• Miguel Angel Cano Santizo

The Lakes of Certainity

During one of my recent trips I visited Nepal to film and photograph meditation sessions, as well as to extend my working visa for Thailand, reason by which the latter due to a mishap finally had to extend my stay in the country of birth of Buddha. So, after finishing my work with the meditation sessions in Kathmandu, it turned out suddenly that I had two extra days in this country. Thus, without thinking twice and despite being twelve hours away by bus, I pulled on my camera and my backpack and I headed to the mystic place poetized in one of the songs from Heroes del Silencio, Phokhara Lakes.

I was told that most tourists choose the taxi as mean of transport, the others take high-class bus, but, true to my style, I traveled the way the locals do, which in this case was a filthy bus. I arrived late at night after an odyssey on mountain roads and went walking directly into the lake in order to be in position to fulfill the purpose for which I had moved to Pokhara: photograph the lakes at sunrise and sunset from the best location.

Phewa Lake at night

As always, I put the responsibility of my task in the hands of local wisdom, asking several indigenous inhabitants who agreed that doubtedlessly the best place to set my camera was the top of Mt Sarangkot, situated on the banks of Lake Phewa.

So I found a cheap room at the last hostel in the street next to the lake bordering the base of the mountain. After sleeping about four hours, at three in the morning I was on foot to start my challenge and reach the top located at 1,700 meters high in time to photograph the lake at sunrise.

The locals had told me there was a way up and provided with some basic instructions. Even so further asked truck-drivers who were awake and at that time and I indicated the direction to go up the mountain, in more or less safe way, by the path that led straight to the top.

However, it was completely dark, I only had the mobile flashlight that I was lent for my work in Thailand, and aafter started going up the mountain, the road branched off in various directions, so I followed my instincts, I chose one of them and began to climb.

After an hour of climbing with an average difficulty in the dense darkness of night, I began to realize that I was not going up the trail, since the trail was gradually complicated and brush being more and more thicker. But it was too late to turn back, as I would not not arrive in time to the top to photograph the sunrise and that would mean losing my challenge with the mountain, so I kept climbing guided by my intuition and dim light beamed by stars and sometimes the mobile light ... that was gradually running out of battery.

That was my way up...at night

The slope became steeper and brush turned into sharp blackberies that caught me, scratched me and made each step a real struggle. I was lost at in the middle of the night in the mid point of the mountain only to sensing where the top was . My hands were bleeding , my energy was running out and the peak seemed to be getting further away. Besides, every time I was stopped by the weeds sturring for a few feet, I got the impression that you could sense some wild animal lying in waiting.

So , I began to rave and I conceive my challenge as a metaphor for life which turned into lesson : when all is darkness the slightest beam of light can light just enough to glimpse the way; sometimes a step back gives a more accurate way forward; every time you fall and you get up feeling stronger but then you are getting closer to not having the strength to get up again, and, above all, that way you call everything that brings us to our destination.

World Peace Stupa

I had been climbing for three hours and it began to show some clarity in the sky announcing that the Sun was on its way to have its daily appointment with the dawn. I had no battery in the phone and climbed almost blind struggling with my bare and bleeding hands through walls of brambles which were in my way. The brush continued to move and shake a few feet from me and I was totally exhausted. I thought I was totally lost when I finally cleared the path leading to a field of pine trees that went practically trotting with emotion and I could finally see the mountain top, which was still quite far, although the road was clear. Without strength, pulled my pride and arrived just a few minutes in advance to place my camera and save some energy necessary to pull the trigger and shoot the lakes at sunrise. Half of the task was done, I was now down photographing the sunset.

I made it: Sunrise over the Annapurna from Mt. Sarankot
Nepali family who healed me and fed me

As I came down, I met two young Nepalis who saw me filled with earth and branches , bleeding and destoyed, took me to their house inviting me for a tea in the presence of their parents and grandmother. When I asked what had happened and indicated where they had gone , snorted and said it was totally crazy , not just up to the more complicated dark side , but especially because on that particular mountain was a famous tiger who kills animals from farms. When my face is contorted by the news , I insisted several times that it was not such a big tiger, but I could not stop thinking about stirring bushes a few feet from me every time I stopped and sat to the ground. Would the little tiger waiting for my arms down and become an easy prey? Is it any other other animal more harmless? Or the imagination of the locals gave adrenaline to this adventure ? No way to ever know it, but my experience tells me that normally the locals know what they say.

Looking at the mountain who challenged me

The day passed by trying to rest and regaining some strength, but when I got in position to photograph the sunset, I was still totally destroyed. Also did not have any money (I was not counting with spending three extra days in the country, having to buy two bus tickets and pay a night at a hostel) and almost had not eaten at all. At that moment there appeared a woman in her sixties with a small sheet full of necklaces. After a couple of minutes trying to sell their crafts, she realized that I was absent because of my condition, she went on to ask about what had happened to me and started talking and becoming friends. It turned out that this was a Tibetan woman who could not visit his family because China refused the opportunity to return to her hometown. She told her personal story with anger and tears in her eyes, while repeating often , "you know? China bullshit !"

Sunset over Phewa Lake

After hearing her story, I put the hand in my pocket and laid on the floor all remaining coins I had, which were in total a bit less than four dollars. The woman, who was earlier asking me for 12 and 15 dollars for her necklaces, gave one of them to me. She said that was actually the only one coming in truth from Tibet, as she made it before being forced to leave. We parted with a hug and when she was already leaving, she turned back and gave me a bag of nuts that were in her backpack as she uttered the last words I heard from her, "as a mother I want to think that my children are safe and sound, so I want your mother also, who has you far away, to be calm knowing that you are fed."

So that was the promise to repay my debt to this woman: I would go to Tibet to investigate and understand the situation and to fight for his people using the two most powerful weapons that I know, my camera and truth.

It was there where my next adventure was forged, in Pokhara, photographing at sunset the Lakes of Certainty.

Sunset at Phewa Lake

Update: A year later I fulfilled my promise, spending a month traveling through remote areas of Tibet. My documentary movie, Still Tibet, was shown at Film Festivals around the world, winning the Special Jury Mention at the Int. Human Rights Film Festivals of Bolivia. The film is actually being shown at a national TV in The US and at Amazon Prime.

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