athAto: a whole year of Maanasa-Kailasa Yatra now…
Blog date 4-July-2014…. Yatra date 4-July-2013…
Exactly a year ago…
We are at Manasarovar…
A co-yatri walks up to the lake and requests Soota to fill his plastic bottle with maanas water. This is the same man that Dash had a flaming row with, on the way up, at Saga. Co-travelers in this blog may recall that young Dasarath had taken affront when he saw a co-yatri throwing some litter in the street when we had stopped at Saga. That the man perhaps thrice his age made no difference to the young American teenager, and he ordered the man to “Pick it up! Pick it up!” ( For that blog post, click here ) ….
Well that man, litterer he may be, is a human after all, and there is a litterbug in each one of us – it is just a question of degree. The benchmark in cleanliness, of course, was set by Japanese these last few weeks, during the Football World Cup at Brazil, when they cleaned up all litter in the stadium after attending each of their matches. Even Indian-American teenagers would nod in acknowledgement I guess…
Well, it is that same Yatri who has now walked up to Soota, requesting him to fill some Manasarovar water in his bottle. The Yatri is very reluctant to go and touch the lake himself, for reasons best known to him. Also, he is not keen on water near the shore and requests Soota to get water from farther up inside the lake. One more dip in the lake. Why not! Soota hands over his wristwatch to the water-seeker telling him to keep it safe and walks into the waters. And then after a dip and a fill, he fetches water in the bottle which he hands over to the yatri. That man thanks Soota profusely.
Soota goes back for more dip… And when he comes back to land, the man is nowhere to be seen. His water got, he has gone… Soota walks back to the transit quarters, locates his ‘watch-safe-keeper’ co-yatri and asks for his watch. That man says he left it on the ground near the lake. Soota cannot believe it. It is his father’s wristwatch and is of great sentimental value….Wherever would he find it now! No option but to walk back to the lake and search for the watch… But Saro Devi, the Goddess of the lake, is kind…She has kept it safe. He finds his watch and walks back.
Meanwhile, back in the transit quarters, Kali Yuga has won. The yatri-s are quarreling. The number of people who want to leave now, are more than those who want to stay. The organizers have managed to stoke dissonance and have themselves cast their vote in favor of moving. They say that they do so because they are concerned about us. It will be too cold here, they say. All in all, the shouters have won and the needle of gravity moves towards leaving Maanas now. So, when twilight sets in the yatri-s get into the tour bus. Only one bus is required now, as parts of the group have already left earlier… An accompanying tour van that is carrying provisions and such gets stuck in the wet ground. It has sunk into the earth and cannot move. Folks are completely frustrated. Many of the yatri-s try many ways to get the wheels off to hard ground, but to no avail. After an hour of battling, the troop has not advanced an inch. Finally, some quid-pro-quo happens with a truck driver who happens to come be in the vicinity. So far he has not agreed to help, but when the right deal is struck, he moves. And with some stout rope, the truck manages to heave the bus out. And the yatri-s, hands all covered with muck, come back with faces filled with smiles. With a final prayer, the caravan moves.
Let us take one last look at the peak of Kailasa, as seen that evening, from the shores of Maanasa.
Nama civaaya vaazhga…
Our return journey begins.
We go on a long, endless, drive in darkness… Destination, Zhongpa monastery transit house, some 500 kms away… Did we drive all this distance that evening and night? How is it possible that we covered such a long–long way? But then we are in the roof of the world where space-time is elastic and mysterious. It is like ‘we are all Jacks who have climbed the beanstalk’ and have reached the high world of unseen giants. Every day, in every way, some invisible giant is dancing the dragon dance while singing a silent song:
I smell the blood of a vagrant bum…
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.
But the giant’s wife is kind… She protects us and keeps us going… Takes us across…. Blessings of Tara Devi!
Perhaps it is past midnight when we reach Zhongpa. Somehow, some food is whipped up by the tour cooks. And something is eaten. We then collapse for what remains of the night… Soota is up before sunrise, and walks out with his torch, and a plastic bottle filled with ice-cold water. Making his way to the open fields outside, he passes the test of Titiksha… Soon the Sun rises, and darkness and light hold a tenuous peace, with darkness hiding behind a shield of cold.
As clock moves. some form of breakfast passes across the tongue like some sludge of cement and deposits itself in the linings of the stomach and intestine. The tour bus is brought into the courtyard….
Dash sleeps through all this.
Pioneering Yatri-s decide to take the first-mover-advantage and reserve choice seats… By and bye, the bus fills up, and the group moves….
Destination Nyalam…. Some 400 kms away…. Once again, a long drive across Tibetan highlands… Along the way we cross wild-ass territory…. We travel across endless kilometers of colorful, beautiful, nothingness… We may be in dry-land Antarctica for all that we know…. Right now, we are inside a world in a mirror…. Fragile reflections in a fragile world… But we know in our bones that we have been blessed by Gods… Whatever have we done to deserve such blessings… Who knows…. We have been into a spiritual furnace… And the Force has been with us… It has taken us there, cooked us, and cast us anew… Something has snapped in us… We are like turned inside out… For all this, we are no wiser… All we know, is that we know naught. We are Zilch, an insignificant part of Shunya.
Floating in daze, we are transported to our last stop in Tibet… Hotel at Nyaalam…. On the way up from Nepal, we had stopped at the same hotel. That time we got no rooms and had to dorm in the covered terrace…We are more fortunate now…. We get rooms… Tiring day… Night of more arguments… Next morning sees the tour operators missing. They oversleep and come to light a couple of hours late. Some breakfast is had and we all move. To Nepal now…
The bus starts off in rain. After a few hours drive, we stop short of the Tibet-Nepal borders. The bus can proceed no further. We have to walk a kilometer or two to reach the check post at the border. Many trucks are parked all along the way, waiting for their turn to be allowed to carry their trade across the borders. We walk, making our way as best we can across the water logged roads. Finally we reach the border, the Friendship bridge check post. There is a long wait, as we queue up (in the same order as in the permit list)… Immigration officials and offices all over the world are similar. They have their formalities to go through, and they work at their own pace. After one more test of Titiksha, we finally walk across the bridge and onto Nepal.
Now, there is another long walk to the tour bus waiting for us there. On the way, Soota stops to get his Nepal SIM Card charged. He is now able to call home and announce his happy return to his family… He is one of the last ones to reach the bus… The bus moves, and soon we halt at a hotel for lunch. It is the same hotel where we had stopped on the way up as well.
Lunch never tasted so good. Hot, delicious. Our taste buds jump back to life and party. Strength courses through our veins. God bless all of Nepal!
After lunch, a long drive back to Kathmandu, all along the Koshi river….
How can the world be so different on two sides of a river, wonders Soota… On the other side, we had seen Tibet…. Beautiful in a mountainous desert sort of way… Resembling timeless asceticism of Buddhist monkhood. And on this side is Nepal. Green, forest-filled, sound-filled, and beautiful. Resembling the Rasa-filled life of Krishna bhakti – the romance and dance of nature. That side, Kailasa, the land of Siva, the King of ascetics. This side, Nepal, the land of Indra Jatra – rains, forests, colors and large populations of people. The difference between the Northern Himalaya and the Southern Himalaya. We are at the great border of the clash of continents, the region that was formed some 55 million years ago, when the continent of India moved north and crashed into the Asian continent. And up came the Himalaya. And at the clash-point rose the great plateau of Tibet – the “roof of the world”. And right there, at the Northern most point of the Indian continent – rose the great mountain of Kailasa! Om Nama Sivaya!
And we are journeying back from there… On the way to Kathmandu…
Let’s take a picture tour. Click and browse, and join this journey…
As we come closer to Kathmandu, the scenes start greeting us like familiar neighborhoods from our home country. A bus with rooftop travel…
Kids playing cricket….
And a lorry, resting on its side… It may sound crazy, but the sight of the truck nonchalantly lying there fills Soota with joy. This sight is in complete contrast to the almost Germanesque efficiency of Chinese authority… This is home! Each bus for itself! Thirty three crores of Gods, and place for more…You go your way and I care not where, and I go mine and that should be fine. Peace be with you, and let me be too.
The bus is belting some old Hindi movie songs, non stop….Like so many laundry bags, in the lightness of being, we rock on in our bus on our journey through the greens of Nepal…
Sometime, on 6th July, we reach our destination…. Kathmandu…
Back to our hotel… Remember the name?
** To be continued **