4rd July , 2013
We are at the monastery of Darchen.
Had we not been tied to our committed tour – had we had, instead, the freedom to float with winds of tradition – we would have found ourselves going to Tirthapuri from here. This is an ancient pilgrimage spot by the banks of the Sutlej river, situated some 70 kms west of Darchen. Tradition has it that the kora of Kailasa is complete only by visiting Tirthapuri. This is a place known for its hot springs, and hence the name – Tirthapuri – the place of holy waters.. Pilgrims traditionally bathe here after completing their circuit of Mt Kailasa.
Swami Bikash Giri tells us that the spring water is piping hot.
See for yourself… A photo from the Net ( Click her for photo source)
But no worries. Water is led to bathing pools nearby, where it cools off….
In the region of Kailasa, this is yet another place that has retained its old Sanskrit name. Hindu tradition has it that this was the place where the demon Bhasmasura was burnt to ash. Indians who have a mind for mythology would remember the story of Bhasmasura that they would have heard as children. Bhasamasura was a Rakshasa, who performed tremendous austerities to please Lord Siva. Lord Siva, who is famed for being pleased with ease, appeared in front of the Rakshasa and offered him any boon that he may seek. The demon asked for immortality. Siva told him that that was a state that was not possible to be conferred and asked him to seek another boon. The demon asked Siva that he may be granted the power of burning anyone by placing his hand on their head. Siva gave him that boon. To test the boon, the demon attempted to place his hand on Siva himself! Siva ran from him, and the demon gave him chase. Siva appealed to Lord Vishnu for help. Vishnu took the form of Mohini, the enchantress – a lady of supreme beauty. The demon was enamored by the sight. Vishnu, as Mohini, led the demon on a song and dance, and finally managed to cajole the demon to promise his love by keeping his hand on his own head. The result was that the demon burned himself, and was reduced to ash. This is said to have happened here, at Tirthapuri.
These hot springs here are surrounded by white limestone terraces… White layers get deposited on the bed of the hot springs, and this breaks up into powdery ash…These are associated with ash of Bhasmasura.
The area of Tirthapuri has beautiful hills that are white-red mix of colors.
Like this… ( Photo Source )
Swami Bikash Giri says that there are several caves here that are suitable for staying…For Buddhists, this place is hallowed with the memory of Padmasambhava and his consort. There is a cave here where he stayed and meditated on Yama – the God of death. Later, this cave was used by the great sage Milarepa as well. Now, a building covers this cave…
A photo from the Net ( Click here for source )
Like in Kailasa, there is a kora of the hill of Tirthapuri. A short kora that takes about an hour or so. There is a cremation point as well, like Shiva sthal. There is a point corresponding to Drolma La, which is marked with mani stones and yak bones. Along the trail comes the monastery of Tirthapuri. Near this place is a prayer wheel which has a karma-testing point. This is in the form of a hole in the ground. You reach in and pull out two stones. If both the stones are white, then your karma is great; your Kailasa Yatra is complete. If one stone is white and one black – then you are ok too. If both are black, well, then your karma needs some more working on. And it would be a good idea to come back and do the Kailasa Kora again…
Incidentally, Tirthapuri is in the ancient route that Indian pilgrims took to Kailasa – which was from Mana Pass, to Tholinga Mutt and via Tirthapuri to Kailasa.
But then we are in the post modern era. And we have no time for Tirthapuri….
Lets come back to where we were… On the 4th of July 2013…
We have completed the third day of the Kora and are at the monastery transit rooms at Darchen. Yatri-s are slowly coming to earth, and trying to stoke the familiar furnace of their minds. At this point in time, cordiality and brotherhood marks the embrace of re-surfacing individualities. A co-yatri offers Soota some holy water collected at Gauri Kund. Dash, the teenage whiz, is quite the favorite among the yatri-s. Being who he is, he is a happy, friendly young man who has endeared himself to many yatri groups during the course of the Kora. One elderly lady is gratefully telling one and all, that it was Dasarath, the boy, sent by Lord Siva, who had saved her during the second day of the Kora. My own friend and co-yatri Siva, who had suffered injury during the kora, was helped along at a crucial time by Dash. High five to dash the American kid.
Talking of which, there were several American NRI-s in the Yatri group. Dash is happily greeting them with “Happy Independence Day, Uncle” greetings. It is July the 4th after all – the American independence day…
We start from Darchen after lunch time.
After an hour or perhaps an hour more (who knows time now) we alight once more at the shores of Manasarovar. The lap of our mother. Like a soldier returning home from the war-front… After a war with one’s mind and senses. No heroes here… Soota is like a bard who had been drafted to the army and has somehow survived to tell the tale… He has been more of a witness than a combatant. Silenced by Siva, he is back at the serene shores of the lake of the pure mind – Manasarovar
It is sometime in the afternoon , early evening, when we arrive at Maanas. This time we are at a different camping site. This is on the other side of the lake, opposite side of the first camping site near Chiu Gompa. The camp we are in is rather primitive compared to the Chiu Gompa one. That was a proper brick structure. This one is has metal container kind of room boxes. But looks cosy. The room we are in has a picture of Satya Sai Baba hanging on the wall. He is omnipresent. Soota is happy.
The itinerary says we stay here overnight and commence journey the next day.
As the minds of Yatri-s warm up, there is a natural gravitation towards the pull of Kali Yuga. Kali Purusha, the personification of this age is at work, and grumblings have started in the larger group. The tour operators have planted the idea that the group may skip staying here tonight and start off. Which means they can perhaps reach one day earlier to Kathmandu. For reasons good and bad, many yatri-s jump for it. Some yatri-s are genuinely sick and are shuddering at the thought of spending the night in the sure-to-be-freezing metal-box quarters. There are others who are in the mood of ‘been there and done that’ and just want to get the hell out of here fast. . A sub-group has negotiated separately with the organizers and have already left without saying Good-bye to anyone. And then there are others (like us) who’d rather stick to the itinerary and stay the evening and night at Manasarovar. Arguments fly… Tempers are flaring… Kali Yuga laughs.
Leaving Kali Purusha to his games, Soota and Shankar move to the waters of Manasarovar. It’s a long walk from the transit quarters to the lake. They walk into the lake. The slope is gentle. Walking in some twenty steps or more, they stop and have many a nice, cold, whole body dip. Divine. Why would anyone want to go from here a minute earlier than absolutely needed?
A picture of Shankar… He looks cool, doesn’t he? Armed with the fire of Agni Sahasranama, he is immune to cold….
Shankar is not feeling fulfilled… He is feeling rather incomplete because we could not get good darshan of Kailasa peak during the kora. The poor weather and constant cloud cover has all but hidden the great peak from our eyes – except for the times at Manasarovar and Dirapuk. He would like to go right back to Darchen and start off on another Kora. If he could, he surely would. Perhaps he is destined to do another kora, another time…
And here’s Shankar with his better half Usha. But for them, Soota would not have been on this Yatra. It is they who more or less bundled him like one piece of baggage and brought him along. Kailasa Yatra is something people plan for years and prepare for months. And here is Soota, with but a month’s notice, brought along on this holiest of yatra-s by this couple.
Their teenage son Dash is standing by the shore but refuses to come anywhere near the water. Yuck – he says – the shore is so dirty. He is an American kid. Not for him the joys of ritual baths in icy waters. You’d catch a disease, he’d say… He’d rather snatch his father’s SLR camera and make it sing some beautiful time-elapse pictures of the distant peak of Kailasa. More power to his talents… One of these days, he will find a venture capitalist who is willing to fund his two score and three ideas – and then he will just fly away to the valley of silicon… One day, he will become a billionaire. But right now, he’s stuck with tight-fisted Hindu parents…. Ugh…
Half a dozen other yatri-s also make their way to the lake and decide to bathe in the holy waters. They are clear that they are in no mood to change the tour itinerary. They want to stay the night at Maanas as planned.
Shankar and Soota are enjoying the waters of Manasarovar… They fill their canisters with Maanas water. Soota has brought his canister from India – one used for Ganga Jal earlier… Tested one.. Shankar has bought his canisters in Darchen. As did many other yatri-s. And that was a mistake. While the canister looked neat, it was of poor quality. More about that later.
Neither Shankar nor Soota know anything about Tirthapuri, or about the karma testing method there… They are at Maanas… The mother of all Tirtha-s….
Standing in the lake, they decide to pick up holy stones to take back to India… Saying, “Om Nama Sivaya”, without glancing at what they are picking up, they pick up stones… The stone that Soota picks up is white… The stone Shankar picks up is black.. The black one looks beautiful… Soota picks up again… White again… Shankar picks up another.. Black again… This is repeated once more… And the results are the same… Dull white – Soota… Bright and black – Shankar…
Looks like Shankar’s wish is going to be fulfilled after all… The stones bless him with the good fortune of another kora of Kailasa!
Namo Sati Devi! Namo Devi Bhadra Kali! Namo Devi Tara! Namo Drolma Devi!
Om Nama Sivaya!
*** To be continued ***