Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Korphe school gives Greg a direction to his life! 3 cups of T.

It was winter and Mortenson returned home to earn and save money for the school. He also called Jean Hoerni who sent him a ticket to Seattle. Jean felt a real connection to the area and was happy to see the pictures of the bridge which Greg had brought to show.

Mortenson was invited by George McCown, who served on the board of AHF, for meeting where Sir Edmund Hillary was to deliver a speech. They had met earlier near Korphe, one of those providential meetings. McCown had liked Greg and thought he was a person whom he could trust.

His life took a dramatic turn while at this meeting.  McCown and Hoerni  offered him a fund of twenty thousand dollars, not for the school, but for his living expenses as he worked to finish the Korphe school.  He also met a girl, Tara Bishop, at the meeting and six days later they were married. And two weeks later, after he had postponed his trip twice, he was back in Pakistan.

Greg faced difficulty in getting his material out of Chengazi's office. The sentry told him that Chengazi was not in town and he had no keys for the store and the telephone lines were dead. Again providence came in the guise of Ghulam Parvi, who had managed to build two primary schools on the outskirts of Skardu, before funding from Pakistan dried up. Parvi since then was forced to take up odd accounting jobs and took care of Chengazi's accounts and was at the office. So Greg met the man most qualified in all of northern Pakistan to assist him, a man who shared his goals.

It was clear that Chengazi had no intention of giving the material back to Greg, but Parvi forced the sentry to open the doors of the shed. Greg saw that a third of the material was missing and with Parvi's help arranged to send the remaining material to Korphe.

When Greg had left Korphe, he had marked the layout of the school and had left some money with Haji Ali to get the foundations done. But to his disappointment, he saw no progress except two heaps of stone. Haji Ali instead of hiring people got the villager to volunteer to cut the stones for the foundation to save money and that took time.

Greg was witness to the ceremony performed as they began to dig the foundation for the school. A ram was slaughtered and in the evening they built a fire and danced around it as the moon rose over K2. Korphe women, by now used to Greg, clapped and sang along with their men.He noticed hardly any work was done that day. In fact, they hardly got anything done that fall.

We also get to compare the differences in customs:  Twaha was very happy when Greg told him that he had got married and fell silent when learned there was no Bride price to pay and  his wife had no father and informed her mother only after they had married. The author called it the exotic matrimonial customs of America.

Greg had observed in a Balti marriage, '...there is a solemn point when you'll see the bride and her mother clinging to each other and crying ...and describes the chaotic scene as the groom's father and bride's father bargain...If a bride leaves an isolated village like Korphe, she knows she may never see her family again.'

 Haji Ali who practically adopted Mortneson.
Without his help and his wisdom, there would have been no school

Jean Hoerni, who thought Greg was goofy and unbusiness like.
But liked him enough to give him a chance to succeed.

Material being carried for the Korphe school.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Greg is back in Korphe ..3 cups of T.

Kashmir got split into two because of the naivete of the Nehru administration. We were 6 weeks away from capturing the whole state in 1948. India went to the UN and agreed to a cease! That is the line we are fighting across. The Kashmir issue would not have gone away, since it is a fundamental conflict, but we certainly would be fighting across a border with present day Pakistan. Oh! when will we be liberated from that family? ......R

This story of Kashmir does affect us. Surely border conflicts have bled both India and Pakistan immensely and have made the armament industry rich. But we see that the occupied territories are poor. Wonder whether it would have made any difference if it was undivided!

Jean Hoerni had been surprisingly kind about writing a cheque for additional ten thousand dollars and had said  'And when you finish bring me photo. I am not getting any younger' . 

The story shifts to Skardu, where Greg ordered cables and material required for the bridge.  He took help from Changazi,  who was happy to help because of the kickbacks he got from his contacts.  He also collected rent for the school material he had stored in his office.

Fully accepted by the people of Korphe, and treated like a son of Haji Ali, Mortenson went hunting with them when there was a break due to the rains. It took them seven days to spot an Ibex and kill. Scratching out  food and warmth to survive on the roof of the world took all of one's energy. ..It was no wonder that the great peaks of Himalayas remained unconquered till the mid-twentieth century.

Mortenson finally managed to get the bridge constructed.  Got designs done by an army engineer and hired skilled masons to make the columns. Most importantly because of the help  from Haji Ali, who had the foresight and the power to influence his people. When it rained heavily when the cables were just eighteen miles away and  could not be delivered, he proposed that every able-bodied man in the village pitch in to carry the cables to Korphe so that they could begin work on the bridge at once, which they did cheerfully.

The book dwells on many aspects of harsh realities of living in these beautiful surroundings, which beckons climbers from the outside world! It also speaks of the cultural differences between them and the western visitors. 

Chengazi, who  seemed to attract female tourists and trekkers, tells Greg how he squared his dalliances with his devotion to Islam. He petitioned his mullah to make a muthaa, a temporary marriage. ...Better to sanctify the union, however short-lived, in Allah's sight, than simply have sex.  Asked if Balti women whose husbands were away could also be granted muthaa...'No, of course not.'  said Chegazi, waggling his head at the naivete of Mortenson's question.

Mortenson and Twaha, Haji Ali's son had become close.  He once told Greg how he missed his beautiful wife, who had died giving birth to his only child. But he had not married again, as he did not find anyone who he could love. But it did not stop him from as he said. 'Sometimes I ....enjoy.'  With widows he added to Greg's question, 'We have many widows in Korphe.'

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Greg returns to raise more money for the bridge.

Greg returned to San Francisco to discover that he had lost his girlfriend Marina. She said, 'I didn't exist for you once you left.' The post cards he sent were all about the school. He was also fired from the Medical Center as he had not shown up for work. He had promised to return by Thanksgiving, but he even missed Christmas, the busiest periods. But being a qualified nurse, he managed to get another job soon. He was lonely and bitter, and most evenings he retired to his room early and tried not to think of Marina.

While at Korphe, he was angry at  himself for not planning better. A bridge was indeed necessary to bring the materials to the village. He decided to stay in Korphe till he understood his task fully. As he discussed and studied in detail about the construction of the bridge, he realized that it would cost thousands of dollars that he no longer had.

He told them that he had already spent most of the money on school and he had to return to America to try and raise more money for the bridge. He expected the Korphe men to act as crushed as he felt. But waiting was as much a part of their make up...They waited half of each year, in rooms choked with smoke for the weather to become hospitable enough for them to return outdoors. A Balti might wait for years for the twelve year old girl chosen by his family to grow old enough to leave her family. The people were promised schools by the distant Pakistani government for decades, and they waited still. Patience was their greatest skill.

He hesitated to call Jean Hoerni, one person who might be able to fund his return. ..his stories were all about failures: a summit not reached, a woman lost, a bridge, and a school not built. He was totally depressed, but luckily for him Dr. Louis Reichardt, the first American to reach the summit of K2, with whom he was in touch infrequently called to ask, 'Jean told me what you are trying to do with your school. How is it going?'

Mortenson told him everything, from the beginning to the bottle-neck he had reached with the bridge. He also found himself telling him about losing his woman, job and what he feared most - losing his way. Dr. Louis consoled him with 'What you are trying to do is much more difficult than climbing K2.' and added 'Call Jean and tell him what you told me. Ask him to pay for the bridge. Believe me, he can afford it.'
Mortenson felt, for the first time since coming home, like a semblance of his old self.

Mortenson was lucky that he knew a few mountaineers who understood the situation in the mountains, wanted to help and could afford it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Greg has a few detours before reaching Korphe

Skardu had been a caravan stop on the trade route from Kargil to Central Asia. Since partition it had been stranded unprofitably in the wild edge of Pakistan, now reinvented as an outfitter to trekking expeditions. 

The LoC not only divided the Pahris and Kashmiris, it divided the Baltis, especially the Shia families of the Kargil and Skardu regions. - Indian express

On reaching Skardu Mortenson went to meet Mohammed Ali Changazi, a trekking agent and tour operator who had organised their K2 attempt. 'Dr. Greg' Chengazi said. 'What are you doing here? Trekking season is over.' 

Skardu:  view from the fort. ..Courtsey Wiki Commons
On Skardu Road.... Courtsey the www!
 Greg told Chengazi 'I have brought the school'. Earlier he had discussed the school and had obtained an estimate, but Chengazi had forgotten and was baffled. 'It is too late to build anything now. Why didn't you buy supplies in Skardu?'. Mortenson hadn't realized he could!.

Changazi  offered to store the material in his office and asked Greg to have a wash and rest. When Greg woke up, he was met by Akhmalu, the cook of their K2 attempt and was coerced to keep his promise to visit their village. While there Akhmalu tried to convince Greg to build the school at his village. Another porter reminded him that he had promised to build a climbing school. Even Changazi tried to entice Greg to build the school at his village. Unable to face this kind of pressure, Greg walked away from them and broke down crying. They  finally took him to Korphe when it was almost dark.

The whole village was there to receive Greg. While many had made promises, he was the only one to return. After the usual formalities of drinking tea, he announced to Haji Ali  'I have bought everything we need to build a school.' But Greg was unprepared for what Haji Ali told him in Balti, 'We want very much a school for Korphe. But before  we build a school, we must build a bridge. This is what Korphe wants now. A big stone one, so we can carry school to Kophe.'

We do get a feel for Greg's style of functioning! But it is still one school in one village that is on his mind! 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Greg back in Pakistan

Greg landed in Islamabad  and checked into the 'cheapliest' room, eighty rupees a night, at Khyban Hotel in Rawalpindi. Abdul the chokidar fetched him a cup of sweet tea when he saw that the guest was awake. Greg had stayed there a year earlier as a member of the K2 team. Abdul was curious why he had returned.

 Greg narrated  the story so far and his plan to build a school and showed him the money he had in his pouch with, 'This is exactly enough for one school, if I'm careful.' The next day Abdul took him to Taxila, now a factory town, to buy cement. After scouting among tea shops for advice, they placed order for Fauji cement and paid an advance. Greg learned there was no bargaining for cement as it was controlled by a mafia.

The next day things moved faster as they met an architect, who designed the school with Greg's specifications and gave a list of materials needed. Then they went shopping. More tea was drunk and Greg got a feel of doing business in Pakistan. Finally with some hard bargaining they bought, lumbar, corrugated tin roofing, nails, hammers, saws and so on.

The following morning they loaded the truck with all the goods they had purchased and Greg was left with only three thousand dollars for labor and other expenses. It was evening by the time the truck was ready to move. Mortenson took leave of Abdul and climbed on to the top of the truck. As the truck moved Abdul offered prayers for its safe journey. Soon they were on Karakorum  Friendship Highway, the worlds highest international highway, built at a great cost of life for both Pakistan and China, to cement a strategic alliance against India.

There was some tension as the truck was held up at a bridge as the locals protested on some grievance against a lowland contractor, who had cheated them.  Kohistan region, the wildest part of the North West Frontier Province was infamous for banditry and had never been nominally under control of Islamabad. 

Thanks to thousands of Pakistani soldiers, the road to Skardu was improved... to allow trucks to pass on their way to support their war effort against India. But rockfall and avalanche, ...meant that dozens of vehicles plummeted off road each year.  They eventually arrived at the outskirts of Skardu, their destination.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Greg Mortenson sends 580 letters requesting for help to build a school. 3 Cups of T

Greg rented an IBM typewriter from Krishna Copy at a dollar an hour and began typing letters, the first day he sent just six letters! The typewriter was too small for his hands. His recall of those days sums it up! 'I did not know what I was doing! I just kept a list of everyone who seemed powerful or popular or important and typed them a letter. I was thirty-six years old and I didn't even know how to use a computer. That's how clueless I was.' 

One day he found the door of Krishna Copy closed and walked into Lazer Image and asked to rent a typewriter. The owner Kishwar Syed, a Pakistani from a small village advised him to use a computer and when he found out what Mortenson was doing, taught him how to use a computer. 'My village in Pakistan had no school so the importance of what Greg was trying to do was very dear to me.' Syed said 'His cause was so great it was my duty to devote myself to help him.' 

 In all he sent 580 letters. To save money, he did not rent an apartment. Slept in his car, showered in City Rock where he had kept his membership and scrimped on food.  In ER, he befriended a doctor who liked climbing mountains and was an expedition doctor in the American attempt on Pakistan's Gasherbrum II. Doctor Vaughan thought that Greg was competent, calm and fast in an emergency, but sensed that he was just waiting to go back to Pakistan.

Greg also worked with another doctor, Marina, also a climber, who swept him off-balance whenever he saw her. 'I didn't know if I should ask her out, or avoid her so I could think straight.' After two months she ended his agony by asking him out for a date. Marina had two girls from his previous marriage and soon he felt almost as attached to them as he did to their mother.

As he waited for a response to his appeal, and at the urging of his mother, he gave a slide show and spoke about his project at the school his mother was working as a principal. After a month he received a cheque from his mother for $623.45. The children had spontaneously launched a 'Pennies for Pakistan' drive and had collected 62,345 pennies. Mortenson finally felt that his luck was changing!

In the six months since he had written the first letter he had only one response with a cheque for one hundred dollars. The donor was a climber like him and they had the same coach in football at the university. By this time he had received letters from the sixteen foundations he had written rejecting his grant application.

Greg admitted to Vaughan how poorly his fund raising efforts were progressing. Vaughan, who supported the American Himalayan Foundation, wrote to them about Mortenson's K2 effort and his plans to build a school at Korphe and it was published in the AHF's newsletter. In that he had reminded the members about Sir Edmund Hillary's legacy in Nepal in building schools for the impoverished Sherpa communities.

One day Vaughan gave him chit of paper with a name and a telephone number and asked Mortenson to call. The chit said Dr. Jean Hoerni next to a Seattle number. Hoerni apart from being a physicist and an inventor of a type of IC, was a climber. He had a special fondness for Karakoram where he'd gone trekking and had told friends he was struck by the discrepancy between the exquisite mountain scenery and the brutal lives of the Balti porters.

After a very brief and abrupt exchange Mortenson gave him a number! Greg said  'Twelve thousand dollars'.  Hoerni was incredulous and asked 'Is that all? You are not bullshitting?'  but was convinced when Mortneson said he was sure! Soon he received a receipt for the cheque Moerni had sent to AHF  in Mortenson's name with a note, 'Don't screw up. Regards. J.H'  While he waited for the cheque to clear, he sold his books, everything he owned for his plane ticket and his expenses in Pakistan.

He told Marina he was taking this path till he fulfilled his promise he had made to the children of Korphe. When he came back things would be different. He would work full-time, find a real place to live, lead a less haphazard life. Finally he sold his car and carried his duffel bag toward the waiting taxi to take him to the next chapter of his life.

Amazing the way Mortenson's luck holds. He meets Kishwar Syed, a Pakistani who teaches him how to use the computer and thus speeds up his work. But he gets luckier at his work place, where Vaughan a doctor and a climber takes interest in him and is instrumental in locating a donor for him. He also meets a pretty doctor and gets attached to her and her children. But does not give up his promise to the children of Korphe. So far his commitment, almost a childish and innocent belief that he will find money for the project, does not show a person who is out to make a buck. He does not even think of asking the donor, another climber for his ticket and his living expenses!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Getting to know Greg Mortenson.. Three cups of tea.

Greg grew up in Tanzania, when his parents joined the Lutheran Missionary Society and were posted there. His father Dempsey's greatest achievement was raising money for and founding Tanzania's first teaching hospital, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre and similarly his mother Jerene worked with single mindedness to establish Moshi International School. Greg grew up happily oblivious to race. At eleven he scaled his first serious mountain.

Greg remembered that at the inauguration of the completed hospital his father gave equal credit to the Africans and instead of saying 'Look what we have done for you'. Greg said, 'My dad got blasted by the expats for that' and added he felt so proud of his father. 'He taught me, he taught all of us, that if you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.' 

His parents finished their work and decided to go back to US. Greg who had an International School experience, had to adjust to a local school culture. Apparently it was difficult as it is not easy to make new friends at that age. He was once beaten up in school with a statement 'You ain't no African'. He settled down, but in one way he remained out of sorts with American life. His mother said, 'Greg has never been on time in his life....always operated on African time.' 

Life was not easy for them, his father had no savings and could not afford to send him to a private school. Joined the Army and soon he was promoted, but he was too quiet to order his fellow soldiers around. His best friends were blacks, so he wasn't lonely again. After being honorably discharged, he worked his way through college. His father was doing a lowly, uninspiring job and his mother was doing her Ph.D in education. So money was tight for them. He even secretly sent portions of his earnings to his father.

When his father was diagnosed with cancer, Greg drove down every weekend to be with his father. As a chemistry and nursing student, he knew his father's condition was terminal. Determined that his father should enjoy what little time he had, persuaded the doctors to discontinue radiation. He even thought of dropping out of school to take care of his father full-time. But his father told him 'Don't you dare.' In September he visited his father for the last time. At his father's funeral, he gave his father a sendoff in Swahili, calling him 'Father, brother, friend.'

He was accepted to medical school, but gave up as he could not imagine waiting for five years before earning money. Mortenson was very attached to and protective of his youngest sister, Christa, who was diagnosed as epileptic when eight. After his father's death, he began to obsess about losing Christa. So he returned home for a year to spend time with her. Later he began a graduate program in neurophysiology, thinking idealistically that with some inspired hard work he might be able to find a cure for her. But gave up when he found out more about epilepsy.

The previous year he had learned fundamentals of rock climbing with two college friends. He felt the tug of the hills. Also, he needed a change after a regimented childhood in his mother's highly structured home. He had his grandmother's old Buick and drove off to California. He took a job as trauma nurse, working overnight and holidays, so that he could take off when the mountains called. The next four years his life was all about climbing. He miraculously survived on Mount Sill when he fell eight hundred vertical feet until he managed to stop himself. His girlfriend of the time drove him to the nearest emergency room. He called home and what he heard hurt him more than his fall. At the same hour when Greg was crashing down Mount Sill, his mother went to wake up Christa and found she had died of a massive seizure. He attended the funeral with his arm in a sling.

In California, Mortenson felt more meaninglessly adrift than he could ever remember. An invitation from Dan Mazur to join him for an expedition to K2 as a medic, felt like a life-line. Here was a path, a means by which he could get back on course and at the same time properly honor his sister. He would dedicate this climb to Christa's memory.

Now that I am aware of the onslaught on Greg Mortenson, I looked for some clues to his personality. I guess it is not easy with such a brief introduction. To my Asian mind his dropping out of Medical School was a surprise. I had imagined a GI would get help if he wanted to study.  But we do not know the details here. It is very clear that he is very impulsive, emotional and a loner! Probably he never consulted his mother about quitting the med school.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Greg is given 'Overwhelming' hospitality ..Three cups of tea

Someone had tucked a heavy quilt over him and Mortenson luxuriated in its warmth as he noticed the outline of several sleeping figures. Late in the morning, Haji Ali's wife Sakina saw him stir and brought him a lassi and fresh baked chapatti and sweet tea. She was the first Balti woman who had ever approached him. He thought perhaps she had the kindest face he'd ever seen. She stood waiting, saw him wolf down the breakfast and she brought him more. If he had known how rarely they used sugar for themselves, he would have refused the second cup of tea. He also noticed that the quilt he slept under, made of maroon silk was the best in Haji Ali's home.

In the afternoon Mouzafer arrived pulling himself along in a box suspended from steel cable strung two hundred feet above the river. This contraption saved half a day of hike, but a mishap meant certain death. Mortenson also discovered that Mouzafer was well known throughout Karakorum. For three decades he had served as one of the most highly skilled porters in the Himalayas.

They both left Khorpe and met up with Darsney and made the long journey down to Skardu. But Mortenson felt something tugging him back to and he returned as soon as he could arrange a ride. From his base at Haji Ali's home he settled into a routine. He saw how this tiny oasis was the result of staggering labor and admired the hundreds of irrigation channels the village maintained by hand.
Noticing his condition Ali ordered that one of the village's precious big rams slaughtered. Seeing the ardor with which the meat was devoured, Mortenson realised how close they lived to hunger .

At first he had thought that he'd stumbled into a sort of Shangri -La. Many westerners passing through the Karakorum had the feeling that the Batli lived a simpler, better life than they did back home in the developed countries. The reality was different. Every home had a family member either suffering from goiter or cataract. Children were malnourished. Twaha's wife died giving birth to his daughter seven years ago. The doctors were seven days walk away in Skardu and one out of three children died before their first birthday.

 A very concerned and grateful Mortenson began to give away what ever he had, a stove, a jacket; his small possessions.  But it was the medical supplies he carried along with his training as a nurse that proved most valuable. He set broken bones and did whatever he could with painkillers and antibiotics. Word of his work spread and the sick around Korphe would send for Dr. Grieg as he would be known thereafter.

One day he expressed a wish to see Korphe's school and saw a reluctance in Haji Ali and persisted, finally he was taken there. While the location was breathtaking, there was no school, actually no building and the children, seventy eight boys and four girls kneeling on the frosty ground to learn. The Pakistani government did not provide them with a teacher. The village could not afford a full time teacher, so they shared a teacher with another village.

The children sang the Pakistan's national anthem which ends with, 'May the nation, the country and the state shine in glory everlasting. This flag of  crescent and the star leads the way to progress and perfection.'

But during his recuperation, Mortenson had frequently heard villagers complain about the Punjabi-dominated government, which they considered a foreign, lowland power. Combination of corruption and neglect had siphoned off what little money was meant for the people of Balistan. They found it ironic that the Islamabad government would fight so hard to pry away this piece of what had been Kashmir from India, while doing so little for its people. It was obvious that whatever money that reached this altitude was earmarked for the army, to finance its costly standoff with the Indian forces along the Siachen Glacier.

I have no idea how it is in our part of Kashmir, but it is for sure a lot of money is being spent in this costly standoff  between the neighbors.

The visit he had made, to measure himself against, climbing the K2 and to place a necklace of his departed sister, felt beside the point. There was a much more meaningful gesture he could make in honor of his sister's memory. He promised Ali he would build a school in Korphe.

As I began to blog about the book, Rangaraj had a comment; There has been a lot of controversy with his activities. It is however recognized he did some good with the schools. Many of the claims with his later activities have been questioned by his close associates. He was on the media TV etc and did not present a good picture. I also read his book and also listened to him on the radio and TV and was impressed initially. Actually Chaya gave me his book. Rangaraj

The story so far, multi-layered, does not give us a clue to this controversy. The back-cover of the book, in fact, grabs our attention with its claim: 'The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the Taliban's backyard.

I am really curious to know how much did it really help the people who were in need of schools. The word Taliban makes you wonder about the present situation in places like Korphe!

Greg Mortenson strays into village Korphe. ...Three cups of tea,

Mortenson walked towards the apricot orchards, surprising the working women. They pulled their shawls over their faces and ran behind the trees to hide from the strange white man. But children followed him, fingered his shalwar, searched his wrist for the watch and took turns holding his hand. ..Their shalwar kamiz was as stained as his own, and most were barefoot despite the cold.

Mortenson smelled the village a mile before he approached it. The scent of juniper woodsmoke and unwashed humanity was overwhelming after the serenity of the altitude.... By the time he reached the village's ceremonial entrance, he was leading a procession of fifty children.

He was hoping to see Mouzafer waiting at the outskirts of the village. Instead he was greeted by Haji Ali, the nurmadhar, the chief of the village. 

Haji Ali lead him to a ceremonial brook and after he had washed his hand and foot took him home and offered him a place to sit close to the hearth. Ali then gave him a piece of tobacco on which Mortenson choked as the gallery of spectators chuckled appreciatively. No foreigner had been to the village before.

After tea the headman had a question. Mortenson explained with snacthes of Balti and a lot gesticulation that he had walked here to Askole to find a jeep to go to Skardu, the capital of Baltistan. And exhausted he sank back into the cushion. Haji Ali said laughing it was not Askole but Korphe. Mortenson had never heard of Korphe and rousing himself explained that he had to go to Askole to meet a man named Mouzafer who was carrying all his belongings.

Twaha, Haji Ali's son explained that it was not possible then and said 'Inshallah, tomorrow Haji send find man Mouzafer. Now you slip.'   Mortenson despite the anxiety swirling through his thoughts, his anger at himself for having strayed from the trail again ....fell unshakably asleep.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Greg Mortenson lost his way for the second time ..About a book Three cups of tea...3

 Mouzafer and his friend Yakub having finished their assignment with a Mexican team had offered to carry down the heavy packs of Mortenson and Darsney for four dollars a day! The two Americans happily agreed as they were stumbling on altitude-spindled legs under weight, though they were down to their last handful of rupees.

Mouzafer was a Balti, mountain people who migrated from Tibet six-hundred years ago. Now Shiite Muslims, they reminded climbers of their distant cousins the Sherpas of Nepal with their diminutive size, toughness and supreme ability to thrive at high altitudes. But other qualities of Balti, a taciturn suspicion of outsiders, along with their unyielding faith, have prevented Westerners from celebrating them in the same fashion as they fetishize the Buddhist Sherpas. 

 Porter Mouzafer took charge, pulled out sagebrush from his pack, flint from his jacket pocket and lit up a fire to make Greg a cup of Cha. Mortenson had the first taste of paiyu cha , the butter tea that forms the basis of the Balti diet. Though he gagged at first he drank three cups to delight of Mouzafer! For the next three days Mouzafer never let Mortenson out of sight and held his hand whenever he struggled to keep up. Mortenson used this opportunity to learn Balti and with his ear for languages soon had a basic Balti vocabulary.

Picking his way down a narrow gorge Mortenson stepped off  ice onto to solid ground. Co-author David Oliver Relin tells a story which reminds us that it is still a dangerous territory...The subterranean rivers traveling under sixty-two kilometers of ice shot into the open with an air blast like a jet engine's exhaust. This foaming, turbulent waterspout was the birthplace of the Braldu river. Five years later a Swedish kayaker put in at this same spot, attempting to run the Braldu to the Indus river, all eighteen hundred miles to the Arabian sea. He was dead, smashed against boulder...minutes after he hit the water.


 From Wikimedia Commons: Baltoro Glacier (in the background) .. source of the Braldu River
 Once they had left the dangers of Baltoro behind, Mouzafer hiked ahead, setting camp and preparing dinner for Mortenson, who, walking on his weak and aching legs soldiered on stopping more and more often to rest. On the seventh day after leaving K2, he saw his first trees, five poplars, in three months. Contemplating on them, and  for the second time, Mortenson lost his way.

It is clear that it makes sense to hire local guides and porters, as can be seen from these stories. Greg was saved  and nursed back to health by a porter whom he had just hired on the way down. And I am not sure if the kayaker consulted locals!  But today it is no more the rich man's sport and many attempt to do it on their own.

A recent incident where three Europeans were attacked by Sherpas may change the equation between Sherpas and the Climbers. Another article in Japan Times takes a look at the Genesis of this brawl! I quote: Views are split between admiration for Sherpas, and the infectious joy that they take in life, and concern that the commercial exigencies of climbing Everest, which can cost $65,000 a head, don’t really square with the freedom of the hills. What has been missed in reports of this hypoxic melee is a much broader story and a rather more inspiring one. The inexplicable passion among a small, wealthy European elite for exploring the mountains of the Sherpa homeland, together with the Sherpas’ ability to cope with altitude, gave these people a chance to escape difficult lives herding yaks or carrying loads for traders.

 In addition; more than 230 people have died on Everest, and a third of them have been Sherpas — the latest, Mingmar Sherpa, at the start of last month, shows that there is an enormous cost to this adventure. I am also curious whether one can hire porters for the Alps climb! I guess it would be possible at a much higher cost than what one pays a Sherpa.

Blessed with luck! The saga of Greg Mortenson continues About a book Three cups of tea...2

The book has been read by many and the world has changed dramatically from the times since Greg lost his bearings in the mountains! It seems seasoned climbers do not wait for each other while coming down. Mortenson was too slow, the effects of prolonged exposure to high altitude, to keep pace with Scott Darsney, a fellow member of the team. He also failed to realise that he was lost. The upper Boltoro is more a maze than a trail. He had even lost sight of his porter Mouzafer, who had appeared like a blessing and had volunteered to haul his heavy bag down.

It was a while since he'd seen a sign of other human beings and he'd heard the bells of an army mule caravan carrying ammunition towards Siachen Glacier, the twenty-thousand-foot-high battlefield a dozen miles southeast where Pakistani military was frozen into its perpetual deadly standoff with the Indian army.

Too tired he decided to spend the night alone, found a flat slab of rock to rest. He knew he needed to drain of puss from his wounds but lacked the motivation. At dawn, he woke up feeling frantic, his mouth and nose were sculpted shut beneath a smooth mask of ice, and  he pulled the ice free and laughed!  Mortenson soon realised that he should retrace his steps to get back to the trail.
 As he went up and down the terrain, he for the first time saw the transcendent beauty of the mountains. which he had missed, 'I had looked at these mountains as goals!' and despite the poor odds for his survival Mortenson felt strangely content.

Boltoro glacier from air
But finally, a mile or more distant, he made out a man's form. Mortenson shouted but the voice did not carry. There was a lot of drama as Mortenson kept shouting and trotted panting and suddenly there was the man, standing on the other side of the wide crevasse,with an even wider smile. 
Mouzafer Ali

It was the porter he had hired. Mouzafer searched for the narrowest section of the crevasse, then leaped over it effortlessly, with more than ninety pounds on his back. 'Mr Gireg, Mr Gireg,'  dropping the bag and wrapping Mortenson in a bear hug, 'Allah Akbhar! Blessings to Allah, you're alive.'

Mortenson crouched, awkwardly, crushed almost breathless by his strength and vigor of the man, a foot shorter and two decades older than himself.

NOTE: Quotes from the book are in Italics!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The steps you are destined to take! About a book Three cups of tea..1

While in Pune with Rohini, I saw this NYT bestseller on her bookshelf. The cover caught my eye and the description made me curious. One man's mission to promote peace... One school at a time.

The back cover said: 'Here (in Pakistan and Afghanistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to anything --even die.' 

It is the first book I have read about Pakistan, in fact, about Kashmir occupied by Pakistan. And my recent foray into epics had taught me that Dhritarastra's wife Ghandari and her brother Sakuni, root of all problems in Mahabharta, came from the present day Afghanistan!

It is the story narrated by a mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, who failed to scale K2, the second highest mountain in the world. Rescuing his teammate cost him and another a chance to attempt and scale the summit. He had just of 600 meters to climb. As he came down, he lost his way and landed in a village, Korphe in POK and was nourished back to health by them. In gratitude he impulsively promised to build a school when he saw the children were studying under the sky!

File:K2 2006b.jpg
                                                             Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the extreme difficulty of ascent and the second-highest fatality rate among the eight thousanders. For every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying.[4] It is more hazardous to reach K2 from the Chinese side; thus, it is mostly climbed from the Pakistani side. Unlike Annapurna, the mountain with the highest fatality-to-summit rate, K2 has never been climbed in winter. (Wikipedia)

File:Topografic map of Tibetan Plateau.png                                               Topografic map of Tibetan Plateau.png. Karakoram range.

While the story is about how he managed to keep his promise, I felt a bit disappointed that K2, the second highest peak was not in India, it has nothing do with it being now in Pakistan. Probably it is because as kids we thought Mt.Everest was in India and then learnt that it was in Nepal! I suppose that is how we are made. 

David Oliver Relin, the co-author, says that Greg was lost as he moved south, into an impenetrable maze of shattered icefall, and beyond that, the high altitude killing zone where Pakistani and Indian soldiers lobbed artillery shells at one other through thin air!

Note: The quotes from the book are in Italics.