Struggling with each step to stay upright between the high boulders, I soon realize there is no easy path out. I am now well out of sight of the funeral, if in fact that’s what it even is. But I eventually wedge my way to an overlook between several of the jagged rocks and peer down upon the gathering. From this vantage point I see the dirt clearing and road approaching from afar. And on the landing there are about half a dozen men in plain clothes seated in a circle, including the two who stole the cameras. Behind them an open-pit fire blazes. Closest to where the boulders begin to ascend a large stone slab cuts into the mountainside, which was not before visible from the ground below.
The smooth stone is where the body must lie, where the monk slices open the deceased and eagles descend to tear off shreds of the caucus before returning skyward.
Still crouched and peaking out, I am startled and lose my footing when with full force a brown eagle swoons upon me. Its wingspan seems enormous, maybe four or five feet as it suddenly materializes from above. But thankfully sensing I am not prey, within a claw’s reach of my head it abruptly banks at ninety degrees and perches atop a nearby rock.
It is only now I notice the mountainside is covered with eagles. There must be a thousand of them. With the occasional exception of one hopping to reposition itself, in meditative stillness they occupy nearly every stony crest, a camouflaged breathing feature in the landscape.
Completely overwhelmed, I do not move. An accidental intruder in their nest, I have to settle myself in for the duration.
Over the next several hours, clusters of mourners sporadically arrive by both foot and SUV. No one stays long. They acknowledge the circle of hosts and then one by one approach the stone and kneel in prayer for a few moments.
Crouched low and propped against a high rock, I am able to achieve partial shade while maintaining a full view of the processions. The eagles watch too.
Then three monks approach the site. They are quite a distance away, and it takes them a good half hour to get to the mountain. Upon their reaching the foot of the cliff, the eagles begin to rouse and quiver.
If by telepathic command, all of the eagles then simultaneously rise in majestic flight.
They soon flap and swerve in gigantic circles overhead, around and around, whipping themselves into formation and darkening the overhead sky and sun.
The monks reach the mourners but walk passed them directly to the stone and begin to conduct a series of bows and prayers.
Finally they rise and pause in completion.
As if choreographed to their movement, the circling flock of eagles converges, and like taking form on a potters wheel, an upward spiraling cone emerges. The monks steadily exit. Departing to their cue, the now hive of birds accelerates towards the sun, and with the monks, eventually waning into the Himalayan horizon.