Everest Diary: Base Camp - Rum and rice to honour the mountain gods

EASTER Sunday, and I have spent all morning round an altar drinking fermented millet and rum and occasionally throwing grains of rice in offering to the mountain gods.

Instead of the smooth limestone walls of a church nave we were surrounded by the ice cliffs and shattered rock faces that ring Base Camp - a glorious setting for an open-air service.

The puja or blessing is an essential ritual of Himalayan mountaineering. Without a puja, our Sherpas would not set foot in the Khumbu Icefall which rears up only a couple of hundred metres from our tents and is the start of the real climbing on Everest.

We had planned to go through the jumble of teetering ice blocks and crevasses that make up the Icefall tomorrow, to spend a couple of nights at Camp One, 700 metres above our base here. However, there is a report of a storm on its way so perhaps we will have to be patient.

Whatever transpires, with today's puja we have made the necessary observances for our weeks on Everest. Any summit attempt is a probably a month away.

The service was already under way as I joined my companions on the Himalayan Kingdoms Everest expedition in the mess-tent for breakfast. Our Sherpas built a stone altar from the glacial debris several days ago - it is about a metre square and two metres high - and to their delight were able to find a puja pole to stand in the centre of the altar and support long lines of coloured prayer flags. Timber is in short supply in this basin of boulders and ice.

Perhaps the style of the proceedings was illustrative of a difference between the Sherpa Buddhist culture and our own. Church of England services in my own sporadic experience seem to dwell on what I've been doing wrong, on guilt and the need to reform. The congregation would be expected to sit still and listen to how we could be better.

While religion is important to the Sherpa people of the Khumbu, they wear it lightly. Their form of Buddhism has a strong flavour of the pre- Buddhist Bon religion of Tibet - only a kilometre or so away as the Himalayan griffon flies - which included the worship of ancestors and the gods of the mountains and streams. Pema, our sirdar (head Sherpa) explained to me how the prayers and offerings of the four- hour service would please the spirits of Chomolungma - Everest.

It was a heady brew. The 10 members of our team and as many Sherpas were seated on rocks around the altar. The sun was fierce but a chilly wind blew from the direction of the Icefall.

Scented, if slightly acrid, smoke blew over us from the juniper burning in a special fireplace, and all the while a lama wearing a fluorescent yellow bobble hat and grubby anorak over his robes chanted from small sheets of ancient Tibetan script.

No one, except the cross-legged lama, sat still for long. Sherpas kept refilling our cups, first with chang, a millet brew tasting slightly like a mix of scrumpy cider and sour milk, and then with rum and vodka; and tampsa, a barley flour, was daubed on our faces. This was good luck bestowed with good humour, the Sherpas laughingly uproariously as their chief, Pema, was liberally covered in flour.

But despite the chatter and laughter, the rituals were observed and great care was taken in stringing out the multi-coloured prayer flags on lines radiating 30 or 40 metres from the puja pole. The flags, and the charm strings we were all given to wear round our necks, have been blessed by the "big lama" in Kathmandu and again at the old monastery at Pangboche where we stopped on our walk-in.

A few more shots of that tasty Nepalese rum may be required later today when I clean up and treat the bloody slits which have developed on half my finger ends.

Cuts do not heal in the cold at altitude and hitting the computer keyboard, playing the cyber-climber, can get a little painful.

The treatment lies not with our doctor, Sundeep Dhillon, but in the expedition tool kit. All being well, my fingertips can be sealed up with Super Glue.

The doctor's medicine chest none the less has its uses. Nightly poker sessions in the mess tent lacked a certain something without any suitable "currency" for gambling.

Last night this was remedied. As a full moon illuminated Base Camp, The Independent hit a winning streak and ended the session counting a large pile of multi-vitamin tablets.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam