Not the kind of invitation you receive every day. And one AC vice-president Stephen Goodwin was more than happy to accept.
The invitation came from the Himalayan Club. As part of its 90th anniversary celebrations, the HC had been fortunate enough to secure an audience with the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala, the Tibetan ‘capital in exile’ in Himachal Pradesh, India.
There were almost 50 of us in all, marshalled with efficiency and exemplary patience by the current editor of the Himalayan Journal, Nandini Purandare. The short sojourn in McLeod Ganj (upper Dharamsala) was akin to the house party of an extended family, and one to which I, the stranger, was admitted with affection and generosity.
My abiding memory will be of the 90 minutes spent in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He does not speak in sound-bites and I did not come away with some simple mantra to guide future conduct. The abiding effect is more that of a spiritual infusion, a refreshment, and a resolve to adhere to that pervading goodness we all felt.
In a written message accompanying the audience, the Dalai Lama confessed that Tibetans had generally shown little interest in scaling the peaks that surrounded them: “perhaps for the practical reason that we have had far too many mountain passes to ascend to have any wish to climb higher than we must.
“Nevertheless, perhaps mountaineering can be compared to pilgrimage. Both require dedication, careful preparation, courage and determination not to give up whatever the cost, and caution in the face of danger. I believe members of mountaineering teams become acutely aware of their dependence on their companions and at the same time their mutual responsibility to each other. This exercise in loyalty and trust is a crucial insight we would all be the better for realising.”
The Dalai Lama commended HC members for their dedication to help, where they could, the people of the Himalayan region and for their efforts in protecting the natural environment - an aspect he stressed several times during the audience.
Maybe his positivity was picked up by the weather as next day a score of us straggled up the hillside from the Galu Devi temple above McLeod Ganj to the ridge-top meadow at Triund. A lovely late April day; a mix of sunshine and dappled shade where pines and rhododendrons overhang the trail. “Magic View” was the rightly-named chai house looking out over forest and Dharamsala to the hazy plain: doubly “magic” though the moment on cresting the ridge at Triund and the snow-mantled Dhauladar mountains materialise as if from nowhere, filling one’s vision.
Dhauladar range above Dharamsala (photo Stephen Goodwin)
Seated on a rock, close by a Shiva shrine, it is not long before the climber starts to trace lines up the ridges of Moon Peak and its Dhauladar neighbours. But the messages of His Holiness were playing in my mind too: his emphasis on the universality of human beings; that nationality, race, religion or caste are merely secondary identities; that if he thought of himself as the sole Dalai Lama among seven billion human beings rather than a brother to all, he would be a “very lonely” person.
Teasing out that thought, and the Dalai’s rejection of nationalism, it struck me how well (though probably fortuitously) our two clubs are named: the Himalayan Club and the Alpine Club, named not after a state or similar artificial stockade but simply after magnificent mountains, the common ground of us all.