darkened doorway.His face was nut brown and deeply lined.From beneath wiry eyebrows he scrutinized his guests for several seconds before breaking into a wide smile.“Namaste, Jack!” the man called.“Namaste, Pushpa.Tapaai laai kasto chha?”Karnauer walked forward, and the two men embraced and then began talking in low tones.Karna gestured toward Sam and Remi, and they instinctively came forward.Ajay stopped them: “Better if you wait here.Pushpa is a sgonyer—a doorkeeper.Mr.Karna is well known to these people, but they are suspicious of outsiders.”Karna and Pushpa continued to talk for several minutes before the old man nodded and clapped Karna on both arms.Karna walked back to the Land Cruiser.“Pushpa has given us permission to proceed.He will inform a local guide to meet us at the first caves.”“Inform the guide how?” Remi asked.“I don’t see any—”“By word of foot,” Karna replied.He pointed to one of the rocky shark’s teeth atop the opposite cliff.There, a figure was standing.As they watched, Pushpa raised his arm and formed a sequence of shapes with his hand.The figure signaled back, then disappeared behind the cliff.Karna said, “By the time we get there, all the locals will know to expect us and that we have permission.”“In other words, no angry villagers with pitchforks.”“Rifles,” Sam corrected.Karna smiled reassuringly.“Neither.Shall we go?”Leaving Tarl Gompa in their rearview mirror, they continued heading generally east, following the gorge for two miles, before emerging on a dry riverbed.A quarter mile away, across a bridge, a collection of gompa-like structures sat at the foot of another anthill cliff, this one several hundred feet high and stretching to the north and south as far as the eye could see.Ajay guided the Land Cruiser over the river bottom to the bridge, then across.As they neared the village, the terrain changed from scree and boulders to a fine rusty brown sand.Ajay halted the vehicle beside a low stone wall on the village’s perimeter.They all climbed out into a brisk wind.Sand pelted their jackets.“It’s got a bite to it, doesn’t it?” Karna said.Sam and Remi, in the middle of pulling up their hoods, nodded back.Sam called over the rush, “We’re walking from here?”“Yes.Into those.” Karna pointed toward the anthills.“Come on.” Karna led them through a gap in the wall and started down a stone-lined path.At the end of this path they found a thick hedgerow of scrub brush.He followed the hedge to the left, then through a natural pergola.They emerged in a small cobblestoned square centered around a bubbling fountain.Around the perimeter, planter boxes overflowed with red and purple flowers.“They divert a bit of the river for irrigation, plumbing, and fountains,” Karna explained.“They love fountains.”“It’s beautiful,” Remi said.It took little imagination to see how Shangri-La legends began here, she thought.In the middle of some of the bleakest terrain she and Sam had ever encountered, they’d found a tiny oasis.The juxtaposition was pleasantly jarring.Seated nearby on a wooden bench was a short middle-aged man in a plaid sweater-jacket and a baseball cap emblazoned with the Chicago Bears logo.He raised a hand toward them and walked over.Karna and the man embraced and spoke for a bit before Karna turned to introduce Sam and Remi.“Namaste.namaste,” the man said with smile.Karna said, “This is Pushpa.” Before they could ask, Karna added, “Yes, it’s more or less the same as the man at the gompa.To us, it sounds the exactly the same; to them, the inflection makes all the difference.Pushpa will lead us to the caves.We’ll take some tea with Pushpa, and then we’ll get down to business.”29JOMSOM, NEPALPacks settled on their backs, they retraced their footsteps past the Land Cruiser, then followed Pushpa along the wall, first south, then east, around the village to the foot of the anthill cliffs.“I suddenly feel very small,” Remi said over her shoulder to Sam.“Very.”Upon their first seeing the cliffs, both distance and the fantastical geology had combined to make them seem less than real, as though it were a backdrop from a science-fiction movie.Now, with Sam and Remi standing in the anthills’ shadow, they were simply awe-inspiring.At the head of the line, Pushpa had stopped, waiting patiently until Sam and Remi finished gawking and taking pictures before setting out again.Ten more minutes of hiking brought them to a fissure in the rock that was barely taller than Sam.One by one, they slipped through the opening and onto a tunnel-like path.Over their heads, the smooth rusty brown walls curved inward, almost touching, leaving only a sliver of distant blue sky above.Ever eastward the path zigzagged and spiraled until Sam and Remi had lost track of how far they’d traveled.Pushpa called a halt with a barked word.Behind them at the rear of the line Ajay said, “Now we climb.”“How?” Remi asked.“I don’t see any handholds.And we don’t have any gear.”“Pushpa and his friends have made a way.The sandstone here is very fragile; standard pitons and rock screws cause too much damage.”Ahead, they could see Pushpa and Karna talking.Pushpa disappeared into an alcove on the left side of the cliff, and Karna picked his way back down the path to where Sam and Remi were standing.“Pushpa is going up first,” he said, “followed by Ajay.Then you, Remi, followed by you, Sam [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]