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Tibet: Mansarovar Kailas Yatra: Preamble, Preparation, The Journey, Lake Mansarovar, Mount Kailas Parikrama
Mount Kailas Parikrama
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
After breakfast we drove for about 10 kms to reach Yamdwar (Yam is the Lord of Heaven & Hell and Dwar means door). Stands to reason that if a traveler prays and passes through the temple door to complete the circumference of Mount Kailas, the traveler’s soul would ever rest in peace.
Just behind the Yamdwar is Sky Burial Ground. Tibetans rest their dead on this mountain. The body is scavenged by vultures and other wild animals. Tibetans believe that the body of the dead should come in useful for some other mortals. The ritual reminded me about a similar custom practiced by the Parsi community in India and elsewhere.
About a km away from Yamdwar is where ponies, yaks and porters are hired. They have kind of a union and have introduced a unique allocation system to be fair to all concerned. Bags to be given to porters are kept in one row. From a pouch the name of the porter is picked up. The first bag in the row is assigned to this porter. The process goes on, one at a time, till all bags have been allocated. The same thing happens for allotment of ponies. Thus no porter or horseman complains of the bag or the passenger being heavy. It’s by draw. Light bags and thin passengers go to the lucky ones!
I hired the service of a porter to carry my camera bag. I called him Toh. He reminded me of a cowboy… rugged features, jeans, check shirt and a red cowboy hat. The guy went well with the terrain. Though I had a clear understanding with him that he would walk along with me so that I could take pictures at the opportune time, he kept walking fast and away from me. I did miss some good shots but then I got some good ones whenever I could get hold of him.
With a back-pack containing some essentials for the trek and walking stick, I was set to roll. For the day, we trekked for 12 kms, up and down the hills, along a stream to my left with the magnificent Mount Kailas on to my right. Call it a coincidence, but as soon as Mount Kailas was in view, we were showered with snowflakes the shape resembling those of flower petals. The showers lasted for only a few minutes… I take that as a blessing. Our camp for the night was in a guest house just near the base of Mount Kailas.
The location offers the closest viewpoint of Mount Kailas. In fact, some of us had a mind to actually walk down a valley for about 4 kms and touch the Mount. However, as much as we wished we refrained from doing so as we were aware the next day would be a tough 22 walk, most of it uphill.
Many travelers chose the option to return to Darchen or Mansarovar after touching the first base. If you plan to do the same make sure you inform your operator well in advance so that necessary travel and stay arrangements could be made for you. Failing to inform in advance, will incur additional charges. By the way, irrespective of the length of your journey, you would be paying the full charges for the porter and the pony. There’s no short-time discount!
That night was a full moon night. Though there were a few scattered clouds, I could get a glimpse of the moon shining with all its glory. So strong was the light, that I could have easily read a book. For many moments, Mount Kailas was soaked in silver.
Early morning, we began our walk. To reach our camp at Zhutulpuk we would need to walk for 22 kms. 14 of which would be a steep climb. I was mentally prepared, but to be honest, a little worried too. I had never done such a trek in my life before. Will I complete it? “Har Har Mahadev” (Praise Lord Shiva) were the magic words that kept me going. It took me 7 hours to reach the highest point of our journey – Dormala Pass at 5610 mtrs. Coming to think of it, that was more than 60% of the height of Mount Everest! Man, can I ever do Everest?
At the summit, the entire pass was covered with strings of coloured pieces of cloth with some inscriptions on it. For Tibetans, mountains are sacred. Tibetan devotees tie these strings to please their Gods. They chant some hymns as they tie the strings.
Most of the journey thereafter was downhill save for a few uphill climbs. Little further down from Dormala Pass is Gauri Kund (lake). The frozen lake believed to have waters with mystical powers lay below a few hundred meters. One of the Sherpas just ran down, filled a bottle with water from the lake and came up again in about 20 minutes! These guys sure have some stamina. Tips for gestures like these are surely appreciated by the Sherpas.
By the time we reached the camp it was 7 PM. I had walked for 11 hours. 2 bowls of hot soup and I slept for the night, in a tent, in my sleeping bag like a baby. 10 to a tent was the configuration.
After breakfast we continued our journey. Today would be our last day and needed to cover only 12 kms. The walk suddenly seemed very easy! Like day one, even this journey was very pleasant and picturesque. We were on a narrow path on the edge of a mountain overlooking a gushing mountain stream. Whenever we got the opportunity to be at levels with the stream, we would fill up our water bottles. The taste of pure Himalayan waters was truly energizing.
By noon we were at our destination – waiting 4X4 that would take us to Mansarovar for the night. Tents were put up on the shores of the lake. Chilly winds were playing havoc with our tents. Our camp site was called Horse Shoe. However, we survived the chill. 10 guys in a tent add to the warmth. Farts and snores to be forgiven.
I woke up pretty early this morning to catch the sunrise. The peaks were bathed in gold. The magic lasted for just a few minutes before the snow covered mountains turned white. Before commencing our return journey, we had some free time on hand to explore the shores. As planned earlier, I immersed myself in the chilly waters. The water, after a few moments, was bearable but as soon as I came out, the wind took over all my happiness. Braving the winds, I performed a little puja (religious ritual) and thanked the Lord for giving me the strength to do it all as planned.
We drove back as we came. It was 3 more days of bumpy ride before we hit the main road. Welcome to civilization.
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