Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 3

As I write this series about Kailasa Yatra, quite a few people have got in touch with questions… “How was it? How tough is it? How does one prepare? What about the effect of low oxygen?” etc etc… Net-net, from many, the message seemed to be, “I would love to do it.. But not sure… Perhaps, had I been younger… But still….”. Recognize the tune?

Well, as a response, let me share a mail that came to me a few days ago… From a gentleman named KS Ramakrishnan, and this was our first communication…

He wrote:

Dear Kameshwar,

My son in law forwarded your Kailash yatra blog to me.  Very interesting to read the same.  I did the yatra in 2011.  I was 81 years old then.  It was tough especially the parikrama.  We had combined this with a tour of Tibet commencing from Lhasa.  The wilderness of Tibet is breath taking and one can but think of Kailasanath only all the time.  I had also written a travelogue after this trip.  If you are interested, I shall send it to you.  God bless you and yr efforts to propagate our culture and heritage.


Ab bolo!

Eighty one years old!

I got back in touch with him pronto. I gratefully accepting his offer of the travelogue of his trip to Mt Kailasa, which I read with much interest…  A humbling, inspiring, educating account…And with his permission, I am sharing it here.

Here’s the link… Kailash Yatra 2011 – Mr KS Ramakrishnan


Continuing now, from my previous post…

Let’s look at a couple of other ancient routes to Manasarovar, from Garhwal region of Uttarakhand…

The first one we check out is the one from Badrinath – via Mana Pass.

Swami Tapovanam, who took this route in 1929, tells us – “The Puranas say that Lord Krishna and the Pandavas, as well as several great Rshis, used this pass… There are innumerable traditions and statements in the Puranas suggesting that it was a  common custom for the great Rshis of ancient India to visit Kailas along this route…

Here’s a bird’s eye view of the route, shown in red.


As you can see in the map, one needs to proceed north from Badrinath along Saraswathi river, cross Mana Pass, reach Tholingamutt in Tibet, and then turn eastwards, to proceed to Mount Kailasa. This was one of the traditional trade routes between India and Tibet. The path was closed down by the Chinese in 1951, but reopened for native pilgrims and traders in 1954.  Guess it is impossible to cross except for a few months in the year… And even during that period, no guarantees.

A slightly more detailed map is given below.

The route marked in Red is the one via Mana Pass, taken by Swami Tapovanam in July 1929….


The journey described by Swami Tapovanam is like this…Mana village is near Badrinath… Near Mana village is the sacred Vyasa Gufa (Click here, for an earlier blog post about Mana and Vyasa Gufa)… River Saraswati is nearby.

Swamiji and a group of around seventeen Sadhu-s went from Badrinath to Keshav Prayag, the confluence of Saraswati and Alakananda, which is not far from Vyasa Gufa. They then proceeded northward along the route of Saraswati river. There is no marked road or path… They made their way across “boulders of rock and heaps of snow, with only Saraswati river for  a guide”…Crossed streams/tributaries that come in the way (not easy). The progress was very difficult, labored… At times one could hardly cross a mile in one hour.. Neela Parvat, the deep blue mountain, came into view. This beautiful mountain is the mythological abode of Kakabhusunda.

Swamiji’s group took seven days to go from Badrinath (which is close to 10,000 feet) to somewhere near the Mana Pass (which is around 18,000 feet). Altitude sickness struck most people… Some horses perished on the way.. One man too… A few kms short of the top of the pass, they reached Devasaras (also known as Deotal), a beautiful lake, that was frozen blue . Swamiji writes – “At a height of 18,000 feet on the shore of a celestial lake, I entered into deep Samadhi induced by Nature, forgetting Kailas, forgetting the pilgrimage, forgetting the world and the body”.

They were forced to spend the night there, entrusting themselves to the care of the deity of the Pass. A storm,  and chances of survival would have been bleak. Next morning, they ascended again… After a couple of miles, they came to a pile of stones that represented the deity of the pass. In gratitude, they made offerings to the deity and accepted them back as Prasada. Walking on, reaching the top, they crossed over into Tibet.  Descending the pass, they reached the plains by late afternoon that day.

Next day they walked ahead in the great Tibetan highland plains. On the way, they saw a place which, as per local belief, had the hoof-marks of the horses that Rama and Lakshmana had used when they came here. Walking on in the open country, they came across wild horses, deer, and even a tiger. Fourth day after crossing the pass, they reached Tholingamatam (Tholing), which lies in the region of the river Sutlej, as it flows from the vicinity of Manasarovar to the Indian sub-continent. Badrinath to Tholing, a distance of around 80 miles (130 kms or so), took them 13 days.

This same route is described by the Yogi “M” as well, in his book, “Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master – A Yogi’s biography”. He too had a significant spiritual experience at Deotal, on the way. “M” and his group took 21 days to make the same journey – from Badrinath to Thholingamutt. He describes the trek as very tough, and mentions that one faced terrible headaches and nausea due to the lack of oxygen…

More about Tholing Mutt later…

From Tholing, for Mt Kailas, one proceeds east, south of Sutlej river and north of the Himalaya… Swami Tapovanam walked twenty miles to Daba, and fifty plus miles more to Gyanima… Mt Kailas was another 40 miles north-east of Gyanima… The route from Tholing to Daba, and then on to Gyanima and  Kailas, was one frequented by highway robbers at that time… Through such perilous paths did the group of Swami-s tread in their holy pilgrimage…

The total distance from Tholing to Mt Kailasa would be around 180 or 190 Kms.

By this route, the pilgrim arrives first at Kailasa. By the other route from Almora (Kumaon), one arrives first at Manasarovar. However, this Mana route, a total of around 320 kms or so from Badrinath to Kailasa, is a longer and tougher route, which has been used since ancient times…

Swami Tapovanam talks of Mana Pass route in connection with the kayva (lyric poem) Meghaduta, composed by the great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa. In that poem, the lover, a Yakhsa who has been exiled from Kailasa to the middle of India, sends a message to his beloved who is in Kailasa. He entrusts that message to clouds that are going north, making them his messenger. Narrating the route that the cloud need to take to Kailasa, the Yaksha, speaking of the way ahead after reaching Himalaya, asks the cloud to rise in the Himalaya and cross by way of “Krouncha-Randhra (Krauncha Pass… A pass in the mountain Krauncha… Krauncha also means the bird Curlew… And the Crane – see footnote below )… Go by the way of the Swans (Hamsa-dvara), and soaring beyond, reach the mountain of Kailasa….” Hamsa, the word for swan, also denotes Ascetics…

Swami Tapovanam says : “Some scholars hold that the Crouncha Randhra described in ancient poems as the route used by Royal Swans of Lake Manasa, is the Mana Pass…”…

There are some others who say that the Meghaduta reference is to another Himalayan pass – another route to Manasarover – which we shall talk of in the next post…

Signing of this post with a short video from youtube, of cranes migrating to India in winter, crossing the Himalaya mountains… Meghaduta comes alive here, with the clouds rising in the Himalaya and confronting the flight of the birds, making them turn back… The cranes return the next day, rise above the world so high, and cross over to their beautiful winter sanctuary, India… A real nice video clip… A must see… Watch it on full screen…


Footnote -> Update: My good friend and co-yatri, Shankar, was the one who pointed me to the youtube video of the cranes. After reading this post, he also sent me wikipedia info on Demoiselle crane which says: “The Demoiselle Crane is known as the Koonj (कूंज, کونج, ਕੂੰਜ) in the languages of North India and Pakistan…. The name koonj is derived from the Sanskrit word kraunch, which is a cognate Indo-European term for crane itself.”

Food for thought , regarding Krauncha-randhra….

** * To be continued ***


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9 Responses to “Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 3”

  1. Padmini Says:

    The video was awesome. Thanks

  2. Padmini Says:

    Meant to also that I enjoyed reading what you wrote as well . Thanks

  3. Sanjay Balram Says:

    Magical and humbling

  4. Jayakumar Says:

    Awesome Kamesh. Years ago an Egyptian colleague , an underwater diving enthusiast shared that in one of his early trips as he dived in he was so absolutely overwhelmed by the tranquil beauty of the world below, that tears started rolling down his eyes making him struggle with his vision thro the glasses! Did you have the same experience?! Jayakumar

  5. gkamesh Says:

    Thanks Padmini, Jay, Sanjay. Jayakumar, the first sight of Manasarovar is awesome. Your Egyptian colleague’s words echo strongly. First sight of Kailasa does the same. And then second sight, and third sight and so on….Siva and Prakrti – Auspiciousness and Nature – in supreme abidance. Dancing eternally… And timelessly still… What can one say

  6. Srini Says:

    Enjoyed the writing. Hopefully there are more instalments.

    The video and mention of cranes reminds me of the following cryptic dialog or riddle my Sanskrit teacher refered to while covering the relevant portion of meghadūtam.

    The dialog is in a category called anyāpadeśa, an oblique reference to someone or something outside the conversation itself and is open to interpretation.

    “Who are you, Red-Face, Red-Feet?”
    “I’m a goose”.
    “Where do you live?”
    “Far away, in Mānasa lake.”
    “Tell us something about it.”
    “It’s full of golden lotuses and lovely pearls”.
    ‘What about snails?”
    “Never heard of them.”

    So said the noble bird,
    and the cranes sneered, “Aha!”

  7. Thiru Says:

    Very informative as always GK. Your writing skill is exceptional. Don’t unpack, let’s plan a trip together. The Video is Nat Geo stuff. Who shot it?

    • gkamesh Says:

      Surely the video must have been shot by the best of Nat Geo kind of professionals. It was on youtube, and there are others too. Incidentally there is a village in India where many of these cranes come to… You may like to read about it at . That is the great, timeless, India…

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