Paul Pottinger’s Adventures from the Top of the World

Jump to helpful navigation →

Puja!

Everest 2015  •  April 10

Today was very important for our expedition.  We held a blessing ceremony, or puja.  This 3 hour extravaganza seeks permission from the mountain deities to allow safe passage for all climbers on the mountain.  The elaborate ceremony was presided over by a lama from far down the valley… he was an adorable elderly man who truly did not look capable of walking all those miles up to our camp.  Think Yoda, but not green, and with a more charming toothless smile.

Our Lama, assisted eagerly by many sherpa.
Our Lama, assisted eagerly by many sherpa.

DSC00506

We all agree that we got the best Lama ever.  (Photo: Blake Penson)
We all agree that we got the best Lama ever. (Photo: Blake Penson)

He faced an altar made of stone, adorned with food and tsampa sculptures.  A smoky fire of juniper boughs burned at the base of the altar, and blew right in our faces the whole time!  This is a holy tree, and its smoke is revered, so I certainly dared not fidget or show my discomfort.

The Puja altar.
The Puja altar.
DSC00761
Green juniper makes for holy smokes…
Offerings of food sit beside a pile of our gear that we chose to have blessed.
Offerings of food sit beside a pile of our gear that we chose to have blessed.
Lots of goodies in there.   (Photo: Justin Merle)
Lots of goodies in there. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Onto the pile: My helmet, harness, axe, and ascender.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Onto the pile: My helmet, harness, axe, and ascender. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Closeup of the altar.
Closeup of the altar.
Any food or drink will seem to do.
Any food or drink will seem to do.

We were seated just behind and beneath the front row of holy men who led the songs and chants that went on for hours.  The sun was out, and the icefall showed itself in all its fearsome glory.  During the ceremony I studied it closely, and was moved almost to tears thinking of those lost there last year.  It was a freak occurrence, to be sure, but it happened to men who had gone through this puja process and had died just the same.  I promised myself that this year will be different, that the route will be safer and more efficient, and I reminded myself that these men are here by choice—indeed, they are heroes and very well paid members of their community—but in the end I was totally humbled by their sincerity and earnestness.

Nuptse watches from above.
Nuptse watches from above.
A "motivator" glacier hangs over the icefall on the west shoulder of Everest.
A “motivator” glacier hangs over the icefall on the west shoulder of Everest.  Asking Everest’s permission to climb seems very prudent.
We drink in the sun... and the smoke.
We drink in the sun… and the smoke.
(Photo: Justin Merle)
(Photo: Justin Merle)
Andy and LC  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Andy and LC (Photo: Justin Merle)
Blake's custom eyewear is stylin'  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Blake’s custom eyewear is stylin’ (Photo: Justin Merle)
Siva rocks the buff.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Siva rocks the buff. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Fatima and Siva take it all in.  (Photo: Blake Penson)
Fatima and Siva take it all in. (Photo: Blake Penson)

Towards the end of the ceremony a flagstaff was raised at the center of the altar, and long strands of prayer flags were stretched out to encompass the entire IMG campsite.  We threw rice as a tribute to the mountain, ate tsampa (which actually tasted much better than I recalled from 1984), drank beer and chang (an unfiltered rice alcohol, think of opaque sake with lots of chewy stuff inside).  And, we painted each others’ faces with flour to represent grey beards and a long, prosperous life.

Up goes the flag staff, capped by sacred juniper boughs.
Up goes the flag staff, capped by sacred juniper boughs.
Prayer flags stretch across our entire camp.
Prayer flags stretch across our entire camp.
Flags fly up towards HiMex and the icefall.
Flags fly up towards HimEx and the icefall.
And towards the mountain herself.
And towards the mountain herself.
Phunuru: International man of mischief!  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Phunuru: International man of mischief! (Photo: Justin Merle)
Phunuru ties cords around our necks for good luck.  (Photo: Blake Penson)
Phunuru ties cords around our necks for good luck. (Photo: Blake Penson)

Then came the dancing.  Lots and lots of dancing.  With arms intertwined, we formed a long line and kicked our legs out in an inscrutable rhythm (I am a terrible dancer, ask Julie).  It did not help that I was positioned on a small slope of blue ice.  Anyhow, this went on for quite some time, happy and fun.  By the time lunch came around we were already full and bloated.  The idea of moving to Lobuche basecamp tomorrow is not appetizing, but we will do it!

Tsampa flour gets EVERYWHERE.  Thanks to Phunuru, this includes our faces... the flour symbolizes a white beard and long life.
Tsampa flour gets EVERYWHERE. Thanks to Phunuru, this includes our faces… the flour symbolizes a white beard and long life.
Greg gets floured.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Greg gets floured. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Ditto for Fatima.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Ditto for Fatima. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Celebrations start with beer.... (Photo: Justin Merle)
Celebrations start with beer…. (Photo: Justin Merle)
... and rapidly move to Chang, the local home-brewed rice wine.  This stuff is full of something sticky.  Think sake, with chewy bits.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
… and rapidly move to Chang, the local home-brewed rice wine. This stuff is full of something sticky. Think sake, with chewy bits. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Yes, it is noon SOMEWHERE in the world.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Yes, it is noon SOMEWHERE in the world. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Phururu and Justin.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Phururu and Justin. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Our amazing team of Sherpas!  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Our amazing team of Sherpas! (Photo: Justin Merle)
Let the dancing begin... (Photo: Justin Merle)
Let the dancing begin… (Photo: Justin Merle)
A Chorus Line....
A Chorus Line….
One line, one team, one purpose.  We are in this together, happily.
One line, one team, one purpose. We are in this together, happily.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *