Pilgrims journey for days to reach Muktinath
they come from India, they come from Tibet,
they mingle with trekkers traveling through.
Muktinath captures trekkers the day they
cross Thorung La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit
of the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. Thorung La
hovers at 17, 769 feet above sea level.
A fountain near the temple of Vishnu
greets us at Muktinath. Water springs
from the ground and is channeled up
through the mouths of stone cow heads
in a line five feet off the ground
on three rock walls. Setting my pack near
a wall, I follow a Hindu pilgrim.
We outstretch our right hands to catch water, and
palm it over our heads. From cow to cow,
I emulate her. She sways my way to say
“Sacred blessing,” lilting a song.
When she’s gone, I begin again,
this time, my knees catch the flow from
mouths of stone. After climbing the
height of two Sears towers to reach
Thorung La Pass, we came down three.
The air palpably thickened on the knee beating
descent to Muktinath. In exchange
for a healing libation from the beasts,
I vowed to drape garlands over the
neck of a lowing cow, in the next village
that housed one.
I catch up with the others at our guesthouse
where Ravi, a boy of 11 serves tea. He walks
from India during the months of pilgrimage
to work at the guest house and contribute
to his family’s wealth.
That night, exhausted on a cot upstairs,
I think of Ravi. I think of the pilgrims
and the westerners, shouting orders at him
every day, I think of his laugh
when he came to our table
and I said, “Want, want, want,
is that all you people ever do?”
I wished for books to
leave with him. I wished for time
for Ravi to live free
to hike through the mountains
just to see them. I wished
for a life he may never know, and I felt
shame cover my own exhaustion
born of freedom, born of wanting
things within my grasp,
born of not knowing the exhaustion
of walking over one hundred miles
to serve demanding people
from carefree cultures ignorant
of poverty's pilgrimage.