Imagine you are a fish. You live and breathe water. If you have never left water, how can you objectively describe what water is like? You may have a certain knowledge of the separation of air and water, but unless you somehow detach yourself from the substance, your knowledge of water stays only at a theoretical level. Likewise, how do we surpass our understanding of the air that we breath beyond a pure conceptual level?
One way is of course to immerse ourselves in water to replicate the experience of drowning. This way, we will know that air is pleasant, light, and non-lethal. This method essentially replaces a medium that is breathable with another that is not. Another, perhaps a more humane way, is to trek the Himalayas – to be breathing on the roof of the world.
With an elevation of over 6,100 meters (20,000 ft.), the Himalayan hosts the planet’s highest plateaus. At such soaring heights, oxygen becomes prized commodity purchasable at the nearest camp stations. One could assume that, outside of underwater and space exploration, air is the last thing that could be commodified. Upon ascending the plateau, however, it soon becomes apparent that David Ogilvy was right – anything could be sold under the right circumstances.
What I am breathing is air and not air; it is strange, actually. While my lungs are inhaling and exhaling that fresh, breathable medium, my body feels more like it is in a drawn-out suffocation. It reminds me of the time when I had one of those chocolate-flavoured candies that is made of anything but chocolate.
Trekking in thin air is like seeing things through perpetual fog – it changes the way even the most ordinary objects appear. And nothing is ordinary at such heights on the Tibetan Plateau.
To maneuver around requires some getting used to. Fast and strenuous movements become nearly impossible for the uninitiated. Tasks as simple as lifting a DSLR camera demands mental discipline usually reserved for solving the toughest algebraic expressions. Water boils at a lower temperature due to lower air pressure, resulting in an increased cooking time and unavailability of certain recipe.
Landscapes become hazy as colour grows less defined especially around the edges. Everything, now softer and quieter, moves in a slow-motion drag. This muted, Impressionistic sensation accentuates the spirituality of my surrounding. It is interesting how our brains change our sensory processing when it lacks oxygen. And in this case, I feel like I’m in a dream, slightly euphoric. And no, no drugs were involved.
Landscapes become hazy as colour grows less defined. Everything, now softer, moves in a slow-motion drag. This muted, Impressionistic sensation accentuates the spirituality of my surrounding.
Trekking in thin air is like seeing things through perpetual fog – it changes the way even the most ordinary object appears. And nothing is ordinary at such heights on the Tibetan Plateau. Along the G318 highway, miles of barren terrain encloses stretches of turquoise lakes. Peaks with perpetual snow backdrop brown cliffs and dangerous hairpin switchbacks.
Scattering stupas and prayer flags mediate the delicate balance between nature and man’s attempt to tame it. Alpine nomads camp along the sacred rivers and highlands herding yaks and sheep along the ancient Buddhist ruins. The Himalayan range is unique this way. It is not only the highest region on Earth, but one of the most spiritual and culturally significant.