15th April – Mountain Monks and Flour Fights!

15/04/10

Mount Everest is a sacred mountain to the Tibetan and Nepalese people. As such the majority of climbing sherpas won’t set foot on the mountain without first going through a Puja. This normally involves one of the Buddhist monks form the nearest monastery walking up to base camp in order to bless the expedition. Today was our Puja.

The day started normally with everyone meeting for breakfast in the mess tent at 8:30am (by now I’m getting used to the early starts). We were told over breakfast that we should bring any equipment we wanted blessed with us to the ceremony. This monk must have been super fast or have started walking up to base camp at 01:00am  in the morning as by the time we had finished breakfast he had arrived. We therefore had to quickly collect anything we want blessed from our tents. I choose to have my ice axe and crampons blessed like I did on my previous expedition to Ama Dablam before Christmas.

The Puja can last between anything from 2 to 4 hours, so the sherpas and porters laid down mattresses for us all to sit on! All our gear was then placed in front of the stone pillar which had been built to hold up the mast from which our prayer flags would fly. At the bottom of the mast was a table on which different types of food and drinks were placed for the monk to use during the ceremony. There was also other food and drink and even beer placed around the bottom of the pillar for us to eat and drink during the ceremony.

Adventure Peaks Everest Team 2010 - with our prayer flags

The ceremony started with the monk reading out some sort of scripture for a long long long long long… LONG time! We were free though to move round and take pictures throughout. After a while he started to bang a bell and drum in conjunction with his reading / chanting. While this was going on the sherpas were preparing the prayer flags to be hoisted up on to the flag pole. Once they were finished preparing the flags we were then given rice and instructed to chuck it in the air when the monk did, all this time the monk was still chanting away. It all looked pretty chaotic to be honest.

After another tens minutes of chanting, out of nowhere the monk suddenly raised his hand into the air then proceeded to chuck his rice over the stone pillar which now had our pray flags coming out of it courtesy of the sherpas and porters. The majority of us I think were caught slightly off guard and ended up chucking our rice a bit late – I’m sure this wont effect our blessing (I hope)! As soon as we had finished chucking our rice, we were handed a handful of flour. I think you know where this is going!

Out of the corner of my eye I could see the sherpas flashing cheeky glances between one and another, who were now all standing behind us. Out of no where they hurled these handfuls of flower all over us and then proceeded to run around drawing stripes on our faces. Our Puja at this point basically descended into an all out Flour fight, with people running about chucking it all over each other.

After we exhausted the flour stocks the monk ushered us all up towards him to form a line. Then one by one we were called up to be blessed and have a piece of cord tied around our necks for luck and given a special scarf. What a day!

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