It is worthwhile having a few words on the basic faith and beliefs among the ardent Hindus on Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.
Mt. Kailash is a black colored snow splattered pyramid shaped rock mass in Trans-Himalayas in Tibet rising to 22,000’. Hindus believe that it is Lord Shiva’s abode and a place of eternal bliss. For them to make arduous pilgrimage to Kailash and have the darshan of Lord Shiva’s abode is to release them from clutches of ignorance and delusion. Bons, Buddhists and Jains also give Mt. Kailash a dominant place in their religion. Sources of many of the principal rivers like Brahmaputra, Indus, Sutlej and many others nurturing planes of India have their origin near Mt. Kailash.
Legend has it, Mansarovar was created by Lord Brahma ‘The Creator.’ A holy lake in Trans-Himalayas, Lake Mansarovar is abode of purity, the journey of which is undertaken by devout Hindus and adventurous travelers when they visit Mt. Kailash. A dip into this lake is very reverently taken by pilgrims; the water is believed to purify the human soul from sins from many births. The lake situated at 14,950’ is said to be one of the highest fresh water lakes in the world.
The Geographic Location
Both Mt. Kailash and Lake Mansarovar are located in Tibet region of Trans-Himalayas with heights ranging from 13,000’ to 18,000’ with parched plains devoid of any vegetation with barren and craggy mountains. The air is rarified in such high altitudes with oxygen content being less and hence the pilgrims need to be physically healthy and mentally prepared to combat any type high altitude sickness if at all they have to face. The circumambulation also called Parikrama of Mt. Kailash is undertaken by pilgrims through the mountain trek trail either on foot or on horses.
The Tour Management
The Kailash Mansarovar tour can be a Govt. of India organized or private travel company package tour. The Government of India organizes the Yatra every year of 28-30 days duration. The Yatra has to be booked in advance and the Yatris undergo a strict medical check-up prior to acceptannce. Due to a large number of applicants, only about 400 are selected by draw of lots subject to medical clearance. There are plethora of private travel companies who do online booking for this Yatra which can be of 12 to 16 days duration. Typically one flies to Kathmandu and from there crossing China border (Tibet region) by road in Landrover vehicle. All the permits and China visa is arranged by tour companies. The parikrama of Mt. Kailash is left to the individual yatris. A first-hand experience of my friend Sachin Vaidya, who visited the places in summer of 2009 gives an insight to the whole journey undertaken from a private tour company. The conversation between Sachin, Anand and myself is reproduced below. The photographs clicked by Sachin finds its place after the text.
As we sit comfortably on katta of Shivaji Park maidan, Sachin recounts his experience as a high altitude trekker, with reference to Kailash – Mansarovar Yatra, in a question and answer session as follows :
Trekline: Sachin, among your high altitude trekking tours, which one would you rank as your best.
Sachin : Pradyot, I would rank my tour of Kailash – Mansarovar Yatra which I undertook in May 2009, as my best. On that tour, during the Kailash Parvat parikrama, we trekked through 18,600’ height at Dolma Pass.
Trekline: Tell us the kind of preparations you made for this trip.
Sachin: We had to carry flask for warm water, good warm cloths and some eatables which are not actually required as they are taken care of by tour operators. I am talking about commercial tour operators for pilgrimage to Kailash – Mansarovar, not the Governemnt arranged pilgrimage, which requires much more preparation.
Dr. Anand Amembal: What was the itinerary of your trip in brief?
Sachin: Anand, I took the commercial tour which we were told was 17 days from Mumbai to Mumbai. But they cut short one day and informed us just before departure. There was supposed to be one free day at Kathmandu during onward journey, and another free day at the same place during return journey. The actual China border from Kathmandu is half days journey by jeep. When we arrived in Tibet it was very cold but manageable.
Trekline: Sorry to interrupt you….
Anand: How did you start from Mumbai?
Sachin: By flight from Mumbai to Delhi and another one from Delhi to Kathmandu. We reached Kathmandu by afternoon where we were served lunch. Tour operators gave us a check list of all the items to be carried for onward journey to Kailash - Mansarovar. We were told to keep the luggage ready for inspection which we did by spreading out our luggage on floor. If they found any item not up to the mark or were deficient, we were told to buy them from local market. There was local sight- seeing tour like Pashupatinath temple, Boodha Neelkanth Temple, and some other temples. The specialty of Boodha Neelkanth Temple - Lord Vishnu is seen in a prone position on water. The devotees consist of both Hindus and Buddhists. Next morning, there was a sight-seeing of Everest and Annapurna ranges by aeroplane at extra cost. About 80% of tourists availed of the opportunity.
Anand: What were the charges for the aeroplane trip?
Sachin: I do not remember.
Anand: Around Rs. 1000/-, I guess.
Sachin: No, I think it was more.
Anand: I think it was one hours flight.
Sachin: Yes. But, I did not avail of it. May be in future I will make that trip, when I go there again for Everest base camp trek.
Trekline: So, the first afternoon and second day morning went in sight-seeing. What did you do in the second day afternoon?
Sachin: We stayed at Hotel Vaishali at Kathmandu Thamel area. Let me tell, those who have not stayed at that area, it is a heaven for shoppers for mountaineering and trekking goods. There are few dozen shops selling mountaineering and trekking equipments. We did heavy bargaining and shopping and enjoyed that evening. Normally I avoid shopping when I travel, but here I could not resist it.
Trekline: What did you do on third day onwards?
Sachin: On third day morning we went by bus from hotel to Tibet border which is also called Kodari border. There all the immigration formalities were carried out. At that time because of Swine flu scare everybody had to pass through thermal sensors, where body temperature was checked. If there was any buzzer alarm, one had to cool down and re-enter for the check. I had to make three trips though the sensor area before getting clearance. Fortunately everybody was cleared and that took a few hours. Next foreign exchange was provided to us by the tour company.
Trekline: How much foreign exchange was provided?
Sachin: I do not remember exactly. We were told to bring Rs. 25,000/- in Indian currency. We were given equivalent Chinese Yuan by the agent recommended by our tour company, in a dhaba like restaurant near Kodari border. Here I would like to point out, our Kathmandu hotel manager and a lot of other agents at border area offered us Chinese currency at attractive rates than that offered by our tour operators. But we were wary of being duped with counterfeit currency, hence did not avail of it. While returning also we had to reconvert our currency with the same recommended agent.
Trekline : So, by afternoon you crossed the border?
Sachin: It was evening actually, when we were through with the border. Then we got into a jeep, I do not remember the name.
Anand: Must be Landrover or Landcruiser.
Sachin: Yes. We were asked to make into groups for each vehicle. It did not really matter to me, which ever group I was part of.
Trekline: Tell us about your jeep journey.
Sachin: We were told to shut the windows of Landrover because of heat and dust. Of course, the evenings were quite cold. The topography on the journey is that of desert even more than that of Ladakh. Ladakh has atleast some greenery, here only grass of couple of inches in height.
Trekline: How many hours jeep ride you had?
Sachin: We travelled for nearly four days intermittently because of road being repaired in Tibet in various places. We had three night halts in between before reaching Mansarovar. We traveled between heights ranging between 12,000’ to 17,000’. There is no proper acclimatization in commercial tours and head ache is very common. Actually I developed some health problem (dehydration), but did not take any medicines as such, just drank a lot of water. That seemed to work.
Trekline: Tell us something about Kailash Parikrama.
Sachin: Some go on foot, some take horses for doing the Parikrama. There are night halt facilities in tents. Since it was not peak season, we could get guest houses easily. Guest houses in reality means rooms and beds. No toilets, no wash basins. In Mansarovar area we were lucky to get a hotel.
Tekline: What about rescheduling of itinerary?
Sachin: I had booked with the commercial operator for the first batch, but was postponed and was taken in as per itinerary of second batch. Actually the Tibet Government announces the date of KM Yatra and hence rescheduling happens. Which-ever tour company services you avail of, better to keep 3 days before and 3 days after the scheduled itinerary free from any commitments, because of rescheduling.
Trekline: Parikrama is of how many days?
Sachin: Let me tell you, only walking Parikrama is of three days, you can call it two and half days, since third day we walked for half a day. First day parikrama trekking was ok. The second day prikrama trek was most grueling, we had to walk and walk, at Dolma Pass it was 18,600’ above sea level, the highest point we encountered. Major problem was we were not given any guide. There were a few Chinese guides, but only for namesake, they could not furnish important information relevant to tourists. There is a map which shows the trek route, but can not say about the distance we walked.
Trekline: How many hours you walked?
Sachin: Before first days trek, we were in tent at 17,000’ altitude and nearby there was a frozen river. Temperature at night must have been below zero. It was a very windy weather; we had to cover our ears, even if for a second we opened our monkey caps or scarves, it would start paining. We woke up early at 3 AM IST for parikrama. First day we walked 7 hours, second day we walked 10 hours.
Trekline: Paikrama can be done by walking or on horseback. What about palki?
Sachin : Palki is not available at all. There is no guarantee that horses will be available. Even if you get a horse, you have to get down a number of times and walk, if the terrain is slippery.
Trekline: Did you have to walk over ice?
Sachin: Only at Dolma Pass. July August is ideal time when snow will not be there and it will be less cold. But due to crowd and facilities being inadequate, one has to mostly stay in tents, because all the guest houses will be booked.
Trekline: How about third day’s trek?
Sachin: It was quite ok. Not very tough. We were actually descending. Even after three day’s of parikrama, nobody can tell whether we have done 100% parikrama of Kailash - Mansarovar.
Trekline: When did you find the best view of Kailash.
Sachin: Kailash is at its best when viewed during sunrise. But those who trekked, missed it because of timing. Those who did not continue parikrama on the second day and returned back from where we started on the first day, could see the view of golden Kailash. During trekking most of the time Kailash is not visible. There is another parikrama called inner parikama, which is done by hard core trekkers, who actually travel along the base of mountain or inner circle. What I have read in newspaper that pilgrims can go and touch the base of the mountain during parikrama. But, we were neither told nor allowed to touch the base of mountain. I do not know which tour company or Govt. of India tour takes care of that. Our return journey was by the same route via Kathmandu. Since the tour company cut short the tour by a day, we had to catch the flight without any break at Kathmandu.
* The title image is Mt. Kailash contributed by Roshan Raj
The following frames have been shot by Sachin Vaidya.
|Day 2 ( Boodha Neelkanth temple, Kathmandu )|
|Day 4 ( Nyalam, Tibet )|
|Day 4 ( Nyalam, Tibet )|
|Day 5 ( Lolang La 17070' )|
|Day 5 ( Peigatso lake )|
|Day 5 ( Pikatso )|
|Day 5 ( Pikatso )|
|Day 7 ( Mansarovar )|
|Day 7 ( Chorten top at Mansarovar )|
|Day 7 ( Monastery at Mansarovar )|
|Day 8 ( Rakshas Tal )|
|Day 8 ( Sherlung Monastery near Darchen )|
|Day 8 ( Towards Sherlung Monastery )|
|Day 8 ( Towards Sherlung Monastery - Kailash & Nandi Parvat )|
|Day 9 ( Kailash Parikrama day 1 - Darchen to Deraphuk )|
|Day 10 ( Kailash Parikrama day 2 - Deraphuk to Zutulphuk )|
|Day 10 ( Kailash Parikrama day 2 - Gaurikund )|
|Day 10 ( Kailash Parikrama day 2 - Mt. Kailash )|
|Day 11 ( With Gulls at Mansarovar )|
|Day 14 ( Saga to Nyalam - Near Brahmaputra )|
|Day 14 ( Saga to Nyalam )|