Sunday, 6 September 2015

A Five Billion Star Hotel

The only sky I had ever seen was ruined; covered like a bad Instagram filter that diffuses all the detail to make things look prettier. Except, sometimes when the rawness and realness of something is removed, it doesn't really stay itself anymore. I never really believed it, before I went to the Fairy Meadows; before I trekked uphill on mountains for six hours and started believing for one minute, in my naivety, that nothing is worth this much trouble. I have not been more wrong. As soon as I entered the clearing my small wooden cabin was in, the first thing I did was revel in my achievement: I had never seen the face of a mountain before, living by the sea, let alone attempt to go on the roughest hike through one of the most dangerous routes in the world. The second thing I did was look the Nanga Parbat in the face and tell her: you are gorgeous, you are beauty. Right then, I was so sorry that I had words used like amazing and mind blowing and breathtaking on less deserving situations in my previous life, my life pre-trekking-for-six-hours. Right then, I knew that phrases like 'heaven on earth' and 'paradise-like' originated in a place like this. I knew that people living in metropolitan cities were unworthy of having words like these in their vocabulary, because look what they did; they used them up before they should have.

As I was standing there I felt the kind of cold that travels like fog and seeps into your clothes only to accumulate under your skin. The kind that clings on to you with it's claw like nails even when you've put your face up close to a big live fire. The fire stung my face but didn't warm me up and I gave up on getting myself heat. I stood up, shivering with every step and moved out in the open where the light of the fire shrank back. And just then, accidentally, I looked up and saw heaven right there and then. You know they say life is a miracle? How they say the universe is unfathomable? I was looking up, craning my neck, my nose making a 90 degree angle with the ground, and just stared. There was not a single empty space in the sky. Every inch of sky I could see was peppered with stars, a polka dotted bedsheet gone wrong. It was as if a child who didn't know what ordinary sky looked like went on Microsoft Paint and sprayed on a dark background just for the heck of it. I didn't care about my neck joint hurting like a fracture, I couldn't feel the cold. In fact, I couldn't feel anything but awed, and slightly frightened. The same sky I watched every day for 21 years was suddenly more. Like someone decided it needed additional decoration Right then I saw a comet and screamed with wonderment. A new friend I'd made came up behind me and said, yes, you see a lot of shooting stars here. I just couldn't go inside my little wooden 'hotel room'. Instead I sat down on the ladder-like steps outside with him and lit a smoke, looking up all the while.

The bad thing about being so thousands of feet above sea level is that there's very little oxygen. You strain to breathe. And for an asthma patient (read: me) it's a complete nightmare. Every breath is laborious. The best thing about being so high up is that there is very little oxygen: my cigarette seemed to stay lit for hours, no O2 to guzzle it up. That moment at the steps, talking in whispers, looking not at each other in the dark but gazing at the stars. lit cigarette in hand, seemed to go on forever. It lasted for days and for seconds. Later I tried to imagine what it would be like to be here with someone you love passionately, someone you can lie down on the grass with, hold hands with, make love with. You would just fall in deeper. Like men who to war together and see death and despair emerge 'bound by the wet bond of blood' as Robert Graves put it, people who see visions of beauty side by side are bound too.

As soon as I stood up and was out of my reverie, I looked at the stars again, I looked at the white mountain made of powdery snow, I looked at the cigarette stub on the ground, I looked at my friend still sitting on the steps smiling at me; and I knew I'd pick this billion star hotel over any other place in the world, any day. Even if getting there meant spending six hours breathing like a lung cancer patient and forcing my feet to fight gravity. It is absolutely worth it, if only for a sky that is unruined, and unfiltered.