India: A New Discovery in an Old World

India: A New Discovery in an Old World

Written by Eric Pfirman in January 1984. Pictures by Eric Pfirman.

In May 1984, three adventurers from Syracuse, New York left for a Himalayan journey. Eric Pfirman and Micheal Rodriguez traveled to Delhi with Pankaj Jain, a native of India. Their goal was to travel and absorb India’s culture and her mountains. They traveled to the Shivling region, and climbed Kedar Dome, as well as a few minor peaks. Eric and Micheal were introduced to Pankaj’s India and now Eric lets us all in on a few of his discoveries.

Hot. Hot. Hot. It is two AM at the Delhi airport and God it’s hot. If it this warm now, what’s it going to be like during the day? And what’s that smell? It didn’t smell like this when we left New York, way back‚ oh yeah‚  yesterday. And what are those guys in blue pajamas that look like muggers doing by the exit? Speaking of muggers, I’m glad that policeman an the shuttle from the plane didn’t take away my camera. Just imagine six weeks in India without a bloody camera.

Well, one step at a time. Just have to make it through immigration, then we’ll look for our friends Pankaj and Pawan. Did I say it was hot? We’re supposed to be mountaineers, ready for everything, senses always alert. But it sure was hot. I had prepared emotionally and physically for surviving the severe, unrelenting elements in the Himalayas, (pronounced Him / all / yas), but what about surviving customs? I thought these guys were supposed to speak some English. Look out: sensory overload. Time to fall back, close down the senses, and rely on instinct.

Poor Dave. I can remember when I called him up back in March. He was so psyched to tell me about his climb up Gothic’s North Face that day. And I just casually let it slip, “Hey that’s great. Oh, by the way, I’m going to India this summer with Pankaj”. Another bubble burst. Guess there really is no way to drop a bomb like that with any tact. Looking back, just telling people about the trip was half the fun. Boy, did the jaws drop.

Not to mention my mother’s reaction. Of course, she got even by going to Grindelwald and bringing back pictures of the Eiger! Probably did it just to show me up. That’s what happens when your own mother and father are crazier than you are.

Of course, buying all of the gear for the trip was great fun also. A climber let loose on the Mountaineer all weekend with a brand new Visa card is worse than a kid with a quarter in a penny candy store. Six weeks later we were fastening our safety belts on the plane and making eyes at all of the Indian girls. Out of control!! Look out India, here we come!

Two and a half days in New Delhi. Heat, hovels, people, poverty, flies, filth, lepers, beggars, cows, tea stalls, busses, bikes, people, heat, people, heat, and more heat.

It feels great to be on the road again, but I’ll be glad when we hit the mountains and get away from this heat. I guess I opened my mouth too soon. The only thing that could be worse than the heat was the bus journey up into the mountains. And it was. Winding roads, megapeople, sweat, vomit, nosy elbows, last night’s beans, this morning’s beans, more winding roads, drunken bus drivers, no guard rails, 10001 cliffs, raging rivers, flies, no water, heat, and on and on and on …. Won’t we ever stop?? Better let Mike have the window for a while; he’s looking a little green.

“Ick cup cha?” A cup of tea. It’s funny how such a little thing as a cup of tea can be such a comfort; an island in this swirling sea of insanity. Have a cup of tea and talk with the villagers and the other passengers. Sitting in the shade of a peepul tree (Huge!!), eating pakoras or rice and beans, of course, and sipping that sweet tea. I sure wish I knew what those people were saying, but it is kind of fun trying to figure it out just by looking at their expressions. But I do wish I had taken the time to learn some Hindi. I should have known that the mountain villagers wouldn’t know any English. There aren’t even very many schools to be found up here. It is nice and cool in this tea house. And the air even smells good. Oh well, we’ll be arriving at the end of the road soon; then we’ll be able to shoulder those packs and really get moving.

What luck! Who would ever expect that three guys would hook up with one Canadian and two Irish girls on the first day of the trek? I didn’t even think we’d even see another foriegner, (ie: nonIndian), again. It’s funny how all we talk about is how good it will be when we get back home. Steaks (Shh, not too loud around these Hindu pigrims), baked potatoes, pizza, beer, corned beef sandwiches. “What’s the first thing yourle going to eat when you get home?” Twelve tins of SPAM later and we all know what it won’t be. Who ever heard of rice and beans and SPAM or spaghetti and SPAM anyhow??

Shivling from Base Camp
Shivling from Base Camp

Shivling! How many times had we spoken that word? How many times had we let Shivling roll off our tongues (accent the second syllable; it sounds better)? Not Mt. Shivling, or Shivling Peak, or even THE Shivling. Just Shivling. That one word, Shivling, seems to sum it up. And we’ve never even seen a picture of it. It’s funny how something like that can stick in your mind. From the first time we heard the name, subconsciously we knew we had to go there.

Shiva  the god of destruction. What an ominous, foreboding thought; especially for a climber. And yet, basecamped here in Tapovan, a wide flat alpine exspanse snuggled warmly within the wide, motherly flanks of Shivling, it’s easy to forget for a second all the people who have died up there. But then, one look up to that overhanging peak as it forces it’s way from behind the first monsoon clouds of summer is enough to remind us that: “Here, but for the grace of God, go I.”

And lest we forget, here comes the thundering reminder of another avalanche. Even from the summit of Baby Shivling, halfway up the main peak’s southeastern flank, that foreboding peak still perches impassively, refusing to be forgotten. Sorry folks, Gothics and Pitchoff simply won’t cut it up here with the great God Shiva. Oh, the foolish impetuosity of youth. Doesn’t he know the Adirondacks are eons older than him? Shiva just shrugs his shoulders and sends another avalanche crashing down. Looks like it’s time to find a friendlier peak to pit our meager skills againist.

Off to Kedar Dome. This smoothly rounded, snow encased mountain looks more our speed. Reprovisioned from an overstocked Bengali expedition and blessed by a priest on Gangals (the Ganges river god) birthday; what could possibly stop us? How about a ~.sweltering, inescapable noonday sun in the middle of a glistening snowfield? How about invisible crevasses, visible crevasses, and climbing up through snow up to your hips? How about an early monsoon blizzard? How about the air at 22,400 feet, or rather lack of it?

Kedar Dome Base Camp
Kedar Dome Base Camp

But that’s what we came here for. Not to beat the odds and conquer this formidable foe, but rather to see if we were skilled enough to live with all that nature had to offer  the beauty and the beast. To await with eager hearts and trepidation whatever might be around the next corner. To combine total sensory awareness with an unfailing instinct and common sense, and an indomitable lust for life. To become one with nature. Okay, maybe Sir Edmund Hillary wouldn’t get the thrill out of this mountain that we did, but it was Tetsing NorgaA first Himalayan peak and ours, too.