Kailash Manasarovar once more


The Sea of Consciousness


            There is the Urdu song 'Faza bhi hai jawan jawan'  from the 1982 movie Nikaah. It's about the second honeymoon of a young lady where everything is the same yet different. And so it was with me during my second visit to Kailash Manasaravor. I had made the visit in Aug 2017 (for an account of the visit see http://chiragdeep.blogspot.in/2017/09/a-visit-to-kailash-manasarovar-part-i.html). And here I was doing it all over again. Why was I doing it again? When Edmund Hilary was asked why he climbed Mount Everest he simply replied that it was because it was there. What was unsaid is that the mountains especially the Himalayas are addictive. Was that my only motivation? Not really. A gradual process of inner transformation had started after my first visit. On my father's urging, I first stopped eating eggs. The next habit to go was alcohol.  Meanwhile,  various synchronicities led to my getting initiated into Kriya Yoga described  by Paramahamsa Yogananda in his book, Autobiography of a Yogi. In its essence, Kriya Yoga recognises that the mind and the breath are interconnected.  Stilling one automatically stills the other. And when stilling of the mind is achieved, reality is perceived. In other words, Chidanand Roopa Shivoham Shivoham. A state that Shiva is famous for. Unlike Vishnu, who is impelled by his Karma to preserve Dharma, Shiva has no such obligation. He is forever in eternal bliss and offers the promise that this state is attainable.

So here I was yet again trying to crack the mystery of Kailash. To maximise my chances of selection I craftily tied up my application with Dr Sunita Gupta an Ayurvedic doctor and also chose a different route - this time through the Nathu La pass in Sikkim. This route is significantly less strenuous and demanding than the Lipulekh Pass route I had taken last time. All acclimatization is done in Sikkim itself and a bus journey of 1500 kms or so through the spectacular vistas of Tibet takes you to Darchen the starting point of the Kailash parikrama. On the Lipulekh route there is a trek of 60kms from Dharchula to Lipulekh Pass followed by the 35 kms trek around the Kailash Parikrama.

Expectedly the age profile of yatris was considerably older. While I (age 56) had been among the older lot last year, this time around I was the third youngest. Dr Tushar Aggarwal, an  Ophthalmologist from AIIMS was the youngest at 43 years followed by Sujoy a scientist from IVRI. Close bonds were forged between the three of us as we shared rooms and hardships together. The usual round of tests at the Delhi Heart and Lung Institute saw its share of heartbreaks. This time I was put through the Stress Echo Test in addition to the TMT test. Something unusual had cropped up. It was probably on account of the timing of the TMT coinciding with the results of the biopsy of my daughter's lymph nodes. Fortunately, both results were normal and with this hiccup I was through to the next stage of examination at the ITBP Hospital at Saket. Chiranjoy was not so lucky. He was made to undergo an angiogram which turned out to be normal but the ITBP doctors refused to certify him fit. Wisely, he decided to not make an issue of it and returned home. He however, religiously followed the activities of the Group on Whatsapp. Finally, on the third day at the Ministry of External Affairs the group was now down to 42 and the Group Visa duly collected.

Yatris at the Ministry of External Affairs

The Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation(STDC) now efficiently took charge of the Group facilitating travel by air to Bagdogra airport, the gateway to Sikkim. A four hour drive from Bagdogra brought us to Gangtok the capital of Sikkim. Gangtok located at a height of 5000 feet above sea level has mesmerising views of the Kanchenjunga Range. The Mount Siniolchu hotel was clean and comfortable with attached bathrooms on twin sharing basis. The luxury of a hot bath was available something we would sorely miss a few days later.

Mount Siniolchu Hotel, Gangtok

      The next day we were off to Mile 15 for the first stage of acclimatization. Here the management abilities of the logistics committee under Sujoy were tested as there was limited accommodation. It was decided to accommodate all the ladies and their spouses along with three of the oldest yatris in dormitories separated by gender. The rest were accommodated at Mile 18, two kms up the road. This lot would have to have their meals at Mile 15. This was the first taste of high altitude as we were now at 10500 feet above mean sea level. This proved to be fortuitous since we could walk down for our meals thereby enabling our bodies to adjust better to the lack of oxygen. Some of the yatris were beginning to feel the effects of acute mountain sickness - a shortage of breath, headache, and nausea. The Finance Committee headed by Hemant Paliwal and the Food Committee headed by Rajni Jain made their last minute purchases from Gangtok to ensure that the Yatris were well fed during their stay in Tibet. All cooking during the stay in Tibet was done by the support staff carried from India.
Acclimatization Centre 17 Mile

After spending two nights at Mile 18 the yatris were moved to Sherathang located some 13500 feet above mean sea level. Here the accommodation was severely curtailed with up to 15 yatris sharing two bathrooms. Here I too felt the effects of high altitude and promptly started on a course of Dimox, a diuretic that keeps the circulation going. With increased intake of hot fluids and my thermos always filled to the brim with electrol infused hot water I was able to acclimatize in fairly good order. However, there was always a need to be cautious since breathlessness and palpitation could strike at any time even after a little exertion. Notwithstanding, Dr Sunita Gupta, Sujoy and me walked down to the Watershed war memorial a distance of some 3 kms  that commemorates the efforts of the Indian Army in keeping Chinese misadventures at bay in Nathu La and Jelep La. Closeby is the Baba Harbhajan Mandir where a soldier who died during a patrol has acquired the status of a Baba appearing often in the dreams of his colleagues. The Army dutifully maintains all his possessions as though the soldier is still alive. During his active service, he was even sent on leave to his hometown. Now the Baba is deemed to have retired.
Baba Harbhajan Mandir



After two nights at Sherathang, medical tests were again administered. This time everyone managed to be declared fit and it was time to move to Nathu La Pass to cross into Tibet. Finally after nearly nine days of having got together at Delhi, we were ready to cross into Tibet.  At the immigration office at Yatung even the dry fruits carried by yatris was impounded in a bid to encourage yatris to spend yuans at the local markets. Economic considerations rule! The rather steep US $2001 fee for the stay in China was paid to the Bank of China in Yatung. After a sumptuous welcome lunch by the Chinese authorities  we were off to our first port of call, Kangma, some 200 kms away. Yatung was impressive. The Niyang Chu river had a street light lit promenade. It was hard to believe that just last year China and India had been engaged in a tense standoff over Dokalam not too far away to the East.  We were strictly warned not to take any photographs during the first day's sojourn in Tibet. Unlike India where anything goes, China is very proactive with respect to its needs for national security in areas bordering  Sikkim. The Yatris soon learned to curb their proclivity for taking photographs until the all-clear was given by the Chinese. Surprisingly, the villages and the scenic vistas were much like India. Towering mountains, rolling sarson fields, cows and sheep and cow dung splattered walls of the houses. The ubiquitous yak was yet to make its appearance. Indeed there were houses sporting both the Swastika and the Buddhist prayer flags. Perhaps the influences of the old silk route were still pervasive. Indeed, the Chinese  Army was supported with foodgrains transported from India on the Old Silk Route when they initially occupied Tibet in 1951. The hotel in Kangma was comfortable and clean although the number of rooms available were inadequate to house all the yatris. In a true act of selflessness Sujoy opted to stay in a room without an attached bath as he was the head of the logistics committee. The restrictions on photography were still in place and the hotel was a veritable prison as we were not allowed to step out of the hotel.

The next morning we were off to Lha Tse, some 250 kms away. The restrictions on photography were lifted at Bainaq where we stopped for a toilet break.
Rolling Mustard fields at Bainaq 
Shigatse some 30 kms further away was perhaps the biggest town on our itinerary. It boasts of a railway station - an incredible engineering feat considering the terrain and the distances from mainland China. We first encountered a tributary of the Tsang Po here as it flowed East towards its destiny of entering the Bay of Bengal first as the Siang in Arunachal Pradesh, then as the Brahmaputra in Assam and finally as the Meghana in Bangladesh.




The Railway Bridge over the Niyang Chu at Shigatse


Lha Tse our port of call had a nice hotel. Most important it had a wifi facility. Finally, yatris could get in touch with their families back in India after Gangtok. We explored the town and its surroundings. We came across some Tibetan melon sellers located on the outskirts of the town. They were friendly and curious. Soon we were clicking photographs.

Lha Tse Town

Dancing Girls of Lha Tse

After Lha Tse, the road follows the Tsang Po. All we could see were rolling grasslands. The trees had disappeared. The Tibetan Plateau dotted with monasteries and placidly grazing cattle slipped past our window. The Tsang Po or its tributaries appeared off and on. Dzangba some 470 km away was the next port of call. We stayed in a monastery that had no attached toilets. The public toilets in Tibet normally do not have water possibly due to the inclement weather. Interestingly all the rooms in the monastery had a hot water flask and a set of two basins. We soon discovered their purpose. The upper steel basin was to be used for brushing teeth while the lower plastic basin was to be used for urine. The nose masks costing 3 yuan are a must buy - both for staving of sunburn and keeping off the stench of public toilets.


Dzangba Monastery

Dzangba at 15322 feet was probably the highest point yet and some yatris were severely afflicted by acute mountain sickness. Depressed appetites, shortness of breath, heavy eyelids and a constant nagging headache afflicted all of us. Some could take it and some couldn't. We were happy to be on our way to Darchen our last port of call before the Parikrama. Here we got the first glimpse of Kailash. The Southern face of Kailash was visible from the Hotel. Last minute purchases for walking sticks, nose masks and dry fruits were made in Darchen to prepare for the rigours of the Parikrama. Three couples decided to stay back in Darchen as they were unfit to undertake the parikrama.
The Southern Face of Kailash seen from Darchen

The next morning we set off to Yama Dwar from where the Parikrama commences. Porters and ponies were allocated after which we sought the blessings of Yama to spare us swarg or heaven this time around until we completed the parikrama. while most preferred to ride their ponies a few intrepid persons like Sunderan, Om Prakash, Lakappa and Sadananda from Bangalore and Sujoy and me decided to walk. For, the pilgrimage was in the travel not the destination. Actually there was no destination. Unlike my last visit where Mount Kailash had remained hidden like a coy bride, this time around it was visible most of the time. Derapuk 12 kms away was the night halt. Here too Mount Kailash was visible clearly.

View from Derapuk - the perfect symbol of the Shivling and the Yoni

Notwithstanding, a few of us decided to walk the additional 2.5 km to Charan Sparsh glacier from where the river Karnaily emanates, the point closest to Kailash that is permitted by the Chinese authorities. It was deja vu time and I had the same experience of my previous visit. When Sujoy, Sunderan and me reached the glacier Mount Kailash was hidden behind clouds even as a steady rain chilled us to the bone. On the way back we encountered Narendra Singh who on our encouragement decided to walk on to Charan Sparsh. Something within me suggested that we wait for him to return. This decision turned out to be fortuitous - by the time he returned,   Mount Kailash had revealed itself again. This was a lesson  I was learning for the second time - care and consideration for others are always rewarded.

Mission Accomplished

Mystical Charan Sparsh


Cold, wet and exhausted we made it back to the dormitory in Derapuk. This would prove to be the toughest night of the Parikrama. We were already tired and surviving on very insubstantial rations. There was the apprehension of the morrow when we would have to cross Dolma Pass at 18600 feet and walk 19 kms with close to no food.  Derapuk was close to 15200 feet and mountain sickness had us in its grip. To add to the problem was a sudden onset of hypothermia that afflicted Dr Tushar. Fortunately, hot water was readily available and the situation was brought under control. During the night our financier Hemant Paliwal too sought medical assistance. One of the support staff was down with hypothermia. 

The next morning, eight more persons decided to return to Darchen. Apparently, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. The rest of us went on - with a prayer in our heart and the chant of Om Nam Shiv Shankar Shambu on our lips. Goran, my pony driver by now realised that I did not intend to use his services. He was very kind, taking care of my extra load and waiting for me with my flask at every halt I took as I trudged up Dolma pass. At his urging I  chanted the Buddhist chant of Om Mani Padme Hum- until I heard a Vishnu bhajan playing from the unlikely source of a Chinese fellow trekker. Inquiries revealed that he was a member of ISKCON while also a Buddhist. Surreal!
Gaurikund, where Parvati is said to have bathed

Dolma Pass!


At Dolma Pass those who are on ponies also have to dismount and walk down a steep path for roughly 6 km as the gradient is unsafe for both the pony and the rider. As we trudged down I contemplated on the myth surrounding Mount Kailash. The sacred mountain as per Hindus was the abode of Shiva. For the Buddhists it was called Mount Sumeru. While the Hindus and the Buddhist made a clockwise Parikrama, there were several Tibetans crossing us in the opposite direction. Apparently, they were from the Bon religion, a religion that predates Buddhism in Tibet. The swastika and the number 9 are considered lucky by them. Incidentally, Dr Sunita Gupta who was coming down the pass suddenly found herself short of breath. Fortunately for her, an abbot of the Bon religion saw her and immediately revived her with an oxygen canister. Truly, God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. The snow field from last year was there in exactly the same location.
Dancing in the snow!
 After a welcome break at the foot of the mountain, Sujoy and me moved on to Zanzuipu some 8 kms away. We sustained ourselves on biscuits and water thoughtfully carried by him. Enroute we were rewarded with the sight of the South Eastern Face of Kailash.

The South Eastern Face of Mount Kailash

Zanzuipu was again dormitory living with public toilets. The support staff who had walked all the way were hard pressed to whip up a meal. It was khichdi once more. Dr Sunita Gupta suddenly came down with migraine. She was revived after drinking cold water. Apparently, as many as six riders had sustained falls from their ponies. The condition of our LO, Dinesh Bijalwan was particularly of concern as he was suspected to have developed a hairline fracture in his elbow. Truly, walking is the best in mountains! The next day was only a short walk of 5 kms to Dzongdu where the buses awaited us to take us to Darchen where we had dropped our heavy baggage. Here we said goodbyes to our ponies. They had been faithful companions during the parikrama.





After a brief halt at Darchen it was time to head to Lake Manasarovar. Again we had been housed in dormitories and had to use public toilets. Fortunately, here access to water was provided. One of the unfortunate changes implemented by the Chinese authorities was the ban on bathing in the Lake. Last year I had taken a very refreshing dip in the Lake. Irrespective of religious sensitivities, bath on the lakeside with a bucket did not quite match up to the experience.
Lake Manasarovar


Inexplicably, Mount Kailash, which had been visible right through the Parikrama was suddenly obscured by clouds. It never revealed itself during our stay there. This was the exact opposite of my experience the previous year. Then, the mountain which had been hidden from view during the Parikrama was visible from Manasarovar. This, however, gave me sufficient time for contemplation and perhaps handed me one of my greatest insights. It was clear to me that Mount Kailash was the eternal phallic symbol resting in the vulva of Charan Sparsh. The pair symbolises creation. Manasarovar was the symbol of all-pervading consciousness. Human beings have been blessed with individual consciousness to appreciate creation.

As we sat by the lakeside I observed a pair of doves playing with each other. Soon they had begun the mating ritual until they were disturbed by another dove who forced them to flee. This was the first time that I had actually seen birds mating. Soon after, a young Tibetan lass emerged from the Lake proudly carrying a fish hooked on to her fishing line. I urged her to throw it back into the lake but she informed me that the fish was dead. As I contemplated the dance of life and death, a tiny sparrow was perched near our feet burrowing into the sand. Soon it became apparent that she was trying to lay eggs. The perfection of creation dawned on me and I felt what the  Buddha must have felt when he contemplated the pipala leaf after his nirvana. The same elements that had gone into making the leaf had gone into making me. There was no separate me. When there was no separate 'me' the whole point of desire to satisfy this construct ceases. Extinguishing desire extinguishes the mind. It is then that the state of the mahayogi Shiva is reached and one can say Chidananda Roopa Shivoham Shivoham. When one reaches this state, in the words of the Buddha, 'Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived out, what can be done is done, of this, there is no more beyond.'



Life continues.....




      

Comments

  1. Nice commentary. Felt like we were there watching as the scenes unfolded

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  2. Unbelievable and totally entranced by your narration! Lived the trek through your words - only that it was a different scenario until you reached Darchen. Quite a turn of phrase, sir! Om namah Shivaya!💐

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    Replies
    1. Thanks ..... I am sure your son felt the mystique too

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  3. Very good writing. I think after reading this I have completed my journey.nama shibaya. please do write always,you are very very good writer and give me permission to translate it into Bengali language.
    Shuvokamona.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks chiranjoy... you are welcome to translate

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  4. Awesome account of a spiritual journey which you were destined to undertake. Sir. Your blessed.

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  5. Makes for a nice read. Lovely flow to the write up. I liked the narrative...

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  6. Almost felt that I am there..... That is the way you weave stories and leave us mesmerised. This trip remains one of my dreams. Let's see when it gets fulfilled. Om Namah shivaya! As of now I am seeing it through your narration Gen Mani.I must say you are blessed to have visited the place twice.... Regards

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  7. Almost felt that I am there..... That is the way you weave stories and leave us mesmerised. This trip remains one of my dreams. Let's see when it gets fulfilled. Om Namah shivaya! As of now I am seeing it through your narration Gen Mani.I must say you are blessed to have visited the place twice.... Regards

    ReplyDelete
  8. Almost felt that I am there..... That is the way you weave stories and leave us mesmerised. This trip remains one of my dreams. Let's see when it gets fulfilled. Om Namah shivaya! As of now I am seeing it through your narration Gen Mani.I must say you are blessed to have visited the place twice.... Regards

    ReplyDelete

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