Om Nama Sivaya! Om Mani Padme Hum!
Yatra Date 1/July/2013…
It is afternoon time, and we set off in our bus, from Maanas-Rakshas towards Kailaas. The basecamp for the Kailas Parikrama is the small town of Darchen, which is about 40 kms from Maanas.
Here is a water color sketch made by Sven Hedin in 1907….
The painting is extraordinarily well done… Kailas peak is seen hidden in a haze… There are days when Kailas is seen clear as a crystal rising in the sky, and there are other days when it is wrapped in clouds and reveals its presence only as a hidden promise …
The day that we travel, a century and more later than the Swede, is one such… The other….
Through the ridge-land that lies between Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal, we are traveling North, and cross over to the Barkha plain that lies between the lakes and the mountain.
The plain is named after a village of the same name, which is halfway between Maanas and Kailaas. This village was till the 1950s, an official station of Tibetan authorities. The prominent location of this village can be inferred from the fact that Swami Pranavananda keeps this village as the locus when he gives distances to every other place in this region
Swamiji writes: “The village Parkha (15,050) is midway between Kailas and Manasarovar. There are two houses here, one belonging to the Tasam or Tarzam (Staging Officer or Transport Agent) and the other Government Officers’ Staging Place. All round Parkha there are extensive plains and pasture-lands, and a good number of black tents are pitched by shepherds, where thousands of sheep, goats, yak, and ponies graze in summer. Hundreds of wild horses (kyangs) are seen marching on this maidan in perfect military order.”
Sven Hedin too talks of Parkha, and the official authorities there.
Barkha plains are miles and miles of magnificent nothingness. It is a huge, flat, high valley, crisscrossed here and there by rivers and streams making their way from Kailas to Rakshas Tal.
Here is a view of the plains as taken from Kailas side… View south, towards Rakshas Tal…
The vast plains are a mix of desert sands, gravel, sparse grass, low bushes and good pasture closer to the river streams… In the regions closer to Rakshas Tal, where the rivers flow in, the flat lands have extensive patches of low bushes. And that part of the country sees many a herd of Kiang (Tibetan wild asses)..
Kiangs move in herds that can go upto hundred or more… By nature they are extremely timid and wary of humans (Click here to know more). However, in the Maanas-Kailas region, they move about with any fear…. Sven Hedin, writing about Kiangs in another part of Tibet writes:
“Wild asses scamper in herds over the plain by the shore. They are shy. At Tso-mavang (Manasarovar) one can go near them whenever one likes. No one sends a bullet after a kiang within sight of the mountain of the gods, and the animals know that the holy lake and its shores are a sanctuary. But here, where there are no holy places, the wild asses are quite aware that the wolf is not their only enemy.”
And so, when they see danger, they run…And they are extraordinarily swift… Describing their gallop, Thubten Jigme Norbu, the elder brother of Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama writes : “They look wonderfully elegant and graceful when you see them darting across the steppes like arrows, heads stretched out and tails streaming away behind them in the wind.”
Wikipedia has a reference to a report by Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese monk who traveled in Tibet in the beginning of twentieth century… Of the Kiang, he says : “It has a curious habit of turning round and round, when it comes within seeing distance of a man…Altogether it is an animal of very queer habits.”
Sharing a video from youtube, where you can see this ‘curious habit’ of Kiangs…
About the Northern part of Barkha plains, Salim Ali, the renowned Ornithologist, writes – “Along the northern edge of the Barkha Plain the ground slopes gently southwards in a gigantic sweep from the base of the Kailas Range. This sloping zone, several miles in width, is covered more or less densely with bushes of Dome or Tibetan Furze.”
Here is a pic of the plains close to the mountain. Some yak calves grazing on the furze…
Salim Ali has recorded that the Barkha plains, in places where the ground is soft, is honeycombed with burrows of mouse hares. And that birds (Tibetan snowfinches) share these holes amicably with the mouse hares…
Here is a picture of a mouse hare, taken at a spot close to Mount Kailas. (Picture courtesy Narayan Iyer, from his trip a few years ago)
So, here we are, driving across the Barkha Plains, with all our thoughts centered on Kailas, the abode of Siva…
After an hour and a half or so, late afternoon, we reach our base camp, the little town of Darchen…
Darchen (also called Tarchen) is a must stop for all Kailas Yatra, as official permits to enter the Kailasa mountain area are issued here. Permits and stuff are taken care of by the tour organizers, and all we have to do is to battle for a decent room as we disembark in a ramshackle resthouse.
We six (Siva and family, Shankar and family, and I) manage to get a room to ourselves… Even as we dump our duffel bags and claim our cots, in walk half a dozen local hawkers – nomads. It is evident that they are much at ease walking into anyone’s room as if it were their own, so as to begin commerce of this and that knickknack, or to just plainly stand and stare… This is a feature that we encounter time and again during this trip and is a solid leveler. As is the very nature of our group of 43 pilgrims. We have people from Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and more. As also Indians and Nepali-s settled overseas – America, Australia, Middle-East… A motley crowd of people who are all getting on each other’s nerves by now… But are doing a fine job of behaving like ladies and gentlemen.
Yes, we are all ‘one consciousness’, even if our temporary body identifications makes us forget it during each of our lifetimes…
But then the whole purpose of this holy trip to Kailas is to take baby steps towards realization of our true, One-Consciousness, Non-dual, Self. And until we realize that true Being of ours, it is best to remember that we are in the abode of Lord Siva or Demchog, the Father of all creation, and all of us, his children, should behave amicably with each other. We should smile and let smile. And this is put to test when one of the elderly lady hawkers is so delighted by the purchase-behavior of my co-yatri Shiva that she chuckles and playfully gives him a nice, hard poke on his ample abdomen. This results in a rude awakening of his Manipura chakra, which, as you may guess, is situated in the region of solar plexus… Of this chakra, Wikipedia says “The seed mantra is the syllable ‘ram’. Within the bindu or dot above this mantra resides the deity Rudra, who is red or white, with three eyes, of ancient aspect with a silver beard, and smeared with white ashes. He makes the gestures of granting boons and dispelling fear. He is either seated upon a tiger skin, or upon a bull. His Shakti is the goddess Lakini. She has a black or dark-blue vermillion color; three faces, each with three eyes; is four-armed; holds a thunderbolt, the arrow shot from the bow of Kama, fire; and makes the gesture of granting boons and dispelling fear. She is seated upon a red lotus.”
Even as Siva comes to terms with Rudra in his Manipura Chakra, it is clear that none of us is particularly shipshape either. Altitude sickness in varying degree is extracting its toll from one and all…Titiksha… The dinner that is served this night is reflective of the general situation, and is a grim pointer about the shape of food to come. Titiksha… There is no electricity….Titiksha… The hole-in-the-floor dirty toilet is at one end of the long courtyard… Titiksha….
When we had started off from Nepal, our tour organizers had told us that it was all in the hands of Lord Siva…. That the weather was so bad that the Chinese authorities had blocked the kora (parikrama)…. That for the last fifteen days, not one group could do the kora…That it shall be as per our destiny…
But then Lord Siva had given us signs of hope. We had had darshan of Shankaracharya of Ramachandrapura in our first stop at Nyalam, and he had blessed us with shubha kailasa yatra. And he was going a day ahead of us. And then again in our last camp before Maanas, we had seen a magnificent rainbow…
And when we arrived in Maanas, we came to know that the kora had just reopened a day or two ago. But we were told, in the same breath, that two pilgrims had perished in the Dolma pass. Blown away in the blizzard, was the whisper… Not confidence boosting….
Now, we are at Darchen, the base camp for Kailas…
Night time… We squeeze ourselves into our narrow beds, duffel bag close at hand… The lucky ones amongst us, mostly the NRIs, find some security in the embrace of their own sleeping bags. Soota is not one among them. Moreover, disorganization is in his dna. This night, like every other night, he will search his duffel bag and backpack many times over for this and that, more often than not for a torch….
Tomorrow we commence the grueling three day kora (parikrama), the circumambulation of Kailaas.
Many people are talking of dropping out from further yatra…Yes… There is unspoken fear …
Signing off this post with a quote and a picture…
The quote is from Lama Govinda (The Way of the White Clouds)…
“Only he who has contemplated the divine in its most awe-inspiring form, who has dared to look into the unveiled face of truth without being overwhelmed or frightened – only such a person will be able to bear the powerful silence and solitude of Kailas and its sacred lakes, and endure the dangers and hardships which are the price one has to pay for being admitted to the divine presence on the most sacred spot on earth”
And the picture, is the view of Kailaas that we got from Maanas… The silver peak in the folds of the brown mountains.. The Mani in the Padma… Om Mani Padme Hum!
Om Nama Sivaya!
** To be continued **