• Lone Morch
Written by
Lone Morch
March 2014
Written by
Lone Morch
March 2014

A handful of She Writes Press authors, including me, have been posting our books--one chapter at a time--over at JukePop this past couple of months. Have you checked it out yet? Here's a little preview of what you can find there. Click the "keep reading" link down at the bottom to get to the full chapter, plus the next...it's free! 


Book trailer below. 


Chapter One: Seeing Red

The first time I saw Kailas was in 1997 at Pilgrim’s Bookstore in Kathmandu. Browsing amongst the shelves, the cover of a book called The Sacred Mountain caught my attention. There she was, rising out of the reddish, rugged plateau of Tibet like a diamond in the rough, and set against a crisp blue sky. It was the kind of mountain any mountaineer would fall in love with and dream of conquering.

Such lust was also stirred in me, but even more so, the two words together—mountain and sacred—felt full of new significance. Perhaps because I’d just returned to Kathmandu after climbing my first “real” mountain in the Everest Region and, to my surprise, felt nothing that resembled triumph. Sure, I’d succeeded. I’d survived the tapering traverses on risky ridges and crossings of trepidatious crevasses. I’d hung in full faith on ropes on ice walls and force-fed myself more thin breaths than I thought possible. Instead of feeling victorious, though, big questions were arising in me, questions I couldn’t even begin to formulate, about my life and my ways. And now, beholding the immaculate and holy Mount Kailas, all of a sudden I felt open to answers. Unlike the big conquistadores of the West, Hindus and Buddhists don’t climb mountains; they pay penance to them and honor them as saintly abodes and holy role models.

Because Kailas was sacred it could not be climbed. Even though it resided beyond reach in the farthest corner of western Tibet, eager pilgrims from all over Asia have made the long journey for millennia to pay homage to Kailas and to complete the kora, a ritual circumambulation of the mountain said to erase the sins of a lifetime. To them, Kailas is the center of the universe, where heaven meets earth and where myth merges with reality. They associate it with the mythical Mount Meru, around which the sun and moon orbit and all life flows, and none other than Shiva, the great Hindu God of transformation, calls Kailas his home.

To New Agers, Kailas represents the crown chakra of the planet. Mother Earth is said to have seven major power points, each holding a specific energy or vibration. Mount Shasta in California is the base chakra of survival; Lake Titicaca in Peru is the second chakra of sexuality; and Uluru in Australia is the third chakra of personal power. The fourth is the heart chakra and can be found at Glastonbury and Shaftesbury in England; the fifth of creativity and communication at the Great Pyramid; and the sixth of intuition also by Glastonbury and Shaftesbury. As the seventh and crown chakra, Kailas it said to hold the white light of pure consciousness. Not that pure consciousness is so readily available. Tibetans believe it takes 108 circumambulations of the holy mountain to release karma for all lifetimes, and that only thereafter will you be ready for complete enlightenment. But one has to start somewhere.

My enchantment with mountains had begun almost a decade earlier in the spring of 1990, toward the end of my yearlong Asian sojourn. I’d come to the Eastern border of Nepal at the height of the people’s revolution for democracy.

“You can’t go to Kathmandu,” the border police warned, but that didn’t faze me. Several lonely nights in empty bus stations, mosquitoes, and holy cows aside, and many bumpy rides later, I found myself in Kathmandu. The atmosphere was volatile. Everywhere I saw police and military. At some point a man jumped on the bus to throw handfuls of red powder at the passengers. What was happening? Within moments, the entire valley roared with victory. Around me people clapped and cheered and hugged and cried. I joined in their celebration and felt an immediate kinship with the Nepalese. To arrive in Kathmandu the moment King Birendra surrendered his reign and gave Nepal democracy made a lot of sense to me then. I was a young freedom-seeker, busting through barriers myself, and thus began my love affair with the Himalayas.

Over the next decade I kept returning to Nepal. As a student of politics and change, I got myself a traineeship with the Danish Embassy and went to remote areas of Nepal to assist in the evaluation of democratization projects. Later, after university, I worked for CARE Nepal to help strengthen local community organizations in the hill areas. While my academic understanding of development and Western obsession with efficiency regularly clashed with Nepalese reality, I fell in love with the people and the mountains.

To a woman born and raised in Denmark, a small country where the highest point is a mere six hundred-some feet, the scale of the Himalayas took my breath away. No matter where I was in Nepal, what time of the day it was, or what I was doing, my eyes gravitated toward the sublime snowcapped peaks to the North. They were always glowing in the distance, even when veiled in darkness or hidden behind flamboyant monsoon clouds. Their omnipotent presence made me want to penetrate their secret and be penetrated in return. Of course, I wasn’t able to verbalize that at the time, but the freedom I felt the first time I walked into the Annapurna Mountain Range, along rice paddies and across rivers, and deeper and deeper and higher into the mountains, was unmistakable. To wander off into nowhere-land, with nothing but a sleeping bag, extra socks, and a book, to be fed rice and lentils by sturdy hill tribe women, and to sleep on wooden benches or straw mats on the floors of traditional clay houses was liberating. After almost a year of backpacking my way through Asia, searching for a place in the world to call mine, the simplicity of the mountains was a relief. Time lost its meaning. I felt closer to source, even if I didn’t yet know what that meant.

Sacred wasn’t integrated into my vocabulary then. Sacred was some- thing other people did. Sacred was the temples, chanting monks, spinning prayer wheels, thick red tikkas adorning the faces of the Nepalese. Sacred was the Kali festival I’d happened upon in Kuala Lumpur a few months earlier, where people paid penance to the fierce goddess by penetrating spears through their cheeks, tongues lolling out and eyes bulging, or attaching hooks to their ash-smeared backs and carrying heavy contraptions on their shoulders, all the while in a wild trance induced by incessant drumming throughout the night.

I had no way to relate to the sacred act of paying penance, let alone worship. Had you asked me, I would have answered that only my freedom and independence were worthy of my worship. In my own country, spirituality was an entirely private matter, and the sacred was overlaid with a touch of cynicism. During my thundercloud teens in the ’80s, noth- ing—not even my body and sex—was sacred. Anti-everything, I rebelled against the establishment, authority, my father’s rigid rules, boys’ birth- given superiority, women’s weakness against men’s mocking, patronizing schoolteachers, any type of conservatism, nuclear power, you name it. I even managed to cut the cord between my heart and body in my quest for independence and respect—as equal and equally capable as the boys. There was nothing sacred and beautiful about my first sexual experience. At fourteen, I had an older boyfriend, and I asked my mother if I could get the Pill. She gave in to my plea, but by the time I was ready to go, I no longer liked that boyfriend. Eager to lose my virginity, I asked a friend if he wanted to have sex with me. Two amateurs, fumbling toward sexual union, it was more comical than exciting, more sad than loving, and it kicked off an early sexual journey that had little to do with my heart.

Relating my first sexual experience to my first romp around the mountains may seem a stretch. However, today I know that my wanderings along those sinewy mountain trails more than twenty years ago helped me find my feet, feel my heartbeat, and connect to my breath in ways I’d never experienced before. This was a new kind of freedom that wasn’t outside myself. On the contrary, it was very close to home.

Continue reading this and the next chapter of Seeing Red at JukePop Serials here!

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