Ann first heard them at the snack shops below Bhojvasa, a rest stop for backpackers twelve thousand feet up in the Indian Himalayas. She was sitting at a picnic table, staring at the dusty valley and the white peak of Mount Shivling shimmering like a mirage in the distance, when behind her she heard French. It wasn’t the European variety of the language, with its sit-up-straight, staccato precision. This was French from Quebec. The wide, easy vowels were unmistakeable.
At first she thought there were only two of them—the young man who was doing all the talking and the girl with the long brown braid. They didn’t look any different from the other people she’d met along the trail. They were in their twenties, dressed in breathable hiking pants, with large nylon knapsacks on their backs. They deposited the knapsacks in the shade and walked over to Ann’s table.
“Can I ask you where you buy this?” said the young man in hesitant English, pointing at her bowl of ramen.
He hadn’t bothered with a hello, so she didn’t either. “Là-bas,” she said, gesturing at the smallest of three makeshift snack shacks in back of them. Up here ramen noodles were called “magi.” They were among the few hot edibles available. She warned him about the spice in case his stomach wasn’t strong.
“Tu viens d’où, toi?” he asked, looking at her more closely.
“Same place you do,” she said, this time in English for the benefit of the two Israelis at the table.
“He is from your country?” the red-headed Israeli inquired. He and his friend were young, perhaps twenty-one or two, fresh from Israeli Defence Force training.
“Not just my country,” Ann said. “I bet we live in the same city.” She turned to the young French speaker. “Montréal?”
He nodded. “Tu viens de Montréal, toi aussi?” He paused. “Mais t’es anglophone?”
Ann took a breath. There was always this little wedge of “mais.” Mostly, she ignored it. In this instance, she could take it as a compliment that he’d had to stop and check, but still it was sad that even here, miles from home, language was an issue.
After the magi had been bought, the couple from Quebec sat down with Ann and the Israeli boys. They were part of a group from the Université du Québec à Montréal, or UQAM as people called it back home. The group was large, Ann learned, as its members emerged from around the bend. The young man and the girl called out and waved each time one of them appeared. They weren’t all in their twenties, either. Some of them seemed close to retirement age. One man had white hair and the woman with him had saggy pouches under her chin.
Ann was particularly age-sensitive at the moment. She had just turned forty and, frankly, this was promising to be the worst year of her life. It didn’t help that her father had died a week and a half before her birthday. Or that her boyfriend Marcel had picked March—the month of her birth and also, now, of her father’s death—to announce that he was leaving. Forty had been bad in just about every respect. During the week following her birthday, her first grey hair had appeared. Ann had plucked it out and held it up to the bathroom light with a pair of tweezers, giving it a thorough examination before flushing it down the toilet.
The trip to India was supposed to be an antidote, removing her from Montreal where everything reminded her constantly and painfully of her father, removing her also from the office where she had worked as a lawyer for fifteen years, and where Marcel Dubois was a senior partner.
The Quebec girl had finished eating and was looking at her with wide eyes. “You are alone?”
People frequently asked Ann this question, as if it were surprising to find a woman up here, walking on her own. Ann nodded but declined to elaborate.
“And the object of your voyage?” The girl’s companion, whose name was Serge, probably didn’t realize how stilted his English sounded.
“Oh, pleasure,” she said. On the Indian visa form she had filled out back in Montreal the options had been “pleasure,” “education,” and “employment.” She had checked the former, but “grief” would have been more appropriate.
Serge’s object turned out to be grander. He and his group were from UQAM’s Department of Religious Studies. The first leg of their journey was the same trek Ann was trying to make. They were climbing to Gomukh, the source of the Ganges River, following one of the oldest and most sacred Hindu pilgrimage routes in all of India. After the trek, they would split up and do fieldwork for scholarly papers. Serge’s subject was the Jains.
The red-headed Israeli interjected again, revealing a sense of humour. “Aren’t the Jains the guys who wear veils over their mouths to keep from swallowing flies?”
Ann smiled. She had heard about this, although she’d never actually met a Jain in person. They took the concept of non-violence to its comical extreme. In this malaria-infested country, they would refuse to swat a mosquito.
The girl with the braid was doing research on death. After the trek, she planned to visit Varanasi to study the Doms, a clan of untouchables who had grown rich preparing corpses for cremation.
“Interesting topic,” said Ann.
The girl nodded. She had a lovely face, marred only by an overbite. She wore bulky clothes, as they all did, but the delicacy of her body showed through all the same.
“What draws you to death?” Ann asked.
“Oh, I am always interested in it,” she said, getting a little tangled in her verb tenses. “Every paper I write concerns it.” She shrugged. “I don’t know why.”
Ann looked at the mountain gleaming in the distance. Her father’s face came into her mind, wasted and white as it had been just before his death. By then his weight had dropped to ninety-three pounds, and his eyes had seemed huge as a child’s.
“The Ganges is the river of death,” Ann said, thinking of cremation. In Varanasi and other towns and cities along its banks, Hindu families burnt their dead on funeral pyres, then dumped the charred remains into the water. Ann’s father hadn’t been cremated. The Jewish religion forbade it. His body was lying in a grave in the Jewish section of the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal. Ann herself had helped lay him there.
“Ah,” the girl said, smiling. “But it is also the river of life.”
Ann looked at the girl. Was this just another vacuous attempt at profundity? Water gave life—obviously. The Ganges was hugely important in India, its water irrigating fields and helping grow crops throughout the north. Was this all the girl with the braid was saying? Ann was about to inquire when a large crow-like bird with a yellow beak landed on the table beside them.
“Look at that thing,” said the less talkative of the Israeli boys. He pointed at Serge’s bowl. “You have something left in there for him?”
Serge fished out a noodle and tossed it at the bird’s pink feet.
“Mais non,” objected the girl, who had introduced herself earlier as Marie-Ève. “He will be sick.”
Too late. The bird gobbled the spicy noodle as if it were a worm. Then it blinked at them, wanting more.
“It is an Indian bird,” said the red-haired Israeli. “It appreciates the spice of life.”
They laughed so hard that Ann forgot to ask her question.
At the camp that evening, Ann ate with the Israeli boys and finally got their names down–Oren and Adi. Now that she was forty, her memory wasn’t the precision instrument that had earned her honours at the McGill Law School and a job at Rose and Dubois, Montreal’s top commercial litigation firm. The altitude wasn’t helping matters. Her brain cells felt perpetually oxygen-starved.
They had ordered magi again, this time without the spice. Ann had brought a package of miso from Montreal, and she mixed a spoonful of it into her noodles. She wasn’t all that fond of the fermented bean paste, but apparently it was good for the gut, and her gut definitely needed some tender loving care.
Ginger-haired Oren was curious about the miso. He also wanted to know more about Canada, so Ann offered him a taste from her plate and set about describing her home.
“It’s basically an English place, but there’s this province where people speak French.”
“Quebec,” said Oren. “We have heard of it.”
“This is where you are from?” Adi asked.
“But you speak English?”
She nodded again. “We’re a minority.” She paused. “Kind of like the Arabs in Israel.”
“So you hate them?” Oren asked.
“Oh no,” said Ann, picturing Marcel Dubois, whom she had loved since the age of twenty-five. He had been a lawyer in his forties then, unhappily married. He was still unhappily married. Now Ann was the lawyer in her forties.
Oren persisted. “But the French, they wish to separate?”
A lump formed in Ann’s throat. She had to look away.
Later that night, there was singing. The group from Quebec had gathered in the large hall outside the kitchen with other trekkers and some of the Indian porters. The Québécois contingent took up most of the room. They were talking boisterously, calling out the titles of a seemingly endless repertoire of French folk songs and then trying to sing them. Serge was in the middle, waving at everyone like a conductor.
Ann stood at the periphery. She recognized some of the songs, but wasn’t familiar enough with the lyrics to join in. The people from UQAM had learned them as children before they were aware of language or culture or tribal loyalties. Ann looked around at the shining faces, at the mouths moving in unison. After a few minutes, Serge disappeared into the kitchen and returned with spoons, which he began to knock together against the palm of his cupped hand, nodding his head to the rhythms he was creating. The singing got louder. Ann eventually left, but long into the night she heard it from her tent, along with the clacking of Serge’s spoons.
Shortly after dawn the next day, she departed, the first one out of camp. The trail to Gomukh was only five kilometres and, from what she had learned from her guidebook and other trekkers, the path was undemanding. After Gomukh, however, it changed. Gomukh was surrounded by glaciers. If Ann chose to continue past this point, she would literally be walking on ice.
She fully intended to go all the way to Tapovan, a meadow of legendary beauty nestled just below Mount Shivling, the peak at which she’d been staring for so many days. Tapovan was Shivling’s basecamp. Altitude: fifteen thousand feet.
The mountain was named after Lord Shiva, the destroyer god. The “ling” part stood for his lingam, or penis. Hindu iconography was surprisingly explicit. In Gangotri, the town where Ann had stopped to acclimatize to the altitude, she had found a roadside shrine with a phallus-shaped rock inside. The rock was about a foot long, its pinkish brown surface rubbed smooth by the Ganges River, which at Gangotri coursed down from the mountains in frothy fury. To Ann’s Western eyes, it looked more obscene than holy.
Tapovan was a destination for only the hardiest pilgrims. In the cold season the weather was too harsh for anyone to live there, but pilgrims went up in summer, especially when the flowers were in blossom. The blooming season was long over, but Ann still wanted to go. It would be a test, she told herself, a way to prove her strength and capacity.
Her Lonely Planet had said preparation for the journey was critical. It suggested hiring porters and even a guide, but Ann didn’t want to do either. So far, the trail had been easier than expected, and also more crowded. In India, even this high in the mountains, you were never truly on your own.
The path to Gomukh was dusty and barren. According to the Lonely Planet map, she was walking through the Valley of Bhojvasa, which in Hindi meant the “birch tree place.” Evidently, a forest had once stood here. Now, not a stump could be seen. The ground was a mess of shattered rock.
Ann hiked for several hours, keeping a lookout for the pretty blue-tailed lizards that flitted occasionally across the trail. She was grateful for the solitude. In Montreal, her family and friends didn’t understand that phone calls and pestering were the last things she needed. She felt bad refusing their overtures, but she had no energy to deal with them. Her father was dead, her lover gone, and her youth, all but spent. What more was there to say?
When she looked at her map again, she had reached a new place, Chirdvasa, which in Hindi meant “pine tree place,” although it was as bleak as Bhojvasa. People had probably cut down the trees and brush here too, for fuel and building materials. The place names were the only clues that the countryside had once been green.
At a snack hut set up beside the path, Ann ordered a chai. Chirdvasa wasn’t a village, as she had supposed when she consulted the book while planning this trip. It was a rest stop where backpackers could sit down for a few minutes and rest or, at the most, pitch a tent for the night. Behind the snack hut, donkeys grazed on sparse clumps of grass. Half a dozen young porters lounged near them in the shade. As Ann sipped her tea, a white woman appeared on the trail. Ann guessed she was around fifty, although it was hard to tell because she was bundled in sweaters and wore a large woollen tam. Like Ann, she was alone.
The accent was Australian, but when the woman approached the owner of the snack hut, she addressed him in what sounded like passable Hindi and received an apple juice. Then she told Ann that she was a former flower child who’d spent her youth on ashrams in and around Rishikesh.
She was impressed when she learned that Ann was headed for Tapovan. “Alone?” she said, her eyes widening. Then she caught sight of Ann’s knapsack. “With that thing on your back? You must be crazy!”
To Ann’s Canadian ears, the word sounded like “cry-see.”
She and Ann talked for some time. Her name was Lucy. When Ann remarked on her footwear, a pair of beaten-up pink Crocs, she explained that today was a rest day. She pointed at the field where the donkeys were grazing, and Ann saw a pup-tent shuddering in the breeze.
“Nursing a blister,” Lucy explained, indicating her Crocs. “And hanging out with this cheeky gang.”
“Cheeky, cheeky,” she said more loudly, so the young men would hear. They looked over and smiled, knowing they were being talked about but also keeping a respectful distance.
Ann left Chirdvasa refreshed. The rest of the hike to Gomukh went by so quickly that it took her a moment to realize she’d arrived. There was nothing announcing the place—no snack bar, no ticket booth, not even a sign. She would have kept walking if the path had not simply stopped.
She was standing in a canyon of blasted rock with a stark, blue-grey cliff blocking her path. Boulders, some of them bigger than she was, were scattered around her. Landslides were probably common here, she thought, looking at the slopes. There was something unsafe about the place.
When she examined the cliff more closely, she saw that it was made of ice—now she understood. This was the Gangotri Glacier, source of the sacred Ganges River. Water gushed from an opening at the glacier’s base. Ann made her way along the rocky bank towards it. The place was dead and dry, the only visible colours grey and white—dust and ash—with no hint of green anywhere. This was Gomukh, the most sacred destination for Hindu pilgrims.
The goddess Ganga, daughter of Heaven, was said to have dropped to Earth here after leaving her father’s celestial abode. The impact would have shattered the world, but Lord Shiva—the dancing god of destruction—had saved her by catching her in his snaking locks and letting her down gently on the Himalayan slopes.
Ann stuck her hand into the rushing glacial stream and immediately pulled it out again, stung by the cold. Hindus bathed here, she told herself. They stripped right down to their dhotis and jumped in without hesitation. They believed the experience was akin to immersing oneself in God. Ann removed her hiking boots and socks, but when she dipped her toes into the water, the cold burned like fire. It was unbearable. She couldn’t do it. She was sitting on the pebbly beach, warming her feet in the sun and feeling sorry for herself when the first of the hikers appeared.
“Salut!” came the cry, ricocheting off the rocks. It was Serge, waving like a crazy man. Behind him was Marie-Ève, her head wrapped in a colourful bandana. Serge raced to the water, where he dropped his knapsack and began peeling off his clothes. When he got down to his boxers he stepped into the current and arranged himself in a push-up position with only his feet and hands submerged. He looked up at the bank where Ann was sitting with Marie-Ève.
“Eh les filles! Comptez!”
As they yelled out numbers, Serge immersed himself in a succession of quick, courageous dunks.
He made noises which reminded Ann of sex. Up and down, up and down, and all that frenetic gasping. The muscles of his chest and shoulders glistened in the sun. He looked like a younger version of Marcel, who was soft now after too many years at his desk, but who had been an athlete in college. The dunking didn’t go on for long. At three, Serge sprang up, beating his chest with his fists and yodelling.
Marie-Ève burst out laughing. She had removed her boots. Now she picked her way over the sun-heated rocks to join him. She did no push-ups but waded to the far side of the stream and back, making a pained face. The others arrived as she and Serge stepped out onto dry ground. Soon Gomukh was full of people wading and shouting to each other about the cold, snapping photos with their cellphones and, in at least a couple of cases, relieving themselves behind the boulders. Ann had read that even here, at the very source of the Ganges River, fecal coliform bacteria had been detected. Now she understood why.
She was squatting at the river’s edge, packing her bag in preparation to leave, when the UQAM professor leading the group walked up to her. He was thin and wiry, his head shaven like a monk’s. “You are walking to Tapovan?” he asked in precise, barely accented English.
“Oui,” she said, switching politely to French. She smiled. “J’ai entendu dire que la vallée est fabuleuse.”
“You have no guide?”
She had liked him until that moment, appreciating the initiative he had taken to approach her and address her in English, but now she felt resentful. What difference could it make to him whether she had a guide? Was he patronizing her? Her smile disappeared.
“Je suis capable de me débrouiller,” she said.
“If it was up to me, I would not permit it.”
She looked at him in astonishment. He wouldn’t have dared speak to a man like this. She was formulating a reply, selecting the most eloquent terms of French abuse she could think of, when a noise so loud that she felt it resonate in the bones of her chest and skull split the air. She stood trying to make sense of it, wondering in sudden panic whether a bomb had gone off. The teacher grabbed her arm, cutting short the whirlings of her mind, and suddenly they were both running, scrambling uphill over the boulders and heading back along the trail. Everyone was running. The porters led the way, shouting in Hindi and gesticulating. The UQAM students followed, some barefoot, others in their socks or boots, all racing desperately away from the sudden, earth-shattering noise.
After a minute or so, the porters halted and formed a huddle in the middle of the path. They were speaking more calmly now, in hushed tones, glancing over their shoulders at the glacier. Their voices rose again when Ann and the UQAM professor reached them and they tried to explain what had happened.
The Gangotri Glacier was melting. Around midday, heated by the sun, the glacier would split and grind, and pieces of frozen rock would shoot out, expelled by this violent inner shifting. Only a week before, a Spanish hiker had been killed by a glacial projectile. They’d had to use a pony to carry the body back down the mountain.
“Tué?” Ann repeated, horrified, as the professor relayed the information to her and the rest of the group. She looked back at the glacier, which was now sitting placidly in the sunshine. There were indeed cracks, she saw, deep crevices near the base which she hadn’t noticed before.
The group’s bags were strewn along the bank of the little stream, abandoned during the panic. They all walked back together now, cautiously, to collect them. Few people spoke, and those who did spoke in whispers, as if afraid to rouse the slumbering monster a second time. Everyone packed hurriedly and moved to a safe spot some distance away on an elevated section of the trail.
Ann stayed close to the group, as did the porters. It was instinctive: safety lay in numbers, in community. She shouldered her pack and was gathering the energy to set off again when the UQAM professor gestured to her.
“Join us for lunch.” There was no inflexion. He wasn’t asking.
And this was how Ann’s plans changed. She found herself kneeling in their circle on the sandy ground, accepting a dollop of still-warm curry on a round of greasy bread. The food had been prepared and packed in the canteen at Bhojvasa, the birch tree place. Ann, who had been planning to get by on trail mix and energy bars, had not known such a thing was possible. She rolled the parantha up and bit into it, as the others did, and yellow gravy trickled down her chin.
Only half the group was continuing to Tapovan—the younger half. The older ones, and a young woman with a knee brace, would return to Bhojvasa. The atmosphere was charged when the hardy few picked up their backpacks and headed, single-file, up the rock-strewn face of the canyon towards the glacier. Ann felt vaguely like a scout being sent by the tribe into the wilds.
The path wasn’t clearly marked. In fact, it wasn’t a path at all. The guide hired by the UQAM professor seemed to be improvising his way up the hill. He was still a boy, seventeen or eighteen years old at most, dressed in jeans and sneakers, and Ann wondered if joining the UQAM group had been such a good idea after all. She could have made her way as efficiently on her own, more efficiently perhaps. But she had eaten these people’s food. She wasn’t about to wander off like an ingrate. She would follow along for now, she told herself, and if the going became too tedious, she’d slip away.
The boy-guide led the way. Serge was next, followed by the intrepid Marie-Ève and then Ann. A girl with baby-blond hair and a cherub’s face was fifth in line. There were nine of them in all, with the professor in the rear. A scene from an old Bergman film came into Ann’s head: pilgrims walking single-file, silhouetted on a hill. She couldn’t remember the film clearly, but she seemed to recall Death trailing behind the walkers with his scythe.
When they reached the top of the canyon, the wind picked up. They were crossing the glacier now, entirely exposed. The guide stopped so that they could put on extra layers of clothing. Ann had already been wearing a tuque, long underwear and a pullover; now she put on ski mittens and covered her face with a scarf.
The glacier was full of fissures, some as wide as Ann’s body. Rocks dislodged every so often, tumbling noisily into the valley below. When this happened, you were supposed to shout a warning. The guide, whose English was excellent, slowed down after the third such episode and began commenting on each step. If a rock was loose underfoot, he pointed it out and news travelled down the line until everyone had heard. In this way they inched forward, eyes focused on their boots.
The hike to Tapovan was short, but strenuous. Over a distance of barely five kilometres, they had to climb three thousand feet. Part of the challenge was the snow, which began falling as soon as they reached the glacier’s summit. Visibility became so poor they inched forward like blind people. They bent their heads, lifting one foot and then the other, slowly, painfully, like prisoners in a chain gang. At one point, during a short break, someone raised the possibility of turning around, but the guide and the professor shook their heads. To go back now would be just as hard as pushing on.
Ann had pulled the hood of her hiking jacket up over her tuque and wound her scarf tightly around her face. Only her eyes were visible. In front of her, Marie-Ève was similarly clad, her bright red jacket bobbing along, drawing Ann onward. She began to get anxious. Her body was warm because of the exertion, but she could feel herself weakening. They’d been hiking for several hours in the blowing snow, and she wasn’t sure anymore that they were on a trail. The guide was too young to give reassurance. It was possible that he didn’t know the way, that he was simply bluffing.
In a yoga class in Montreal, the teacher had shown them a trick to clear the mind, which Ann now tried. Breathe, she told herself. Let the thoughts come and go, just focus on the breath. But her imagination continued to whirl inside her like the wind, pulling her into its story. This would be an exceedingly stupid way to die. She imagined the headline: “Montreal Woman Killed on Indian Trek.” It was absurd.
What was she doing here? Death had brought her to this place, but the death in question had been her father’s. She had never meant her own life to be the issue.
She thought of home. She pictured her parents’ comfortable townhouse in the west end of Montreal—the house in which she’d grown up, in which her mother still lived. She pictured her condo on de l’Esplanade Avenue, with its view of Mount Royal and the cross that lit up every night under the stars. She thought of Toni, her oldest friend, who had flown in from New York on the weekend of her father’s funeral, bringing a ukulele and a repertoire of lame, deeply comforting jokes.
Ann was so absorbed in these thoughts that she didn’t notice that Marie-Ève had stopped in front of her. She collided with her packsack and nearly fell. Up ahead, the guide and Serge had come to a halt. Ann was about to ask what they were doing when the guide brought a finger to his lips.
Someone was singing. The sound was so faint that it could be mistaken for the wind. But the guide was now grinning. “Tapovan,” he said, as though the place itself had its own voice.
They sped up after that. Ann regretted that she had ever doubted their guide. He had led them through blinding snow, along the path-that-wasn’t-a-path to the place they’d all read about and imagined, the place that might as well, for all anyone knew, have been just a rumour. By what gift he had accomplished this feat, Ann could only guess.
As they walked, the singing grew louder. It was a prayer, Ann realized. Someone was chanting the word “om” over and over, endlessly into the storm. She could hear the three elements of the word, each carefully formed and distinct: the short “ah” followed by the longer “oh” and the final “mmm.” These elements corresponded to three Hindu gods—Brahma the creator, Vishnu the conserver, Shiva the destroyer. When “om” was chanted, they merged in a single breath.
Ann would later learn that the singer on this particular occasion was a hermit, a wandering recluse who had stopped in Tapovan and lived there for five years, alone, in silence. He had recently renounced his vows—now there was no shutting him up. He sang continuously, from morning until night, bellowing out his praises to whoever had ears to listen.
The group followed the guide up a slope, and, reaching the crest, they saw a distant figure with a lantern. Ann waved, but he didn’t see her. He went on singing, oblivious to her and the others, as if they were shades, as insubstantial as he himself appeared to be, fading in and out of existence in the swirling snow.
They walked single-file down the slope’s far side, losing sight of him, but still hearing his song. When they reached the bottom, the guide stopped near what appeared to be a pile of rocks. Dusk had come. Between the gusts of snow and the growing gloom, Ann could barely see Marie-Ève’s back, which had darkened from red to black. When a door sprang open in the rock pile, Ann cried out in surprise.
The pile of rocks turned out to be a cave. The professor instructed them to remove their boots and place them underneath a nearby tarpaulin rigged expressly to keep footware dry. Then, one-by-one, they entered.
The interior walls were plastered with white stucco. Someone had worked hard to make the place welcoming. A strip of red tulle dotted with gold sequins brightened the ceiling, and an altar to Shiva, with a tiny dancing replica of the god, stood in one corner. Near the door was a kitchen space where a thin man with grey hair squatted on his haunches, stirring pots on a gas cooker.
To this day, Ann doesn’t know how they all managed to fit inside. She dreams about it sometimes: the delicious warmth, the smells of spice and sweat. They huddled together, dazed and silent, while outside the wind raged. The professor sat to Ann’s left, Marie-Ève to her right. She felt the heat of their bodies, the solidity of their flesh and bone—and she began to cry.
At her father’s funeral, she had sat dry-eyed through the kaddish. As the pulleys lowered the coffin into the frozen ground, she had not wept. For the entire week of his shiva, she’d been a dutiful daughter, replenishing plates of cookies, making small talk, and preparing pots of tea for the guests who filed through her parents’ living room. But she had not cried. Nor had she cried for Marcel. She was numb by then, too deadened to feel. Only here, in a cave full of strangers, fifteen thousand feet up in the Garhwal Himalayas, did the ice break and the river flow.
The UQAM professor put an arm around her. Ann did the same to Marie-Ève and they sat like this, linked, listening to the wind lash the stone walls while the old man in the corner heated their supper. This was her shiva, Ann thought. This was why she had come.
Later in the evening, after a meal of dahl and chai, Ann looked up and saw the poster. She had missed it as she entered, even though it was directly in front of her, tacked to the inner boards of the cave door. “Om Sweet Om,” it said in a clever mix of phonetic Sanskrit and English. Below the words, pebbles were arranged to form a Sanskrit character.