Our “Pujya Babaji’ Avadhoot Baba Shivanandji, the “Father of Indian Healing”, decided to take some of His disciples to this Holy Mountain. It is only the grace of our ‘Babaji’that enabled us to reach there, take ‘parikrama’ and return hale and hearty. The trekking involved ascending between 19,000ft – 21800ft ( Leh being at 11,500 ft ),even the fittest person will also have to labour through. It is also not unusual for Pilgrims to never return, arising out of severe paucity of Oxygen and turbulent weather. In June’ 2009 ten such incidents took place.
On 4th September ,2009(Friday), I landed along with my husband (Partho) at Kathmandu airport, the capital of Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal, surrounded by series of lush green mountains-small, big, very big!! Small villages and hermitages could be seen in a scattered way from the aircraft. From the airport we were escorted to a beautiful resort called “GOKARNA FOREST RESORT”,quite far away from the main city. There we met many of our group mates (Pilgrims of Kailash Manasarovar). Partho had gone to see me off to my Kailash Manasarovar Yatra, world’s toughest pilgrimage.
Mount Kailash:- is in western Tibet, commonly sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bonpos (those adherents of Bon religion and Animism). In Sanskrit it is called “Meru” or “Sumeru” , in Hindi,”Kailash” or crystal shining, to Tibetans it is ” Kang Rinpoche” or the “Precious peak of the snow”. Hindu’s believe that it is the centre of the earth and world’s pillar, round which all else revolves. It rises from the lap of the sacred Manasarovar Lake ( 14,764ft .- soaring to 15060ft ). In ancient text it is described that this Holy Mountain roots in the deepest hell, while its summit kissing the heavens where resides Lord Shiva with His consort, the Goddess Parvati. Manasarovar Lake :- Like Mount Kailash, Lake Manasarovar is a place of pilgrimage attracting religious people from far and near places like India, Tibet, Japan, other neighbouring countries, different parts of America and Europe.
According to Hindu religion the Lake was first created in the mind of Lord Brahma. Hence, in Sanskrit it is called “Mana Sarovar”, which is a combination of the words “Manas”(mind) and “Sarovar” (lake). The lake according to Hindu mythology is considered to be the abode of swans who are supposedly very sacred and wise birds. Buddhists, Jains and Bonpos of Tibet also hold this Lake with great reverence. Buddhists believe this lake is a legendary one, where Queen Maya believed to have conceived Siddhartha (Gautam Buddha). There are few Monasteries on its shores- “Chiu Gompa” is the most notable one, which was built so skillfully as if it has been carved right out of the rock of a steep hill.
In the evening of 4th September’09 after having evening tea both Partho and I went out for a quick visit of the city. It was drizzling continiously and we wanted to get back as soon as possible. In that rain I realized my pair of snickers were not waterproof. Therefore, quickly bought a pair of golf shoes which at the later stage proved to be my life savior. I thanked God sincerely!
Next morning (5th september’09) both of us went out for a trial trek in a small group to a nearby hill accompanied by a “Sherpa” (Himalayan people living on the borders of Nepal and Tibet , skilled in mountaineering). It was fun! During our trek we bled ourselves at legs and arms, soon realizing that local leeches were feasting on our blood. Our expert “Sherpa” promptly helped us get rid of them by applying salt, which he was carrying. We had a sumptuous lunch after returning to the resort.
In the evening we were asked to gather in a hall where our “Babaji” came along with “Guruma” and gave a small “Pravachan” (spiritual discourse) on how exactly we should conduct ourselves to make this pilgrimage easier and enjoyable. After “Babaji” left, our team manager briefed us on the “Holy Yatra” and the final preparation. We were given water proof jackets and water proof bags to keep our essential belongings in that bag whereas our suitcases were kept back with the team management. The jackets were bright yellow colour, the reason being, if any one falls behind or loses track it would be easier to spot from distance. On 6th September, early in the morning we went to the famous “Pashupati Nath” temple along with “Babaji”, where He explained “Shiv Puran”. After the session Partho bid me goodbye and proceeded to the airport to get back home (Gurgaon).
We were taken to the sightseeing by bus after that (as per schedule).We actually set our journey to Kailash-Manasarovar on 7th September. We proceeded to Kodari (4 hours non-stop journey from the resort by bus), after an early breakfast. The road was going through the lush green high mountains. At places there were waterfalls running down the hills, only to merge with the river flowing at the foot of these mountains. I just could not take my sight away from it!
At Kodari (Nepal Border) after having our lunch (very simple food) in a wooden stilted “Dhaba” (roadside food joint) we walked through a very narrow lane for about 4/5 kms. to reach Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge spanning the Sun Kosi river linking Kodari in Nepal and Zhangmu, Tibet,a port of entry to get our immigrations done. Zhangmu is (about 9186 ft .) a very small town in Nyalam County a part of the green Himalayas . Now, from here we started our journey by Toyota Land Cruiser-a convoy of 10 such vehicles,each carrying 4 persons plus one “Sherpa”. Just out of Zhangmu, we
drove for 6 hours to reach our next stop Nyalam, the county seat (12300 ft). We stopped there for two nights to get acclimatized with the altitude and climate. It is a spectacular place surrounded by ranges of green mountains. After Nyalam we didn’t get to see greenery any more till we returned.
We continued our journey on 9th September towards Saga County (15,220ft). I dozed off because of the early hour and woke up to find myself in the middle of exquisite beauty. Saga lies on either side of the Dargye Tsangpo River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra (the only male river), also known as the Yarlung Zangbo River in Tibet. What a grand view! We sprang out of our land Cruiser, strolled to the river, bent down and splashed our faces with the icy water. We started driving again. The snow-capped peaks of Mt. Shisha-Pangma, Gauri-Shankar, Saptarishi Parvat and just beside them was Gurla Mandhata Range–looked close enough to reach and touch. Suddenly I was stuck by something just out of the world. One part of Gurla Mandhata was in the shape of the Lord “Ganesha’s” face, known as “Ganesh Mastak. Brilliant! It is made of snow. Our Sherpa explained that a salutation to Ganesh before visiting the Lord Shiva and Ma Parvati was necessary as per Hindu mythology.
Hence this Ganesh Mastak…. created by the nature! Amazing! It started getting even colder now. We put on our ‘down jackets’ provided to us at Nyalam. By the time we reached Saga at 4PM after 11 hrs drive, all of us started suffering from severe head- – ache and nausea resulting from lack of oxygen. Most of us wanted to drop into the bed and sleep but since respiration decreases during sleep and untimely sleep would hamper acclimatization, the ‘yatra’ team management made sure no one slept till after dinner. They kept knocking at our doors every 15 minutes to ensure that all of us were awake.
Next morning ( 10th September) we left Saga for Paryang (also called Payang Town), there was a gradual decrease of vegetation on both side of the road. So far, we were on a metal road, looked like a black ribbon surrounded the hills, soon ran out and gave way to a dusty track through a long stretch of uninhabited desert land with series of sand dunes. This arid landscape had its own charm as it threw up amazing colours – brown , beige , bronze , different shades of green and grey – all in contrast against the striking blue sky. We drove past the sand dunes, sharp rocks and rivers, pastures and lakes.
Just out of Paryang ( 11th September) on our way to Manasarovar we crossed several rivers and snow capped peaks in the distance. A very unusual and the most panoramic view which caught my sight was the two contrast landscapes on either side. On my right there was dusty brown dessert and on my left were some yaks and sheep grazing on the green pastures. However, the distance of our final destination seemed to have ended.
Finally, the first glimpse of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar made most of us very emotional. Some even broke into tears. WOW!!! So magnificent! So serene! Just beyond words! We stood at the bank for a long time; I took a deep breath and silently thanked God for being able to reach here. Lake Manasarovar is relatively round in shape with the area being 412 square kms. The maximum depth is 250ft. According to Hinduism, Manasarovar is the personification of purity and one who drinks water from the Lake goes to the abode of Lord Shiva after death. Close to Manasarovar, there is another Lake called ‘Rakshas Taal’ (named after ‘Ravan’, who meditated on Lord Shiva here to receive His grace), we saw while taking a round of the sacred Lake Mnasarovar.
It is difficult to describe how this massive Lake changes it’s million shades… blue – green – grey, sparkling in the sun keeping pace with the changing landscape of the sky. It was mesmerizing! There is a series of range of mountains surrounded the Lake with the white capped Mount Kailash presiding over the whole of magnificent set up. It was truly divine to behold such a sight. After staying there for a good while, we made ourselves comfortable in a so-called shabbily built guesthouse.Since I was totally exhausted I just flung myself into the bed at the very sight of it ignoring the dirty and smelly bed sheet. In Gokarana Forest Resort ‘Babaji’ advised us to visit Manasarovar Lake past midnight, if possible. “You might get to see some esoteric things or objects”, He said.
After dinner, twelve people from the group were ready to go to the bank at midnight under the guidance of Panditji (our team leader). Wetook help of ‘Sherpas’ whoconvinced the Tibetan drivers to take us to the bank, rest preferred to stay back as they felt very sleepy. We confined ourselves in the Land Cruisers with the window glasses up maintaining a silence. Night was very dark, yet the water of the lake was shimmering with a continuous flow of ripples created by the breeze. We were looking at it mesmerized; no idea how long!!! Suddenly a flame, in an elongated shape appeared in
the middle of the Lake . ‘What is it’? How is it possible?! I just couldn’t believe my eyes!!!!! One of us screamed in a sudden excitement. Panditji made a gesture to maintain the silence. Now appeared another one and yet another! The first onegot parted into two! They seemed to be dancing on the surface of the water of the Lake. We were absolutely awestruck and speechless. Suddenly coming back to our senses we tried to capture this arcane and obscure images in our cameras….’Panditji’ whispered, ” you are doing it in vain, but you can still give it a try for your satisfaction”.In my digital camera, I checked immediately after each time Iclicked. No luck! I soon realised ‘Panditji’ was right. No camera on earth could capture such things. It was 3 AM. ‘Panditji’ insisted us to go back as he had to perform a ‘Havan’ at the bank of the Lake Manasarovar at 8 AM. We cameback with a kind of mixed feelings!
After the ”Havan was over (12th September), our Babaji, sat at the bank of the Lake Mansarovar along with our ‘Guruma’ against the backdrop of Mount Kailash to deliver a discourse on ‘Shiv Yog’. The whole setup provided a perfect spiritual atmosphere when Babaji started singing bhajans with his melodious voice. Babaji was in His usual red colour robe and red stole , not even covered his Head while we were in 5 layers of clothes, two caps , two pairs of socks and still shivering. He made us meditate in that magical surrounding.
AVADHOOT BABA SHIVANAND AND GURUMA As per the schedule, we were now supposed to take the Holy dip into the Lake Manasarovar which was a real challenge. It took us time to develop our will power and courage as the temperature at that time was 2 degrees Celsius along with the icy wind blowing hard across the bank. All of us got up with the bags of spare clothes and headed towards the side of the Lake where our team management had prepared tent enclosures for changing (ladies special). I eventually got inspired by some brave 70 plus olds (a few of them being ex-armed forces) getting into the Lake . I sprang up and stripped down to my tracks and Tshirt, shivering uncontrollably made my way into the freezing water chattering my teeth. My feet became numb and I forced myself to bend and take the first dip.
Suddenly I became breathless. Then two more dips and came back to the tent. We then sat in the sun for about an hour thawing ourselves and drying clothes. It was quite an experience. In the evening we drove to Darchen, the base camp for ‘Parikrama’ of Mount Kailash to spend the night. In the morning (13th Sept.) after breakfast we reached ‘Tarboche’. From here we were supposed to start our ‘Parikrama’ through ‘Yamdwar’. Opposite Yamdwar is the North face of Mount Kailash with ”Nandi Parvat” at the right and ”Ashtapad” at the left. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists hold this whole set up with great reverence. The first “Tirthankar” of jains out of 24 attained ‘Nirvana’ (salvation) in ‘Ashtapad’. Buddhists believe that the oldest Lama is still living in the cave of Ashtapad.
ASHTAPAD AND NANDI PARVAT Our first day of ‘Parikrama’ started from ‘Yamdwar’, comprising of 7 hrs of trek. We enjoyed the beautiful meadows, streams and on our right the South face of Kailash. It was very difficult to pave through. Initially I hired a pony-which I regretted later as they are useful only upto a certain extent, the rest you have to negotiate yourself. The whole stretch of land was covered with the huge and small boulders all over. Around 6 PM we reached Diraphuk from where one can gaze at the North West face of Kailash. ‘Sherpas’ treated us with hot tea, which came as a boon.
Early in the morning (14th Sept.) I was struck by the first sight of the enormous Mount Kailash in the dawn. The Sun’s first ray fell on the snow clad mountain illuminating it to a glowing golden colour. How divine! It looked like a Paradise – where the Eternal Being, Cosmic dancer, Lord of the Universe-Shiva resides. Very momentary, yet so serene! Automatically, my hands got clinched together to touch my forehead. My trans broke by the callouts of the ‘Sherpas’ to hurry up. This trek (on 14th sept) took us through a spectacular landscape from approx. 16,100 ft to 19500ft via Dolma-la-pass, Shivasthal and the most fascinating Gauri-Kund. This Jade-Green coloured kund was simply entrancing! The second day of Parikrama was the toughest as the entire stretch being covered with the thick layers of snow and boulders. At every ascent I got breathless which is usually normal here.
GAURI KUND Many people used portable oxygen cans. I did not need any. WOW ! My lungs were in perfect condition. After about 6 hours of trekking on snow I was unable to walk anymore and found myself thoroughly breathless. My Sherpa (I had hired to carry my stuff) was out of my sight. Fortunately, it was not raining but the biting cold wind was not at all welcoming. I tried somehow to drag my heavy legs, but felt exhausted. I could not walk anymore. Breathlessness crept up severely. I stopped for a moment looking at the huge snow covered mountains on my right. I prayed to Kailashnath for His divine intervention as I was on the verge of collapsing. Suddenly, I heard a local tune sung by a 10/11 years old girl in a melodious voice (I can still recall the tune with my eyes closed) came running and held me from behind by my left arm all smiling and before I could understand anything, she started walking in a hopping manner still holding my arm. I, oblivious of my state a moment ago, started walking, hypnotized, listening to her magical tune. Much later, I realised that I’ve crossed a long way. When I asked her name she only responded with a sweet smile at me. She escorted me up to my ‘Sherpa’, pointing at him with a gesture (as though she knew him since before). I asked him if he knew that girl and turned to thank her–but where was that girl?! To my utter astonishment she was nowhere to be seen! Just vanished!!! I looked at my ‘Sherpa’ foolishly, completetly dumbstruck. He laughed and consoled me, “It’s okay. Don’t worry. It happens here. Nothing new.” I found my group and had my packed lunch but my mind remained occupied with that unforgettable incident. We trekked for another 4 hours to reach Zutulphuk at around 5 PM. Second day’s ‘Parikrama’ was the toughest and most memorable one!
Third day’s ‘Parikrama’ was brief as compared to other two. Stretch of snow was over by then. We walked past rivers flowing through valleys. At times the path for trekking was quite narrow , so the sticks provided to us were a great help.
We can now see the other side of Mount Kailash . After about 6 hours of trekking we reached our base camp, Darchen (Starting point) at 11 AM, thoroughly exhausted. Lunch was waiting for us. One could imagine how impetuously we plunged into the food. Just after having lunch to fortify ourselves, we drove to Horchu near Manasarovar. Getting back was naturally easier as we got acclimatized by then. We had an overnight halt at every place. At Zhangmu we completed Chinese immigration and custom formalities and drove to Kathmandu. Hurray ! We are back! We checked in at ‘Yak and Yeti’ the famous and oldest 5 star hotel in Nepal and cheered everyone for completing the pilgrimage safely. Food seemed so good after ages. We had been really pampered with a wide spread of food & I suddenly became very hungry. Next evening (20th September) I flew back to Delhi along with most of the yatris (pilgrims) who would change their flights for different destinations. I saw Partho from a distance at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, holding a flower bouquet to give me a ‘welcome home’ hug.
The writer is a Classical & Odishi Dancer. Off and on she writes on travel experiences and ecstatic Tourist Spots.