Shika Mountain – The Forgotten Guardian II

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A storm moves into the valleys prefaced with ferocious winds

Kilometres behind Shika landscapes become smudged white paintings – with a soundtrack of seething gusts.  It is not only the increase in altitudes that seem to strengthen the storm. It is the journey leading further into the remote valleys. Temperatures drop and the mountains’ ever-present companion, the wind  (loong in Tibetan) throbs and hums. At over 4,000 metres the precious temperatures drop without consideration.

This is the song of the mountain – a steady roar that comes up from the snow laden earth and down from the sky. It is now that it seems, the mountains are deciding how to proceed with me – whether I deserve a full show of the forces at hand.

There has always been that feeling that in these spaces up high the vicious shows of power are somehow laden with messages – that there might be something under the wind hinting at something divine. The rage of a mountain is like an angry breath that needs not to inhale. It effortlessly recreates geographic spaces and it is this that has long bound me to return. A landscape that once was, is no longer in an hour.

Landmarks disappear and darkness takes over the western sky.  Old traders and muleteers along that great trade route, The Ancient Tea Horse Road have an adage that sums up ‘travel’ in the Himalayas: “know when to rise and know when to retreat if you wish to see another sunrise”.

That darkness I see spreading is a sign to me that a ‘retreat’ of sorts is necessary. Like all of history’s great opiates, mountains and storms urge one to continue, to ignore warnings and logic to pursue the course into…an abyss or heaven.

Sheets of wind billow into my back as I turn to make my gradual way down as light continues to falter. The moment that a barely visible sun starts to descend the currents of air dip and become more penetrating – as if the ‘hills’ are mocking this hasty retreat.

Skies see off the fading light with a steamy dark smoke, the alpine treeline reappears and sightlines gradually lengthen. Contentment and dissatisfaction battle it out at this stage of descents – that one has arrived ‘back, but that one didn’t range further.

Hours later in the dark, 1,500 metres down it is as if the winds never existed, though the ears burn with memory and the body still stoops in readiness and expectation of its driving force.

It is such with mountains though, that the skin and joints feel the touch long after one has left…the mind as well, never seems to forget that magnificent grip. Such are the mountains, that a return to them is inevitable.

About JeffFuchs

Bio Having lived for most of the past decade in Asia, Fuchs’ work has centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories with an obsessive interest in tea. His photos and stories have appeared on three continents in award-winning publications Kyoto Journal, TRVL, and Outpost Magazine, as well as The Spanish Expedition Society, The Earth, Silkroad Foundation, The China Post Newspaper, The Toronto Star, The South China Morning Post and Traveler amongst others. Various pieces of his work are part of private collections in Europe, North America and Asia and he serves as the Asian Editor at Large for Canada’s award-winning Outpost magazine. Fuchs is the Wild China Explorer of the Year for 2011 for sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes. He recently completed a month long expedition a previously undocumented ancient nomadic salt route at 4,000 metres becoming the first westerner to travel the Tsa’lam ‘salt road’ through Qinghai. Fuchs has written on indigenous perspectives for UNESCO, and has having consulted for National Geographic. Fuchs is a member of the fabled Explorers Club, which supports sustainable exploration and research. Jeff has worked with schools and universities, giving talks on both the importance of oral traditions, tea and mountain cultures. He has spoken to the prestigious Spanish Geographic Society in Madrid on culture and trade through the Himalayas and his sold out talk at the Museum of Nature in Canada focused on the enduring importance of oral narratives and the Himalayan trade routes. His recently released book ‘The Ancient Tea Horse Road’ (Penguin-Viking Publishers) details his 8-month groundbreaking journey traveling and chronicling one of the world’s great trade routes, The Tea Horse Road. Fuchs is the first westerner to have completed the entire route stretching almost six thousand kilometers through the Himalayas a dozen cultures. He makes his home in ‘Shangrila’, northwestern Yunnan upon the eastern extension of the Himalayan range where tea and mountains abound; and where he leads expeditions the award winning ‘Tea Horse Road Journey’ with Wild China along portions of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. To keep fueled up for life Fuchs co-founded JalamTeas which keeps him deep in the green while high in the hills.
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4 Responses to Shika Mountain – The Forgotten Guardian II

  1. Peter says:

    Great post, Jeff, and great photos too!

    You say “Like all of history’s great opiates, mountains and storms urge one to continue, to ignore warnings and logic to pursue the course into…an abyss or heaven.”

    What is it, exactly, about mountains & storms that produces this effect on us?

    Best wishes,

    • JeffFuchs says:

      Hi Peter,
      Often I think that in the mountains and with storms there are moments when some sort of higher power forces us to see differently, to hint at something tangible, beautiful, thrilling and entirely forceful. Like great bodies of water, mountains, I think, haunt and draw many of us with the temptation of something beyond that leads to something within….or in the simple unpretentious words of a good Sherpa friend “the mountains are there and we need to try and we are silly humans who need to try and scale them”.

  2. Peter says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Jeff. I liked the words of your Sherpa friend.

    Best wishes,

  3. Howard Diner says:

    Very fortunate the old “Salt Trader” can make the voyage with you ; what stories he may tell ?

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