My wife and I were blessed to make a trip to the abode of Kailashnath in June last year ( seems a very long time ago). The journey of a lifetime is not a pleasure trip, nor is it for the faint hearted or the week kneed. Apart from physical stamina and endurance, it requires mental strength, tolerance for basic lodging etc.
But, the rewards of undertaking this trip are many
I started writing this travelogue in Simikot, a small town in Humla region of Nepal, but, an important link to Kailash. Our group got stuck here while returning from Kailash, as all flights connecting Simikot to Nepalgunj were cancelled due to bad weather. The mountain regions are particularly prone to the vagaries of nature, the reason why tourists are advised to have one or more buffer days in their itinerary.
We started planning our trip to Kailash nearly six months back and a WhatsApp group followed. Initially 20 persons showed interest – after all, who would not like to make the journey of a lifetime? However, as the months rolled by, many of them dropped. Our tour operator added a few members and we finally ended up as a group of 18.
A short intro to the members of our group –
Fabulous 5 from Chennai : Ram, Sreeni and Ramki all CAs enjoying their 2nd innings. Latha (Ramki’s wife) and Geetha, both Doctors and sisters. The probability of falling ill is high on a trip like this, so having the Doctors around proved very helpful.
3 inseparable twins : The erudite Dr. Verma and his friend Hari ji, both from Norway : Anupam and Sailesh, the daredevils from Delhi ; Chatty childhood friends Uma (Chennai) and Priya ( Dallas)
2 loving couples – Shyamala and nuclear man Vish ; Sumathy and military man Manohar 3 brave Nepalis – Gauri, Neero and Munno
The group from Chennai took an early morning flight to reach Kathmandu late afternoon. The evening was spent witnessing the evening aarthi at the famous Pashupathinath temple , setting the tone for our yatra.
On Day 2, we visited 3 other temples in Kathmandu – Jalanarayan, Guhaeswari and Swayambunath. Later that afternoon, we took a 70 seater Yeti Airways flight to Nepalgunj, a town close to Lucknow. Nepal has several airline operators – Yeti, Tara, Sita, Buddha, Simrick, Saurya, Himalayan Air and Nepal Airlines – to name a few!
On Day 3, we flew a 14 seater to Simikot ( Alt 2910m , ~9600 ft), which is the district headquarters of Humla region and the gateway to Kailash. The town is quite backward with just a few petty shops and lodging houses with basic amenities. It was sad to see kids, some with a smaller sibling in tow, chasing tourists for biscuits or offering to carry their backpacks. We found the Nepalese simple, honest and friendly who are comfortable amidst Indian tourists ( one cannot say the same regarding the Chinese(not Tibetans who are mostly poor and exploited) ). We went hiking to a nearby temple and found that Simikot offers stunning views of green meadows and the Himalayan mountains. That night we had the privilege of watching India beat Australia in one of the world cup fixtures ; this was a bonus as none of us really expected to find a TV with a decent connection in Simikot.
Early morning the following day (Day4), we were informed that our group would be airlifted by helicopter (5 seater) to Hilsa ( Alt 3640m, ~ 12000ft), a tiny town on the Nepal-china border. For most of us, this was our first helicopter ride which provided exhilarating views of the Himalayas. Every time the small chopper went close to one of the mountains, turned or slowed, my heart skipped a beat with accelerated chanting of Om Nama Shivaya or the Hanuman Chalisa. The first advice on landing was not to take pictures of the Chinese border post across the helipad. Phones were likely to be inspected during immigration and it was taboo to carry pictures of the Dalai Lama. We had to laze around Hilsa that day ( mainly for acclimatization to the higher altitude). We hiked to a nearby waterfall and crossed a few rickety bridges across the Karnali river ( a tributary of the Ganges), which acts as the line of control between Nepal and China. Some of us tried out butter tea ( made of Yak butter and salt) in the local market.
On Day 5, we crossed the border into China after completing the immigration formalities and reached the Tibetan town of Taklakot ( Alt 4755m, ~ 15,700 ft), for a very later lunch. The next stop was Manasarovar ( Alt 4560m, ~ 15,000 ft), the sun shaped holy lake. Lord Brahma created this Lake (sarovar) from his consciousness ( Manas), for the Devas to purify themselves, before offering prayers to Lord Shiva. The Lake is holy for the Tibetans too, as Lord Buddha’s mother Maya is believed to have bathed in the Lake, before she conceived Lord Buddha.
Enroute we saw, Rakshas Tal which is crescent moon shaped and is believed to be poisonous. Also known as Ravan Tal, this is where Ravana meditated to Shiva to gain superpowers. He would make a daily offering of one of his 10 heads as a sacrifice to please Lord Shiva who finally appeared on the 10th day to grant Ravana his wish.
We camped by the Manasarovar Lake in a U shaped compound with serveral rooms. 4 to 5 persons shared a room, which was fine ; however, toilet facilities were practically non-existent and we were encouraged to answer nature’s call naturally.
We could clearly see the south face of Mt. Kailash at a distance, from our camp in Manasarovar and it was a sight to behold.
The following day ( Day 6), in the morning some of us bathed in water drawn from the Lake in buckets , in tents set up by the Lake side. Tourists were advised not to soil the holy Lake by bating in it,but, the pleas fell on deaf ears as many tourists ignored the warning that penalties would be imposed on those polluting the Lake. We then found a panditji who performed a rudra pooja. Thereafter, we left by bus for a kora or circumambulation of the Manasarovar lake, which has a perimeter of nearly 80 kms , which took us nearly 2.5 hours. There was a stop over at a remote location for tourists to fill their bottles with the holy water, as a precious souvenir. The Lake and its water at this spot, were much cleaner compared to our camp. We reached Darchen (Alt 4574m, ~ 15,100 ft), our last stop before starting our Kora / parikrama for Mt. Kailash, the next day.
Day 7 – Drove from our hotel in Darchen for Yama Dwar, the inauspiciously named entry point to the start of the parikrama. Sinners are not worthy of performing the parikrama. According to tradition, by passing through Yama’s doorway we go through death and are re born – pure of body and ready to perform the parikrama.
This is also where horses/horsemen and helpers/porters are allotted to tourists by a lottery system. We got another good view of the South Western face of Mt.Kailash, as we began our ascent. We decided to walk as soon as our helpers were allotted, as many felt that the first day of the parikrama upto Derapuk could be easily completed on foot. This proved to be our undoing, as we found that while most stretches were not very steep, breathing was difficult at high altitudes ( average 15000 ft) – we had to stop to catch our breath after every few steps and it got worse as we climbed higher. The helper proved a blessing in disguise, as he gamefully carried our backpacks / sweaters or jackets and also regaled us with stories of life in the mountains. My friend, philosopher and guide was Balle Bahadur, whom I would take with me to Chennai, given half a chance.
Along the way, there was a sight of unimaginable faith and devotion whereby poor Tibetan devotees were prostrating their way forward. In other words, they were inching forward along the rough mountain tracks by performing full body length prostrations on their knees, feet and hands, throughout the entire duration of the circumambulation. This Sashtanga danda namakar, takes devotion to another level altogether, and all of us felt very humbled by this sight.
Mt Kailash (W face) was visible almost throughout our trek on the first day. There were some stretches where the mountain appeared to be within touching distance. We found small streams and a mostly dry landscape with a few shrubs and snow capped peaks at the top. Mt. Kailash stood out from all other mountains in the vicinity. Kailash ( Alt 6638m, ~21778ft) , looks like a large block of granite and is shaped like a rounded pyramid with a bald top (this is unique compared to other mountains) and 4 distinct faces each representing one direction. The mountain always appears to be covered by snow. Horizontal lines resemble the horizontal vibhuti marks Shaivaites place on their forehead, while the ladder like vertical mark of the S face is representative of Shiva’s 3rd eye. Another explanation for the vertical marks is that Ravana tied ropes around the mountain as he tried to move it to Lanka. Lord Shiva was irritated and crushed Ravana with his toe. This is when Ravana is said to have sung the Shiva Tandava Stotram, to escape the wrath of the Lord.
We finally reached Derapuk (Alt 4775m, ~15666 ft), after trekking for nearly 9 hours. The camp afforded a brilliant view of Mt Kailash (N face, the 3rd and final face of the mountain we would see on this trip). Exactly opposite to Mt.Kailash is the Derapuk monastery, across Karnali river. All of us were dead tired and crashed in our beds early that evening.
Early morning the following day (Day 8), we saw an unbelievable sight of Golden Kailash with the mountain top aglow with the day’s first sun rays. This was certainly one of the highlights and best picture moments of the trip. While we had planned a 3 day parikrama, we were advised not to proceed further towards Dolma Pass ( Alt 5630m, ~ 18500 ft) due to heavy snowfall at higher altitudes. Even if we were willing, the horsemen/ helpers were not willing to risk their lives, as casualties were being reported in the previous batches. We opted to return by jeep to the base camp at Darchen and decided to stay at Taklakot , near the Nepal border that night.
On Day 9, we crossed the border into Hilsa and took the return helicopter ride to Simikot, only to find that filghts to Nepalgunj had been cancelled due to bad weather. Alter this unscheduled halt at Simikot, we flew the following day (Day 10) to Nepalgunj enroute to Kathmandu.
The journey of a lifetime is not a pleasure trip, nor is it for the faint hearted or the week kneed. Apart from physical stamina and endurance, it requires mental strength, tolerance for basic lodging and sub standard toilets and above all patience to accept changes in itinerary arising from vagaries of nature.
But, the rewards of undertaking this trip are many –
1) Magnificent views of the Himalayas and Mt. Kailash in particular and visit to the holy manasarovar lake
2) Exhilarating view of the mountains in the chopper ride to Hilsa and back
3) Witnessing the deep devotion of Tibetans performing the kora by prostrating forward
4) Getting a taste of Nepalese and Tibetan cultures
What better way to conclude than through this prayer to the Lord :
Namaste Astu Bhagavan
Trikaalaagni – Kaalaaya
Kaalaagni – Rudraaya Nilakantaaya Mrityunjayaaya
Sriman Mahadevaaya Namah
Oh Lord, salutations to you
Oh Lord of the Universe, Greatest of them all
He who has three eyes (eye of omniscience), he who gives enlightenment which is beyond three (Astral, Physical & Causal) worlds
He who like fire, devours all three times (Past, Present, Future) within himself
Like Time, he who ends everything, like time he who disciplines the world into order, He whose body is vast (blue like sky, oceans), He who has conquered Yama the Lord of Death/ Time.
Lord of all Beings, Consciousness which is untouched by the world yet everything in the world is because of him.
Oh great Lord, salutations to you