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Published: July 26th 2013
Frank and Hamish ventured out into the cold of the morning to see how their sadhu
friend was getting on. He was sitting cross-legged with his eyes closed, but he seemed pleased to be disturbed by them.
“What if you don't succeed in reaching Chandrapal Pokhari
?” asked Hamish.
“I will feel disappointment. But it is in Lord Shiva's hands. I can only try with my feeble body. He will help me, I hope.”
“I don't think you're properly equipped to go there,” said Frank, looking at his feet.
“Don't worry. If I die fulfilling my destiny, I shall be happy.” Frank offered him a handful of Lakpa’s kapsio
, which they had been dipping into whenever hunger got the better of them, and, as with the potato, he indicated with a nod that he should place it on the mat.
Leaving him to get to Chandrapal Pokhari at his own pace, they walked on to the last settlement along the trail. They hired a guide there for what seemed like an extortionate price. He assured them that he knew where the lake was, and so they placed the success of their venture in his
The rest of the day was spent walking through a forest. There was nervous talk of tigers, leopards and bears, and their guide pointed to the tracks of a leopard on the path. A half-finished trap was being prepared for it: a large, deep, trench in the ground that would be covered with branches and leaves. Ungel picked up a sturdy branch and fashioned it into a club, just to be on the safe side.
In a meadow below the ring of peaks amongst which Chandrapal Pokhari lay, the villagers had built some simple wooden shelters to keep their cattle in during the summer grazing months. Nearby were six stone cairns, set on a little spur. Their guide told them that one of his sons, who had been portering for a mountaineering expedition, had been killed in a landslide a few months before. He righted the prayer flags that had been felled by the wind, and then stood by his son's cairn for a few moments. For some very odd reason, Frank felt close to tears, and thought of his impending departure at Kathmandu airport, and visualised Sunita pleading with him not to go.
They found a shed that the shepherds had constructed for their own needs, and Ungel made a roaring fire, and boiled some spaghetti to eat with greens. He sang from his prized song book, but Frank noticed that he was not reading the words, but just estimating where the words he had remembered should be.
It was a freezing, sleepless night, and morning was welcome. After a cup of tea and a plate of porridge, they put on balaclava helmets for the cold and sunglasses for the glare of the snow, and set off for their holy lake. The weather was fine and clear, and the party was quite jaunty. The path ran along the side of, and above, a glacier: great convolutions of ice, carrying mounds of grey rubble on its back. All around them were mountains, and utter stillness. Nothing moved, but every now and again they could hear the crack and crash of melting ice, and the rumble of falling scree.
Their guide stopped and pointed up the steep slope to their left. “Chandrapal Pokari is up there,” he said. Abandoning the glacier, they started climbing up a steep rock-strewn incline. The pace got slower and slower, until they were reduced to five or six steps, and then a long rest while their lungs struggled hard to extract oxygen from the thin, dry air. They had to stop and rest with increasing frequency, and during these moments they would notice the utter silence of the mountains. Nearer the glacier they had sometimes heard the strange, hollow sound of the wind passing over the ice - like the hollow tap of a tabla
. Now there was nothing but the thumping of the blood from the heart to the head, and singing in the ears. Gusts of wind would suddenly arise to break the silence, and vanish as quickly as they had come, and sometimes birds, looking like blackbirds but sounding like bull frogs, croaked overhead - but they vanished with the wind, and they would be left again with nothing.
Up and up they plodded, so slowly and painfully. One step, pause, gasp, another step, and so on. Their guide suggested that it might be better if they abandoned the attempt, but the summit was visible, and they were sure that the lake lay in a cirque below it. They stopped by a rock for a rest and in no time a cloud had enveloped the mountain. It happened all of a sudden, and soon they could only see a few yards in front of them. Hamish said it would be madness to go on, and Frank was cast into gloom. After a while it began to clear and, being assured by the guide that it would be quite all right, Frank plodded off. Hamish said he would stay below, hoping that his friend would not want to continue alone, but when he saw that he was not to be deterred, he gave in and followed.
The rocks were loose, and the gaps between them were filled with snow. Each footfall had to be considered, and they were getting very tired. Hamish and Ungel chose a different route, and soon the guide and Frank had lost them, and then the cloud returned. Frank yelled and sometimes heard a response from Ungel, and sometimes not. They sat on a rock and waited for the cloud to lift. The absolute stillness was disconcerting. Frank could hear his pulse. This was not the silence of the inhabited world they had been trekking through. This was like death. Frank stepped tentatively forward, and his foot found nothing but air until it came to rest below its stationary companion. This was disorientating, in that Frank was expecting to continue moving up, not down. He retrieved the foot, and stood still. The cloud that swirled around them seemed to thin, and peering down through the swirling whiteness, he sensed a more solid, motionless white. This surely was Chandrapal Pokhari. He yelled that he'd found the lake, but got no response. The cloud came down once more, and, the lake, if that is what it was, was now enveloped again. He yelled to Ungel and Hamish, but there was no reply. Now he was afraid, and the guide was failing to be the rock he needed him to be. He called out again, and this time he heard Ungel's voice calling out faintly that they should wait until he had found them. But the guide was now desperate to get down, and not wanting to be abandoned on the mountainside, he followed him down, picking his way between the boulders. They could hear loud crunching footsteps behind them and stopped. Frank called out thinking that it must surely be Hamish and Ungel, but there was no response. The white curtain of cloud enveloped them in silence. Frank called again. Nothing. They resumed their tentative descent, and again heard the footsteps behind them. They seemed to be running towards them. The guide let out a cry and scurried away. Frank set off after him careering from boulder to boulder pursued by the unknown creature. It was catching up with him. He turned to face it and looming above him, silhouetted against the swirling whiteness, he perceived a giant figure coming towards him, more like a man than a beast. He screamed to create a wall of sound between it and him, but it kept on coming. He turned and tried to run, but had no reserves of energy left. He was unable to take another step. He leant against a boulder and closed his eyes.
So? What's going to happen? This is the last instalment of 'Master of the Moon' that will be published in Travelblog. I hope you have enjoyed the narrative so far. To find out the rest of the story, you can do so by purchasing the e-book from the Kindle bookstore. Just go to http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BJNSTLO (UK Marketplace) orhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BJNSTLO (US Marketplace) or, if you are based elsewhere,http://www.amazon.com It only costs £1.99 or $2.99, and all the profit from sales will go towards my charity, the 'Himalayan Education Lifeline Programme (HELP). If you don't have a Kindle, you can download the novel onto an iPad using a free Kindle app, or simply download it onto your computer. Happy reading! And it would be very helpful if you could write a review of the novel on the Kindle website to attract a wider audience.
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