Everest – Day 18: Puja ceremony

April 16 (Tuesday)

Today we took part in a very important portion of the trip: the Puja ceremony.  According to Buddhist beliefs, nobody should go up the mountain past base camp unless Puja ceremony is performed.  It is essentially a ritual where the Sherpas pay homeage to Sagarmatha, the mountain goddess.   Usually a special monk comes up from one of the villages down the valley, and some Sherpas who were also monks earlier on in their life, join him in the ritual.

The Sherpas erect a tall altar using rocks and boulders, and stick a mast in the center that’s adorned with multitude of prayer flags.  All the mountain equipment, especially the sharps (crampons, ice axes) are brought to the altar for the blessing.

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The monks then pray in form of Buddhist chanting and throw tsampa (barley flour) towards the altar.  In their prayers they ask Sagarmatha, the mountain goddess, for permission to step upon its slopes, for safe passage, as well as for forgiveness for inflicting pain upon it with our crampons and ice axes.

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Juniper wood is burnt, and rice, cookies and beer are also offered up to the deity.

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The culmination of the ceremony is spreading of the prayer flags over the whole camp in hopes of protection.  There is a belief that if a bird sits on top of the mast it’s an omen of good luck.  We were lucky to get a raven sit on the top multiple times!! (of course the fact that the top of the mast had some rice on it probably had something to do with it…) 😉

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raven sitting on top of our Puja

raven sitting on top of our Puja

We were given the food that was blessed, including beer and homemade rice wine.  It took only one can of beer to get me tipsy haha :)). We also smeared each other’s faces with flour for good luck, and then joined the Sherpas in the traditional, arm to arm, Buddhist dance.

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view of Khumbu Icefall in the background

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Sherpas’ cooking tent (grey on in the background) with Puja altar in the foreground

Now we were truly ready to climb the mountain!!!

DAY 19

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