In my childhood, I heard a story of a great, mystical mountain, an abode of gods, somewhere in the upper reaches of Himalayas. I also vividly remember a mountain that used to appear in my dreams continuously for many years, with an unusual shape, pitch black in colour that had an opening through which I used to pass through and disappear into unknown. After almost five decades of my life, I had opportunity to venture into the world of Himalayas beginning with Amarnath in Kashmir in 2002 to Kailas-Manasarovar in 2009 and my journey continues.
This year again, during the month of May, I travelled to Kailash – Manas Sarovar, with a group friends and acquittances, though from a different route, part flying, driving and walking. After spending a day at Kathmandu visiting Pashupathinath Temple, Swayanbhu and other heritage and historical places, we flew to Nepalgunj, a sleepy town on the border of India. Along with 18 of us, a group of six pilgrims (three couples) from Ahmedabad,Gujarat and four (two couples ) from Pune, Maharashtra joined us. Nepalgunj is a halting place for many pilgrims and travellers but with basic infrastructure.
Next day, we got up early to catch flight to Simikot, a mountainous village known for scenic beauty and a small airstrip. Those who visit Nepal are aware of such airstrips such as Lukla, Jomsom known as dangerous airports in the world, mainly due to high altitude, uneven terrain and high winds. Finally our flight, an ATR flew amidst cheers as well few tired expressions. We landed at Simikot, the place at a height of 2910 mts above sea level, in two batches and waited at the tinned roof building, a make shift arrangement for travellers.
Initially the Security guys were allowing the pilgrims based on the Trekking Permit issued by Department of Immigration, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt of Nepal but changed the rules insistion on our group visa or copy of the same. We took off in six batches, one batch after another, by helicopter and after thrilling manouvers by the pilot we landed at Hilsa, on a rubbled ground and unasphalted surface. Hilsa, at 3700 mts high, is surrounded by dry mountain slopes with Karnali river flowing near and view of Chinese checkpost across the mountains.
We waited for first helicopter to land as our passports were carried by a messenger to facilitate our journey into Tibet, that’s now part of China. Luckily the weather was clear and we got our passports by 11.30 and walked to the border after quick lunch. Our next destination was Purung which is at the height of 3800 mts is a big town with markets, govt offices and reasonably good quality hotels and serve as a link to Manas Sarovar and Kailash. The town surrounded by snow clad peaks and impressive governmental infrastructure is a place to relax and also to acclimatise further. One could see caves across the rocky hillocks around and also Monastery at a distance.
After two day rest and recharging ourselves, we left for Manas Sarovar, a drive of about an hour and half. On our way, we stopped at a vantage view point just across Rakshas Tal, a salt water lake, with a first view of Holy Kailas. It’s the first enchanting view of Kailas, mythologically refered as the navel of the world, called in various names such as Meru, Mandara, Kang Rinpoche (in Tibetan ), Ti Se (in Bon), worshipped from time immemorial by Hindus, Buddhist, Jains, Bon, inseparably and dynamically linked to respective religions. Rakshastal lake, known as Lhang tso to Tibetans, lying to the west of Manas Sarovar, is separated by a channel called Ganga chu . It is a salt water lake, with no fish and no acquatic life, in contrast to the fresh and pure waters of Manas Sarovar and therfore considered as inauspicious and poisonous.
Located a the height of 4580 mts, Manas Sarovar called as Ma Pham Yum tso ( Victorious lake ) by Tibetans, is most sacred and venerated by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and native Bon religions and offer soothing view of snow clad mountains and as well as of imposing Kailas. Accoring to Hindu mythology, It is created by Supreme Lord Brahma and is an outward manifestation of the Divine. The lake with it’s sapphire blue waters, transparent to see the colourful pebbels beneath and soflty moving waves is associated with many miracles and riruals from time immemorial. It is also considered as abode of heavely Hamsa, a mythical bird,a symbol of wisdom, purity and beauty. The sight of Manas Sarovar lifted everyone’s spirits making us to forget all fatigue and relieving from tiredness of journey of past one week.
After an hour or so, our Eco bus arrived to take us for the Parikrama of Manas Sarovar a journey of three to four hours, after another round checking by Chinese authorities just across the Manas Sarovar. We drove about 102 km in between stopping for a dip in holy waters. It’s miraculous that the weather was so clear with no signs of rain or any disturbance. We drove about one and half hours crossing Darchin, a small dusty town, with hotels, shops and restaurants, and reached Yamadwar.
There is a chorten cum temple, at southwest end with gorgeous mountain scenary around. From this arch (Dwar), every pilgrim invariably has to pass through and commence the Parikrama ( Kora ). It symbolises the seeking permission and blessings from Lord Yama and also leaving bodily possessiveness merged in spriritual fervour. The Parikrama is an ancient practice mentioned Puranas and captured the imagination generation after generation. Holy Kailash attacted millions of people from various religions including Hinduiss, Buddhism, Jainism and also animistic Bon religion.
After offering prayers and we drove another two kms to our walking path. Covered with thick snow with mysterious images on all sides, south and southwest face of Kailash was imposing with it’s maginificient presence. Though at 6714 mt high, the Kailash stand aloof distinctly shining amidst other peaks. There is gradual climb to reach 4890 mts approximately in six to seven hours. There are some more pilgrims from other groups but total number on that day was about 98+ and no crowds at all. We passed through witnessing magnificient sight of Kailash for west, northwest and finally stunning north face.
A beautiful stream passes on our right and we also come across Yaks here and there grazing near the mountain slopes. All along on that day we pass through most impressive scenary with huge sedimentary rocks on either side, with mysterious images as they are sculpted into various shapes. Infront of west face of Kailash, we witness huge rock structure appropriately called as Nandi, the mythical vehicle of Lord Siva, ususually found in many temples in India. Just before reaching Diraphuk, we also see three beautiful moutains arrayed in front of Kailas, namely Chana Dorje ( Vajrapani ) to the west, Jampelyang (Manjusri ) to the east and Chenrejig (Avalokiteswara ) in the centre. The Diraphuk monastery with freshly painted stand on otherside of stream conncted with a small bridge. The golden hour at sunset lit the Kailash with shades of red and yellow dotted with early appearance of stars, transporing us to all together a different world.
The dawn was majestic and splendid. The stars were slowly disappearing as if flowers are showered from heavens on Kailas. The morning rays fell on the Kailas painting parts of peak with a coloured brush from a divine artist. While climbing we had last darshan of Kailash with frozen Ganeshkund at the the base and also backside of Nandi rock. Longwinding path, glaciers at a distance, clouds hanging on us with unpredictability of weather, we continued the trail praying all along. The last stretch before the Drolma La was slippery and a bit challenging. Finally we reached the strange looking huge rock covered with prayers flags and wetness. It’s worshipped as Tara Peeth or Siddhi Peeth and lamps and pasting yak butter. At the beginning of steep descent, we come across Gauri Kund,a celestial small pond, supposed to have been created by Lord Siva for bathing purpose of Goddess Parvathi. Buddhists call it as Lake of Compassion and offer prostrations at the corner.
Next morning we resumed our Parikrama early, with a cup of tea and walked about three hours, about six km, crossing green and red coloured rocks on our right and long stretched canyon with expansive river flowing in the valley. From a distance we could see Rakshastal through the moving prayer flags and a huge wall of Mani stones engraved with Tibetan mantras. We got into waiting Eco bus to return to Darchin for sumptuous breakfast and few hours rest. Some members went round Darchin to make some purchase of local soveneirs and decorative items. We left for Hilsa halting for lunch at Purang and on the way completed the formalities of immigration and screeining of luggage by Chinese authorities. We reached Hilsa late evening and next day flew to Simikot by Helicopter and back to Kathmandu through Nepalgunj and next day many of us took the flight to Bengaluru still carrying vivid images of Kailas and it’s holy surroundings.
—————M Madan Gopal ( IAS, Retd)