The moon was waning, as Ali and I trekked to Herligkoffer basecamp, below the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat, the 9th highest mountain at 8125 meters. On October 7, I awoke before dawn to eat my pre-dawn Ramadan moon, looking east. Low in the sky was a nocturnal Pakistani flag: a crescent moon and a shining star--Venus, the morning star.
O Majestic Moon,
Radiant moments from Ramadhans long ago
Inundate our faqir souls...
Long ago, during the Ramadan moon, God revealed the first of the Koran to Mohammad, thus the holy nature of the month. Astronomers tell of a conjunction of the moon and Venus in the year 610, during the month of Ramadan, one interpretation of the Islamic symbol of the crescent moon and star.
The star, however, is five pointed, a pentagram, representing the projection of Venus and the sun in the sky, each of the five points an inferior conjuntion of the sun and Venus. The morning star--Venus--is symbolic of Lucifer, the god of knowledge, of light, associated with Satan, Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. At the same time, the moon has much symbolism relating to past gods.
Another story may tell of the Ottoman Empire conquering Constantinople and adopting the moon and Venus symbol as their own. Maybe the astronomical conjunction story is most palatable for monotheistic Muslims. Either way, the moon and Venus were together in the morning sky as Nanda Parbat's immense Rupal Face glowed gently under the stars, the crescent moon, and Venus.
That morning, I left my tent and walked to the center of the Bazhin Glacier, standing on rock and ice to watch the sun rise on the Rupal Face. Standing still in the bitter cold was difficult but the scene was rewarding.
The soft-spoken Ali the porter and his braying donkey had walked back to Tareshing for some unexpected business, so I was alone at the basecamp. That crisp day, I walked up the east lateral moraine of the Bazhin Glacier until I was directly under the Rupal Face, which climbs 4,500 meters in a sheer wall. Avalanches continued all day as Himalayan Marmots called in the ablation valley.
Nanga Parbat marks the westernmost Himalayan peak. Here the Himalayas mix with the Hindu Kush of Chitral and the Karakoram of Hunza. Over a year ago, I began at the easternmost Himalayan peak of Namckok Barwa
Nanga Parbat is also known as the "Killer Mountain," one of the most deadly mountains to climb. Ali rejoined me in the late afternoon and after another morning of relaxing, we crossed the Bazhin Glacier and walked to Latobah, where Ali's family has its summer pasture home. The small village was abandoned for the colder months; we settled into his home, and Ali made a fire in a wood stove.
Over the wood stove, I boiled some water for pasta, but grossly underestimated the ability of pasta to disintegrate in water if too many servings are boiled in too little water. Half the pasta dissolved into a paste. Time to salvage: I added eggs to the goop, along with spices, dried tomatoes, and more. The dish turned into a pasta casserole of sorts, full of calories but more similar to glue than to pasta.
At night, Ali would constantly wake me to ask the time, as he forgot his watch: "Excuse me. What time?" He wanted to make sure that he followed Ramadan, but ensured that I would get broken sleep--annoying since I had set my alarm specifically for 3:30 a.m. just for him. Somehow, he had to finish his eating before 4 a.m. but I had to finish by 4:30 a.m. This was simply a function of where I began my Ramadan fasting (in Sunni Peshawar) and the Shi'as had a different timetable based on how each sect defines prayer times and "dawn." And I thought dawn was pretty self-explanitory and non-controversial.
Around Latobah, where we stayed two nights, I rested in the mid-day sun beside streams, bouldered, and hiked to an overlook of Shaigiri Meadows, with glaciers and mountains surrounding me. The birch and poplar trees were yellow. From Latobah, Ali showed me a few of the climbing routes, all looking improbable on the sheer imposing Rupal Face. Of course, Reinhold Messner's route was the most difficult looking.
This was the mountain that haunted Reinhold Messner, as he lost his brother to the mountain as they were climbing. The guru of the 8,000 meter peaks lost six of his toes and several fingertips on this expedition. Messner recounts the climb: "I even belive that it would be no longer be possible for anyone to traverse Nanga Parbat in the way I and GŁnther did in 1970. Perhaps if a thousand climbers tried, one might come through. I am sure that I could never survive those days a second time."
On the fifth day, we returned back to the town of Tareshing, passing the villages of Rupal and Upper Rupal on the way, with the Rupal Face behind us.