When kailashapati is calling, how could one brush aside the Grace ?!
The pilgrimage to the holiest of the holy abodes of Lord shiva, the mount kailash, through Nepal in year 2001, had created the desire to go on pilgrimage to the abode by walking through the Indian side. Another reverend devotee from the same city had the plans of taking up this holy yatra. The company of those who cede their heart to be completely occupied by the Begging Lord, Who is capable of providing the whole universe for those who pray, is certainly something to yearn for.
The pilgrimage to kailAsh - mAnasarovar through the Indian side is organized by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) along with other agencies like the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN). All those who would like to go on pilgrimage to kailash have to apply subsequent to the call for applications published in leading dailies in the month of February. The pre-requisites is a valid Indian passport. (Money - about Rs. 55,000 and health of course). If the passport is not ready, still "applied for" also may get considered. But it is mandatory to have one before the start of the yatra. From the applicants on random lottery type of selection the yatris are chosen for the pilgrimage. The yatra is conducted in 16 batches, each batch having a maximum of 36 yatris. The yatra season starts in early June and the last batch starts the pilgrimage as late as end of August. The chosen applicants for each of the batch are informed in advance. (Sometimes yatris should be ready to start just in a week's time after getting the notification.) On receipt of the selection notification, the applicant must confirm the yatra by telegram to the ministry and follow it up by sending a Demand Draft for Rs 2,000 favoring KMVN. If an applicant declines to take the offer or fails to pay the amount in time, the applicants on the waiting list would be considered for the yatra.
Though some more devotees applied along with us for the yatra, finally it was only two who undertook the pilgrimage. (While there is a good possibility that one could get selected for the yatra, the devotees should not loose heart if they are not selected. At times it may take time. Even if not got selected, should be prepared to apply for the yatra the next year.) Before starting the yatra it is required that the medical fitness tests suggested in the information booklet sent by the Ministry of External Affairs need to be completed. These reports are pre-requisites for the medical clearance for the yatri at indraprasta (delhi). One should take enough of warm clothing and other materials as detailed in the booklet sent by the MEA. The yatra will be an enjoyable and memorable one, if there is fair medical fitness and due care is taken as suggested in the information brochure. Of course Grace of the Supreme is the most essential for a great experience during the yatra. So apart from all these physical preparations one should mentally prepare for the greatest yatra. Praying God is the known way to get Its Grace. From the application filling time one could start doing prayer everyday till the completion of the yatra. This is a vrata for the most sacred yatra. It would be required for the yatri to be present in indraprasta three days before the actual yatra commences so that the medical tests and the visa formalities can be completed.
It was the month of August. We had been selected for the fifteenth batch as yatris. All the yatris assembled at the specified hotel in indraprasta where the arrangements were made for the yatris to stay. There was one more devotee from the neighboring state who had accompanied from our town for the yatra. There were many pilgrims from the length and breadth of India who had already arrived. The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra Samiti and the other service organizations had made food arrangements for the yatris during the days of stay in indraprasta. It was a nice monday, auspicious day to worship the Lord(1), Who took the decimating moon to Its head and blessed it to survive. Got blessed to salute the Benevolent Lord at malai mandhir along with the fellow devotee.
The following day morning the pilgrims were taken to the MEA - undersecretary for china office for a briefing session. Here the indemnity bond signed by the yatris is taken and the passport is also collected from the yatris for stamping. In the meeting the Liaison Officer (LO), who would lead the batch for the pilgrimage, was introduced. The LO gets appointed by the government to facilitate the smooth conduct of the yatra. Typically the person would be from the IPS or the other similar services. Subsequent to the briefing, the yatris were let free to do any pending purchasing for the yatra. The same day KMVN collected the remaining nine thousand of the eleven thousand it charges for making the arrangements for the yatra. (While KMVN charges only 11,000 for 15 days in indian side, 600 USD - approximately 30,000 Rs is charged by the chinese travel agency for 12 days and the facilities and service provided by that agency was far inferior to that of KMVN.) It was atrayodashi evening, when we worship our bholenAth as dancing blissfully forgiving the worst mistake of devas. In that pradOsham (2) evening the Lord at malai mandir appeared along with the Graceful Great Lady on the holy bull, with the chantings of glorious shrI rudram (3) and the heart melting thirumuRai (4) garlands. Oh Lord, we could get to Your abode if Your grace is so; we could get to Your abode only if your grace is so !!
The following day yatris go to the bank to collect the Foreign Exchange to be paid to the chinese travel agency. Apart from the 600$ that was to be paid to the agency an additional 150$ was also bought by the yatris in exchange of rupees for the other expenses, including that for yak etc. The afternoons of only first and second days are available to the yatris as the third day is completely spent in the medical tests. So the yatris were busy packing. All the unwanted luggage were to be left at the hotel itself.
On the third day morning all the yatris went for the medical checkup at the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) hospital at indraprasta. This takes almost the whole day. The doctors there verify all the reports brought by the yatri and would also make additional tests. It is better to ensure before the travel that all the reports asked for in the information booklet are available as specified to avoid any running around at the ITBP hospital. Some of the yatris were denied permission to proceed on the yatra as the doctors felt their body would not withstand the conditions of the high altitude hiking. The zeal of those yatris to worship the Lord at Mount Kailash went far beyond their physical capabilities. May be they are not able to see the kailAshapati from where they are, but certainly the God on the mountain is watching all their sincere agony to see His holy Feet.
It was the late full moon evening. The ardent devotee was singing in full devotion the songs of yAththiraip paththu from thiruvAcakam (5).
thAmE thamakku cuRRamum thAmE thamakku vidhivakaiyum
yAmAr emadhAr pAcamAr enna mAyam ivai pOgak
kOmAn paNDaith thoNDaroDum avan than kuRippE kuRikkoNDu
pOmARamaimin poy n^Ikkip puyaN^gan ALvAn ponnaDikkE
(Him)Self is the kith and kin for (our)selves; (Him)Self is the destiny for (our)selves; Who are we ? Who(/what) is ours ? What are the bindings ? May all these illusions be lost. With the oldest devotees of our Lord, minding only His indications (to serve Him) keep going, removing away all insincerities, to the Golden Feet of Snake-Ornated, our Master !
What a deep meaning ! The point, "avan than kuRippE kuRikkoNDu" (Keeping the complete focus on His intentions) especially, kindled a great amount of thoughts. Isn't this the ultimate path the devotee should get onto eventually ? All that matters is only what indications our Lord shows, making us serve. The bright complete moon came out of the clouds shining away the darkness !
The fourth day was the departure from indraprasta towards the ultimate destination to go to which place people had come ready to sacrifice all the comforts they are used to and take the strains and risks on the way as a reminiscable experience. The bus departed early in the morning with the hailings, "kAvAi kanagath thiraLE pORRI - kayilai malaiyAnE pORRi pORRi", "bam bam - bhole" and "hara namaH pArvatI pataye - hara hara mahAdeva". The first halt was at Almora in uttaranchal. The first day travel itself in the bus on the grand himalayas was very interesting and so interesting was also the thirumuRai discussions with the two devotees who closely accompanied throughout the yatra. When we reached Almora - the town off Nainital - it was already evening. It was a pleasant weather out there - like the cool shade of our Lord's Feet.
During the days of yatra, the journey normally begins early in the morning, right at dawn. The second day of yatra also began early in the morning and continued over the refreshing lower himalyalan ranges in the bus towards dArchUla. The yatri nivas at dArchUla was right in the banks of river sarayu. Water in river sarayu was rapidly flowing rushing over the rock, falling down making a trough reminding the heartbeats of the devotees lose control of themselves at just hearing the Almighty's name. Here is where the ponies/porters for the yatra ahead get booked. Since the food arrangements are made only by the KMVN and there is no such arrangements on the chinese side, our batch also decided to take along some cooks from here. (The stock for cooking was already purchased/got in indraprasta).
The next day journey initially started on the mini-bus we had come till a point mAngtifrom where the walking trail begins. On the way there was a landslide. The yatris valoured through it with the help of KMVN staff. At mAngti the ponies (horse like) and the porters were waiting for the yatris. This day's trek is a short one to a camp calledgAlA. For the first two days of trek it would be normally sufficient to wear simple clothing with a sweater. If there is rain the raincoat would be needful. On the subsequent days it may be required wear additional layers of clothing. It is better to wear layered clothing than one single thick clothing, because at times it would sweat heavily and unless some layers are removed it would be quite uncomfortable. But within few minutes one may have to wear more layers as the temperature changes quite rapidly. The camps on the indian side have fair beds and bed linens to protect the body from the outside temperature. There would be hot rotis and rice served in all the camps for dinner. In the evenings there would be a prayer assembly in which the worship songs of Lord shiva in various languages are to be sung. It is our prayers that calls for Divine Grace which in turn provides us the ability to reach out to His abode. The plans for the subsequent day journey could also be discussed out in this meet.
Very early in the morning tea would be served. Worshipping the Lord at the temple in the camp, taking the breakfast pack in the shoulder bag that contains the dry fruits, water and other food items the yatris left for the trek calling out, "bam bam bhole", "har har mahAdev". The second day journey is more of climbing down from gAlA towards river kAli . From here onwards the journey continues on the banks of river kAli to the source of the same and beyond. As along most of this day's route it is not advisable to go on the horse, even those yatris who had opted for ponies would need to walk. But it is a good practice to walk as much as possible, as it would keep one fit and more comfortable than clinging to the back of the pony. If the mind is fresh during the trek, it would be more easier to walk. The two devotees who came along were chanting/singing the holy thirumuRais all through the journey - all the days. What else could be more refreshing than hearing/thinking of that most Refreshing Lord Who kindles us through ?! In fact Its memories should be the one the devotees seek during the pilgrimage. For it is not a picnic, but a pilgrimage. Let there be enjoyment, but it be the enjoyment of Its grace that reflects through the various things around !
After this climb-down the journey is more or less on a relatively flat terrain on the banks of river kAli. This route is a real interesting one. There would be many little falls on the way and the yatris need to pass through them !! Putting on the rain coat going through these little silver-falls was an enjoyable experience. Of course the shoes would be wet ! kAli river was striking hard with its watery hands on the huge rocks that fail in restricting the flow of the river. The water that splashes on the rocks sprinkle atomized on to the air. Couldn't resist singing cambandhar's thEvAram (4), "thU mA mazai thuru kal micai ciRu n^uN thuLi cidhara." This day's walk is a bit longer. There was a camp in between called mAlpA, but it was washed away by a landslide in the past. There is a memorial at this place as a respect to those who got lost in the nature during this incident. The walking trail is a real scenic one - the fierce roaring kAli with the grand mountain raising on one side in Nepal and the other in India. These lower ranges with the perennial water supply were pleasantly green. Just before the sunset, we reached at the bundhi camp.
Trek from bundhi to the next camp gunji starts with a fairly steep trail to a point just above bundhi called chiyAlekh. Many pilgrims were able to come over to the top comfortably and the others preferred to ride on the ponies. In many of these places like the camps and some of the tops there are small temples of Lord shiva, built. While a few have proper shiva linga at the sanctum, many others have the statue of the Lord. There was one at this point too at just a bit elevated level, but could not get to visit there. There is a refreshment point also on this top where the pilgrims warded off their tiredness by having the breakfast and drinking some hot tea. From this point onwards there were no steep climb for the day. For quite some distance the river kAli is not visibly seen as it is running at the valley down. Subsequently one gets to see the river passing down from the walking trail. The wide water falls one gets to see on this way just captures the attention. Our Lord is dancing in the rhythm of this water-fall; He is coolly residing in that roaring river; He is in the miniscule elements of these gigantic mountains; He Who created this beautiful nature sits enjoying Himself, superceding all these elements ! Hail that lovely Almighty sitting here for a while.
On the way we cross this little village that looks as if like a shelf cut on the mountain. The wooden houses of this town face the kAli river gorge. One of the pilgrims was remarking that this has been a famous town in this area for quite some time. This little village is called garbhayAng.
"Today is the day where we will be able to meet the pilgrims returning after the completion of the yatra.", alerted the helper boy who was coming along. It was about 11 AM. We started to see the people coming from the other side on whose face there was an expression of accomplishment of a great thing in life that appeared pushing back their fatigue. The tongue of the devotees were by then trained to greet anybody they meet, be it a fellow pilgrim, the pony-man or a stranger only with, "aum namaH shivAya". As we met the accomplished pilgrims the greeting, "aum namaH shivAya" came out loud and clear from both the sides in the zeal of sharing "the great experience". It may not be all the times in words, but even the signs mattered. Here there was a post set up by the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), where we got to meet the major part of the batch, those were taking some rest. ITBP men who valiant these tough borders even in the bad climatic conditions were serving with a smile tea and chips. But, well there was some other feast that got hold of our attention. thiruvaLLuvar says when there is no food for ears, it may be worth giving some little to the stomach also. There was enough for the ears, so the stomach and the taste buds got the lesser priority then. A devotee fromthiruvaNNAmalai was giving a lively account of his experience of "The Destination" we were going to. His involvement and absorption into Its Abode, effortlessly brought the budding tears in his eyes that fertilized our hearts to grow further the zeal for "the Beloved" by his devotees. The journey continued alongside river kAli towards gunji.
gunji is a nice little village where the ITBP has a camp. As we walk through the village, could enjoy the artistic houses and common places that were built with wooden carvings. On the way one may be able to see the peak called chota kailAsh. If the sky is clear a beautiful view of the nearby snow-clad peaks could be had. It would be really wonderful on the evening sky. There are devotees who take up yatra to chotA kailAsh. They come up to gunji and then take a deviation. There was one set of pilgrims who had just returned from there. Their sweet voice was calling out from the temple at gunji, "kailAsha vAsA shankarA O". That evening was spent in that combined prayer gathering of these two pilgrimage teams and the ITBP jawans who stand by that post.
The following day, accepting the hospitality of KMVN at the breakfast, we had to proceed to the ITBP medical inspection room to ensure our fitness for the ensuing journey. This exercise may take the whole day. Having come till this point with bubbling enthusiasm, nobody would want to go back without a compelling reason. As the tests were in progress all the other pilgrims gathered at the temple to pray for all the yatris to participate in the yatra safely and successfully. At the end of the day, it was a good news that all the yatris had been cleared for proceeding forward on the yatra.
The walk from gunji to kAlApANi is an easy one and is also short. The walk was more interesting with the added spice of philosophical discussions with the devotees, the seekers of the Ultimate Knowledge. The trek began after the dawn and we were in the kAlApANi camp by around noon. This place is the source of the river kAli. So along with the temple for Lord shiva, an abode for goddess kAli is present at this place. kAli - the fierce - in establishing the prosperity of right things - flows from this calm place. Here the passports of the yatris are collected for stamping. As in the gunji camp soldiers also participated in the evening prayer at the temple over the starting point of kAli.
kAlApANi to nabhidAng, the next camp, is also a quite short one. This is the last camp at the Indian side of the border. On the way the crystal clear water just melt from the mountain snow that reflect the light in white and blue is an appealing view. These streams join the river kAli downstream. At these heights there are hardly any trees because of the climatic conditions especially in the winter. As one reaches nabhidAng camp the Om parvat the mountain where the nature has written the om symbol with snow would be seen. Since it was quite cloudy that day, the mountain was not visible. Since this is the last camp on the Indian side, the all the exposed film roles including the one in the camera needs to be handed over to the authorities. This could be collected by the yatris on their return journey.
As we were getting closer to the abode of God, eagerness also brimmed up. basavaNNa's vachana came to mind, "Mind is full of your thoughts ! kUdala sangama dEvA ! I am completely at Your Feet !"
The pilgrims are supposed to start their journey at 2 O'Clock in the night. This is because the exchange of pilgrims of proceeding and returning batches would happen at the top of Lipu lekh pass. There is a specified time of 7 AM that has been specified for this. So the pilgrims from nabhidAng would have to travel during the night to reach at the pass the following morning. The temperature at this region is quite low at these hours. So the pilgrims should wear enough layers of warm clothes to protect the body. It is important to keep the body warm by moving frequently the parts of the body even when standing or while riding on the ponies. At dawn the pilgrims reach the Lipulekh pass, the second highest point in the yatra. After the yatris from kailash come into Indian side, the pilgrims on the forward journey are let get into Tibet. Having had very good hospitality and service in Indian side, yatris had to adjust after they are handed over to the travel agency on the other side. After walking for a while, there were horses that took the yatris to the place where the bus was standing - a few kilometers away. That day's halt was at Taklakot.
The next day is a rest day at Taklakot. It is for completing the payment and other formalities with Chinese Authorities. It is a small town on the banks of river kaNDaki. There are many shops available here. Some of the missed out items could be purchased here. It would be good not to lose focus completely into shopping, as anyway that is not the purpose why this yatra is done. Whether it be the day of trek or the day of rest, one has to continuously engage the mind in the prayers and thoughts of God. That would make the experience more fulfilling and fruitful. Grace of God came in the form of devotees to sing Its glory with.
Today is the day ! All the minds were eager for that first sight ! As it would be appropriate the intention was to first go to mAnsarovar take a holy bath and then enter the premises of the Holy Mount. But God's call was the other way (probably the last year's holy dip in mAnsarovar was good enough to get the entry this time too !!). The complete batch proceeded towards the Holy Mount. Before the sunrise the bus departed traveling through the tibetan plateau, where for the huge area of land there is hardly any inhabitation. Soon appeared there a huge lake dark blue in color extending to the farthest point eyesight can reach. This is the rAkshas tAl, the lake created by the king rAvaNa, the one who got crushed down heavily for trying out his valor on God's own abode itself ! This is a lake bigger than even mAnsarovar, but people do not consider this as a holy lake and so no body takes holy dip here. There are many rivers like satlej flow out of this lake. The bus kept going on the banks of the lake for a long time with the rabbits and deers running around the place unquestionably.
Just by the other side of the road is the mAnsarovar. But the small hills in between hide the view. (Don't our desire for small luxuries keep us away from performing great deeds ?!) Finally like the determination that comes one day to shred off all inertia and induce into the great path, the bus went over the top of a hill and from there on the right side was the sight of that glorious lake - the renowned mAnasa sarovar. The lake that fills the minds of the yogis, with the experiences unexplainable. In the color of jade the lake was shining with the sun performing the offerings through its rays ! As the plan was to go directly to kailAsha, the bus moved ahead towards the parakhavalley. This huge plain is full of streams from the snow covered mountains that flow to the two major lakes. So the ground is quite muddy and the bus/treks often get caught in them. If the seeker is not careful, doesn't he/she get caught in the mud of jugglery of words, reasonings, aligning/biassed with things, even when getting near to God ?!
It was a cloudy day. The eyes were searching in the horizon, "Will the desire to have the first darshan today would be fulfilled or not ?!" The parkha is almost over and the bus is moving closer to dArchen, the base camp for the parikrama of the Holy Mount. Suddenly there appeared from the clouds surrounded by the white mountains the peak of trinetra ! Isn't that the peak of the Lord, the God of devas; Isn't that the peak the veda, purANas praise as ultimate; Isn't that the peak the sages do very strict penance to have sight of; Isn't that the peak of our Sweet Heart-filling Lord ?! Oh Lord, when we are lost in the clouds and not knowing the directions to look for, may Your kind grace reveal Yourself saying, "I'm here." It was for a few moments and later it was again only clouds that were seen among the other peaks. "Thank you Lord, for the sign of acceptance into Thy abode, for the entry of which we do not have the tapas, but still Your grace leads us in." Soon we reached at dArchen camp to fall down prostrating in the direction of the God on Holy Mount.
Yatris were fully eager to perform the parikrama of the Holy Abode - Mount Kailash in spite of the cloudy weather. After prostrating down towards kailAsha shikara, we boarded the bus. The bus takes the pilgrims till tar-po-che - the valley of God. As soon as the walk started from the flag post at tar po che towardsyamadvar that is close by, the kailasha mountain appeared from the clouds momentarily. Oh God, by Your Grace, we have come to worship You. May Your blessings guide us through the parikrama around Your abode ! The first day of the parikrama is advisable to be covered by foot, even for those who take the yaks, as one walks very close to the Holy Mount, having blessed with the sight of many faces. We are at the peak of the yatra, at the place yearned to go to. So each moment has to be enjoyed feeling the Divine. May the talks about the world stay behind, the loneliness with God be the mindset. Lord, as the sun that showers radiance in all the directions, showers the Grace generously. Hold as much as the pot can hold !
Yatra continued on the foot of the Mount getting the glimpse of west face. There was cloud that was covering the top of the Mount. Even if our limited vision cannot see the top of the mountain, the Lord Who stays on this mount can certainly see the devotees circumambulating and It would definitely shower the Grace that the vessels of our hearts can hold. Those who come to see the mount kailash may or may not return with satisfaction depending upon their credits, but those who come to worship the Beloved Lord have no room to return empty handed ! As one walks through, the view changes and one could have some glimpses of the breadth of the parvat. The place of evening halt is dehrapuk. Right opposite to the camp one could see the magnificent look of the north face. Wide and sharpening towards the top, steep on the face with the glittering snow appearing as if the anointment of milk and curd is being done - is just a wonderful sight. It was an amazing spectacle, when the flowers of snow fell down from the kailash mountain. Oh God, Thy grace ever be with us !
This is a great place to be in ! What else should one want to do other than just lose the self in the Magnificent Beauty right in front !! Even those who may not be doing the complete parikrama, should try to come at least till this point. The abode that shines as silver, gold and gems. Naturallyappar sang this as, "the precious gemful kailash that showers gold and diamonds".
The next morning is the trek to Dolama pass. Since this days trek would be covering longer distance as well as involves climb, the devotees started the climb even before the sun started its climb up the horizon. Normally it is planned in such a way that Dolma pass - the highest point in the whole yatra is crossed before the noon as the climatic conditions may not be conducive after this period. Dolma la is a big rock at the top, where Goddess performed austerity and hence is worshipped as Goddess Herself. She is so elevated in her love for God and so is this spot in this yatra. Can we beg for an infinitesimal portion of that love beyond comparison ?!
Just a few steps away one could see gaurikund, the lake that appears as if emerald has been poured out melted ! Does it get this color as the Goddess who shines brilliant than emerald is supposed use this as her pond ?! From this point onwards it is a descend towards the valley. Just on reaching the valley, there are shops that serve warm food to sit back and recollect the remarkable experience. The days journey would be completed after walking few more hours along the valley to reach Zidulpuk. The third day journey is quite an easy one to come back to dArchan and hence could be completed just on foot. Saluting down on reaching dArchen hands of the devotees fold, "What an opportunity You gave, to come around the abode close to Your heart !"
There were quite some deliberations on the day of return from parikrama about going to aShTapad, the spot very close to the Southern face. The point was, given the weather condition is there at all a point taking that up. By the Grace of God there were atleast sizable number who wanted to proceed towards aShTapad. Whether able to have darshan or not, having come so far and circumabulated the abode, it would be nice to go into the abode and fall down telling praNAms.
When the group started for aShTapad, it was drizzling. The Magnet on kailAsha is pulling and so the hurdles get overpowered in that pull. In the journey to aShTapad only the initial part is a quick ramp and afterwards it is more or less flat terrain till going very close to kailAsh. As the group claimed the ramp it started showering snow flowers. Yes, if we ignore flowers and showers on us and fix to the target, we could go forward. The fellow devotee kept singing Its praise all through the way unconcerned about the showers. The Feet of God gives enough warmth and energy to praise It ! When one gets near the monastery on the left side of the stream, provided that the it is cloud-free, it would be possible to have a glorious darshan of the Southern face. From this point one who wants to go closer and closer into the sanctum of kailAshapati, passing the altar and the nandhi mounts, can proceed forward. You may return taking and distributing the ultimate Grace you received, but let your mind not return off. Let it travel deeper and deeper and mingle with the Blissful Feet of the Supreme !!