Saro Devi… That is how Swami Tapovanji Maharaj refers to Manasarovar. (Readers would know Swami Tapovan Maharaj. He was a a great sage, a Sanyasi from Kerala who made Himalaya his home. He traveled twice to Kailas-Maanasa, once in 1925 and then in 1929. Incidentally, Swami Chinmayananda was his disciple )
So, here we are, at the feet of Saro Devi.
What can this one say about Maanas….Where does one go to find words to describe the infinite of which one has seen but a fraction. And even that fraction has been so immense that one is left feeling like a kitten that has taken but a sip from the ocean of milk? It seems crass to say anything at all, for what is it that one has indeed known about this unknowable…Saro Devi.
“How can Manasarowar and Kailas be the objects of divine honours from two religions so different as Hinduism and Lamaism unless it is that their overpowering beauty has appealed to and deeply impressed the human mind, and that they seemed to belong rather to heaven than to earth ?“, asks Sven Hedin, a Swedish explorer, who came to Manasarovar in 1907….
That, from a foreigner…
And as an Indian, where do I even begin… Manasarovar…. Referred to with such veneration in Ramayana, Mahabharata, the Purana-s… Revered since thousands of years… Mythology has it that the Maanasa-Kailasa has been visited by Rama, Krishna, Pandava-s…. That Krishna did penance here at Kailasa for several years… For thousands of years, pilgrims from India have been coming here, braving all dangers, to visit the land of Siva. So it is, that when one visits Maanas, one is logging onto this eternal flow of the wonder that is timeless India.
And as if just to remind one of its timelessness, Maaanas, during the Yatra, comes upon you, all of a sudden. As if by magic, by a sleight of unseen hand, a wink of Shiva! Along the route, you have been coming past hundreds of miles of beautiful nothingness, the endless Shunyata-desert of the Tibetan landscape, and suddenly, there it is, a sudden oasis of infinite fullness and sublime purity, that bathing place of Gods..Maanas.. Like the reflection of infinite consciousness in a pure mind… A beauty that is divine… A turquoise gem set in the crest of the earth… Manasarovar. In front of you. In all its glory.
Let me describe our arrival at Maanas.
After our break at Hanuman Tal, we had taken off for the last leg… And then we had arrived here, at a most modern terminal…
This was a change-over point. We had to get off our buses… Go through this checkpoint… And then get onto another bus.
We enter the terminal. This could have been any of the modern airports by the looks of it.
Everything was spic-and-span… We had a few minutes to spare. There were public telephone booths here. For a few bucks of Chinese currency, you could call home. Which a few people did. Yours truly stood in queue for a while. And then gave up as the folks with the phones did not let go, and it was time to move… Perhaps I should have stayed back and made that call. For the Chinese tour guide was not happy with the Chinese driver of the new bus. Not sure what his gripe is but he wants a change of bus. So, we wait for another bus.. And then we go..
Our changeover was to a very modern European bus, which, if I am not mistaken, was a special non-polluting, electric or hybrid fuel vehicle. In matters like these, you have to hand it to the Chinese. They have taken all steps to minimize pollution in the vicinity of Manasarovar…. What would we in India have done, had Maanas been in our country? Would we have kept it clean? Would we have roads as beautiful as the one that leads to Maanas. How would we have treated Maanas? Your answer is as good as mine. One shudders to just think about it… Ok, jettison from this stream of enquiry and come back to the beautiful bus.
We get onto the electric bus, and soon are driving along a mud path, all along the banks of Maanasarovar. Yes. we are there! We are at Maanas! I am seated in front in the bus, just behind the the drivers seat… Looking at Maanas, I am in a state of mind that I do not know how to describe. There is absolute silence in the bus… All are in awe. Across the aisle, Usha is crying, overwhelmed by the beauty of Maanas…. And the bus driver, a Chinese man is murmuring some complaint. Our guide tells us that for the Chinese, crying is inauspicious. He feels sad that a passenger in his bus is crying. We try to tell them these are tears of joy. Very auspicious… Such is its beauty of Maanas that even a non-Asian, Sven Hedin, a Swede, writing about his first glimpse of Maanas in 1907, says: “Even the first view from the hills on the shore caused us to burst into tears of joy at the wonderful, magnificent landscape and its surpassing beauty“.
We are at Maanas. Although I have read a lot about Maanas, being here is something else. I know that somewhere in the vicinity is the other lake, Rakshas Taal , the lake of demons… But I do not know that it is right there. Right next to Maanasarovar. Twins – like Ida and Pingala…. Maanas – a massive fresh water lake… And Rakshas Tal, a massive salt-water endorheic lake. And during rare times of high waters, Maanas overflows into Rakshas Tal, through a channel that they call Ganga Chhu. To the south of these twin lakes is the Gurla Mandhata mountain. To the North is Mount Kailasa. Marveling at this constellation of beauty, Sven Hedin writes : “There is no finer ring on earth than that which bears the names of Manasarowar, Kailas, and Gurla Mandatta ; it is a turquoise set between two diamonds.”
Here is a satellite view of that ring, from Google Earth…. Point marked “G” in red, in South, is Gurla Mandhata Mountain. And point marked “K” in red in the North is Mt Kailasa. Manasarovar is marked “M”, and Rakshal Tal – “R”. Hanuman Tal is on the right….
Swami Tapovanji Maharaj, writing of his first Yatra to Maanas-Kailas, describes the great journey through dacoit infested regions between Takklakot (South of Gurla Mandhata mountain) and Maanas.. They were stopped by armed robbers more than once, but seeing the evident spirituality of Swamiji, they were not only allowed to pass, but were escorted and shown the way… And how, he crossed he Gurla Mandhata mountain, and then had his first glimpse of Maanas. He writes : “We reached the tableland of the high ghats and went towards the North Eastern direction and suddenly down below the divine Manasarovar came to our view. Aha! Aha! the most divine wondrous vision! Here, in front of my eyes, spreading wide in the form of dark blue waters was that most wonderful lake…. It is not an exaggeration to say that at the sight of Manasa, my mind danced with wonder and ecstasy and forgot itself. Like a drunkard I somehow went and sat on a nearby flat rock with my mind totally intoxicated“.
It is just such a view that that Dr Salim Ali, the great Indian Ornithologist describes. Writing about his bird watching trip to Maanas-Kailas in 1945, he says: “Immediately on crossing the summit of Gurla Pass (16,500 ft.) –– wide and flat enough I imagine, for 200 Churchill tanks abreast –– the first view is obtained, glorious and breath-taking, of the twin lakes of Manasarowar and Rakhas Tal with the ice-covered dome of Mt. Kailas towering in the distant background to the north. The lakes are separated by a ridge of low hills forming an isthmus, 3 or 4 miles at its widest. Along this lies the route to Barkha Plain and the holy mountain.”
How would it have looked from where he was. We get a glimpse from a picture that came in Alpine Journal some years ago. A picture of Manasarovar and Rakshal Tal, as seen from Gurla Mandhata mountain (Click here to read that Article, about the ascent to the peak of Gurla Mandhata mountain )
On your right is Maanasarovar. On the left is Rakshas Taal… And far north, at around 11 O’Clock position, you can see the peak of Kailasa, peeping out….
And here’s a closer picture, from lower down the Gurla Mandhata mountain – a picture pointed to by Google Maps and Google Earth, which is from this link .
Picture is of Maanasarovar. And here too, you get a glimpse of the top of Mt Kailasa, behind the distant clouds (somewhere near 1 O’Clock position of the photo)
But the route that we have taken has not crossed the Gurla Mandhata… We have driven on Tibetan plains to Maanas… And are now driving all along the western coast of Manasarovar…. At some point, the bus stops, to allow us to stretch, take pictures, and go touch the waters.
One walks across to the great lake, to sprinkle the holy water, uttering the mantra of maarjana from the sandhyavandana – ॐ आपो ही ष्ठा मयो भुवस्ता न ऊर्जे दधातन…
It is past 3 PM, on 30-Jun-2013. We reach our place of stay. It looks neat.
Here we are, off the bus, walking into the hotel. Our tour guides tell us that this is the best place of stay here,
Everything is perfect about the place. Except the washrooms. Too few. Too primitive.But yes, the rooms are quite ok.
Welcome to Maanas. We are at 15000 feet above sea level.
Signing off this post with a few more pictures…
Ducks in the waters…
Another view of Manas, mountains in the background…
And yes, by the kindness of Shiva, we are given the first glimpse of Kailasa too..
That and more, in the next post…
** To be continued **