On the Karakorum Pass, at 19,500 feet, on this highway, the highest in the world, the groom, Gurban, began to question me:
"What is it that has been buried in these heights? It must be that a great treasure has been hidden hereabouts, surely the way to this place is arduous. And having traversed all the passes, one may chance upon a smooth vault. Something tinkles under the horses' hoofs. It must be that here are great secrets, but the entryway to them we do not know. When will there be revealed in books writings about where and what has been buried?"
All around this majestic Karakorum Pass the white peaks glistened dazzlingly. And all around us, without any break, rose a most brilliant scintillation. On the path itself, as if for a reminder, were a great quantity of whitened bones. Were not some of these wayfarers going for treasures? Indeed, countless caravans have crossed the Karakorum for riches.
Here I am reminded about another narrative concerning treasure. In Italy, at Orvieto, I was told a remarkable legend about hidden art treasures. The story concerned either Duccio himself or one of his contemporaries. It was told in a lofty style which goes so well with the mellifluous Italian language.
"Just as it is nowadays, in olden times the best artists were not always understood. For the beclouded eye it is difficult to evaluate forms, particularly lofty ones. People have demanded only the observance of old rules, and often beauty has not been accessible to them. Thus it happened with the great artist about whom we are speaking. His best pictures, instead of touching the hearts of people with exaltation were subjected to condemnations and mockery. For a long time the artist endured this unjust attitude toward him.
"In divine ecstasy he continued to create many masterpieces.
"Once he painted a very marvelous Madonna, but the envious prevented the hanging of this image in its predestined place. And this happened not once or twice but several times. When the viper begins to creep in, it invades both palace and hovel.
"But the artist, made wiser and knowing the madness of the crowd, was not distressed. He said: "It has been given the bird to sing, and to me strength has been given for glorifying a lofty form. As long as the bird lives it fills God's world with song. And so while I am alive, I shall also sing in praise. If the envious and the ignorant put obstacles in the way of my works, I shall not lead the evil ones into worse bitterness. I shall collect the pictures rejected by them, I shall store them securely in oaken chests and, availing myself of the good will of my friend the abbot, I shall hide them in the deep cellars of the monastery. When the ordained day shall come, future generations will discover them. But if by the will of the Creator they must remain in secret — let it be so!"
"No one knows in precisely what monastery, in what Secret vaults the artist concealed his creations. True, in certain cloisters it has happened that old pictures have been found in crypts. But they have been found singly, they have not been purposefully deposited there and therefore could not belong to the treasure secreted by the great artist. Indeed, in the underground vaults they continue to sing "Gloria in excelsis", but the treasure seekers have not been lucky enough to find what was indicated by the artist himself".
"Certainly we have many monasteries and still more temples and castles which lie in ruins. Who knows? Perhaps the tradition relates to one of these ruins already destroyed and leveled by time".
"From this time on, people thought that the great artist had ceased painting. But, hearing these suppositions, he only smiled, because henceforth he was not laboring for the sake of the people's joy but for a higher beauty. And so we do not know where this priceless treasure is preserved".
"But are you sure that this treasure is hidden within the boundaries of Italy?" asked one of the listeners. "Already in remote times people traveled to other countries. May it not be that these treasures have likewise been unexpectedly dispersed, or, in better words, preserved in different countries?" Another present added, "It may be this story does not refer to a single master only. After all, human practices are often repeated. Consequently we find in history continual seeming repetitions of human errors and ascents."
When we reached the middle of the Karakorum Pass, the groom, Gurban, said to me, "Give me a couple of rupees. I will bury them here. Let us, too, add to the great treasure."
I asked him, "Do you really think that treasures have been collected together there below?" He looked around, surprised, even frightened. "But doesn't the Sahib know? Even to us lowly people it is known that there, deep down, are extensive underground vaults. In them have been gathered treasures from the beginning of the world. There are also great Guardians. Some have been lucky enough to see how from the hidden entrances have appeared tall white men, who then withdrew underground again. Sometimes they appear with torches and many caravaneers know these fires. These subterranean folk do no evil. They even help people.
"I know for a fact that one local be lost his caravan in a snowstorm and covered his head in despair. Then it seemed to him that someone was rummaging around him. He looked around, in the mist there appeared either a horse or a man — he did not know. And when he put his hand in his pocket, he found there a handful of gold pieces. Thus do the great dwellers of the mountains help poor people in misfortune."
And again the stories recurred to my mind about the secret magnets walled up by the disciples of the great traveler Apollonius of Tyana. It was said that in definite places where it had been ordained that new states are built up or great cities erected, or where great discoveries and revelations should take place, on all such sites were implanted pieces of a great meteor, a messenger from distant luminaries.
There has even been a custom of testifying to the truth of statements by a reference to such ordained places. Thus it was said: "What I have said is as true as the fact that under a certain site has been buried a certain thing."
The groom, Gurban, again raised the question, "Why do you foreigners who know so much not find the entryway into the subterranean kingdom? You know how to do everything and boast of knowing everything, and yet you cannot enter into the hiding places which are guarded by the great fire?"
"Man lives in mysteries
and they are numberless!"
April 3, 1935