Yatra Of A Pilgrim

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Mount Kailash - the abode of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, has captured the imagination of human beings since time immemorial. Kailash Mansarovar is known for both its religious value and enthralling natural beauty that attracts Indians specially Hindus, towards making this trip either driven either by an adventurous spirit or the spirit itself.

The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is one of the most arduous treks. It involves trekking up to an altitude of 19,500 feet under inhospitable conditions, including extreme cold and rugged terrain. Hindus regard Mt. Kailash as an earthly manifestation of Mt. Meru, the spiritual centre of the universe.

According to ancient Hindu mythology, Mt. Meru is renowned as ‘swarga’ or heaven. It is believed that whosoever visits this pilgrimage shrine is rid of all sins committed in the past or present birth. Tibetan Buddhists believe that Kailash is the home of Buddha who symbolizes supreme Harmony. Tibetan religion of ‘Bon’ recognizes Mt. Kailash as their spiritual seat of power.

In Jainism, Mt. Kailash has been refered as Mt. Ashtpada, a place where the creator of their faith Rishabhdev, attained salvation by getting freedom from cycle of birth and death.

Mansarovar Lake is also a site for pilgrimage. The lake is situated at an altitude height of 15,000 ft and is believed to be the highest fresh water lake in the world. According to Hindu legend, Mansarovar Lake was first created in the mind of Lord Brahma. Hence it is named Mansarovar, a combination of the words ‘Manas’ (Mind) and ‘Sarovar’ (lake). The lake is 20 km away from Mt. Kailash.

Pilgrims having a ritual bath in the lake, it is said, reach Lord Brahma’s paradise and drinking its water washes off all mortal sins committed over a hundred lifetimes. The pilgrimage involves circumambulating the holy mountain and also the Mansarovar Lake. The Parikama around the lake of 92km and can be done by bus. The kora or parikrama has to be done by foot or yak or on pony. It was by the blessings of Lord Shiva that I, my wife and some friends were able to make the pilgrimage to KailashMansarovar. Preparations began in May involving meetings with tour operators, brain storming and foot work. There were so much excitement, anxiety and nervousness.

The countdown began and finally we embarked upon our journey. All Kailash Mansarovar Yatris visit Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu to seek his blessings before commencing the yatra. Almost all of us had been to Kathmandu before but those were only shopping cum excursion trips. This time around it was different as our destination was Mt. Kailash.

The next day, we flew to Lhasa which was at a height of 11000 feet, which gave us an experience of the problem of low pressure oxygen that we were to face ahead. Lhasa is a beautiful city with many monasteries, the famous Potala Palace and hills around. Nice cold winds and pleasant weather kept our spirits high. Last minute shopping of down jackets, hats, and walking sticks was done here to prepare ourselves for the extremely cold weather conditions.

The train journey from Lhasa to Shigatse was an exhilarating. Shigatse at an altitude of 12,000 feet is a quiet town. The oxygen levels in the train were comfortable and everyone slept well. All who had planned to enjoy the panoramic view during the train ride snored through the trip. The ultimate journey to the abode of Lord Shiva began with religious fervor. Everyone got up at 3 am the next day to catch a flight to Ali, the last mile to Lake Mansarovar. As the plane touched base in Ali, a very humble town, each one of us felt so close to Lord Shiva. The real excitement began now.

The bus, the tour guide, the Sherpas were with us on our ride to Lake Mansarovar. Beautiful landscape, mountains on either side and amazing roads, made for a comfortable bus ride. Up since early dawn, no one had slept. Everyone wanted to capture the beauty in the lens and in the heart. After two hours, somebody in the group caught a glimpse of Mt. Kailash. Our excitement turned euphoria. We had a group picture with Mt. Kailash as the backdrop.

Thereafter we kept looking at the Parvat all through our road journey to the holy lake. After four hours we reached Lake Mansarovar. All had a holy dip and collected ‘jal’ and Shivlinga’.It was a mesmerizing sight with swans perched on the vast beautiful tranquil lake. Lunch at ParvatNiketan on the banks of the lake filled our stomachs and gave us energy and strength. Then there was Rudrabhishek and hawan that never ever felt so powerful in life. It had become a Kailash family. Praying, eating, sleeping together. Each of us helped the other.

With no sign of any human life (other than our group) at an altitude of 15,000 ft., it was a humbling experience. We were at such a high altitude, in a barren land and yet so happy and contented like never before in our lives. We were enveloped with a sense of abundant energy, tranquility and oneness.

Kailash Mansarovar is known for both its religious value and enthralling natural beauty that attracts Indians specially Hindus, towards making this trip either driven either by an adventurous spirit or the spirit itself.

Up since early dawn, no one in the group blinked even an eyelid. There was so much to seek, feel and absorb. We did not know where to look, the hills, the blue sky glittering with stars or the breathtaking lake or magnificent Mt. Kailash. It was simply mind blowing.

Although tired physically, the heart still wanted so much more. The bus finally took us to base camp at Darchen which is about an hour and a half drive from the holy lake. Tired, after a really long day, the group again got ready for a late night sojourn to have a look at the falling stars atmidnight on the lake.

All were ready for the Parikrama or the ‘kora’ of Mt. Kailash the next morning. The trek around Mt. Kailash is of 52 km and has to be done on foot or pony or yak. It takes three days starting from 15,000 ft to cross the Dolma La Pass at 18,200 ft and two nights enroute. The oxygen pressure kept decreasing with every step. There was bright sun, cold wind, water flowing by and majestic mountains with the power of Lord Shiva. We were in the land of Lord Shiva, his majestic kingdom, untouched by humans, raw and pure. Lord Shiva and bhakts in a huge valley, walking slowly, steadily doing the Parikrama of Kailash. Some on ponies while others on foot. Hot water, electro, dry fruit and tea in a solitary tent mid-way, makes us understand the power of the lord without manmade amenities. It was a mesmerizing experience but alien too.

Reaching Dirapuk after a 16 km trek from Darchen, we felt as if we had reached, heaven. Tired, hungry with no energy left, yet everyone so happy and contented.

A very basic accommodation was the shelter in a freezing night. Neither could anyone sleep the whole night nor was anyone tired. Strange are the ways of the god. Many members of the group had headache and uneasiness due to low pressure of oxygen.

Most of us tossed and turned the whole night waiting for Mt. Kailash to turn gold with the rays of the morning sun. We had a nice view of the divine peak through our window. Finally it turned bright gold as the first rays of the sun shine made the peak glow. All bowed and prayed with folded hands.

The levels of discomfort were increasing and no one had the courage and energy to further trek to Zuthulpuk via Dolma La pass which is at 18,200 ft. We thanked Lord Shiva for enabling us to view the golden north face of Kailash.

We decided to return to Darchen in rescue vehicles in two trips, bundled like cattle. All of us were amazed to have trekked that distance in the barren valley only the day before.

It was difficult for us to absorb the fact that we had actually been blessed to have darshan of lord Shiva at his abode. A physically fit group with great bonding, the blessings of lord Shiva and love of near and dear ones ensured things moved smoothly at every step despite the weather which happens to be very unpredictable and it plays a very vital role for the yatra.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that Kailash is the home of Buddha who symbolizes supreme Harmony. Tibetan religion of ‘Bon’ recognizes Mt. Kailash as their spiritual seat of power

At the base camp it was like coming home. Jains in the group went to Ashtapad the next day. One of the members performed Sheerhasan as a manifestation of her devotion to the Divine God. Pilgrims with cardiovascular or respiratory problems should not undertake the Yatra. The Indian government has no authority over the yatris who undertake the pilgrimage at their own risk. Pilgrims who forge medical certificate put their own lives into danger.

Even those yatris in the best of health experience some discomfort and even illness owing to the high altitude of Tibet. Its effect varies from person to person including loss of appetite, uneasiness, breathlessness, and high altitude sickness. It is caused by the low levels of oxygen in the atmosphere, which commonly occurs above 8000 ft. Since most pilgrims are not trekkers habituated to high altitude, the low levels of oxygen can prove hazardous. Even the mortal remains who passes away due to the altitude, cannot be brought back. The Indian government needs to work with Chinese government to provide more amenities to religious tourists. But the Chinese govt. has done an excellent job of laying smooth roads and 3G networks.

Lord Shiva is in his natural form, away from the Indian rituals of pundits, dakshina, flowers, fruits etc. A yatra to Mt. Kailash is adorned with blissful moments, and is thrilling. Every traveller undergoes a humbling and enlightening experience which cannot be described but can only be experienced.

We all are still immersed in the experience and have a little bit of Kailash in our mind and soul. It will be with us till eternity.

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