The climb & dip

The climb & dip

What is most fascinating about Hinduism, as compared to other great religions of the world, is that there is not one god or one holy place which is most revered, but multiple gods and multiple sacred places which are held in high esteem.

That may be one reason why the Hindus — including the most ordinary folk — travel far and wide, seeking mental peace or salvation.

There are a number of holy places in the Himalayas or its foothills, and their attraction is so great that every devout Hindu wishes to visit some of them, if not all, at least once. The devotion or the urge cuts across the age and hardship barriers.

On this long wish-list, the top of the chart for many — whether attainable or not —has to be Manasa Sarovar and Mount Kailash.

An equal match

The beauty of this arduous journey through some of the most hostile terrain is that the strong religious sentiment of ‘visiting’ the abode of Shiva-Parvathy is equally matched by the spirit of adventure that lures the mountain hikers.

Though there are five or six routes to Manasa Sarovar, we chose to go via Kathmandu, Nepal, which enables the pilgrims to complete their tour in 12 days. But, not everyone manages to do the Parikrama or circumambulation of around 44 km by foot over three days, as extremity of climate, age, lack of fitness or health condition can come in the way.

The acclimatisation to the hilly region begins from Kathmandu as one spends a couple of days visiting Pashupathinath Temple, Swayambhunath Temple, the Buddhist temples of Bhaktapur, and the cable-car ride to Chandragiri Hills that offers a spectacular view of the Nepal capital.

From Kathmandu, we took a series of short-haul flights to Nepalganj, Simikot and Hilsa — each of which is an exciting journey in a small aircraft or the helicopter. The weather can be most unpredictable and you never know when the flights will take off. The day we left Nepalganj for Simikot, it poured cats and dogs early in the morning and we were stuck at the small airport for over four hours. But, when the sun began to shine, we scrambled to our feet and boarded the 18-seater Dornier, which offers the luxury of ‘window seat’ to everyone as it has only two rows.

The small but picturesque airport at Simikot has a stunning location in the middle of gigantic mountains, and it gets desperately busy with flights landing or taking off almost every minute when the weather is clear.

The pilots show tremendous skill and dexterity as there is no control tower to guide them. They fly depending entirely on their instinct and eyesight. Though we were scheduled to halt for a day at Simikot, we decided to proceed to Hilsa the same day as the weather was excellent.

The camp at Hilsa, a one-storied building, has a breathtaking location as it is surrounded on all sides by massive mountains. The fatigue of travelling is quickly forgotten as one sips tea watching the play of sun and shadows on the dark-brown mountains.

As it got pretty cold by nightfall, the warmth of sharing accommodation with eight other people came as a blessing in disguise. The next morning, we crossed the steel bridge over the magnificent Karnali river and left Nepal to head to Purang in Chinese-controlled Tibet by road.

During the one-hour journey, the transformation is immediately visible as the infrastructure is vastly superior. The Chinese are extremely business-like as they collect US $ 1,050 for visa but don’t even put a stamp to show that we were in their territory.

After a day of acclimatisation at Purang, we were off by bus to do the Parikrama of Lake Manasa Sarovar, which lies at 4,590 metres above mean sea level. Apart from its legendary status as a lake conceived by Lord Brahma, the innate beauty of the lake makes it something special. It’s here that one has the first glimpse of the southern face of Mt Kailash, splattered with snow in mysterious designs. From a closer look, one can see the face of Lord Shiva with a long mane.

Apart from Hindus, it has been a holy place for Buddhists, Jains and Bons for centuries.

Several Buddhists show their extreme devotion by undertaking ‘prostrating Parikrama,’ which can stretch over a few weeks. Whether one is a believer or not, a dip in the ice-cold Manasa Sarovar is exhilarating. Against the norm of two-three minutes, the brilliant sunshine on the day of our visit helped us to spend 15-20 minutes standing waist-high in the lake.

One of the largest sweet-water lakes at that altitude, it fills the eye with a spectacular range of colours ranging from crystal-clear deep blue near the shores to emerald green at the centre. The whole scenery can change dramatically from dawn to dusk to moonlit-night, making you wonder whether you are seeing the same lake. During winter months, when only some wandering sadhus or tapasvis are known to visit, the lake can turn into a glacier, allowing one to walk over its surface.

And it begins...

After an overnight stay at Chiu Gompa, it was a one-and-a-half-hour drive to Yam Dwar. It was the starting point for the three-day, 44-km Parikrama by foot, undertaken only by those declared medically fit. The Day-1 trek to Driaphuk (14 km) prepares the mind and the body to the Day-2 trek to Zuthulphuk (22 km), which can test the stamina and mental strength. As it’s easier to walk early in the morning, we had a light breakfast at 4 am and went on our journey.

Those having difficulty to walk could hire a pony, but the trek to the snow-clad Dolma La Pass (5,670 metres) and downhill had to be done by foot. Resting to gather breath every 10-15 steps (because of low oxygen level in the air) can be most rewarding, as the sights of Gowri Kund and Ganesh Kund one comes across along the way leaves one mesmerised.

After completing the toughest part of the Parikrama, the eight-km trek on Day 3 is almost like a walk in the park. We boarded the bus triumphantly at Mani Wall on the way to Hilsa and the return journey to Kathmandu.

There is no temple, no shrine, no glittering idols, no camphor, no ear-splitting bells. I believe, the magnetic pull of Manasa Sarovar and Mt Kailash has do with the serene beauty of nature and the experience of the nirguna form of god.


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