“You won’t want to miss one of the most important landmarks of our working area while you are in Gudel”.
These words of my colleague, Heema, kept me going. After 5 hours of uphill walking my legs were shaking, struggling with every step. Panting and trying hard to catch my breath, the devastatingly steep, never-ending stone stairs were starting to fade away from my vision as everything became blurry. To add more agony, my shirt was getting heavier with a continuous stream of sweat.
I sat down on a large stone and rested my head on my walking stick. I started to doze off immediately. I was so tired.
“Rupak, are you all right?” came the words from my colleague and traveling companion, Ishwor Dai, bringing me back from my dream.
“I am fine.” I said weakly. “Just give me a few minutes.”
“I think we should keep going. We are in the middle of nowhere.”
“Please keep walking. Seeing you go on will force me to walk too.”
“Are you sure?”
He started to walk slowly while I was still trying to pull myself up. Everything was dark and weak. I could hear my heartbeat pleading for me to stop this torture. I searched for a strand of energy to lift myself up on to my feet, a flash of motivation.
‘We wouldn’t want you to miss one of the most important landmarks of our working area.’ The words thundered in my head again. “Yes, this is hard. Really hard. But this won’t kill me,” I muttered to myself in a cracked voice. I stood up with every last bit of strength I could muster and started to walk again.
After about an hour of climbing, to my great relief and joy, Ishwor Dai up ahead of me shouted enthusiastically with a beaming smile: “Here we are!!!!”
I slowly raised my head from the stone steps and saw some large stones and a pinnacle of a Chaitya just where the uphill path ended. A sigh of relief. The excitement to see Salpa Lake came back stronger. It was this very mystical place which my colleagues had been prodding me to go see since I came to Gudel. I had heard enough tales about the mystical powers the lake held as well as about its beauty. I wanted to run and lay my eyes on the holy lake. But my legs deceived me. I dragged myself to the Chaitya assuming the lake must be around it.
As soon as I climbed the few steps up to reach the Chaitya, I started looking around frantically.
“Where is the lake?”
There was nothing but a couple of small wooden huts.
“This is where we take a tea break. We still need to walk 20 minutes from here, cross another ridge to reach the lake.” Ishwor Dai explained to me, sympathetically observing my disappointment.
“20 minutes? Are you serious? I cannot walk a single step ahead.” I laid down in a wooden bench near the Chaitya.
“I have ordered some tea. Tea will make you feel better.”
“Let’s hope so.” I said.
It was 10 AM and that was the first hotel we had found since we started walking in the morning. We waited for a few minutes and were served a steaming, sweet cup of tea with some biscuits.
“Shall we start walking?” Ishwor Dai said as soon as we finished tea. I nodded, stretched myself out and picked up the walking stick. We started to walk through a tiny, narrow ledge along the edge of a cliff with such a plunging drop I had to avert my eyes. Thick fog rolled over the landscape once in a while hindering our visibility and giving us a chill. After the walk through the cliff was over, we came across a sprawling green meadow with what looked like a deserted market.
After that, we walked through a dense rhododendron forest with gentle uphill slope for about 5 minutes and reached a small pass. The pass opened onto a small bowl shaped valley just beneath it.
As soon as I set foot on the pass, and looked down, I was taken aback by awe. I saw a deep green serenity called Salpa Pokhari- the Salpa Lake. It was right at the center of the valley, at the foot of the impressive Silicho peak. It was a treat for my eyes after hours of blurry and unclear vision due to exhaustion. Because I had heard enough about shamans practicing meditation and puja here, I felt like the air was full of healing and meditative aura. ‘6 hours of uphill walk? What? When? What are you talking about?’ I forgot my exhaustion in an instant, and ran down to the lake.
I sat next to Ishwor Dai, staring deep into the green pond. I felt the mysterious pond staring back at me. It was a little chilling, but glad that it was mutual. It was waving in the rhythm of wind but at the same time there was something which was calm and unmovable. Something that was so fulfilling yet makes you feel empty. Something alive and vivid but something that cannot be seen and touched.
“So, this is where the spirits of the ancestors dwell?” I broke the silence.
“That’s what the legend says.”
I closed my eyes. Laid down. Took a deep breath.
“Are you all right? How are you feeling now?” my traveling companion asked.
Written by Rupak Maharjan
Dai : Nepali word for big brother
Chaitya: a religious Buddhist structure. In most of our working areas, they are made out of stones and are about 1-2 meters in height.
A triumphant Rupak poses in front of Salpa Lake