On top of the world
ON TOP OF THE WORLD
DAY 1 & 2: DELHI– KATHMANDU-LHASA
CAPTION: FEW EXOTIC HOLIDAYS CAN COMPARE WITH THE HIGH OF BEGIN IN THE ABODE OF SHIVA. BY ANU MALHOTRA.
DAY 3 & 4: LHASA
DAY 5: LHASA – SHIGATSE
CAPTION: THE VASTNESS OF THE SCALE IS AWE INSPIRING; VISTAS OF GREEN PLAINS AND PURPLE MOUNRAINS SHADED BY CLOUDS
DAY6: SHIGATSE -NGAMRING
DAY 7: NGRAMING – SAGA
CAPTION: THE WOMEN ARE DRESSED IN LONG COLOURFUL WRAPAROUNDS BRIGHT BLOUSES AND STRIPED APRONS.
DAY 8: SAGA PARYANG
CAPTION: THE SHERPAS PUT UP A SHOWER TENT WITH BUCKETS OF HOT WATER. AH! A THREE DUSTY DAYS ON THE ROAD.
DAY 9: PARYANG –LAKE MANSAROVER
DAY 10: LAKE MANSAROVER
Kailash and Lake Mansarover are legendary. Hindus regard Mt. Kailash as the earthy manifestation of Mt. Meru – the spiritual centre of the universe, adobe of Lord Shiva. For Tibetans, this is their holiest mountain – Kangri Rinpoche (Precious Snow Mountain)- the navel of the earth. The Jains revere it as Astha Pada, the site where their first Trithankar, Adinath Risbhadeva, achieved enlightment. The Bonpo believe their founder, Shenrab, alighted from heaven upon Kailash, the sacred ‘Nine Stacked Swastika Mountain’ (named after the scarring on the south face of the mountain resembling a swastika). Lake Mansarover is also the source of four major Asiatic rivers- the Indus, Sutlej, Brahamaputra and the Karnali (a main tributary of the Ganges). For over 1,000 years, pilgrims have journeyed here to pay homage to this sacred mountain and lake, circumambulating them in an ancient ritual of devotion.We collect on the bank in front of the lodge for a sacred dip, which is supposed to “wash away the sins of a lifetime”. A tent has been put up for us to change as it is windy and freezing cold. I hear shouts and cries and suddenly a couple of ‘pioneers’ run out, bracing the cold, splashing into the water and soon we all follow.The water chills me to the bone and is a complete shock to the system-which miraculously begins buzzing with newfound life, heat and energy. We pray that our loved ones are blessed by the powerful, mystical aura of Mansarover and Mt. Kailash.Next morning we dress in darkness, raring to begin our parikrama of Mt. Kailash. We drive past the grubby town of Darchen, the flagging off point, and finally alight below Chuku Gompa, strung all over with prayer flags. Our camping equipment and bags are bundle onto a dozen yaks, an unruly lot barely restrained with much shouting and whistling by the shepherds. Soon, with sunscreen slathered, sun glasses, hats and backpacks on, we begin our parikrama with a cry of Om Namah Shivaya.There are many more people making the pilgrimage this year, for 2002 is the cyclical. 12th year, which is highly auspicious- a parikrama this year equals 13 parikramas! We come across hordes of Tibetans who are undertaking their parikrama by prostration, lying full length on the ground so that their foreheads touch the earth with each forward stride. In this manner, each circuit takes them 13 days. It’s believed that a single circuit of the mountain erases the sins of a lifetime; 10, the sins of an age; while 108, a holy number, ensures nirvana. However, to gain enlightment, ‘your mind must be in touch with the gods and holy things’, out Tibetan guide tells us. Without this sense of reverence, nothing is gained by mere circling. As I begin walking across the rocky valley floor, I look up in amazement at the towering cliffs, lining both sides, sculpted into fantastic forms. The mountains themselves are natural shrines made divine by the devotion and faith of pilgrims. On an oddly shaped boulder they sit in the ‘Saddle of Faith’ to pray for high rebirth in their next incarnation, and bow before a natural image of the fierce protector Tamdrin etched on a boulder, or the footprint of the Buddha embedded in a stone slab. The route is lined with such spiritual reminders and like a mandala design the four-sided Mt. Kailash is set within its pilgrim path. By tracing the circuit around Kailash, pilgrims link the natural and spiritual worlds. Every step in the parikrama becomes a prayer, a tangible progression towards liberation.IT’S BELIVED THAT A SINGLE CIRCUIT OF THE MOUNTAIN ERASES THE SINS OF A LIFETIME, TEN THE SINS OF AN AGEDAY 12: DERA PHUK-DROLMA LA PASS-LHAM CHHU VALLEYOur yaks have run away into the hillside during the night! While the Sherpas round them up, we have our breakfast of porridge brimming with dry fruits and hot chocolate and begin our parikrama.CAPTION: EACH STEP IN THE PARIKRAMA AROUND MT. KAILASH IS A PRAYER, A TANGIBLE PROGRESSION TOWARDS LILIBERATIONFrom Dera Phuk, the trail ascends to an 18,600ft pass guarded by a benevolent female divinity Drolma, the Saviour of Tibetan Buddhism. More than a few pilgrims have died here, when a blizzard altitude sickness. It’s very cold today. I can see the steep snowy hillside rising infront, dotted with hundreds of pilgrims inching along. The walk is tough, a steady climb, which in the rarefied air makes everyone walk in slow motion. Tibetan pilgrims pass by, with cheerful ‘tashideleks’ and smiles to encourage us to keep moving. This is Siwtshal Dutro or Shiva Tsal, where pilgrims make an offering of a personal item, symbolishing a renunciation of worldly goods.I hear the cry “La, so, so, so!” and look up to see a splash of colour-red-green and gold prayer flags flutter vibrantly in the snow. At last, Drolma La-spiritually its passage marks the transition from this life to a new one, for atop the pass the pilgrim is reborn, all sins forgiven through the mercy of Drolma La, among the most beloved of Tibet’s deities. Literally translated, her Sanskrit name Tara, means ‘she who helps cross’ -not just to the opposite side of the pass, but to spiritual realization. Pilgrims revere it by stringing prayer flags, making offerings of butter, locks of hair or money and taking back an objects as a lucky charm. We regroup here and celebrate-roti, rolls, dry fruits, chocolate, water and a few photographs. Soon we’re off downhill. The wind is fierce and chilly, the path steep, icy and slippery, and we have to take care not to slide off or be blown off the cliff face. Around the corner, nestled in the fluted ice cliffs is the emerald green Gauri Kund or Tukje Chenpo Tso, the lake of ‘great mercy’. Hindu legend has it that Parvati created Ganesha here, while she bathed. Clouds descend with snowfall and the wind begins to bite. Our elation is replaced by the worry of making it to base camp. Finally, we sight our camp, stumble there and collapse into our tents.DAY 13: LHAM CHHU VALLEY – ZUTRUL PHUK GOMPA-DARCHENA white sheet of snow surrounds out tents as we awake to the frosty morning. We commence our trek to our lunch stop at Zutrul Phuk Gompa or ‘magical power cave’. This little gompa is built over a cave of the tantric Yogi Milarepa who roamed the Nepal-Tibet borderland, mixing miracles with meditation and using the yogic technique of ‘inner heat’ to survive the freezing winters.Late afternoon, we come to Rainbow Mountains. The Tibetans call this place ‘The Gold and Red Cliffs’, a fantastic canyon splashed with explosions of mineral colour –orange, maroon and gold boulders strewn across purple, black and blue slopes! On the right Kailash remains hidden by hills and clouds, unseen but strongly felt presence exerting an almost magnetic pull on the pilgrims. This faith creates openness to a higher state of being, a profound reverence for the natural perfection expressed by Kailash and Mansarover, and a belief in the potential in every being to touch that perfection.DAY 14: MANSAROVER –RAKSHAS TAAL-PURANGThe early morning drive takes us to Rakshas Taal where we pay our respects. Also known as Langkak Tso or the lake of Lanka, it is here that Ravana sat in mediation invoking the blessings of Shiva. Then, we drive to the shrine of General Zoravar Singh, who conquered Ladakh and western Tibet, and died just outside Purang in 1841. His shrine is still maintained by village folk 160 years later. We salute this brave son of India, now an unsung, forgotten hero. Purang, the regional headquarters of Ngari province, is a dusty little town. We spend the day ‘dry hair wash’. Owing to the water constraint, hair is massaged with shampoo and little squirts of water and finally washed out in a small trickle of water. Ingenious! After a hot meal of delicious local Tibetan food, toasts, speeches, laughter and celebration, we retire to our guesthouse for our last night.DAY 15: PURANG –HILSA-KATHMANDUWe race through Purang and proceed to the Chinese border post at Sher, from where we descend to the helipad at Hilsa, on the Nepalese side of the border. As the chopper lifts off the ground, I get a bird’s eye view of the magical valleys and mountains below – Shangri La - the beauty, the silence, the power, the spirit, the immense space, and it only requires the seeking eyes –the eyes of faith, to see.
CAPTION: WE COLLECT ON THE BANK FOR A SACRED DIP TO WASH AWAY THE SINS OF A LIFETIME. THE WATER CHILLS ME TO THE BONE YET I FEEL REJUVENATED.
DAY 11: LAKE MANSAROVER – DARCHEN CHUKU GOMPA –DERA PHUK (1st day of parikrama 12 km)