I took my soul to the sky. In Ladakh, where I went, bold eagles hold the snow-clenched mountaintops and lammergeiers' daggered wings slice the day. In winter here the rivers freeze but, underneath, their waters drum a cold tattoo, flowing deep as they do to the Indus in its milder valley. Motion and motionlessness: this is winter in Ladakh.
Motion is in a flurry of horned larks over dusty fields and fields of snow. Motion is in the falling flakes and in the clouds which bring them. Motionlessness is in the mountains. Or almost, for as the triangle of India pushes north, orphaned these many million years from her mother Gondwana, these mountains inch their way to the sky. To which I take my soul.
I inch to the sky too, in the helter skelter of choughs on the morning wind. I inch to the sky in the scree-shifting feet of the blue sheep up the heady slopes above my tent. I inch to the sky in the trunks and twigs of winter naked poplars. They take my soul to the sky.
Here in the sky lives a cat. A nothing nowhere night-borne cat whose name is shan. It is here and I am here and the cold same air sears our lungs both. I met this sky cat two years ago here, since when it has gnawed at me with the same ferocious hunger with which it gnaws at sheep it kills.
It comes. It fills the valleys with its sky-big eyes. Slips, silent on the scree, through the dusk and the day's birth, above our temporary canvas world. It sits on a mountain crest, a thousand metres from us, yet in us. Its great tail strokes the sky as it bounds down the mountainside away.
All things else are nothing in the presence of this cat. The eagles its messengers, the ibex and the sheep its quaking people. We are its witness, blessed few who know this mountain winter cold, the stark wonder of these valleys.
While still it roams these mountains, silent over scree, the sky cat roams my soul and I must come to see. The cold and the hard ground, the bare air and my dry, nose-burning breath are nothing. For the sky cat calls. And I, its soul prey, answer.
I took my soul to the sky.