A Visit to Kailash Manasarovar - Part II

Sunset over Manasarovar

Brief Recap     
    Part I (http://chiragdeep.blogspot.in/2017/09/a-visit-to-kailash-manasarovar-part-i.html) covered the experiences of the 40 pilgrims from all over the country who had got together in Delhi to undergo medical tests and complete visa formalities before departing for Almora. After many ifs and buts, the Yatra finally commenced on 16 Aug. 

Sojourn through Kumaon Hills 

   Once we left Delhi we were in the competent hands of the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) who had a mighty job on their hands since the entire schedule had been disrupted. Batch 16 had to be retrieved from Sirkha where the bridge at Malpa had been washed away. Batches 14 onwards would now have to be helilifted from  Budhi to Dharchula on their return journey and Batch 16 onwards would have to be helilifted both for onward and return journeys. Apart from this, the civil population in these villages was severely affected due to the disruption of logistics. For instance, all the porters and ponies were now stranded on the other side of Malpa and could not return to their home base Dharchula. Malpa incidentally was the site where Protima Bedi had lost her life during the Kailash Yatra in 1998 after a landslide. Finally, the Chinese too needed to be taken on board since any change in schedule would necessitate changes in visa and arrangements on the Chinese side. This entire jigsaw puzzle had to be put in place by proactively anticipating and reacting to the situation. This was where our batch was lucky in having an extremely competent LO who was well aware of the nuances of helicopter operations in disaster relief situations. He immediately warned us that all heavy baggage would have to be shed in Dharchula and only up to 5.5 kgs could be carried by each pilgrim. This single decision proved to be extremely fortuitous in the circumstances. 

     However, there was still some time to go before we could expect to reach Dharchula for the helilift since each location had limited capacity to accommodate pilgrims. Our first halt was at Almora, a beautiful pine filled hill station created by the British as a satellite hill station to Nainital. 
Selfie time at Almora

Baijnath Temple
    The next day however instead of leaving for Dharchula we were diverted to Chaukori.  We passed through the Baijnath Temple at Bageshwar, an ancient temple which had the unique distinction of housing both a Shiva lingam and the statue of Parvati in the same sanctum santorum. A boulder in the temple has another unique attribute .... it can be lifted by nine persons using just one finger!   

Boulder at Baijnath Temple Bageshwar
Since we reached Chaukori by Lunch, we had the whole afternoon free. Chaukori is another beautiful town at a height of 1650 metres. A few of us decided to explore the countryside and to begin exercising our limbs which would soon need to function at full tilt. 
Trekking in Chaukori

KMVN Tourist Rest House Chaukori

   The next day there was another change of plans. Helilift of Batch 16 from Dharchula could not be completed due to adverse weather. We were therefore forced to move to Didihat a few hours short of Dharchula. Here the baggage  restrictions were stringently enforced by  Parthasarathy - a very wise measure indeed. Innumerable trips were made to the neighbourhood grocer  who obligingly provided his weighing scales. Gram by agonizing gram we shed all our excess  baggage and our ideas of daily hygiene - henceforth we would function on just two pairs of clothes, two pairs of under clothes, a windcheater and a jacket. We would bathe only when there was hot water which was very rarely and clothes would be washed if we stayed longer than a night in any place. A fitting offering to the ascetic Shiva! 

   Fortunately for us, just as we reached Dharchula the next morning we received news that helilift operations were on and the LO efficiently ensured that the senior citizens and ladies were manifested on priority. By late evening we were all in Budhi. The first real test would begin the next morning - crossing the 3350 metre high Chialekh pass.  Due to the various issues involved there were very few porters and ponies available. Again only senior citizens and a very few ladies could be accommodated. A steep ascent was followed by a rewarding view of the Garbyang Valley. There was further bad news ..... all of us would have to negotiate a landslide which had just occurred the previous night. Bholenath was turning out to be not so Bhola after all! 
The mist covered Chialekh Pass

Negotiating a landslide in Garbyang with the help of SDRF 

   Enroute we passed Batch 14 who were walking back after having successfully completed the visit. Some of them seemed much the worse for wear probably due to the excess baggage they were carrying and the deepening uncertainty. Finally we reached Garbhyang - a sinking village which boasts of many IAS and IPS officers. There were the most delicious apple trees here which the villagers kindly allowed us to have.  
Garbhyang Village

By afternoon we were in Gunji (height 3150 metres) where we would have two nights of acclimatization and repeat medicals by the ITBP. The next morning we were put through the medicals with 13 of us  asked to again come back in the evening due to elevated blood pressure levels. BP upto 160 is acceptable in high altitude. These 13 were higher than this. By evening there was yet another change to our program. We would now be delayed by a further 3 days since Batch 16 was yet to cross over into China. This gave much-needed respite to the those who were afflicted by giving them a chance to recuperate. Meanwhile, under the aegis of KMVN a  home stay was organised at Nabhi, a village some 4 kms away from Gunji.  This would help us get to know the local culture and more importantly keep the worry warts occupied mentally and physically. In retrospect, this enforced stay of 3 days helped the entire batch to get fully acclimatized to the high altitude. Meanwhile, the Nabhi home stay proved very entertaining with song and dance and much merry making. 
Home Stay at Nabhi
    There was some disturbing news when we returned to Gunji. One of the members of Batch 16 had suffered a stroke at Navidhang our next destination. The ITBP doctors were, therefore, more rigorous in their testing. Finally, the day for our move dawned and by now all 40 had been certified fit for further travails. Navidhang at 4260 metres  was located some 18 kms away. Here we would get to rest for a few hours before leaving for Lipulekh pass at 2 AM. 

Kalapani located halfway between Gunji and Navidhang is the source of the Kali River. The Kali temple at the site is truly a sight to behold. 
The Source of the Kali Nadi  
Kali Mandir at Kalapani

     We reached Navidhang by 3 in the afternoon. It was vital that we reach the Lipulekh pass located at 5160 metres height by 6.30 AM since the Chinese authorities would not wait longer than that to escort us into their territory. Fortunately, for us, there was no batch waiting to cross over from the Chinese side so the timings could be some what more flexible.  Those who traveled by pony would have to be careful of hypothermia due to the intense cold and the biting winds at the top of the pass as they would have to wait longer than those who were walking up. Indeed Shweta who was inadequately covered up succumbed to a severe bout of shivering on the pass. Timely reaction from others helped her to recover. Fortunately for me,  I did not have to wait at all as I was walking up. Each step was an effort. They were already calling out my name when I reached the top of the pass. Hastily paying off my porter I rushed over to the Chinese side. We could see the buses parked some 500 metres below.  It was the morning of 26 Aug some 13 days after we had all met in Delhi. We were finally in China!

                                                                         ..... To be Continued


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