नमामीशमीशान निर्वाण रूपं, विभुं व्यापकं ब्रह्म वेदः स्वरूपम् ।
निजं निर्गुणं निर्विकल्पं निरीहं, चिदाकाश माकाशवासं भजेऽहम् ॥
I pray and bow to the Ruler of the Universe, whose very form is liberation, the omnipotent and all pervading Brahma, manifest as the Vedas. I worship Shiva, shining in his own glory, without physical qualities, undifferentiated, desireless, all pervading sky of consciousness and wearing the sky itself as His garment॥
It was the year 2017, and there was an inner calling to visit Mount Kailash. During my Yoga class, we would start the class with a tadasana (Mountain pose) accompanied with Om chanting. I used to visualize a white Himalayan tall mountain, and it helped me with a deeper breath and longer chant. Slowly this morphed into the image of Mount Kailash and somewhere that desire was building up again. Further, I have always worn a Rudraksha mala since 30 years, and Shiva was the God I had prayed to at times. Well, it was also not the first time I had wanted to go to Mount Kailash. In the year 2005, my classmate had planned a trip to Mount Kailash during the MBA summer break, and I wanted to join him. But, my mother discouraged me, as she felt I would leave the house and become a renunciate, which had been a worry for them, but I didn’t see that connection at all. Probably my desire was not strong enough then, so I hadn’t tried hard enough to overcome my parents concerns.
In Feb 2018, Gokulmuthu from my alma mater, and also my guru bhai (we had taken initiation from Swami Gahananadaji of Ramakrishna Math in 93/94), shared that there was a group of few Ramakrishna Ashram devotees and a Swami ji from Mysore Ashram planning to go to Mount Kailash this year. He was thinking of going and invited me to join. I felt this was the perfect opportunity for this pilgrimage, as I enjoyed being in the company of monks, and that would also ensure we don’t waste time in gossip. Divine mother willing, this time I was able to get the permission of my wife and my parents this time. I had a 10-year-old son, so there was no way I was running away they must have thought, just kidding!
Significance of Mount Kailash
Mount Kailash is a 21,778 feet mountain, and considered the abode of Lord Shiva and Ma Parvati. This is known as Mount Meru in Buddhist texts. Vajrayana Buddhists believe that Mount Kailash is the home of the Buddha Cakrasamvara. This is a revered mountain for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Bon. Hindus and Buddhists circumambulate the mountain in clockwise direction, while Jains and Bön circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction. You can find more details and the beliefs around Mount Kailash here.
More details about the Yatra
This was a Kailash yatra group led by Shankar Treks in Bangalore, which we had planned to join. The company’s founder Anand was to accompany us during the yatra. Due to the weather, the yatra is often held between May to mid-August each year.
We had taken the mid June batch from June 12 – June 22nd, 2018. The Yatra could be done through many routes, and the private tour operators offered a route with the help of a mountain plane/helicopter, that this pilgrimage could be done in 10 to 11 days.
The below was a summary of the planned itinerary provided by Shankar treks. We would be in Nepal and China, as Mount Kailash is in Tibet, which is an autonomous region of China.
Day 1 We take a morning flight from Bangalore / hometown and reach Lucknow by 1 pm. We proceed by road to Nepalganj (200 kms). During dinner (8 pm) a tour briefing will be conducted. Night stay at Nepalganj.
Day 2 Early morning transfer to Nepalganj airport for your flight to Simikot (55 mins). We then travel to Hilsa by Helicopter ( 25 mins). Night stay in Hilsa (12,000 ft).
Day 3 After all group members reach Hilsa we cross the Suspension Bridge over Karnali river to enter Tibet and drive to Purang Taklakot (27 kms). We Complete China Immigration and stay overnight at Taklakot. (13200 ft).
Day 4 Entire day is free for acclimatization. You can purchase any missing items in your yatra packing list.
Day 5 We travel by highway from Taklakot to Manasarovar via Rakshastal Lake (88 kms). We reach Chiu Gompa (14,500 ft) and start Manasarovar Parikrama by bus. We take holy bath near Tru-Gompa followed by lunch. We return to Chiu Gompa. Night Stay in Dormitory Rooms. View Divine Lights in Manasarovar.
Day 6 Perform Puja in Manasarovar and proceed to Darchen. Night stay in Darchen (15,500 ft)
Day 7 Visit Yamadwar and offer prayers. Start Parikrama and reach Dirapuk (15 kms) View North Face of Kailash. Night Stay in Dirapuk (16,300 ft)
Day 8 Cross Dolma La Pass; (18600 ft) have darshan of Gowri Kund and reach Zuthulpuk(15,600 ft) (Total distance : 22 kms) Night Stay in Zuthulpuk
Day 9 Complete Parikrama (10 kms) and reach Darchen and onward to Taklakot by noon. After China immigration reach Hilsa and travel by helicoptor to Simikot (9,800 ft) for night stay
Day 10 Early morning fly to Nepalgunj by plane. Time permitting we proceed to Lucknow by road. Night stay at Lucknow / Nepalganj.
Day 11 Proceed to Bangalore / hometown by flight.
More background and Few challenges
Altitude – The highest point during the Yatra would be about 18,500 feet at Dolma Pass. Since I had never been to any high-altitude treks, I wasn’t sure if I suffered from any altitude sickness. Only when one treks to a higher than 9000 feet one may be able to know that. Further, I lived in Bhopal in 1984, when we had the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Luckily we lived in an area which was on a hill and it was affected the least but the gas leak had impacted the respiratory functions and for some the impact could come out later on.
To counter altitude sickness, acclimatization is recommended, and any day you increase the height by 2000 feet, beyond 9000 feet, one should stay at that height for sometime. Further, use of Diamox, a tablet that helps with reducing altitude sickness is commonly recommended.
On the other hand from 2017 onwards, I had been interested in doing regular day treks, with some day being able to do Everest base camp trek. We found more trek enthusiasts, and had done some 6 to 8 day treks in the last 8 to 10 months before the trip. I was also working on my weight loss for a few months, and was able to reduce from 96 kg to 85 kg of weight before the Kailash Yatra.
Work – I was the founder of a startup, and the company was growing fast. It would mean 11 to 12 days away from work without a laptop. We were a 10 people company at that time, and at that stage the company still wasn’t independent without me. On researching, I found out that decent roaming and data connection is available in all portions of the trip in China, except for some portions. The actual Parikrama (circumambulation) was for 3 days, and those many days I would be fully cut off, and that would work out fine.
Sciatica Pain – Just 15 days before my trip, I had a recurrence of a Sciatica pain on my right leg, which I had only two times in my life. First time was in the harsh winter of New York, and the second time was in Bangalore. This nerve pain is excruciating. Last time, I had to get an epidural shot in my spine, and along with physiotherapy the recovery took 30 days. Another time, I had tried complete Ayurvedic and recovery was in 60 days. This pain was aggravated in cold weather for me. We tried some exercises in my Yoga class, and the Yoga sir gave me some extra exercises, and they provided some relief. But, before we left I knew the pain was still there, and could be much worse in cold weather, so I carried enough pain killers.
Our group and pre-travel preparation
Our group led by Shankar treks, had more than 65 people opt for the mid June Yatra. Most of them were in the retired age group, and only about 10% were younger. The group which I called family during the trip was – Gokulmuthu, Swami ji (Kiran Maharaj), Swami ji’s mother, and Dayanada. There were few more people in the group, whom I knew a little bit. In terms of preparation, we needed to get a Doctors certificate of fitness, pack essential items and carry Chinese Yuans. Those who needed to take a horse for parikrama would require extra Yuans, so I decided to make sure to have enough money, in case we needed it. We also gathered the travel kits, with bags being provided which were ideal as per future travel restrictions, to pack our things.
For chanting purposes, we were suggested to bring Lalitha Sahasranama and Vishnu Sahasranama, among other Shiva chanting books. We were to offer a puja near Mansarovar lake and for that there was some small puja samagri also to be brought.
Start of the Trip
We started on June 12th, 2018 and the flight to Lucknow was eventless, and reached by 12 PM. For our onward journey from Lucknow to Nepalgunj, our group was in a bus, and 2 smaller vehicles. We opted for the bus, and while the distance was to be covered in 3 to 4 hours, due to long delay at Nepal border crossing, we reached the hotel at 6:30 PM.
Nepalgunj stay was pretty comfortable in terms of the facilities as we were still in the urban area, and we stayed at Hotel Sneha. In the briefing at night, we were told to repack and reduce the weight of the bag to carry to a 10kg bag. Also, we were assigned a time slot to go to the airport next morning to catch a flight to Simikot. The planes that fly in this region are special Mountain planes, which are 16 seaters (see below for actual pictures).
If there is an uncertainty in any part of the trip, it is this flight, as when weather is bad then these flights don’t take off. Around 10 to 12 days after our trip ended, we had the news of Indian army being asked to evacuate people stranded in this Yatra in Simikot.
To be continued in part 2 with a lot of images from the journey and more me-me story. 😃
ps: Thanks to OS.me that inspired me to write this travelogue, for first time almost 2.75 years after my visit.