Once upon a time, man wrote of a myth. He wrote of a world beyond this earth. Of a dimension severed from the third. He asked the question: what happens when humans die? Unable to cope with the possibility humans may merely rot, a God-given afterlife must reside somewhere, anywhere. Heaven. First, we live. Then, we die. Finally, we (hopefully) go to heaven. As deep as I have searched for a better metaphor, I can think of none better to describe the trip to Gokyo and its beautiful lakes.

Dzongla to Gokyo Lake

Life begins wearily in Dzongla, with the Chola Pass to cross. An exhilarating trip to the top of the pass caps off the past week of bonafide, one hundred percent, bright and shiny living. From Lukla to Base Camp and back to Dzongla there can be no doubt that I am genuinely alive in these mountains. The path gives way to bouldered climbs - proper hiking - and a sense of joy inebriates the group as only being off the beaten path can. We clear the first half of the pass in good time, Ama Dablam sits royally in the background, birds chirp unseen and the faint rumble of a small avalanche sounds in the distance. Yep, definitely alive.

Alive and well on the Chola Pass

However, with energy waning and water running dry, our path down the pass and through the valley below becomes dastardly, as dehydrated minds struggle to take a mere step. After a sapping effort, devoid of water, reaching our lunch destination to refuel is a relief akin to remembering the sunglasses you’re looking for are on your head. Food and rest, bless them, allow the energy to stand, but I’m not sure they’re enough to walk me another three hours. 

Glacial Graveyard

Soon after trudging yet again away from civilisation, we reach the crest of a glacier, but it’s not like any glacier I’ve ever seen, though it strikes me at this point in time I’ve never really seen a glacier before. I imagined they’d be made of ice and snow. This one is made of rocks. And there’s lots of hills. And it doesn’t look enjoyable. Our guide points off at a small peak shimmering in mist and clouds on the other side of this pit of doom. Apparently, that’s our next stop. The fog gives it the sense of being a mirage, a destination not of this world. Alas, I turn my attention from this extra-dimensional unreality, and focus on the task at hand - traversing the glacier.

I’d have loved to sit and stare at it. The Ngozumpa glacier is reportedly the longest in Nepal and possibly the longest in the entirety of the Himalaya. I make a note to myself that yes, those with the trundle wheels were right. This was indeed a bloody long glacier. It was also a very beautiful glacier. A fortunate mix of greyish white and brown, with dark green lakes scattered throughout. Without another person in sight, the area takes on a quiet, regal atmosphere. I could sit here all day, I thought.

Of course, I couldn’t sit there all day. I had to bloody walk through the thing. Once descended into its rock-laden depths, it didn’t seem so regal anymore. The peace and quiet observed from the top gave way to once-still rocks unexplainably cracking and falling into the ponds. A short, flat walk along uneven rocks would be punctuated increasingly frequently by hills to climb. The energy accumulated from our rest and food was already gone. A rock directly underfoot gives way and crashes into a freezing pool as I skip forward to avoid going with it. I’ve decided this place is a graveyard, where mortals such as ourselves come to perish in the glory of nature. My theory is proven correct when we’re advised by our guide, whom I’m now convinced is the Devil, warns us we need to run through a section of the glacier to avoid frequent avalanches. Wonderful. Like I said. Graveyard. 

See, I told you. Graveyard.

And so, with the haste and speed of a tortoise, we manage to navigate the final stretches of our journey. In a place situated roughly between life and death, we look up at our final task: getting out of this graveyard, though we are far more than six foot under. The path to the top is cruel, thin and at places, downright treacherous. You’ll have to excuse me for thinking we have indeed just made our way through the middle of the living and the dead, and now stand before some sick, twisted version of the stairway to heaven. The top never seems to get closer, my body is fading, my mind is blank. Step by step, breath by breath, I’m losing myself. No white vision, no life flashing before my eyes, and then I put one foot on the top of this god forsaken pit and step out of it.

Gokyo Lake - Heaven

I open my eyes and take a step towards the rest of my eternity. The mist I saw from the other side of death is no longer here. The sun is shining, shimmering off the surface of a humongous, turquoise lake. Snow-capped peaks perch proudly behind the water, and a small village sits at the base of the lake, a short walk from here. The chirping birds are back and the air is silky smooth. The afternoon sun’s soft hue laps the atmosphere tenderly, stripping away the pain in my body. The scene in front of me cannot be of this world. I’ve gone to heaven.

Down in the village, we celebrate our timely demises with a feast of laughter, the cares of the living now inconsequential humour to our sentient souls. The food tastes better here too, the pizza in our lodge having a reputation which transcends even the barrier between life and death. With a hearty, full stomach, we lay to bed in our angelic beds, with all but one of us sleeping peacefully into the night. It turns out chicken stroganoff isn’t the best of ideas in even Heaven, as one of our ghostly crew learnt.

And here’s heaven - from Gokyo Ri. Beautiful 

Such is the beauty of Gokyo, heaven seems not too far away. Climbing to the top of Gokyo Ri in particular, shows off a beauty so astounding it is hard to believe it a part of the living world. That is the magic of nature however, and for all the trials spent in getting to this magnificent, secluded part of our planet, to die a false death was a worthy price to pay.

Now, I know the mystique and magnificence of the mountains, their scenery and the physical effort are the reasons we come to the Himalaya. However, once you get there, you learn very quickly there is another valuable connection to be made of a human kind.

About: Michael Kelly

Shannon WolfMichael is an Australian travel writer who has been living in Nepal for four months, with another eight to go. In between work and studies here in Nepal as a part of a scholarship, he has embarked on a trek which has been on his mind for sometime: Everest Base Camp.

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