A Visit to Kailash - Manasarovar Part I
‘Moko kahan dhoonde re bande, main tho tere paas re’ or “Where do you search for me, I am always close to you” sings Kabir. Unfortunately, the stresses of daily living and the frustrations of hopes belied and expectations not met give the lie to this claim. I tend to agree with Osho when he says, “ The old man has been a worshipper of dead Gods in temples and mosques and synagogues ... the new man is one who denies God but will instead find his living God in the trees, in the birds, in the rivers, in the oceans, in the mountains, and in the stars...”.
The insistent pull of the mystical and the divine demands to be heard...and this time we decided to heed the call by applying for the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra organised by the Ministry of External Affairs. The lucky draw proved how unlucky we were ...... we were put on the waiting list for Batch 17 scheduled to start from 12 Aug in Delhi. It was subsequently confirmed after several drop outs as rains continued to lash the Kumaon Hills through which the Yatra is held. We accordingly reported to Delhi for the medical tests. Here for the first time we met up with our co pilgrims at the Gujarati Samaj Seva Kendra (GSS) where we were put up in a dormitory with shared bathrooms. It was back to community living after several decades. We soon got to know each other despite the barriers of language and region. As expected Gujaratis were in the majority... nearly seven of them who bonded together instantaneously. Gradually though new bonds were forged. Bharati Ben from Baroda who occupied the bed next to me separated only by the common steel frame of the bunker bed, was a fighter who had lost her father at an young age and had been forced to take on the mantle of provider. She had chosen to stay unmarried. There were four young strapping Malayalees and surprisingly the Tamilians this time outnumbered them.
|Community living at the Gujarati Samaj|
The medical tests at the Delhi Heart and Lung Institute were fairly stringent, so much so that four pilgrims were forced to drop out. Murali and Mythili a couple from Chennai were lucky to scrape through despite initial high BP and were brave enough to take the vital decision to go ahead with their trip despite the real chances of being rejected at Gunji (height 3160 metres) where repeat tests were scheduled before the final crossing over to Tibet. We were now down to forty including our Liaison Officer (LO) Amit Goel. The Group now consisted of three 70 year olds, a few above 60 and the majority between 30 to 40. Ekta the youngest was 23 years old while Shweta a software engineer at Cisco in Bangalore was 30. The 70 year olds were amazing. Ram Prasad Bhandari had walked from Rishikesh to Kedarnath a distance of over 100 kms. 68 year old Parthasarathy was a repeat Yatri ...he had already been to Kailash 8 times. He had never employed a porter or a pony. This was his ninth voyage. The LO during his briefing rightly stated that if the yatra was to be successful we would all now need to behave like one family, with the strong taking care of the week. To the group's credit that was exactly what it did during the next 25 days or so.
The next day during the final briefing at the Ministry of External Affairs we were warned about the perils of high altitude trekking and Chinese sensitivities. The Dokalam Plateau standoff was at its peak and little wonder then, we were more worried about the Chinese than the Himalayas. That evening there was a bhajan sandhya program and we were all set to leave the next morning.
|Bhajan Sandhya in Delhi on the eve of departure|
Meanwhile disturbing news was trickling in. Batch 16 that had left 4 days before us had been held up at Sirkha due to cloud burst at Malpa. There was a very real danger of the entire yatra being scrapped. Sure enough we were told late at night that we would not leave the next morning. A high level meeting was planned to be held at the MEA on 15 Aug despite being a national holiday where the final decision would be taken. Pilgrims had come from all over the country and even abroad. Jayan for instance had resigned from his job in Saudi Arabia and was faced with the prospect of being jobless without having gone on the pilgrimage. Similarly, pilgrims like Abhishek and Sree Krishna who were employed in the private sector had very limited leave and were answerable to their bosses and faced the real threat of being fired. Others with their own businesses like Bharati Ben, Manikanda Murty, Mohan Raj had put their businesses on hold. It was time for prayers to begin and in true Indian tradition jugaad! Shailu from Nainital knew the MD, KMVN which organised the Yatra on the Indian Side. I pulled a few strings to get the District Magistrate Pithoragarh on board. The GSS was rife with rumours. Our beloved Doctor Nagashaynam was quite keen to return to Bangalore as his patients missed him.
God must have been confused.... the pilgrims were very keen on continuing their journey while their loved ones were just as keen that it be scrapped since there was a very real danger of the situation worsening due to the possibility of flash floods as in 2013 when the entire Yatra had to be abandoned. Finally, the pilgrims won ...... a decision was taken that helilift would be organised wherever trekking was not possible. With this we were all set to go!
|Departure for Almora|
................ To be Continued