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The snow leopard

? E T E R M ATT H I E S S N We have a true king, he lives behind the mountains.... He is close to us, but we are far from him. The place where he dwells IS inaccessible, and tongue is tO utter hiS name. him hang a hundred thousand veils oflight and darkness.. DO not imagine that the journey is short; and one must have the heart of a lion to follow this unusual road, for it is very long.... One plOdS along in a state Of amazement, sometlmes 11 smiling, sometimes 、 veeping. The snow cone of Great Dhaulagiri, five miles high, rises from the clouds behind and is quickly misted over; though far away, it fills the whole northeast. Ahead, a valley of yelJow maples descends gently t0 the west, on one side a wall 0f firs on the other a rampart 0f bare rock; the valley stream sparkles with shifting storm light, attracting three species 0f the superb Asian redstarts ( ~ わ 0 ビれた〃〃引 , which are related tO the nightin- gale. "This is the first day since we've left that I feel l've gotten out intO the open," GS says. This wilderness will certainly be gone by the century's end. AIready, as the valley widens, signs 0f slash-and-burn appear ( "Fire very bad, sah! " Tukten says), and rockslides caused by destruction 0f the forests block the river with huge fallen trees. The water turns bro 、 and torrential, diverted farther dO 、 the valley into channels between pale strands of deadwood and silted stones—this is the Uttar Ganga (Northern River) pouring away between the western mountalns tO its meeting with the Bheri and the great Karnali, which will carry it southward into lndia. The trail, flooded by monsoon torrents, is lOSt among the islands, oxbows, and incommg streams. Here and there the drifted trees serve us as bridges, and GS, slowly but steadily, walks almost all 0f them upright. But I have lost that steady step and feel unbalanced by my rucksack, and must hitch igno- miniously across the worst 0f them on my backside. Finally I cut myself a heavy stick 0f my own length, as probe and bal- ance; it will be useful later as a stave. The woodlands open out onto the only broad flat valley in these mountarns, used as summer pasture by the Magars from

The snow leopard

292 P E T E R M AT T H I E S S E N mosses, stumps, and straying leaves, and the whispering small birds of winter. But farther down the valley, the abandoned ⅵ 1- lage, so empty-eyed and still in early autumn' has been brought tO life by voices Of man, dog, and rooster, for its slopes are win- ter pasture now for the yak herds from the north. From the village, a southward path quits the main trail, de- scending through rocks and shining olives t0 a bridge on the green river. The portals 0f the bridge are carved in grotesque figures, yellow and red. Awaiting the others, I stand on the h0t planks in the noon sun, overtaken by a vague despair. ln this river runs the Kang La stream, by way 0f Ph0ksumd0 River and the lake, and also the torrent down from Bugu La, and the branch that falls from the B'on village at Pung-mo; the Suli car- ries turquoise from Ph0ksumd0, and crystals 0f diamond blue down from Kang La. Another hour passes; no one comes. Beside myself, I go on across the bridge and climb the bluff. A half mile below, the jade water Of the snow peaks disappears int0 the gray roil 0f the Bheri River, which will bear it southward into lowland muds. The track follows the Bheri westward in a long, gradual climb tO the horizon, arriving at a village in a forest. ln the cedars Of Roman, a fitful wind whips the mean rags on the shrines, and phallic spouts jut from red effigies at the village fountains, and west of the village stand wild cairns and tall red poles. From fields below, a troupe of curltailed monkey demons gazes up- ward, heads afire in the dying light. Then the sun is gone be- hind the mountains. I have a headache, and feel very strange. The whole day has been muddied by a raging in my head caused by the tardiness Of my compamons, whO were tWO hours behind me at the bridge—an echo 0f that grotesque rage at Murwa, where for want Of unfrozen air in 、 Mhich tO bathe, I vilified the sun that dOdged my tent. I seem tO have lOSt all resilience, not tO mention sense of humor—can this be dread of the return to lowland life? Walking along the Bheri hills this afternoon, I remembered hOW careful one must be not tO talk t00 much, or move abruptly, after a silent week 0f Zen retreat, and also the precar- IOus coming down from highs on the hallucinogens; lt is crucial

The snow leopard

T H を S N OW L E 0 PA R D 13 hearths. ln tidy yards, behind strong stiles and walls, the clay huts are of warm earthen red, with thatched roofs, hand- carved sills and shutters, and yellow-flowered pumpkin vines. Maize iS stacked in narrow cribs, and rice IS spread tO dry on broad straw mats, and between the banana and papaya trees big calm spiders hang against the sky. A canal bridged here and there by ten-foot granite slabs runs through a hamlet, pouring slowly over shining pebbles. lt is midday, the sun melts the air, and 、 S1t on a stone wall in the cool shade. By the canal is the village tea house, a simple open- fronted hut with makeshift benches and a clay oven in the form of a rounded mound on the clay floor. The mound has a side opening for inserting twigs and two holes on the t0P for boil- lng water, which is poured through a strainer Of cheap tea dust into a glass containing coarse sugar and buffalo milk. With this 訪ツ 4 we take plain bread and a fresh cucumber, while children playing on the shining stones pretend t0 splash and a col- lared dove sways on a tall stalk of bamboo. One by one the porters come, turning around tO lower their loads onto the wall. A porter of shy face and childlike smile, who 100kS t00 slight for his load, is playing comb music on a fig leaf. 。 T00 many hot," says another, smiling. This is the Sherpa porter, Tukten, a wiry small man with Mongol eyes and outsized ears and a disconcerting smile—l wonder why this Tukten is a porter. I set off ahead, walking alone in the cool breeze of the valley. ln the bright September light and mountain shadow—steep foothills are closing in as the valley narrows, and the snow peaks t0 the north are no longer seen—the path follows a dike between the reedy canal and the green terraces Of rice that de- scend in steps tO the margins Of the river. Across the canal, more terraces ascend to the crests of the high hills, and a blue sky. At a rest wall, two figs 0f different species were planted long ago; one is a banyan, or nigrodha (Ficus 市じの , the other a pi- pal ( 五〃 g わ s の , sacred to both the Hindus and the Buddhists. ・ Wild flo 、 Mers and painted stones are set among the buttressed roots, tO bring the traveler good fortune, and stone terraces are built up around the trunks in such a way that the shade-seeking

The snow leopard

T H E S N 0 ′ L E 0 PA R D 287 gold. The moon bear's nest has been ripped down, perhaps for fuel, and the falling leaves have le 丘 exposed the ravaged canyon sides charred by man's fires. ln the autumnal melancholy I remember France, in the years that I lived there, still in love with my first wife. One day in paris, I met Deborah Love, whom I was tO marry ten years later. And now, in different ways, those life-filled creatures are both gone. I hurry with the river. AII my life, I have hurried down between these walls, the sun crossing high over my head, voice swept away in the din 0f this green f100d. The river, and life going, the excruciating sun: why do I hurry ~ The sun reveals itself, pourrng out Of a ravrne. ln an ICY stream, I wash away the Murwa dust, and brush my teeth9 and deck my cap with a rock dove feather found along the trail. Be- 10W , the SuIi Gorge is deep and dark again; at this time 0f the year, there must be parts Of it that never see the sun. Toward noon, the trail climbs up out of the gorge onto the mountainside. ln October, when I stared behind me at the snow peaks, this prospect struck me as one 0f the loveliest in all my lifetime, and I had thought tO enjoy it even more on the return J0urney, in a slow descent int0 the valleys. lnstead I feel driven, and my pace is urgent. Even the narrow trails no longer SIOW me, I am hardened to all but the worst of them. The season 1S turning rapidly from near winter tO late autumn, and dO 、Ⅵ 1 the mountainside, fresh green bamboo appears along the river. On a grassy 100k0ut high over the green torrent, I eat one Of Tukten's blackish "breads," then keep on going. Pr0bably it would be best to wait for Tukten; I cannot. I keep on going, high on all the oxygen oflower altitudes, up and down and up and down the stony path that drops t0 the river and climbs up the steep canyon sides and drops again. The wind cave passed, and the upside-down falls, but the stone demon— doubtless he who lost the epic struggle with the mountain god at Bugu La and was cast down intO the Suli Gad ravines—ls lost in the shifting lights 0f the swift river. I thought I remem- bered just the place, but the stone is gone ・ The valley woods shelter herdsmen and their fires, and near

The snow leopard

OCTOBER 10 ln the glory of sunrise, spiderwebs glitter and greenfinches in October gold bound from pine to shining pine. Pony bells and JOY0us whistling; young children and animals jump as if come to life. One beautiful child has a silver necklace and red-green strips Of rag braided intO crow-black hair; the infant she carries papoose-style is her own. A day so fine for travel is also fine for harvesting potatoes. The new porters refuse to depart, nor will they give up the pay advanced t0 them t0 buy f00d. "Dhorpatan no-good people, ” says Phu-Tsering. To find nine men, Jang-bu stays behind, and Gyaltsen stays with him, guarding the loads while his friend searches for porters. GS will wait awhile to see what happens. I set out with the rest, and dO not see GS again until day's end. The northward path ascends the Phagune Gorge through resined air Of pine forest and cedar. A crimson-horned pheas- ant, or monal, bursts intO the air over the valley, and the small marmot-like pikas are sunmng at their hOles, ignoring the flights of sweet-voiced alpine birds. Silver lichens, golden moss, the whistle 0f a falcon: the view south down the Phagune Gorge is full oflight. We climb toward DhauIagiri, the "White Mountains. " Yesterday's snow retreats uphill as the sun rlses, and 、 dO not overtake it until afternoon, at 12 , 400 feet. The snow is gray, on steep gray slushy scree, and the trail rises intO clouds that hide the snow peaks. Cotoneaster Of deep green, with its red berries, is the lone piece Of color in the grayness. lt is hard going in this mush: the summit never comes. The pass is a V far 0ff and high against a sky that withdraws into

The snow leopard

T H E S N 0 ′・ L を 0 PA R D 147 western arm is the valley of the Phoksumdo River, and its delta 0f boggy tundra streams, of gravel bars and willow, is so like Alaska that both of us exclaim at the resemblance. A cold wind drives waves ontO the dead gray beach, and when the sun sinks behind the Kanjiroba Massif at the head of the valley, it is still very early in the afternoon. Shey is two thousand feet higher than our present camp, and therefore considerably colder; with precious little fuel for lamps and no way to heat the tents, we can only hope that the western mountains there are 10W , and sunset later,. At dusk, the northern sky is lavender. The cold lake nags at the gray pebbles, and there is no sign of a bird. From down the lake shore, where the Ring-mos have made camp, comes sound 0f singing. All day I have thought about the eerle trance state Of these people as they passed me on the ledge, and wonder if this might be a primitive form of the Tantric discipline called んれ g - go 川 , 22 which permits the adept tO glide along with uncanny swiftness and certainty, even at night. "The walker must neither speak, nor 100k from side to side. He must keep his eyes fixed on a single distant object and never allow his attention tO be attracted by anything else. When the trance has been reached, though normal conscrous- ness is for the greater part suppressed, it remalns sufficiently alive tO keep the man aware Of the obstacles in his way, and mindful of his directlon and goal. ' 23 L 〃れ g - go is, literally, wind-concentration, with "wind" or "alr equivalent tO the Sanskrit 々 4 れ 4 , the vital energy or breath that anlmates all mat- ter: if matter is energy, then ルれ g - go may be simplistically regarded as a manifestation Of mind over matter, Of matter re- turning tO energy (with a corresponding reduction Of weight and gravity) so that it flows. The same yogic command of the physical body might account for the "invisibility" achieved by advanced yogins, whO are said tO still their being and its vibra- tions SO completely that their corporeal aspect makes no im- pression on the mind or memory Of others; and also for the recrystallizing Of energy intO Other forms, as when Milarepa, tO confound his enemres, resorted to his black Nyingma-pa

The snow leopard

146 P E T E R M ATT H I E S S E N easy, ethereal lightness, as if S01 e sort Of inner concentration was lifting them just off the surface of the ground. Bent far for- ward against the tump lines around their foreheads, fingers wide spread by way of balance, they touch the cliff face lightly to the left side, strike the north wind t0 the right. Light finger- tips touch my upper leg, one, tWO, three, four, five, SIX, seven, eight, nine hands, but the intensity is such that they seem not to distinguish between co 旧 rock face and warm blue jeans. Mute, unknowing, dull eyes glazed, the figures brush past one by one in their WOOI bOOts and sashed tunics, leaving behind in the clear air the smell of grease and fires. When the bad stretch is past, the hooting instantly resumes, perhaps at the point where they left off, as if all had awakened from a trance. The Sherpas come, and Phu-Tsering smiles gold-toothed en- couragement from under his red cap. GS appears, moving as steadily as the rest; I am glad that the cliff corner hid my igno- mmious advance on hands and knees. Squeezing by, GS re- marks, "This is the first 4 〃ア interesting stretch of trail we've had so far. ' How easy it would be to push him over. The second mile of the ledge path is pleasant, and I am able t0 enjoy the mythic view. Below lies the turquoise lake that has never known pdddle or sail, and above, all around the sky, rise the snow mountains. A ravine that falls from a small glacier splits the rock face, opening out on a small beach of smooth pebbles. From here the trail climbs once again toward the ram- parts at the northwest corner Of phoksumdo. High above the lake, GS turns to wait; he points at some- thing on the trail. Coming up, I stare at the droppings and mute prints for a long time. AII around are rocky ledges, a thin cover of stunted juniper and rose. "lt might be close by, watching us, ” murmurs GS, "and we'd never see it. ” He collects the leopard scat, and we go on. On the mountaln corner, in hard gusts 0f wind, GS's altimeter reads 13 , 300 feet. The path descends through snow and ice to silver birch woods by the shore. At its north end Phoksumdo has two arms, not visible from Ring-mo, each leading to a hidden river valley. The eastern arm, across the lake, is very beautiful and strange, rising steeply intO the shadows Of the mountains. This north-

The snow leopard

P E T E R M ATT H I E S S E N malingerers fall by the wayside, pleading sore feet and dysentery; they fade with their loads into the bushes. We rout them out again, and stay behind them, t0 keep them from making 0ff with our few supplies. During their frequent rests, sly Tukten infil- trates their ranks, smoking and grumbling with them, winking at us, and confusing them altogether. The trail follows the south bank of the Ghustang, a wild tor- rent Off the Dhaulagiri glaciers that cascades down over rust- colored boulders through a forest 0f great evergreens, merging farther to the west with the Uttar Ganga and the lower Bheri. Where bamboo appears, four thousand feet below our Dhaula- glri camp, a log bridge crosses the torrent and a trail climbs an open, grassy slope 0f stolid oaks and lithe wild olives that dance in the silver breeze Of afternoon. At the valley ridge, the trail moves westward, down a hog- back spine. There are droppings of fox and the yellow-throated marten, but excepting three startled pheasants, birds are few. Clouds come, and a light steady rain that ends at dusk, when wild rays oflate sun bombard the mountains; far behind us and above, near snow line, a sun ray isolates the site Of our DhauIa- glrl camp. The trail descends again, down through hill pasture to the hamlet of Yamarkhar, a cluster of stone huts on the steep hill- side. ・ We arrrve in darkness. Jang-bu is hunting out a place to sleep; since the porters have no tents, they must find shelter. AII day we have gone steeply 。 down and steeply up and down again, from 12 , 400 feet at our Dhaulagiri camp tO 8000 feet at Yamarkhar,. I have sore feet, a sore knee, and a sore back, and I think about the lammergerer seen this morning; in fifteen min- utes, in a single glide, the great vulture could go where we have gone in ten hard hours. ln the canyon, night has come. Though the moon is hidden by the peaks, its light points up the depth of the ravines. On the dark wall opposite us, the wink of a lone fire seems infernal, like a chink of light from fires in the mountain.

The snow leopard

T H S N 0 W L E 0 PA R D 29 Kham-pa and drawing attention tO a situation that Nepal, for the sake Of good relations with its tremendous neighbor, is anx- IOLIS tO rgnore. A bridge crosses the river tO the trade center at Beni, from where another track heads west, under Dhaulagiri. We shall travel in this direction for six days, then round the western end Of the Dhaulagiri massif on a route north across the Himalaya. Here at Beni Bazaar, the police are SLlSPICious and aggressive, checking us out with exaggerated care; our permit for Dolpo is uncommon. But at last the papers are returned, and we leave this place as soon as possible. The path follows the northern bank of a tributary river, the Magyandi, where the valley sides are t00 steep for farming, and the few poor hamlets lack even a tea stall. lt is October now; the orchids disappear. Across the river, ghostly waterfalls— sometimes SiX or seven may be seen at once—flow dO 、 out Of the clouds. A stone millhouse spans the white water Of a stream Where a ravine strikes intO the river; there iS no bridge, no S1gn oflife, and the hermit, if he has not died, shares his solitudes with the macaques that perch like sentinels about the silent dwelling. A Tibetan with two women overtakes us; he stops short, cocking his head, tO 100k us over, then invites us tO accompany him to Dhorpatan. GS and I love to travel light, and would be happy t0 go with him, but we merely point in the direction 0f the porters Ⅵ′ hO , as usual, are an hour or more behind. We camp by the river at Tatopani, in a heavy rarn.

The snow leopard

126 P E T E R M AT T H I E S S E N Of feet below. I choose to take this as a sign that I must entrust myself to life, and thanking the grasshopper, I step out smartly on my way ・ An empty village on the path above the Suli Gad is used in winter by the yakherders 0f lnner D01P0 , whose animals find forage on these lower slopes. But in the autumn, in the morn- ing shadow and clear light, the doorways and windows are black as eyeholes in a skull, and the emptiness is deepened by a prayer flag's tatter on the wind, and a child's call from higher up the valley. Under the village, a stream comes down the mountain, and while GS goes up the gully a short way, trying t0 photograph a troupe oflangurs, I wash myself in the warm sunlight where the water sparkles cold and clear over flat stones. Eventually GS returns, the Sherpas come, and we all eat together in the willow and aspen shade at streamside, flavoring the chapatis with seeds of the small wild Ca 〃〃 4 ん s , for which we compete with the HimaIayan goldfinch. From this place there is a very steep ascent of an hour or more. The Tarakot porters grumble, and even the Tamangs struggle for breath, all but Karsung, who is smging. A Bhotia family without animals descends the trail, nods shyly, and is gone. At 9400 feet, the path reaches the cliff top, leveling off as it winds around the mountain. The Bheri is far behind us and below, and a snow peak of the Kanjirobas is rising, qmet as a cloud, on the northern blue. A claterynge of choughs, lifting along upon the air currents, delights me, and for want of a fresh way to let well-being overflow, I talk to GS rapturously about my bOOts, 、 vhich are broken in at last and give me no end of honest pleasure. MiIdIy alarmed by my euphoria, he goes on rapidly. Left to myself, I listen contentedly to the leather creak of my back harness and beloved boots, the steady thump of my faithful stave upon the mountain, feeling as indom- itable as Padma Sambhava, who carried the Dharma from ln- dia into Tibet. Upon the path, in the glint of mica and odd shining stones, lies the yellow and gray-blue feather of an unknown bird. And there comes a piercrng intuition, by no means understood, that in this feather on the silver path, this rhythm of wood and