Thursday, 21 June 2012

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra – Weary Feet….Happy Souls!!


“No drama in the land of lama”, the ITBP officer jokingly summed up the briefing given to the 4th batch of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra 2004, for which I was the Liaison Officer (referred to as LO by all and sundry for the next 28 days). It was a motley group of 35 consisting of sadhus, traders, housewives, government employees, a doctor, engineers and other professionals. They were from varied strata of society, the oldest was 72 and the youngest 24. We were to be together for the next 28 days trekking through inhospitable terrains in an alien land. My job was essentially to keep the flock together and ensure their well-being, liaise with KMVN, ITBP and other agencies supporting the yatra, to act as the Indian Government’s representative in China and through all this, to also personally experience the trek and the pilgrimage.
Kailash YatraThis is not a day-to-day account of the trek and pilgrimage, nor does it give details of camps, distances, heights or terrain. Instead, it has snippets of my memory of this great pilgrimage, not necessarily in a sequential order. I can vividly recall the 2nd day’s trek from Gala to Budhi, which was the longest, the most treacherous, with the path cutting through overhanging rocks and winding along the turbulent Kali river separating India and Nepal. We lost a pony on our return journey on this stretch as it slipped and fell into the Kali and was swept away before our eyes! The rider had got down a little earlier and was thoroughly shaken with what might have been. The memorial at Malpa, the infamous camp that was struck by a massive landslide in the year 2001 in which all the pilgrims lost their lives, eerily reminded us of the ghastly tragedy. The rest day at Gunji was relaxing and after all of us sailed through the second medical check-up by ITBP, it was a jubilant mood in the camp as darshan of Mount Kailash seemed certain now. We spent the evening visiting the village, which had houses with intricate wooden carvings. It was at Gunji that we had a cricket match with ITBP, on our return journey, which of course we lost.
Om ParvatThe evening aarti at the kali temple at kalapani was mesmerizing. It was at this temple that we gathered again for the aarti when we returned to India from China and were presented with mementos by ITBP. The full view of “OM” on the OM parvat across Nabidang, the last camp on the Indian side, is still clearly etched in my mind. It was a clear, sunny day and I was glad to see that all the participants had acclimatized fairly well and none showed any signs of altitude sickness. We had to cross the Lipulekh pass the next day and enter Tibet. The memory of reaching the pass at 6 am, after starting at 2.30 in the morning, is however, a little hazy.
Mount KailashAfter the group reached the foot of the pass, Jiju (Asstt Commandant, ITBP who led us from Gunji onwards) went alone with one more soldier, unarmed, to the top of the pass to meet the Tibetan guides and chinese counterpart officials.
And then, the exchange of yatris of 4th batch going into China and the 2nd batch returning to India after completing the parikrama took place at the top of the pass amidst a lot of confusion.
The descent into Tibet with a completely different landscape and people was quite an experience. We were initially bewildered by the unfriendly passport officials, lunch consisting of only steamed rice and thin watery tomato soup and the primitive, non-existent toilet at the guest house at Taklakot. There was, however, improvement by dinner that evening and we had some fried vegetables too. I believe the rooms have attached baths/toilets now! However, once we set off for the mansarovar and kailash parikrama, we had Indian cooks who prepared tasty and hot meals all through. The first view of Gurla Mandata, the snow covered mountain, the incredibly blue Rakshas taal, and then of course, the much-awaited first glimpse of mansarovar and the Kailash parvat…. It was truly a divine experience that day with a series of firsts!
Kailash ParikramaThe parikrama of Mansarovar is not done on foot, but by bus and we went around the huge lake over a period of 3 days staying at Chihu, Tsugu and returning to Chihu. A holy dip in the Mansarovar followed by puja on its banks was the high point of this segment. I spent hours sitting contentedly on the banks of Mansarovar gazing at the changing colours of the water. The Kailash parikrama was done on foot or on pony/yak, starting at Yam Dwar. Riding a yak was terrifying, to say the least, as the animal takes off suddenly, at a great speed and up dangerous inclines. But gradually, you realize its sure-footedness and get the hang of it and relax just a wee bit. Standing on Dolma La, the highest pass in this trek at 19500 feet, I felt truly humbled by the divine support that we got in reaching up to such a height. After offering our prayers to the deity on the pass, we descended 5 kms on foot, with a view of Gowri Kund enroute. The previous day, we had halted at Deraphuk, which offers the closest and the most magnificent view of Mount Kailash, right across the camp. After sharp showers for an hour, the sky cleared and the Kailash parvat glistened in the sun. Oh! What a glorious sight!!
The thirteen days that we spent in Tibet, around Kailash and Mansarovar were truly an experience of a lifetime. It was a different world altogether. Crossing the lipulekh pass and re-entering India was again a high point as we were warmly welcomed by the porters, guides and ITBP personnel. I feel truly blessed that I got the opportunity to be on this pilgrimage.

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