The cloud had been over the village for fifteen days and the people of Baga, Tibet were beginning to wonder if the sky itself was sinking. It was not uncommon for the clouds to hang low, high up as the village was in the Tibetan sky. Yet never, in all the years that the villagers had lived there did the sky hang so long as it had done those many days. And now, under those unrelenting clouds, the village crops had begun to wilt and the people of Baga began to think the cloud a curse that had been placed on them unjustly.
Amrita Jampo, known to the villagers as the Gentle One, was turning fifteen, a very special time for the people of Baga, for it was on this day that Amrita was to climb part of the great Chomolungma. It had long been tradition that the Chosen, when they had turned fifteen, would climb the great mountain, beginning their journey as a young, unknowing child, and returning as a wise leader for the people of the village. The oldest Climber was Jangbu Kalsang, an elder in the village and a wise man that healed the people’s maladies, mixed medicines and herbs, and served as an intermediary between the people and the gods. And so, as tradition, Amrita Jampo rose on her fifteenth birthday and began to prepare for her long, dangerous journey up Chomolungma.
The people of the village gathered around for the Farewell. Amrita’s mother and little baby brothers stood barefoot, mud streaked across their arms and faces from working in the fields. Amrita, though her eyes swelled up with salty tears, did not cry for she knew it would bring her people great shame should they see any sign of fear or sorrow in the young girl’s heart. So putting on a brave face as she had done when she had held her mother’s hand as she gave life to each of her younger brothers, Amrita embraced her family and kissed each of their cheeks, ensuring them with confidence that she would have a speedy and safe return, though she herself did not fully believe this in her heart.
Then as tradition, the village elder, Jangbu Kalsang, who also happened to be Amrita’s grandfather, came to impart some words of wisdom upon the girl before she began her great voyage.
“Keep your eyes open, Gentle One, for there are many things that you may not like to see upon your journey, but not all truths are happy,” he said, resting an aged and boney hand on Amrita’s shoulder. “The clouds are thick and will make your journey most difficult, but what the gods will, we must obey,” and with that, Amrita began her long voyage alone up Chomolungma, as the people of Baga went back to their ways, hoping that maybe the young girl would pluck the cloud down from the sky and bring back the sun on eager wings.
On the first night of her journey, Amrita heard the strange call of three wild birds, deep within the cold rocks of the Chomolungma. Yet the calls were not ones that she was familiar with; they were melodic in their song, and each call complimented the other, each a step higher than the next, blending together harmoniously. For a moment, Amrita froze in her steps, listening to the call, entranced. She remembered what her grandfather had told her: Keep your eyes open. She looked about her, in hopes of finding the strange birds, but because of the cloud, it was impossible to see. So closing her eyes, she began to listen; she forgot entirely about her need to see, and simply listened to the voices of the strange birds and slowly, with gradual steps, she followed the sound, up the mountain, higher and higher, never once missing her footing or losing her grip, though her eyes were closed the entire time.
On the fifth day of her journey, the cloud was so thick, that Amrita could see only a few feet in front of her face. The ground had begun to seem miles away, and each step seemed more difficult than the last. Stopping a moment to rest, Amrita began to wonder how far away from her tiny village she was; could her mother still see her, high up as she was, upon the great Chomolungma? Or had they already forgotten about her, casting her off for the dead? Amrita’s eyes began to swell, salty tears flowing down her brown cheeks. Then just as she thought she might give up the climb forever, she felt someone touch her shoulder. Amrita jumped in fear, wiping her eyes of the shameful tears, attempting to make out a face in the fog. Yet to her surprise, no one was there. Still, she felt a distinct pressure on her shoulder—as if someone’s hand were on her arm. Then a great calm came over Amrita, and she no longer felt any fear. So rising to her feet, and holding out her hands, the invisible hand took hers, and guided her, up the mountain, higher and higher, never once missing her footing or losing her grip, though her eyes were closed the entire time.
On the tenth day, exhausted and bitterly cold, Amrita collapsed from sheer exhaustion. The cloud was relentless now, thicker than it had ever been before. Though her eyes were open, she could see nothing. In every direction, up, below, ahead, behind—nothing but a thick grayness awaited her. Amrita felt as if she were drowning; drowning in a sea of gray, alone and atop the great Chomolungma. It must have been then, lost and forgotten as she was, that she fell into a deep, idyllic sleep. She dreamt that she was a great bird of prey, graceful and elegant, white with strokes of brown, like the great Himalayan Griffon. Her fingers were outstretched into feathers, wind blowing through their tips, her eyesight impeccable, despite the great cloud of gray.
Looking upwards she saw a hole in the cloud—an opening where the sun desperately attempted to break through its prison. Higher and higher she soared, up to that opening, her body lifted above the great cloud, and then suddenly with a burst of triumph, she burst through the barrier, leaving behind a great opening below her. The sun was hot now, its rays burned and smoldered the cloud, and up from below, as if the people of her village had each blown with all their might, a great breeze came and pushed the cloud which began to slowly pass. Onwards it went, away from the village and the small town, and alone Amrita soared above the great Chomolungma, her body one with the grand bird of prey.
When Amrita awoke, she saw that she was not alone atop of the great mountain, but that she was in fact at home, in the small mud brick dwelling of Janbu Kalsang. His eyes were closed, though he did not sleep, for his lips were moving in a methodical mantra. Incense burned and filled the air with a smoky, relaxing scent, and Amrita wanted very much to let her heavy eyelids close once again, where she could sleep as serenely as she once had, though she now knew she would never sleep so peacefully again.
Rising from her bed, she gently placed a hand on the Elder’s knee. His eyes opened and his mouth curved into a great smile. “You have done a wondrous thing, Gentle One,” he said. “You have plucked the Great Cloud from its perch in the sky, and brought great joy to your people.”
Amrita was pleased that these things had been done, but her heart was still young, despite her gained wisdom, and her mind was full of questions. “But Grandfather, I dreamt I was the King of the Himalayas, and I thought my body had been given its jhator.” She told the village elder all about her dream in which she burst through the cloud and freed the sun of its prison, while Janbu Kalsang listened intently. “What is the meaning of this dream, and how am I here again, safe with my people, despite the fact that I have no recollection of returning to the village?”
At this, the great village elder smiled peaceably at Amrita, his eyes glistening with proud tears.
“My child, it is because you did become the King himself, and you soared above the fearsome Chomolungma, and you returned to us no longer the Gentle One, the innocent; but you are now the dpa’ ba, the Brave One, and you will forever watch over this village and your people.”
Amrita’s heart filled with gladness, and she embraced her grandfather, who looking upon her with great love in his heart, spent the rest of his days sharing and teaching Amrita all he knew about life, love, and truth.
Many years later, when Amrita Dpa’ba was no longer a young girl but had gained many years and much wisdom, she saw the great Himalayan Griffon, coming down from its heavenly perch atop the Chomolungma. It was then that Amrita knew what her grandfather had meant that day, so many years ago, when she returned from her long journey up the mountain. And so it is still, that Amrita Dpa’ba, once the Gentle One, now known to all as the Brave, became the King himself that night, and will continue to watch over the people of Baga from her heavenly perch atop the great Chomolungma, forever, and ever, and ever still, ‘till the days grow weary and the sun too rests, long and peaceful, eternity.
 The Tibetan name for Mount Everest
 Jhator also known as sky burial or celestial burial is a practice in Tibetan culture wherein a human corpse is chopped and cypress branches are burnt to attract hawks or vultures. Where generosity and compassion are an important aspect of Buddhism, jhator is a ritual that complements this fact in that the deceased is providing food to sustain living beings. Some have suggested that jhator is also meant to unite the deceased person with the sky or sacred realm.
© 2009 Rebecca Huggins. All rights reserved.
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Rebecca Huggins is a graduate from East Tennessee State University where she received her master's degree in education, and is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Black Lantern Publishing. She holds a literature degree in English from King College. When she isn't writing, reading, or editing, she's spending time with her husband, two dogs and cat, watching movies and listening to Swedish rock bands.