The Highest Pass

An American man goes to India in search of a guru and finds one, in the form of a handsome young man who is prophesied to die. They decide to go on a motorcycle ride with five others over the highest motorable road in the world, deep in to the Himalayas. This is the premise of The Highest Pass, a documentary by John Fitzgerald and written by one of the journeyers, Adam Schomer.

Well, actually, I assume that Fitzgerald was one of the journeyers, too, since the whole thing was shot presumably live at the time. (You can read about it here, in fact, if you’re interested.) There were many times when it didn’t make sense for the camera to be there, kind of like a reality show: Our hero is traipsing through the jungle alone, can he possibly make it through this thick bramble? Meanwhile, the camera’s shooting from the other side of the thick bramble, so you know it’s do-able. And been done, actually.

The interstitials also give it a reality show feel, as people talk about what happened in-between the actual footage of it happening.

Let me say that I enjoyed this movie, I really did. The Boy liked it even more than I did. All caveats included, this is an amazing journey of seven people motorbiking up to—I forget how high up they are at the highest point, whether 4 or 5 miles—and even if they didn’t all bike all the way, they all seemed to challenge themselves in a way that I can accept as spiritually beneficial.

They’re both likable and admirable, I think, for daring to do it.

You can tell there are some caveats coming, though, can’t you? Some observations? Maybe even some reservations?

By far my biggest problem with the flick is that the guru talks way too much. I don’t believe you can talk someone into enlightenment. The things that are enlightening are, by their very essence, stupid. That is to say, we are basically simple creatures who get mired in complexity, and who are occasional touched by epiphanies that are as meaningful to us as they are stupidly obvious.

Enlgihtenment is a bumper sticker. Let Go and Let God. Do unto others. Be Kind, Rewind. (Wait, strike that last one.) Not to single out Christianity, either, since Buddhism and Hinduism too are all about simple, obvious things. That’s why when you talk to someone who’s excited about some revelation, they always sound like an idiot.

“And, yeah, then I realized, that, you know, if I just stopped treating people like crap, they’d think I was less of an asshole!”

I’m not setting myself apart from this either. It’s just the nature of the beast: Enlightenment is personal and, yes, dumb, for all of us, because we’re unwinding the complexities we’ve created for ourselves.

This is a long way to travel (as it were) to just point out that the Himalayas are, by themselves, an amazing, uplifting thing that could bring a lot of enlightenment to people just seeing them—"You know, these mountains aren’t gonna crumble if I don’t have that paper in on Friday.“—versus having a guru telling you how amazing they are.

I figure since the writer was the one who follows the guru, we got way more talk than was helpful.

My other observations are more of a puckish nature,. For instance, arguably the most dangerous part of their journey was driving through the Indian city (I forget which one). They almost lost a couple of people there. ‘course, Indians do that every day.

The next most dangerous part comes when they push through the trail before it’s cleared of snow. (The thaw is late this year. Thanks Global Warming!) They can’t breathe and they’re freezing and the snow plows are having trouble and there are avalanche dangers everywhere, but they finally get through to a Buddhist temple. Where, of course, lots of Buddhist monks live every day.

Then there’s the guru himself who, according to prophesy is to die that year. So, if he doesn’t die, has he beaten the prophesy? Or maybe people can’t really see into the future all the well, even in India.

And the mind-bending question is: Does it matter?

Ultimately, I don’t think it does. Our experiences are relative. If he believed the prophesy, then it was a bold move to spit in its face and do something borderline reckless. Sure, lots of people live ever day in the climate that our protagonists were struggling through, but that doesn’t the struggle any less real.

Insofar as there’s a message one could carry away, it would probably be that: Are you going to sit there passively and let the universe happen to you or are you going to spit in The Fates’ eye?


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