There are no mountains like the
Himalaya, for in them are Kailas
and Mansarovar. As the dew is
dried up by the morning Sun, so
are the sins of mankind dried up
by the sight of the Himalaya."
The Himalayas, the crown of the Indian peninsula has remained the cultural locus for its teeming millions. It is in the Himalayas, as the Skanda Purana records, where Lord Shiva lives, and there the mighty river Ganges fell from the foot of Lord Vishnu like “the slender thread of a lotus flower”.
The human ideal of mount Meru rising from the descent of the seventh hell and rising to perforate through the loftiest of the heavens – the great mountain at the centre of the universe itself – comes to rest at Kailash. The Skanda Purana therefore acknowledges, “There are no mountains like the Himalayas, for in them are Kailash and Mansarovar”.
One myths goes that at the core of the Jambu, the landmass surrounding Lake Mansarovar, stood the glorious mountain of Meru with four colours and faces: white like a Brahmin, the priest, on its eastern surface; yellow like a Vaisya, the merchant, on the south; red like a Kshatriya, the warrior, on the north; black on its western side like a Shudra, the menial.
Today it stands as Mount Kailash: a rock pyramid 22,028 feet high. It embodies the age old concept of the ‘navel of the earth’, the ‘world pillar’, the ‘first of the mountains’, the ‘still point in the turning world’, ‘rooted in the seventh hell, piercing through to the highest heaven’. Consequently, the religious importance of Mount Kailash and its immediate hinterland of Lake Mansarovar is multifaceted.
The region is venerated by all religions and ages in different ways. All the myths and legends surrounding the region at least prove one thing: the essential unity of all the religions.
Many people have a misconception that the purpose of this yatra is to conquer Mount Kailash and to reach the top. Please note that, According to all religions that revere the mountain, setting foot on its slopes is a dire sin. It is claimed that many people who ventured to defy the taboo have died in the process. Many professionals have tried conquering the mountain in the past, but in the face of international disapprova,l the Chinese decided to ban all attempts to climb the mountain.
The Parikrama of Mount Kailash
An English-speaking Tibetan guide accompanies each group during the Parikramas of Kailash and Manasarovar. The camps along the route offer basic facilities and each camp can accommodate limited number of persons. We were fortunate to be the only group present for KM parikrama, as the Chinese has stopped giving visas to private tour operators during July. We decided to do the Kailash Parikrama at first as it was one of the most difficult parts of the journey. The route goes through a barren landscape, with snow-capped mountains on the horizon. Once the bus crosses the Gurla Pass, at 16,200 ft, the Holy Land spreads out. To the right would be the beautiful Manasarovar Lake, while Rakshash Tal will be to their left. We had the first gimpse of Kailash, Mansarovar and Rakshas tal on this day. After stopping a while in Mansarovar and Rakshas tal, we proceed to Darchen, which is the base camp for the Parikrama. The Parikrama of Mt. Kailash begins from Darchen. Yatris spend the day in the town, which provides only basic facilities. A stove and a room for cooking will be provided by the Chinese authorities. We had hired Nepali cooks during the parikrama as most of the group members were not happy with the Chinese food. This is the last place for making ISD calls on this Parikrama since the other camps, both on the Kailash and the Manasarovar routes are not equipped with such facilities.
This 48 Km Parikrama of Kailash starts from the Barkha Plains, a flat, barren stretch of land. The first leg will take the yatris to Deraphuk, 14 kms from Darchen. The first 10 kms are covered by bus/truck. Upon reaching the ‘Yamdwar’ the proper trek begins. After about 10 kms, the yatris enter the La Chu Valley or the Valley of the River of the Gods. Along the way, magnificent rock cliffs tower around, with streams and waterfalls flowing from some of them. Some of the rocks have inscriptions of Buddhist mantras on them. The literal meaning of Deraphuk is ‘Cave of the Female Yak’s Horns’. It provides a magnificent view of Mt. Kailash. This is the closest and clearest view one can get of Kailash, a spectacular sight especially when illuminated by the rays of the setting sun. We also trekked further 2 kms uphill to get a closer view of Kailash. The sky was clear due to which we had a magnificent view of Kailash. After Day 1 trekking of 10 kms, we stayed at Dheraphuk camp.
The next day, we set off from Deraphuk on a trail which ascends to an 18,600-feet pass, supposed to be guarded by a Tibetan goddess called Dolma. We started at 2.30 hrs local time so that we cross Dolma pass in the morning. The ascent is steep and never ending. Its advisable to move on a slow and steady phase as there will be breathing problems towards the top of the pass.Along the way, a flat stretch strewn with discarded clothing can be seen. This is Shiv Sthal, where Yama, the King of Death is supposed to judge those who cross it. Crossing the Dolma pass remains a test of faith and determination, as blizzards are known to strike without warning. A rock here is said to represent the goddess Tara Devi. Yatris pray to Goddess with the prayer flags, place pots of butter and light incense sticks. It is not advisable to stay here for too long as the rarefied atmosphere may cause breathing problems. As we descend from the Dolma Pass, we pass the emerald green Gauri Kund, the lake where goddess Parvati is supposed to have bathed. The steep descent continues through glaciers and paths filled with boulders till we reached Zongzerbu for 2nd nights halt. All the camps in Chinese side have very basic facilities which don’t include proper toilets and bathrooms. After a night’s halt, on the 3rd day we head back for Darchen, taking a different route, which is mostly on flat terrain.
Some Facts and Figures:
• Total Number of Yatris-52, aged between 27 and 70.(40 Males and 12 Females)
• Most of the yatris were from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka
• Approximate distance of trekking in the entire trip- close to 200 kms
• Most distance trekked on one day- Coming back from Lipulekh to Gunji- approx 30 kms
• Highest altitude- Dolma pass- Approx 19500 feet
About my experience:
This journey tests your mental and physical strength to the core. I had a strong urge to take up this trip for the last 3 years. Even though I don’t have much trekking experience, the sheer mental toughness helped me in completing the entire trip by walking. The photos or description does not do any justice to what I have experienced during the journey. This indeed is a once-in a life time experience- trekking through Dhevbhoomi Uttarkhand, the sight of Mount Kailash, the beauty of Lake Mansarovar, the list goes on.. This was my first journey with an unknown group. I was lucky to meet some great people spread across North, West, East and South of India. I was able to make some great friends during the journey.
This journey is mostly undertaken by two types of people- either for the trekking experience or for pilgrimage purpose. So if you fall in to any of these two categories, you should do it once during your lifetime. Please note that there are minimum facilities available during the trip; don’t expect any kind of luxury on the Chinese side. The KM camp on the Chinese side doesn’t even have proper toilet facilities. Therefore, keep all these things in mind before you decide to take up this trip. I have kept the travelogue very brief and short for the ease of reading. If you have any specific doubts/clarifications etc., please feel free to mail me.
I will never forget my porters Santhosh Singh (Uttarkhand) and Rinizin (Tibet) for their help and support they gave me throughout the journey. I salute them for their service.
The travelogue will be incomplete without thanking the ITBP jawans and KMVN staff for their selfless service, courtesy and security they provide during the journey.
I would like to thank each one of you for all the wishes and prayers; especially my friends, who motivated me for taking up this trip. In addition, I like to thank my parents for all the support they gave me for the trip.