Kailash-Mansarovar : Journey that taught me the value of my very breath
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Mount Kailash is located near Lake Manasarovar and Lake Rakshastal, close to the source of some of the longest Asian rivers: the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali also known as Ghaghara (a tributary of the Ganges) in India. Mount Kailash is considered to be sacred in four religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Bön and Jainism.
Way back in 2014, a fellow traveller in Kashmir mentioned about her experience of visiting the Kailash-Mansarovar and how intense was the three-day circumambulation of the Mount Kailash.
That got me interested and made me want to visit it someday. Though it felt like a remote possibility. I knew it would be challenging in terms of altitude and fitness.
It is always said that it is important to set goals and articulate them so that you are committed to executing them instead of just dreaming about it.
That is exactly what I did! Last year, a goal was set. Shared it with few people in my circle, got cracking to get my fitness levels up. I still had no idea how I would be travelling and other nitty-gritties of the trip.
There is no other teacher than life and what I learnt was that while you are busy executing your plan, make sure you are flexible as life happens when you are planning. There were two major derailments – A bout of chikungunya in September 2017, which got me down. It took a couple of months to get back on track. Just when I was feeling fine, an attack of allergic bronchitis hit me in April 2018. I was hoping against hope that I will be fine by mid-2018.
Apart from the medical challenges, I also had to deal with some passport issues (that story is for another time). I almost missed getting the permit on time. But as Shahrukh Khan so famously borrowed from Paulo Coelho –” if you truly wish from your heart, the whole universe conspires to make it happen for you”. Yes, last-minute dash it was and here I was all set to go on the trip.
No Benchmark? No Problem, there is always a first time:
Not an avid trekker. History of bronchitis. Not a great lung capacity. Had absolutely no benchmark as to how I would fare at altitudes of 16000 ft to 18000ft. Over the year, I had consistently worked on my fitness but again that was relative. I was better than what I was last year but was it good enough? I had no idea.
Was I anxious? Of course, I was.
What kept me going was that there is always the first time, and this would be my first time, I just had to trust myself – my mind and my body.
Cut the noise and focus:
Different hues of people were part of the journey. Older pilgrims, trekkers and people who had just come to spend time with friends – as someone aptly called them picnickers. I just had to ask myself what was my reason of being there and then just focus on it. Trying not to get carried away by the noise or getting hassled that my fitness was not on par with some of the seasoned trekkers. I had to consciously make an attempt to just focus on the reason I was there.
My reason was just to be more mindful of where I was and try to be connected to a higher source of energy.
Just keep moving with slow steady pace. One foot after the other. It was alright if I was not the fast one. I was running my own race.
There were some emergency evacuations in the earlier groups and one person did not survive . All these incidences , did unnerve but I think what worked was letting faith take over.
Leaving your vanity behind in the Plains:
The first day of circumambulation or Parikrama starts with Yamadwar. That means “Gates Of Lord Of Death”. Symbolically, it means, that one must leave the mortal self and move on the pathway to Kailash.
That felt very true, with high altitude and limited resources, the only focus is to get in the next breath of oxygen, the last thing you worry is about your looks!
One tends to become very flexible as it is not a journey filled with luxuries but just about manages to fill your basic necessities. Every thing falls in to a different perspective. You filter out the wants vs needs.
Coming across a hygienic toilet felt a luxury.
I found it extremely amusing when some people were worried about their hair and were hoping to find some mirror somewhere. The only reflection one got was from someone’s reflective sunglasses.
Support System – know when to accept help :
At the end of the first day of the Parikrama, when all of us retired to our dorm room, somewhere in the middle of the night, I suffered suffocation. High altitude and lack of ventilation in the room made me severely restless. I was literally gasping for breath. A lady doctor in the group thankfully woke up and quickly made me sniff camphor and made me breathe deeply. She watched my pulse and said it was alright. However, throughout the night, I was sitting up because lying down with all the layers made me uneasy. And most importantly, any small movement would get my heart rate shooting to 110+. Under normal circumstances, this heartbeat rate would have occurred only if I would have been running!!
It is great to overcome one’s limitation and that is what I tried. Your body is a wonderful vehicle, it can stretch to amazing levels if you set your mind on it. However, one also has to respect nature and be smart enough to know when to honour the limitations.
So, next day when I was told by the experienced local coordinating team, I would have to take a pony ride for some kilometres uphill till Dolma Pass of 18000 ft because of my inadequate cardiovascular strength, I accepted it. The last thing I wanted was to return back due to low oxygen saturation levels or fall dead!
Faith – Being Present and mindful:
On the second day, we crossed over Dolma pass at 18500 ft , the pass is named after Goddess Parvati. The air is very thin there and you are asked to not stay there for too long. Also the belief is that Goddess has to bless you to cross over else many end up returning back or getting evacuated.
The down slide after crossing over the pass was quite steep of 5 km. Post which there was another 10 km of a trek. That stretch will always be one of my most memorable treks.
As my tired legs kept moving one step at a time and my lungs constantly tried to get oxygen in the system, the only thing kept me going was my chanting. It kept me mindful and did not let me give up.
The amazing thing was that some of the Sherpas would also chant in Tibetan along with me if they ever saw me slowing down.
“Om Namah Shivaya” was the common greeting to fellow passers-by, this gave amazing energy and you knew that you were not alone and all of us were moving towards one common destination.
All is well, that ends well. Forgive and Forget:
As we reached Darchen, ending the third and the last day of the Parikrama; I was overwhelmed with emotions!
It was difficult not only physically but emotionally and mentally too.
Different types of people travelling together and to top it all, some tough climatic conditions.
People started losing their cool on simple things like location of the bed.
Difficult situations get the masks off the people. I did not know anyone personally, but I saw them with their masks off and I guess they saw mine off too.
Like they always say, if you want to understand someone, travel with them.
As the Parikrama, came to an end, it was time to say goodbye to Mt. Kailash. It was also the time to leave all the negativity behind and to forgive and forget.
However one cannot but notice , the complete lack of hospitality at Chinese customs at the border and equally helpful attitude of the Tibetans.
As we descended down to Nepal , it started raining heavily overnight at Simikot. We were told that if the weather is not good we may have to wait for another day for the flight to Nepalganj. That would have been catastrophic as we had run out of clean clothes. Thankfully , the weather cleared early morning and we took the flight back to Nepalganj. We were safely back in to the plains. Just 120 kms away from Indian Border.
Ever since the Parikrama was completed, the only thing I was day dreaming about was a hot water bath. A luxury which we take for granted in our day to day life.
Who said Travel was easy? It never is, especially if you are travelling the Himalayas.
These places have a knack of seeking you out, if I am meant to, I shall come again.
Until then, Om Namah Shivaya…
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain