Monday, June 25, 2007

Mann Sarovar and Kailash Yatra

Om Namah Shivay Om Namah Shivay
Har Har Bole Namah Shivay

The song of the moment, the song of the yatra

I resisted, resisted till the last. Ultimately, the will was powerless against the will of that which is much greater than I, yet encompasses “I”. You gotta marvel at the way God works. I remember the moment mom called and asked. Outside of tabla class, I quickly said yes without really thinking. I didn’t even know what Mann Sarovar was. It was an impulse, but really with retrospection something else said yes. Two weeks prior something told me I shouldn’t go to Bangalore with MS, so after signing me and mom up, I cancelled and instead signed up for Vipassana, which too was replaced. Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiva was to be the destination…

That was until a week before the trip; when I tell my parents that I am not going… A five hour conversation with my parents in Canada ensued, with me ultimately begrudgingly, yet out of my own will saying I would go.

I made it to Kathmandu, but I can’t say I was really there.

Day 2 Kathmandu: the Nepali agent comes to tell us that our trip has been delayed and our return date to India was uncertain.

Are you kidding me? I had so much to look forward when I got back, I can’t get delayed in getting back to Ahmedabad…

The agent goes on to the talk about the yatra. The trip to Kailash is dreamed by many, but realized by few. There is something that calls devotees to the place. It is a difficult journey based on faith. Your faith ultimately determines you journey and your experiences.

Here I was, going because I had. Still not really knowing where I was going besides of course the obvious that I was going to Shankar’s abode. I wasn’t going with any internal conviction to see the home of the Divine. The Divine instead had called and I was with great internal resistance coming.

As the guide spoke, I couldn’t help but feel that my lack of presence was playing a role in the way plans were panning out. If I was going without faith, how was this journey going to occur or occur smoothly.

Heena, you need to be here. You are in Kathmandu and are going to Kailash. Go with resistance or be here and enjoy these moments.

Deep breath… am going to attempt to be here.

Day 1, Arrival in Kathmandu: Check into the hotel and visit nearby shops, lots of handicraft shops and even a Gandhian org that works with women and children and produces textiles and paper crafts. Make a list of things to buy for people on my return

Day 2: Sight seeing in Bhaktapur and Patan. Beautiful cities and temples. Visit the temple of Pashupatinath. Om namah shivay in on automatic pilot in the head and on the lips.

Day 3: Morning in Kathmandu before we head to Dhulikel where we are put into a 5 star hotel overlooking the valley. Gorgeous view. I roam nearby and end up hanging out with a bunch of kids. We play stella ella ola, thumper and slide. Lots and lots of fun.

Day 4: Sitting on the plateau overlooking the valley, I finally here the voices calling me from the hotel, the buses from Kathmandu had arrived, time to leave. We drive through the mountains of Nepal, gorgeous greenery, reminded me lots of Yosemite and drives towards Kedarnath and Badrinath. End up in Kodari, the border crossing point into Tibet/Nepal. Our passports have yet to arrive from Nepal and when they do the Chinese border is closed (3 hour time difference!) so we spend in the night in Kodari. In the evening I had a LOT of fun helping serve the group that was traveling with us from Hyderabad and the rest of our group. Reminded me of serving at Seva CafĂ© which I haven’t done in a LONG time.

Day 5: Cross the border into China. After immigration and customs, we get into jeeps and drive towards Nyalam, the first high altitude stop on our route at 3500 ft. The drive is fairly smooth and we quickly move out of green mountains into rocky and barren land. We spend the night in Nyalam. Abhinav Uncle knew about a Buddhist temple nearby, which is really nice. A scene I will not forget is when the cars first stop for a pee break. All around, men had their backs to the line of 15 jeeps, peeing away without a car, while the women all stayed in the car…

Day 6: The hardest day of the trip. From 3500 ft we climb to 5000 ft and drop back down to 4300 ft to land in the city of Saga. Me being so smart, decided not to take Diamox, medication for altitude sickness until I really needed it, but it should be taken the day before big altitude changes, so I end up having a non-stop headache and nausea, which prevents me from really enjoying the scenery and waiting for Saga. En route is Shiva Tal, a beautiful blue lake. Some memorable moments include 5-6 land cruiser driving across the plateau at one time, feeding the animals wherever we stop and the amazing contrasts in the landscape- from the step terraces to barren lands with small clusters stopping the land here and there to the sands of Jaisalmar with snow-capped mountains in the background. Again I am wish I could remember my geology class as I see the beautiful shades of minerals in the land. In Saga, we thankfully had really a really nice hotel (saga hotel) with no central heating, but hot water, clean beds and attached bathrooms versus the common bathroom between 60 people we had the day before. As soon I got to the hotel, I jumped into bed and tried to doze off, but the headache would not go away. The internal struggle with God began, resulting in my ultimately taking on his challenge. I’m here, I had faith, you have brought me here for a reason for which I am grateful. I will not go back and trust. After some throwing up and a hot shower, it was bed time, knowing the morning would bring a brighter day.

Day 7: Day three of travel. Again most of the driving is done on the plateaus, this time we stop in one of the clusters for dinner and I get a lesson in always remembering to feed the black dogs. Sanitation facilities continue to be a problem while traveling, but we have a good driver. When we told me we needed to pee, he would make it a point to spot in places where there is a mound of dirt so some place where we could answer nature’s call away from the view of other stopped or driving vehicles. It is our first night in mud houses. There is a toilet (a hole over a large pit) with walls on all sides, away from the view others, clean and not that smelly. I get a chance to hang out with more of the fellow travelers, learning some valuable lessons and sharing experiences growing up and living in North America. It was great to be able to talk out some of the internal confusion. At night the stars were stunning, so close by.

Day 8: Mann Sarovar. You climb up the hill and driver circles around a large pole with prayer flags eminating like rays in all directions before he comes to a halt. Just below the large plateau a crystal blue lake stood in front of us. Om Namah Shivay Om Namah Shivay Har Har Bole Namah Shivay. We had made it to Mann Sarovar. After doing initial darshan of the holy lake, we begin our parikrama (by car), stopping to have lunch on the banks of mann sarovar, where we dip our hands for the first time in the waters, with Kailash showing clearly in the background. Our parikrama takes us by Rakshas Tal, the home of the dark side of Mount Kailash (now not so dark, since due to an animal made tunnel, water from Mann Sarovar have entered into Rakshas or Ravan Tal). The hotels on the banks of Mann Sarovar are booked, so we end up spending the night in tents on the banks. Not a big deal for me, but quite problematic for all the uncles and aunties who had never been in a tent, let alone in such cold weather (the winds were super strong and cold). As night falls, the wind begin to let us and the stunning night emerges with stars covering the canvas overhead, but it was only twelve. The stars would not come to take a dip in Mann Sarovar until 3am. We end up hanging in the jeep until 12ish (under the cover of our sleeping bags) before deciding to retire and wake up it is meant to be at 3am. I awake from my sleep as I hear Aunty and Uncle stir beside me. It’s 330am. I head out into the cold and find Mahesh Uncle wrapped under a sleeping bag staring at the lake and sky. The formerly clear night has turned into one full of clouds and only a few stars were in sight. We stop a few that began sparkling, from the left to straight ahead, three formed a triangle. The one across the lake began some downward movement. As I focused ahead, knowing that it would not take a dip, but nonetheless was moving, the star turned into a lingam and began rotating around the vertical axis. Then it began to snow. Wetness. One of the three things to AVOID when camping in cold weathers. Gathering our sleeping bags, we headed back to our tents around 430am.

Day 9: New morning, new day. The sun rose ever so beautifully over the lake, sharing its splendor and heat with those below. After helping pack up camp, it was time to move to the base of Kailash, 40 km away. The snow fall from the night before spelt bad news – the parikrama of Mount Kailash (which is done on foot) would not be possible. The schedule regardless was to start the parikrama the next day so we ended up just hanging out in the hotel. The hotel was more like a concrete tent, a step better than the tents we were in, but the sanitation facilities were horrendous. As you walked outside the hotel complex, you couldn’t help but notice the open defecation EVERYwhere you looked. The toilets smelled so bad that I didn’t even bother going inside. One purpose of the walk outside the compound was actually also to identify a place for defecation the next morning. On the positive side, the views were beautiful, you could see the stunning snow-capped mountain ranges and when it began semi-clear for a few minutes the next day, Mount Kailash was visible also. You had to admire the persistence of the Tibetan women (and few men) who came to the hotel selling their handicrafts, determination is most definitely necessary.

Day 10: Stuck in the “hotel” Snow fall meant no parikrama as it meant the situation higher up was worse than the conditions where we were. There was very poor visibility in the morning due to the snowfall. In the afternoon, around three, the sun emerged and great visibility. Frustrations built as we wanted to go explore things nearby, but the drivers and cars were no where to be found. A theme that occurred during the trip was frustrations with the way the trip was being handled by the company. The next complex of rooms behind us had attached bathrooms, while our rooms had the common outdoors, poorly kept toilets. Of course, foreigners were staying in the rooms with attached bathrooms. When we arrived to the base camp of Kailash, a tour group was leaving and we were told that 10 ppl attempted the parikrama of which 5 died, whether or not this is true we are not sure. But the group of 48 from Hyderabad that was traveling along side us took the decision to head back down on this day as a few were getting sick. We were told that a few of the elders were having difficulty breathing and were on oxygen all night, on our way down when we reconnected, we found out that they were only on oxygen for 2 hours and that many weren’t sick. But these were all tactics to scare people and motivate them to want to leave sooner (which ultimately results in savings for the tour operator). Def some very questionable statements were made to us and the other group while on the trip.

Day 11: Fortunately, our tour guide, it was his first time working with Satyam, had a good heart and was trying his best despite having his hands restrained by the company to make the best of the situation. So unlike the other groups who came up the Kailash at the same time as us and were also unable to parikrama, we were atleast taken to Yama Dwar, the location where the parikrama of Kailash begins. This location has a lot of significance for Buddhists also and on Buddha Purnima (which happened to be a few days away) all the lamas in Tibet gather at this location and the prayer flags are replaced. A mini Kailash stands next to the prayer flags and it is said that if you cannot do Kailash parikrama, then parikrama of mini Kailash is still valid. In the distance lay a hill with a flat plateau at the top. This is the location where the Buddhist cut up their dead and leave the pieces for vultures and dogs. From Yama Dwar (the Gate of Death) you could the see the path that wraps its way around the holy mountain. We stopped and paid our respects. From Yama Dwar, we went to Ashtapad. The cars went over a half frozen river to get there. The previous day, the clouds had not let up over Kailash, preventing us from an extended darshan from the hotel, but today as soon as we reached, the cloud parted and sun shone brightly. In its full form stood Nandi and Mount Kailash in front of us. We had beautiful darshan for a good half an hour. Two to three times during this time, the shadows of the clouds fell upon Kailash in the shape of Aum and slowly rose to the peak of Kailash. We were at the closest point Mount Kailash. At this location, it is said that if you build a house of rocks that you will get a home. After quenching our thirst for darshan, we headed back to the hotel. The sun was shining, it was the perfect time for a dip in Mann Sarovar. After lunch, which took about an hour, we drove the 40km to the holy lake. By this time, the wind had begun to pick and sun was on the descent. With the last rays of sunlight lighting up the spot where we parked beside the lake, most of us took the plunge in the cold cold water. It took over a half an hour for my toes to regain proper feeling. A lot of respect to Abhinav Uncle who dunked himself around 20 times in the lake and also to the staff who spent over an hour filling container after container of water for us all. After bathing, the Jaipur travelers performed a haven on the banks of the lake, by this time the sun’s rays no longer reached over the large hill behind us and the wind was even stronger. Upon returning to the hotel, we all warmed up with Bournvita and/or chai. The next day was Mom’s birthday and Gurudev had been planning since the day he found out it was to be her birthday during the trip. At midnight, we all went to Gurudev’s room, where he had saved the best mithai for the occasion. Suresh Uncle had saved FerroRoche chocolate also. Mom gave out chocolates and Baba’s prasad. It was truly Mom’s good fortune to be able to celebrate her birthday like this, as Baba’s disciples told us, Swami doesn’t participate in worldy activities, but he took special interest in celebrating this birthday. Also we were in the holy grounds of Kailash and Mann Sarovar for the date.

Day 12: In the morning we packed up quickly as we had a LONG drive ahead of us. We were going to cut a day of travel and go straight to Saga, where we had the hotel with attached bathrooms and hot water. The drive really took a lot out of us. When we got to Saga, the hotel (Saga Hotel) was completely booked so they put us in a hotel across the street. They did not plan the sanitation facilities well for the space and I believe did not put in an exhaust pipe for the sewage, which lead to the formation of very bad odors in the bathrooms. There was no hot water, but Vikas Uncle was determined to have a hot shower and found a shower shop. 10 yuen for 15 minute shower. A hot shower def took away some of the tiredness.

Day 13: Another long day of driving. Over 350 people were descending from Mount Kailash while hundreds more were climbing because of Buddha Purnima which was two days later. This meant accommodations were packed and the crossing the border could take a long time. So we decided to stop right at the border with plans to get in line before the group of 200 the following morning. The drive was another long drive, particularly because we were stopped at a roadblock for 3 hours and then stuck in lots of traffic. While we waited for the roadblock to open, I was hanging out with Vikas Uncle, Abhinav Uncle and Vamshi in their jeep, while my land cruiser was first in line. When the block went up, I didn’t make it to my jeep and it didn’t stop… I jumped into another one of our jeeps until we caught up with my vehicle in Nyalam.
Day 14: After chai, we were in line for immigration. Long lines of land cruisers and pilgrims could be found at the road block. We cleared customs quickly and waited for our land cruisers to come across. After saying adieu to our land cruisers, we entered back into Nepal via the friendship bridge at Kodari, where we had bfast and found out that the handbag of one of our fellow travelers was lost. Several phone calls and a few hours later, the bag was returned and we proceeded towards Kathmandu. The travel company sent a bus for 16, while there were 18 pilgrims and a staff of 5 in the group. Slightly cramped, we made our way down through the beautiful, lush green mountains of Nepal. I def would want to go back with my Cal Engineers for a month where we would trek, go white water rafting, etc in the great outdoors of Nepal. It would be lots of fun. The scenery at times reminded me of Yosemite. TBPers- whenever I do outdoors stuff, I think of you all very fondly. Zack’s teachings about backpacking came in handy and of course all the experiences of camping trips helped on this journey. In the evening, we reached Kathmandu and said our farewells. Very few of us had our return tickets finalized, but it was likely to be the last we would see of each other for a while.

The trip had its ups and downs, def learned lots about the wonderfulness of travel agents who are out to earn as much as possible and capitalize on the pilgrim’s sentiments. Like with all other religious yatras, tour companies had sprouted up to facilitate the process for pilgrims. Unlike Chote Char Dham (Badri-Kedarnath, Yamnotri, Gangotri), Kailash is not a yatra that can be done independently, but there def are certain tour companies that are better than others. Satyam Travels, the agent that we ended up with via via three other agents is NOT RECOMMENDED. You could tell that they were doing all that was possible to save costs, even at the expense of the comfort of their travelers. On such a difficult yatra, the lack of sanitation facilities can really break down the morale and a few comments here and there can most definitely make people want to leave. One of the uncles on the trip was saying how a friend had actually warned him that we would not be doing the parikrama of Kailash as many travel companies somehow or another convince the group otherwise. For us, snow was a valid reason (though on the third day at base camp when we went to Yama Dwar, the location where the parikrama actually begins, we saw a group of foreigners being led on the trek….) It was blessing to have Baba on the trip. Out of all those that went to Kailash when we did, no one got the wonderful darshan of Kailash and Nandi as we did and few even when to Yama Dwar. Baba’s presence and blessings played a large role in us getting the most that was possible from the trip.

Of course, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without the countless conversations with Abhinav Uncle (thank you for your insights and advice), Vikas Uncle (who is always great for a laugh and conversations about toilets ;) and Vamshi (the only other person my age on the trip). There were LOTS of conversations about toilets (naturally) and it goes without saying, internal reflection and growth.

Personal note on me and yatra:
A season for all, a time for everything.

I can only bow my head in gratitude when I think about how the universe literally forced me on this yatra. End of April/May was a period of great confusion (which still persists, but in a different way now…) and frustration. My patience has been growing thin as the path has not emerged. But through the internal struggles of the yatra and encouraging conversations, my faith in the universe was re-established. At Yama Dwar, I surrendered myself again to the higher forces. At Mann Sarovar, I threw four minds in the lake (in the form of pearls) and left with a firm resolve to trust. A burden was cast off during the yatra, lighter and with full faith I move forward again. The period of confusion, in a different form now, is to be rough the confusion with lots of patience, love and humility.


vamshi said...

Can you be more specific about this statement---""All around, men had their backs to the line of 15 jeeps, peeing away without a car, while the women all stayed in the car…""..
"Peeing out without a car" kya hota hain ..
Do you expect MEN to Disconnect the Nature calls :)

shakti said...

I am Shakti, and a couple of days back I came across your blog on Kailash Yatra. Excellent read.

We are ourselves planning to go on the yatra this year. I was wondering if the Satyam Travels that you mentioned in your blog is the same as Satyam Tours and Travels (

Actually we are considering these guys as one of the options among travel agents. You dont seem to have had a good experience with them, so I was wondering if you can kindly let us know if these guys are the same. If indeed they are the same, with the benefit of hindsight, do you think, you should have opted for some other travel agent? Do you think there is chance that they might willfully try to dissuade us from going for the parikrama just so that they make more money.

Thanks for you time. Your feedback will help us learn from you and plan our trip better. Appreciate your help.

My email id is shakti[%dot%]inbox[%at%]gmail[%dot%]com. I look forward to your reply and feedback


Anonymous said...

DO NOT go with Satyam Travels... There are many other tours guides out there.

shakti said...

@Heena: Thanks for replying and sharing your valuable suggestions. Much appreciated Heena!

@Anonymous: Appreciate the heads-up. Many thanks to you too!

Travel Corporation India said...

India is a religious land. Ever since the dawn of civilization, India has been the birthplace of many religions. Being so, the country boasts of a lot of pilgrim destinations within its precincts. Rich in mythology, it has a number of temples, mosques, monasteries, churches and gurdwaras, which attract lakhs of devotees every year. Pilgrimage tour India

Mount Kailash said...

It's great to stay here especially holidays with my family.


Kailash Mansarovar 2013 | Mansarovar Yatra