Posts Tagged ‘Mt Kailash’

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 43 – Mangalam

July 21, 2014

Did I mention that the water-cans bought at Darchen did not last? Many co-yatris who had filled their darchen-cans with Manasarovar water found that their cans had cracked, and the waters gone… More titiskha… Fellow Yatri-s pitched in and gave some from their cans, and all’s well that ends well.

On the 9th of July, 2013, Soota left Kathmandu for New Delhi. After a days there, he returned home, to Chennai… A tremendous sense of peace enveloped him. Walking past the shrine of Buddha in the Theosophical society, Chennai, he felt beautifully insignificant. A month later, on Ekadashi tithi, he and Shankar came to Tiruvannamalai and did Giriprakshanam (circumambulation of Arunachala) as thanksgiving. It was on another Ekadashi day, two fortnights ago, that they had done the second day of Kora, and crossed the Dolma La.

Soota also made a trip to Kanchipuram, to Kailasanatha temple, and offered some Maanas water for abhisheka to Lord Kailasanatha. Also to Devi Kamakshi at Kanchipuram and Mundagakkanni Amman at Chennai… And then this year, on Sivaratri night, Soota, Shankar, Shiva – three co-yatris of Kailasa – along with Narayana Iyer, another friend who had done Kailasa Yatra a few years earlier – did Arunachala Kora together…. Om Nama Sivaya!

In Chennai, immediately after his return from Kailasa Yatra, Soota shared his Yatra experience in ‘story-telling’ sessions with a small group of enthusiasts. He commenced writing this blog series as well, little realizing what he was getting into. A series that has taken a whole year to complete. Many of you have been with this whole Yatra – and heartfelt thanks to you all. Many have decided to make the Yatra themselves… More power to them… We have now entered the Tibetan year of the horse – a kumbh-mela year of pilgrimage of Kailasa… Comes once in twelve years… Om Nama Sivaya!

Yes, it has been a fascinating experience – being in the ‘zone’ for a whole year. Many nuggets of information came one’s way. Here’s one tidbit – In 1943 and 44, Sree Kailasa Sarana, a lingayat from Karnataka, did 100 rounds of Kailasa and 12 of Maanasa… (Info courtesy Swami Pranavananda). Another nugget: Did you know that the Prime Minister of India, Sri Narendra Modi, has done Kailash Manasarovar Yatra by foot?

Here’s a picture from the Net.. A young Modi, at Kailasa ( Click here for source  )

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And one reads now, that just a few days ago, Indian Premier Narendra Modi met with the Chinese President Xi Jinping and discussed opening of an alternative route for Kailash Yatra. A news report in the Hindu (Click here ) states – “The two leaders met at Fortaleza in Brazil, ahead of the BRICS summit where Mr. Modi raised the possibility of additional route for the Mansarovar Yatra since the present one from Uttarakhand is complicated… The Chinese President gave an assurance to consider the request for an alternative route. .. The alternate way to Mansarovar goes from Kinnaur in Himachal and is much easier, shorter and safer. From the last Indian village of Shipkila in Kinnaur the holy lake of Mansarovar is just 91 km away and can be covered by road with a little trekking. “

How wonderful…

As Soota draws curtains on this blog series on Maanas-Kailasa Yatra, a verse from ‘Avadhuta Gita’ comes to his mind…

त्वद्यात्रया व्यापकता हता ते
ध्यानेन चेतःपरता हता ते ।
स्तुत्या मया वाक्परता हता ते
क्षमस्व नित्यं त्रिविधापराधान् ।।

 Lord! By making a pilgrimage (to holy places), your all-pervasiveness has been negated, destroyed . By meditating on you, your transcendence of mind has been negated, destroyed. By my praising you, your being beyond the reach of words has been negated, destroyed. Lord, ever forgive me for these triple sins.

This was the proclamation of Avadhuta, Dattatreya. He in the Bliss of complete non-duality, steps down from it to offer this prayer… Yes, this proclamation of the Avadhuta (the all renouncing mendicant sanyasi) is a prayer too! To the same all-pervading, supreme, transcendence that is Siva.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has said – “I don’t want to become sugar; I want to eat it. I never feel like saving, ‘I am Brahman.’ I say, ‘Thou art my Lord and I am Thy servant.’..”

Let us then sing Mangalam to Siva… Auspiciousness to auspiciousness.

First the words of Goswami Tulasidas, who says in Ramacharitamanas….

परम रम्य गिरिवर कैलासू, सदा जहाँ शिव उमा निवासू।।
रचि महेस निज मानस राखा। पाइ सुसमउ सिवा सन भाषा।।

Supremely enchanting is the best of Mountains, Kailasa! Eternally, where, reside Siva and Uma!
Siva composed (Ramacharita-maanasa) and kept in his Maanasa;
And when the auspicious time came, he conveyed it to his consort, Sivaa (Parvati)!

Yes, the Manasarovar is the pure consciousness that is the carita of Rama…

Next, in the words of that great father of saints, Appar, Tirunavukkarasar – the King of Holy Words… A verse from his Tiru-Kailaya-tirutthaandakam

ஆட்சி உலகை உடையாய், போற்றி! அடியார்க்கு
அமுது எலாம் ஈவாய், போற்றி!
சூட்சி சிறிதும் இலாதாய், போற்றி! சூழ்ந்த
கடல் நஞ்சம் உண்டாய், போற்றி!
மாட்சி பெரிதும் உடையாய், போற்றி! மன்னி
என் சிந்தை மகிழ்ந்தாய், போற்றி!
காட்சி பெரிதும் அரியாய், போற்றி! கயிலை
மலையானே, போற்றி போற்றி!.

Praise the Lord, ruler of the world!
Praise Him who gives all happiness!
Praise Him who has not the least trace of deceit ;
Praise Him who gulped the sea venom!
Praise Him who has great virtues !
Praise Him who abides happily in my consciousness!
Praise Him whose vision cannot be had without great difficulty!
Praise that One who abides in Kailasa mountain! Praise! Praise!

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And another from Siva who walked on earth as Jagadguru Shankara Bhagavatpada …. Adi Shankara, sings in his great work, Sivanandalahari –

कदा वा कैलासे कनकमणिसौधे सहगणै-
र्वसन् शंभोरग्रे स्फुटघटितमूर्धाञ्जलिपुटः |
विभो साम्ब स्वामिन् परमशिव पाहीति निगदन्
विधातॄणां कल्पान् क्षणमिव विनेष्यामि सुखतः ||

 

 When, indeed, will I be in Kailasa
In the gold-and-jewels mansion of yours,
In the company of your gaNA-s (attendant denizens)
When, indeed will I be in front of you,
O Shambhu, doer of all good,
With my hands raised, folded in prayer!
Oh all pervading Lord, One with Goddess Mother, Master,
Supreme Siva,
(When indeed will I be thus) praying aloud – “Save me! Save me!”
(Indeed, when will it be)
When I expend eternities of creator’s time, in happiness,
As if it were but a brief moment!

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So fellow Yatris in this blog journey of Maanas-Kailasa, praise be to the force that is Siva…. Lama Govinda, avers in his book “The Way of the White Clouds” –

There are many religious Orders in this world, Orders with rules and regulations, with dogmas and rituals, with vows and initiations. But the brotherhood of those who have performed the pilgrimage to Kailas, who have gone through the trials of dangers and hardships, and were rewarded with the glorious vision of the sacred land, has received an initiation of the most profound nature. The invisible bond which unites them needs no vows, no dogmas, and no rituals. It consists in their common experience, the lasting effect of which is stronger than any manmade rules and distinctions”.

Ramana Maharshi, the sage of Arunachala, has said – “To go to Kailasa and return is just a new birth. For there the body idea drops off.”

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தென்னாடுடைய சிவனே போற்றி
என் நாட்டவர்க்கும் இறைவா போற்றி
மானக் கயிலை மலையாய் போற்றி

Salutations to Siva, the Lord of the Southern Land,
Salutations to Him, who is the Lord of the those of every country,
Salutations to Him, who resides in Kailasa Mountain!

Today is Adi Krithigai, sacred day of Lord Karthikeya, the son of Siva! Haro Hara!

As this post goes to Net, Ekadashi thithi has just come in…

Om Mani Padme Hum! Om Nama Sivaya! Maanasa-Kailasa Yatra Sampoornam!

Thank you, one and all…

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदम् पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते |
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ||

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ||

** Om Tat Sat **

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Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 34

May 22, 2014

 

Dawn at Kailasa

Good morning!

The yatra date is 3-July-2013

It is the second day of Kailasa Kora (Parikrama)…

Soota is up early… Before sunrise… He and Shiva head for the rocks behind the guest house for bio needs… It is shivering cold… But there is a feeling of immense freedom… After taking care of morning demands, one heads back to the guest house… Shankar and family are rising… Dash, the Peter-Pan, is in deep slumber… Hard negotiations are on with him to make him rise..

Tibetan ladies, selling this or that, walk into the room and make themselves at home… The porters come room to room, and ask their respective yatri-s to hurry up.. It is just past 5 am… A small lunch packet is handed to everyone…Hot Horlicks is served… Soota has the Horlicks drink but is none the better for it… He is feeling queasy … He walks to one side and upchucks the whole stuff.. Must have been the noodles of last evening… God only knows what it contained…

The camp is now up and about… Porters, Sherpas are all congregating… Money is changing hands…

Many of the Yatri-s are unwell and cannot continue the kora. They have to return to base camp at Darchen… Some, who are not unwell, are not keen to take on the daunting second-day of Kora… So they too decide to return…. For the second-day is the most strenuous.. We have to cover 22 kms today… And that includes going up to the highest point in the kora – the Dolma La pass – which at 18.600 feet, is roughly two-thirds of the elevation of Mt Everest…

Truth be told, Soota too is not a picture of confidence… It is Shankar, who powers him on, saying – ‘Hey! By evening today, we would be on the eastern side of Kailasa. Tomorrow, afternoon, we would have completed the parikrama.. So gidyap…’ Reminds one of the great proclamation of Swami Vivekananda “Arise! Awake! And stop not until the goal is reached!”…. Based on that great utterance of Katha Upanishad – which Yama, the God of Death, tells young Nachiketa – “उत्तिष्ठतजाग्रतप्राप्य वरान्निबोधत – “Arise! Awake! And attain the goal (Secret of Knowledge) by obtaining the guidance of the great (Guru)”… The statement continues – क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति ।। – the path is like the razor’s edge – difficult to traverse – formidable – so say the wise…

Ah yes, this path of the kora is difficult to traverse all right…

Local time (set as per Beijing time) is around before 6 am…

Time to leave…

Here’s a very-very short video clip that Soota took just as he set out from the camp….

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A five or ten minute walk from the guest house, and one crosses a bridge, and comes to a place where all the horses and yaks and porters are waiting…He finds Sanjiv, the healer-mystic, also readying to leave on his horse… Soota locates his horseman… Heave ho, gidyap. ready to go…

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Lets first get a perspective of the kora. Here is a picture from Google earth…

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The red-orange line on the right indicates the first days kora, all along the Lha Chu valley. The green line on the left indicates the second day’s kora, from Dirapuk to Zutulpuk… A distance of around 22 kms…. First part of which is the ascent to Dolma La pass. Starting from close to 16000 feet at Dirapuk and going up some 6 or 7 kms to Dolma La, climbing around 2600 feet…

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Soota and Sanjiv set off.. And they are joined by the retired school teacher from Bengal. He is one who speaks only Bengali… And wears a traditional panchakacham dhoti… Our Bengali Babu has his secret method that enables him to generate internal body heat (like Shankar has his daily chant of Agni Sahasranama)… Else how could he walk like this in this roof of the world?

Off they go… Almost all the co-yatri-s hire horses at least for this part of the kora – the ascent to Dolma La Pass.

The long haul starts …

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Dolma-on-the-way

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The horseman is as strong as a horse.. And so he walks up the steep path with ease… Every once in a while, he decides to deviate from the regular path and cut across up a steeper path…. Granite boulders, rocks, big and small, strewn everywhere…

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On the way one crosses a group of young ladies who are trekking up, like seasoned mountaineers… He later comes to know that they are from a group called WOW – ‘Women on wanderlust’ … More power to them!

An hour or so into the climb, some two miles from the starting point , they arrive at an area where one finds lots of clothes and stuff strewn on rocks. This is the Shiva-sthal area, which is at around 17700 feet elevation… Shivasthal is the place of symbolic death… Tibetans offer some clothing, or hair, or some drops of blood, and lie down here and enact death. They also leave some item belonging to any kin who has died, for his/her salvation. This place is said to be a counterpart of the burial ground at Bodh Gaya India.

Some pictures of Shivasthal from the Net (click here for source )

Click on pictures to browse…

From Shivasthal branches a route closer to Kailasa which is the path of the inner kora, which goes by the Khando sanglam mountain. The traditional belief is that one is entitled to do an inner kora only after doing outer kora twelve times… The inner kora is far more difficult as well, and should be done only with seasoned guides… There are people who do the outer and inner kora one after another… In six days… More power to them… It is also said that one can do the inner kora (without fulfilling the entry criteria of 12 outer kora-s) if it is the sacred year of the horse… 2014 happens to be such an year… Om!

We are in 2013 and doing the outer kora …Crossing the shivasthal area… One understands that there is a small lake known as Ganesh Kund, somewhere along the way, near Shivasthal.

Here’s a look from a lovely picture book

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Ganesh-kund`

A short while from Shivasthal one crosses a rock with a footprint said to be of the great sage Milarepa ( Click for source )

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milarepa-foot`

Some half an hour or so later, one comes across two sets of ‘sinner test stones’ – known in Tibetan as Dikpa-karnak. One understands that the first one is a big boulder beneath which there is a narrow passage some 15 feet or so in length. The roof is not even though. The sinner test is to crawl through this hole, and if you succeed in doing that you are said to be ‘free of sin’. The only caveat is that the thin man wins! The fat man has to pay for the sin of his body by getting stuck and having to face the embarrassment of being pulled out by others! The second Dikpa-karnak is a short distance away and consists of another set of boulders that have a zigzag hollow path. The idea is to enter by the left and return by the right. Apparently, this hollow is big enough for a yak to pass the sinner test! So one need not lose hope if one fails in the first test! Then again, one read elsewhere that they have blocked the exit of the test stone passage… As far as Soota was concerned, he was blissfully unaware of these ‘sinner test stones’. And so he passed them by.

Generally speaking, one hardly gets to see Kailasa peak during the second day kora. Although one reads that there are a few spots from where one does get a glimpse. For instance, Swami Prananvananda says that from somewhere near the second ‘sinners test stone’, one gets a fine view of the peak of Kailasa, ‘shooting up from behind the peak of Jambyang (Manjughisha)’.

While Soota did not feel any particular discomfiture in terms of breathing, there were many who did. There is only half the oxygen at those heights, compared to sea level, and each breath is a blessing to be savored. Soota was rather fatigued though… The morning upchucking had not helped either. He had brought some dry fruits in his belt-bag, which he munched once in a rare while. And sipped water once in a more frequent while. Water was collected from one of the many streams we crossed. It was somewhat darkish in color because of the soil in ice. But it was Kailasa water. To Soota, it was Ganga. Each sip was amruta. The horse that he rode on was grey haired and comparatively gentle… It was not easy to ride, as it stepped between boulders, this way and that, making its way up the steep mountain. But he held on for dear life and limb. And God was kind.

Dolma or Drolma is the alias of Tara Devi. The mountain Dolma is also called Tara. This is in the north east or the Ishana direction. The direction of Siva. Tara Devi is common to Hindu and Buddhist tantric traditions. She is one of the ten Sakta Mahavidya goddesses. She is the one who enables the pilgrim to ‘cross over’ – from death to deathlessness, from illusion to wisdom, bondage to salvation. In Hindu tradition she is seen standing on the corpse-like body of Shiva. The death-experience… The enactment of death at Shiva-sthal…. And the actual crossover that happens when one crosses the Dolma La pass… The death of the “I”-notion… The cross-over to liberation from the bondage of “I”-illusion of body-mind identification… That is the significance of the completion of the kora… On the first day, we had crossed Yama-dvar on the South-west (Nirruthi ) direction… On the second day, we cross Dolma-La, which is in the opposite side of Yama-dvar, on the North-east, the Ishana direction. Ishana means Shiva. Where the grace of Tara enables the cross-over.

Explaining the passage from Shiva-sthal to Dolma La, Lama Govinda writes in “The Way of the White clouds” –

While climbing up to the high pass of Dolma, which separates the northern from the eastern valley, he comes to the place where he beholds the Mirror of the King of Death (Yama), in which all his past deeds are reflected. On this spot he lies down between huge boulders in the position of a dying man. He closes his eyes and faces the judgement of Yama, the judgement of his own conscience in the remembrance of his former deeds. And with them he remembers all those who were dear to him and who died before him, all those whose love he was unable to repay; and he prays for their happiness in whatever form they may have been reborn. And as a token of this he leaves little relics of their earthly days on this hallowed spot-a small piece of cloth, a strand of hair, a pinch of ashes from the funeral pyre, or whatever he could preserve for this last service to his beloved dead.

After he has thus made peace with the past and has gone through the gates of death he crosses the threshold of his new life on the snow covered pass of the all-merciful mother Dolma.”

So that is where we are… Morning hours of 3/July/2013… In the region of Tara, the direction of Siva. The idea is to reach the highest point of Dolma La before 10 am. For after that there is danger of blizzards… Lama Govinda writes – “Many a pilgrim has died from exertion on the ascent to the terrific altitude of nearly 19,000 feet, where a blizzard can freeze a man within a few minutes and where every gasp of breath has to be husbanded as if it were the elixir of life.”

Now on that last leg of ascent… Nearing the top of the pass…

Sometime past 9 am, Soota reaches the Dolma La pass… The high point of the three day kora…. Dark glasses save his eyes from the dazzle of Sunlight, reflected all around on the terrain of snow and ice…

Some pictures taken then.. Click and use arrow keys to browse…

At Dolma La pass is the rock of Dolma La, the Goddess Tara. Swami Pranavananda writes – “On the pass there is a big boulder called Domla (Devi) block and flags, festoons, streamers, and cairns are set up all around it. Fallen teeth are stuck by Tibetans into the chinks of the Dolma block, forming rosaries of teeth. Pilgrims smear butter on the boulder, hoist flags, and do the rounds of it. It is alleged that Devi disappeared under this rock in the form of 21 wolves; it may be noted that there are 21 forms or Avataras of Devi according to Tibetan scriptures.

Here is how Sven Hedin describes the Dolma La rock, in his chronicle of Kailasa Kora that he did in 1907…

At length we see before us a gigantic boulder, its cubical contents amounting perhaps to 7000 or 10,000 cubic feet ; it stands like an enormous milestone on the saddle of Dolma-la, which attains the tremendous height of 18,599 feet. On the top of the block smaller stones are piled up into a pyramid supporting a pole, and from its end cords decorated with rags and streamers are stretched to other poles fixed in the ground. Horns and bones, chiefly shoulder-blades of sheep, are here deposited in large quantities—gifts of homage to the pass, which is supposed to mark the hallway point of the pilgrimage. When the pilgrim arrives here, he smears a bit of butter on the side of the stone, plucks out a lock of his own hair and plasters it into the butter. Thus he has offered up some of himself and some of his belongings. Consequently the stone resembles a huge wig-block, from which black locks of hair flutter in the wind. In time it would be completely covered with Tibetan hair, were it not that the locks occasionally fall off and are blown away by the wind. Teeth are stuck in all the chinks of the Dolma block, forming whole rosaries of human teeth. If you have a loose tooth, dedicate it to the spirits of the pass.”

And now, a hundred plus years later, here we are, in front of Dolma rock…. The rock is completely covered with flags, festoons, streamers….

Here are a couple of  excellent photos from the Net ( Click here for source )..

First one shows a Tibetan guide tying a flag to the Dolma devi rock, which is completely covered by prayer flags…

Somewhere behind Soota, his co-yatri-s are on the way… Shankar, Shiva and Dash… The ladies have had to return… One has been severely affected by altitude sickness. And the other had problems with the horse and the handler, and had to return from somewhere along the way… Shiva is not keeping well too. But he is braving his way up on a horse, followed by Shankar… And on the way to the pass, Shiva falls off his horse. A mighty fall, on the hard boulder-strewn sloped of Dolma. That is not his only fall. He falls twice more… He is in serious pain… Yet he makes it to the top. Shiva and Dash helping him along….

Signing off this post with a video clip… Taken by Siva after he reached the pass… Sky is completely overcast…. It’s a cold day in the mountain…

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NB: Blog date today is May 22, 2014.. This day is the Mahapuja day at Sri Ramanasramam, Arunachala. This commemorates the Mahanirvana day of Mother Azhagamma. The individual Azhagamma crossed over to become Tara, of Arunachala Siva Ramana…  To merge in Arunachala, and then be known as Mathrubhuteshwara – Siva who came as Mother…. Prostrations to Mathrubhuteshwara-Azhagamma-Arunachala!

** To be continued **

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 32

April 27, 2014

The blog resumes on 27 April 2014… It is the actual Thithi (date as per Indian calendar) of Mahanirvana of Sri Ramana Maharshi… The previous post, as it happened, was on the date of Mahanirvana as per Western Calendar…. In Ramanasramam, they celebrate the Indian calendar date. There will be special prayers during the day, and thousands of devotees will participate… And in Chennai, at the local Ramana Kendra, a portrait of Ramana Maharshi will be taken on an open vehicle, and pulled on a parikrama of the great Kapaleeshwara temple at Mylapore.. That is an experience to be savored…

From Kapali parikrama to Kailasa Parikrama, now…

Yatra date 2-July-2013

Let us begin with a short video taken that day… One has joined two clips… First part where Soota was on his own, and second part after the horseman caught up and Soota had the luxury of a saddle… Have a dekho. Gives you a good feel of the valley of divine river – Lha Chu valley….

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You would have noticed the horseman wearing a cloth cover for his nose and face. And he is a local Tibetan who does this parikrama day in and day out… You can imagine the biting cold that one is likely to face… So, folks, if you are planning on the kora, do get some cover for your nose and ears….

Sometime around 4 pm or so, crossing a little bridge across Lha Chu river, Soota reaches the destination of the first day – the transit rooms attached to the Diraphuk monastery…

Soota was feeling so tired he just crashed on a bunker in one of the rooms. There were six or more beds in a room… Cramped.. But God be blessed, we had a roof above our heads..

Soota took no pictures then… So, sharing some pictures of the rooms, and the Diraphuk monastery that one saw on that most wonderful ‘mountain travel photos’ site. Click on the pictures… (Click here for source)

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One of Soota’s own group of six had reached ahead, and she was not in a good shape at all. Altitude sickness had really gotten to her. Soon the others arrived, and one sort of settled in and exchanged brief war stories. The other lady in the group had a rough day too. She had received non-cooperation from her porter… Siva, the Australian, was a picture with a purpose. The ‘noodles on the way’ had breathed life back into his paining body. But just about. So he was Atlas weighed down by the world on his shoulders…..

Not all were down though. The teenage sage Dasarath (Dash) was fine. He was dashing fine.. He dashed around the area and came around to inform one and all that the toilet was pits. He painted a real gory picture. And so any thought of using the common washrooms were put to rest. From now on, the rocks.

Shankar, with his daily recitation of Agni sahasranama, showed little sign of losing fire. He was quite fit, and had also the energy derived from the meal of hot noodles that he had savored in the food tent on the way.He took a recce of the surroundings and came and dragged Siva and Soota to a spot nearby, from where one had a direct view of the North face of Kailasa… Even though the peak was hidden in a thick cloud cover, the sheer presence of Kailasa was overwhelming… This face of Kailasa is the most celebrated and photographed one… Sharing some pictures. Click and use arrow keys to browse. Esc to return…

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There we were – the threesome of Shankar, Siva and Soota. For a reintroduction to these characters, and their mystic defenses against cold, ccheck out an earlier blog post (Click here to access  )… It was biting cold… Soota was shivering… Siva was like a resuscitated man, just about on minimum batteries… And Shankar was on full charge…. We walked to a spot near the point where the Lha Chu river flowed down from the mountain to the valley. Right in front of us was the northern face of Kailasa, seen between two hills…. We sat down and chanted the Rudram. What a blessing. Shankar had brought a whole lot of Bilva leaves. Siva then chanted the Kayilai Padigam, a Tamizh prayer to the Lord of Kailasa, composed by the great Saiva sage Tirunavukkarasar. And accompanying his chant, we offered the Bilwa leaves to the floating waters of the divine river – Lha Chu.. We offered worship to Lord of Kailasa. It was only when one came back that one read a very interesting fact in the book “Way of the White clouds” by Lama Govinda. He writes:

“Reaching the northern side of the mountain, the colour of the rocks and the structure of the foothills abruptly change. They seem to be composed of a predominantly dark conglomeration of stones, which deprives them of the clear-cut architectural quality of the rocks and mountains lining the red valley of Amitabha.

But there is one outstanding feature which makes up for these short comings: the foothills suddenly step aside and give the pilgrim the full view of Kailas in all its grandeur. The view is absolutely overwhelming, and, according to the scriptures, it is on this spot that those who are initiated into the rituals and meditations of the respective Tantras should perform their devotional practices on the great Mandala of Supreme Bliss.

What a wonder. We had offered our worship to Lord Siva at the very spot that Lama Govinda writes about. Call it what you will. It was but the grace of the Lord of Kailasa. His grace it is that we have been able to chant rudram almost every day of this trip, starting from Kathmandu. The previous day, July 1st, Shankar and Soota had chanted Rudram by the shores of Manasarovar, when a South Indian family had performed Siva puja ( for a report of that, see a previous post by clicking here )

Let us now have a closer look at the Northern face, from the great gallery of ‘mountain travel photos’ (Click here for source)

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Wonderful, isn’t it. A feast for the photographer… Joy for the heart…

(This blog post being submitted on the thithi of Ramana Maharshi’s Mahanirvana. Time is around 8:47 pm IST. The exact time of His absorption in Arunachala.. Of which here is one of the many reports. Taken from the book “Guru Ramana” by the westerner devotee SS Cohen. He writes :

“Monsieur Cartier-Brassen, the French photographer, who has been here for about a fortnight with his wife, related an experience of his to me. “It is a most astonishing experience,” he said. “I was in the open space in front of my house, when my friends drew my attention to the sky, where I saw a vividly-luminous shooting star with a luminous tail, unlike any shooting star I had before seen, coming from the South, moving slowly across the sky and, reaching the top of Arunachala, disappeared behind it. Because of its singularity we all guessed its import and immediately looked at our watches – it was 8:47 – and then raced to the Ashram only to find that our premonition had been only too sadly true: the Master had passed into Mahanirvana at that very minute.” Several other devotees in the Ashram and in the town later told me that they too had seen the tell-tale meteor.”)

Om Nama Sivaya!

** To be continued **

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 31

April 14, 2014

In the last post, we had a glimpse of the great General Zoravar Singh… Zoravar Singh captured over 700 kms of Tibet in three months, in 1841… But the triumph was not for long. In deep winter, December of that year, Tibetan forces surprised him by coming across a route that  he had not anticipated… He was killed in a fierce battle on December 12th, 1941. So heroic was this victory for the Tibetan forces, that they took his head as trophy and displayed it in Lhasa. (Click here to read an interesting blog post about Zorawar Singh )

Here are a couple of pictures. (Click and use arrow key to browse.)  The first one is of Indian army soldiers saluting a statue of the General. The second one is his place of burial, in Toyo, near Takklakot, in Tibet.  Recognizing his great valor, the Tibetans built this chorten – samadhi… ( Click here for source of these photos )

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So deep was the impression that Zorawar Singh made on the people of Tibet, that his relics are stored with pride in various places…. We come to know from Swami Pranavananda’s book “Kailas-Manasarovar”, that some armors, helmets  and swords of Zorawar Singh are stored in Chuku Gompa, the monastery of Nyenri mountain, on the Lha Chu valley, west of Mt Kailasa.

Shall we come back to the yatra of the valley.

On walking half an hour or so from Yamadvar, you come to the vicinity of Chuku Gompa… In the picture below (click here for source), on the mountain on the left, the spot marked in red is approximately where this Gompa is located…The Chuku Gompa is perched like a ‘swallows nest’ on the high fort-like mountain of Nyenri, in the Lha Chu valley….

Click on the picture to get a nice view of the valley..

 

West valley chuku`

To get to the Gompa, you cross the Lha Chu river, and climb. After a strenuous climb of half an hour or so, you would reach this monastery. From Swami Pranavananda’s account and other Net sources, we come to know that the chief image here is of Chuku Rimpochhe (Amitabha), made of white marble, brought from India hundreds of years ago. On either side of the image are two huge elephant tusks, associated with Padmasambhava. There is an image of Bhutanese Lama Nangyal who was here some three hundred fifty years ago. His face, beard, and head-dress is such that the image looks rather like Guru Nanak (indeed there are accounts that Guru Nanak too came to Maanas-Kailasa and that his image is in a Gompa in this region).

Here are some great pictures of the Gompa, sourced in the Net ( Click here for the source of these photographs )

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In the chengkhang (puja hall) on the top of the monastery, there are images of Mahakali, Mahakala, and Khangri-Lhabchen (or Kangri Lhatsen), the guardian deity of Kailasa… Equivalent of Bhairava… He is fierce looking, as you would expect. Here’s a picture from the Net ( Click here for source )

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From the top of the monastery, one gets a fine view of Kailasa peak.

Here’s a picture ( Click here for source of this and many other beautiful photographs of Kailasa kora )

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kailash-from-chuku`

With a silent prayer to the guardian deity of Kailasa, let us continue our blog-yatra of Mt Kailasa….

Yatra Date is 2/July/2013…

Soota is walking all by himself down the Lha Chu valley… He has no knowledge of Chuku Gompa, and walks right past…. Even if he had known about the Gompa, he would hardly have braved the climb.  The low-oxygen and his general physical fitness are both against such diversions. But serious pilgrims do visit this gompa. As did Swami Tapovan Maharaj during his parikrama in 1929 AD.  If you have time and stamina, and have good guides who can speak the local language, then it would surely be worth taking this diversion and visit the Gompa…

Some two hours after walking, he hears bells and turns around to see his horseman Kedhor. He has finally caught up.

Soota gets on to the horse…. Now let no one think that riding a horse is a walk in the park… Soota found it quite uncomfortable… Being unaccustomed to it, the cramped seat, the high stirrup and the general jerk of horse-walk, all makes for muscle strains in many parts of the anatomy… But at least, you can take a break from the walk… And God bless the horse for that…

They go past another food-stop where a few tents have been put up. selling eatables. But the stop holds no promise for Soota, for he is a vegetarian, and you can get little or no vegetarian fare in any Tibetan eatery… The tour organizers have given a small lunch pack, consisting (if memory serves right) of some biscuits and some fruit, and a small juice-pack…Somehow, somewhere along the way, Soota manages to chew some of the stuff from his lunch-pack….

Soota and his horseman carry on past the tent…. Weather is steadily getting worse… It is very cold… And suddenly the skies open up and it starts raining real hard… Soota’s backpack, which is being carried by the horseman, is now a disaster. He has kept a few things packed in plastic bags inside… But the bag itself, while it should be water-proof, is no match for this rain… It has also got torn near the top, being roughed up by the carriage on the kora…

But that is the lesser worry… The real worry is the rain… Soota is protected by his poncho, the Nepali raincoat… But rain finds its way to his skin… And the whole situation is quite miserable! After being battered for a while, Soota decides to call for divine help… He starts chanting “Arunachala Siva, Arunachala Siva” from Aksharamanamalai, the composition of Ramana Maharshi… And his prayer is answered… The rain withdraws.. The Sun comes out… The weather changes so much in minutes (as is characteristic in Maanasa-Kailasa region) it is incredible… What can one say… For Soota, this is a realization of the Oneness of Kailasa and Arunachala… The Presence of Siva…

While, on that day, one could not get a decent sighting of Kailasa due to the overcast conditions, on a good day, one should be able to get a nice view every now and then – between the gaps or above the surrounding mountains…

Here is a picture from the Net, of the view of Kailasa from the West…  ( Click here for source )

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Things are not going too well with his co-yatri-s either.. On the way, Soota spots Usha walking all by herself… Her horseman is nowhere to be seen…. Meanwhile, Siva has been having a hard time… Shankar catches up with him, and coaxes him forward… They halt at the food-tent and Shankar orders for some hot noodles…. Siva and Shankar manage to eat that… And that revives Siva quite a bit… And even as they sit in the shelter of the food-tent, the sky opens up.. By the grace of Lord Siva, they are in the protection of the tent… And by the time they finish lunch, the rains stop…. Om Nama Sivaya!

But all the troubles that we face are trivial (nothing at all) compared to the strain undertaken by the average Tibetan pilgrim.. When you see them doing prostration-parikrama, every step of the way, words fail… And they also do not carry any food… They live on what they get as bhiksha… Saktu floor and such fare… And in every breath they chant the sacred mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”! Prostrations to these pilgrims!

Lord Siva sure is Vishwanatha, the Lord of the Universe.. So it is that he touches pilgrims who come here from every part of the world… Soota-s coyatri Shankar is an American citizen. Siva is an Australian… Lord Shiva Himself, being a resident of Kailasa, is domiciled in  China, in the autonomous region of Tibet! Vasudhaiva kutumbakam – “The world is one family” – says the ancient text of Veda. The proclamation comes in the Mahopanishad, which says –

”अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसाम् | उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् || ”
ayaṁ bandhurayaṁ nēti gaṇanā laghucētasām | udāracaritānām tu vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam ||

(Differentiating among people) Saying ‘this one is my kin; that one is not’,  is for the narrow minded. For those of broad-heart, the entire world is but one  family.’

What a grand tradition is that of India, which could voice such a proclamation thousands of years ago!

Shankar’s son Dasharath is living this truth during the kora. He is all of fifteen years of age, and stands six feet tall. He is American. He has recently returned from a practice trek to Roopkund and Pindari glacier in the Indian Himalaya.  Low oxygen makes no difference to him. He is as energetic as a sherpa. Running back and forth, he has made friends with many other co-yatri-s. He is almost family now with a group of people from the middle-east. He loves company when he is trekking and he makes most of the ‘world is one family’ aphorism. He could probably jog his way around the kora if only someone agreed to run along with him. He is not weighed down by any religious concerns. He believes he is here because his parents wanted (forced?) him to.  It is a different matter that when he was much younger, and in America, a senior Tibetan Lama who they visited, saw in the boy the aura of an advanced soul. He told Shankar that his son was an ‘ancient soul’, who needed but a little ‘training’ to progress in the higher realm of the spiritual path … And so it must be… For here he is, a teenager doing kora of Kailasa…. Who can come here without the call of Siva-Parvati, the non-two, who take one forward, life after life, lavishing care, as only parents can…

Signing off this Kailasa post with the timeless lines of Kalidasa,

‘जगतः पितरौ वन्दे पार्वती परमेश्वरौ’।

I bow to the parents of the universe, Parvati and Parameshwara (Siva)!

Today (blog date) is 14-Apr-2014. The day of the Tamil New Year… Also, the date on which Ramana Maharshi attained Mahanirvana… When the great comet was seen, at the exact time he shed his body…A comet seen all over India by his devotees… Which went and merged in the summit of Arunachala!

Greetings to all!

Om Nama Sivaya!

** To be continued **

 

 

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 30

April 8, 2014

Om Nama Sivaya!

Blog date – 8/April/2014… Rama Navami!

‘Adhyatma Ramayana’, Ramayana of Self-Knowledge, is the story of Rama as narrated by Siva to Parvati at Mt Kailasa! Parvati wants to know from Siva, the reality of Rama… Siva begins the Ramayana exposition, saying : ““Indeed you are blessed, and are a worthy disciple, for you have a desire to know the reality of Rama. None has asked me before, to reveal this profound secret, which remains ever concealed. You have questioned me with devotion and so I shall tell you. First I salute Sri Rama, the greatest of Raghus! Rama is the Self Supreme, Bliss, The One Supreme Being, Beginning-less….”

Thus spake Siva at Kailasa.

And Rama came to Kailasa too. After the battle of Lanka, he, along with Sita, Brahma, and Deva, comes to Kailasa on Pushpaka Vimana.. Shiva. along with Parvati, riding the bull Nandi, welcomes Rama. Rama, seeing Lord Shiva, immediately gets down from the Vimana, and offers obeisance. Shiva embraces Rama, as do Parvati and Sita…

Ah yes, this Shiva-Rama twosome are indeed not two. One in heart, one in consciousness, one in reality. To this day, when Bilwa leaves are offered in formal worship to Kashi Vishwanatha, each leaf has the name “Rama” inscribed on it… And Tulasidas, the great sage poet, composed Ramacharitamaanasa in vernacular on the order of Kashi Vishwanath. (He started the work on the Ramanavami day of 1575 AD, which fell on a Tuesday, like it does this year as well.) And on completing composition, in 1577 AD, he read it out to the Lord. And tradition has it, that when traditional scholars opposed the idea of this vernacular composition, Kashi Vishwanath Himself blessed that composition by writing ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram” on the treatise…

And that Maanas of Rama, is this Maanas of Kailasa.. Manasarovar… Right by the side of which is the lake of Ravana, the Rakshas Taal…. Under the eye of silver dome of the great peak of Kailasa…

Yatra date – 2/July/2013…

We are in the first day of Parikrama (Kora) of Kailasa…

We now move forward, having passed through the portal of Yama, into the valley of divinity – The Lha Chu valley… The valley is so named, after the river that flows through it – the Lha Chu river… ‘Lha’ means ‘divine’ or ‘God’ and ‘Chu’ means ‘river’… God’s river, that flows from Mt Kailash, down this valley, is joined by other tributaries, and finally flows into Rakshas Tal – the lake of the demon! Welcome to Kailash!

Date : 2/July/2013… It is cold – brrrrr – cold….. The group of co-yatris have split… Each is walking at his or her own pace… The valley horizon is far-far away…. There is but the silence-song of the mountains… Soota walks on with the pony man coming alongside… They come near a tent which appears to be a food joint. The pony man, Kedar, a Tibetan nomad, decides to break for lunch, and walks in… Soota waits outside for a while, and then decided to carry on… After some sign language communication, he manages to convey this to Kedar, and starts walking off down the valley way… Soon, the tour guide comes running and hands Soota his walking pole that he had left behind, forgetful as he is. Soota gets a mild reprimand as well, which he richly deserves! Pole in hand, he walks on…

Some info about the Lha Chu Valley… Is also known as the “Amitabha” valley… The valley, as we walk north, has Nyenri (Nyen Mountain) on the left (west) and Kailash  and the peripheral envelope mountains on the east… The Lha chu river is gurgling its way southward….

Pandit Rajmani Trigunait, disciple of Swami Rama, the Himalayan Guru, had extraordinary spiritual experiences while walking this valley… His Guru, who was no more in body, had once told him that he would take him to their ancestral cave, which was by the Ganga, on the western side of Mt Kailash. Now, Ganga, as everyone knows., does not flow from Kailash… However, years afterwards, when the time came for Pandit to realize the promise, he came to Kailash… And walking down this valley, he talked to the guide and the local yak men… And then he came to see ‘light’… Nyenri was associated with a warrior God, who was son of Demchog (Siva) and Parvati, and he was also son of Lha Chu… Some more information, led Pandit to realize that the warrior God was Skanda (Sanatkumara) , Karthikeya… and that Lha Chu was Ganga… Pandit was also blessed with vision of a Yogi high up on Kailash, and also of Siva’s three eyes…. This is a divine valley all right…

Now, shall we see some pictures… Click on any picture and use arrow keys to browse, Esc to return..

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Kailash is hidden by the mountains that surround it…. It is visible only from certain points along the route…

Pandit was blessed with visions… As have been others… Each according to his merit… Soota, needless to say, is struggling along… Kailash does not bless him with a view, as the sky is completely overcast…

But the corridor of God is extraordinary… The gurgling Lha Chu…. It’s like you are walking down an open corridor of God, with massive temple gopurams on either side, and the Ganga flowing right by….

Lama Govinda, the german Buddhist Monk, writes in his book, the ‘The Way of the white clouds’ –

Entering the narrow valley on the western flank of Kailas, the place assigned to Amitabha, whose colour is red, he finds himself in a canyon of red rocks, the structure of which is so architectural in appearance that the pilgrim feels as if he is walking between rows of gigantic temples. They are adorned with elaborate rock-cornices, pillars, and ledges, and high above them there appears suddenly the dazzling ice-dome of Kailas.

Its shape is remarkably regular, as if it had been sculptured out of one immense block of ice, and towards the west two deep hollows, like the eyeholes of a perfectly shaped white skull, look mysteriously down upon the pilgrim, who is thus reminded of the terrible aspects of Shiva and Demchog (Mahasukha) who are both adorned with skulls, symbolising the wisdom of sunyata, the realisation of the emptiness and transitoriness of all phenomena.”

Soota walks on…. A few hours… The pony and the handler have not come.. He is by himself… Oxygen levels being low, the walk is a struggle… It is very cold as well… But in the ‘aloneness’ of being in the presence of divine, there is extraordinary peace…

He spots a few birds, blending with the rocks… Click the picture… Focus… Spot the bird camouflaged in the landscape..

Talking of birds, a short walk after Yamadvar, on the west, up the Nyenri mountain rockface, is perched a gompa – a monastery – that looks like a bird’s nest… It’s called Chuku Gompa… This Gompa has some connection with General Zoravar Singh….

Who is General Zoravar Singh, you ask? He is a legend, although not well known now to his countrymen. General Zorawar Singh is considered as one of the greatest army leaders Asia has seen… This great man was a General in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and served his tributary King, Maharajah Gulabh Singh of Jammu and Kashmir…  He extended the territory of the Sikh empire, by conquering Ladakh, and much of Tibet…This was in 1841 AD….

About him, Alex Mackey, writes in the book “History of Tibet” – “General Zorawar Singh conquered about 720 km. of the Tibetan territory (linear distance) in about three and a half months. The first thing Zorawar Singh did after the conquest of Misra was to take a holy bath in the lake Manasarovar and offer a golden idol at the Kailash temple. On The mobilisation of his troops into Tibet he had already announced his intention to perform a pilgrimage of the Hindu holy places of the Kailash-kshetra. He now proudly fulfilled that resolve. Thus, by fighting out his way to these holy places and earning the merit of the pilgrimage of Kailash, to which the heroes of the Mahabharata had also retired after attaining the glory and fame in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, General Zorawar Singh had earned both sanctity and renown. He had achieved the height of fame.’

In the book, “Buddhist Western Himalaya” by OC Handa, we learn that when General Zoravar Singh was in Kailash, his wife Asha Devi joined him. She did Parikrama of Kailash and returned to Kashmir…

On his way of conquest towards Maanas-Kailash, he came to Takklakot, where he won a famous battle… And near Takklakot is the village of Kojharnath where there is an ancient monastery – Khorchag Gompa, also known as Khechari Teertha… Kailash yatri-s often visit this shrine as well…. The Hindus consider the idols here to be that of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita…. Here, Zoravar Singh offered his gold locket to the deities….

Signing off this Rama Navami post with a picture of the Khojarnath deities, that I found on he Net.

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khocharnath-rama

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Jai Sita Rama! Om Nama Sivaya!

**** To be continued ****

 

 

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 29

March 18, 2014

Om Nama Sivaya!

It was a few months before the Kailasa Yatra, when Soota visited Kailashanatha Temple in Kanchipuram. He had visited the temple before, but this visit was special. This was the first time he had the experience of doing parikrama (pradakshina) of the Lord of Kailasa…

But first, a word about the temple… Among the thousands of beautiful temples of Tamil Nadu, this one ranks right up there. It was built during the reign of the Pallava Kings, between 685 to 705 AD. (Update: Period as mentioned in the temple’s wikipedia entry. A learned reader has pointed out that the date is different by a few decades…) That’s some one thousand three hundred years ago… And what a beautiful temple… It is poetry in stone… It has exquisite architecture and sculptures… One can confidently assert that there is not enough knowledge now to understand all the aspects of this temple…

Below are a few photographs that my co-yatri Shiva took recently…

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Beautiful isn’t it? And the wonder that we have such beautiful monuments in India, and we neither know their worth nor do we take reasonable efforts to conserve them. Sometimes, we don’t even know where to start. And when we do start, we mess up the whole thing. For instance, there were beautiful paintings (frescos) on the walls of the pradakshina passage of this temple. Fading with ageing of centuries, the conservators apparently thought it wise to whitewash the walls… Sigh.. Anyway, some restoration work has been attempted. For a nice write-up on the temple and these paintings, please click here to read a blog “The Legacy of Chitrasutra – Six – Kailasanatha of Kanchipuram” (It’s a very informative article… Do give it a read)…

Let us dwell a bit on that pradakshina passage…Among the many special aspects of the temple, a most interesting one is this very pradakshina (parikrama, circumambulation) passage around the main sanctum-sanctorum that houses Lord of Kailasa.

The entry into that passage is through a narrow opening that one has to crawl through, full length… Here’s  what the Wikipedia entry on Kailasanathar temple  says: “A circumambulatory passage, with a symbolic meaning is situated along the compound wall. In order to make the circumambulation, there is a narrow entry passage which devotees must crawl through. Seven steps must be climbed in order to reach the passage. Passing through the narrow passage is indicative of passage through life. After the circumambulation, the exit is through a pit or another narrow passage symbolic of death.

The symbolism can be explained thus…

At the entrance of the circumambulation, you drop the old body identification behind – you renounce your “I” notion, “you” die. Leaving the old world of your “I” and “Mine” behind, you crawl through the portal and enter the world of Kailasanatha, Siva. You are in Kailasa… You do parikrama of Siva… All around you on the walls of the passage you see paintings of Siva Lila – the sport of Siva. You are completely absorbed in Siva as you do parikrama. There is no you, no world, only Siva… And then, at the end of this passage, with much effort and strain, you crawl again into a narrow exit  – experiencing death again. Exiting, reborn to the world, you step out and walk into the hall in front of the sanctum-sanctorum… And when you do that, you are in a spirit of great exhilaration. You can’t believe you have managed this transition. You emerge as a new man. And now you are back in the world as well… But now your vision is different… Now, you see all  world as filled with Sivam, Siva-ness… All is Siva…

Now, is this not the very symbolism of Kailasa Parikrama!

Sri Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of Arunachala, has said – “To go to Kailasa and return is just a new birth. For there the body idea drops off.”

And like in the Kanchi Kailasanatha temple parikrama, the death-birth is symbolically experienced twice over in Kailasa Mountain as well. It is first symbolically encountered in the Yamadvar on the south-west of Kailasa, and then again later on the Dolma La pass on other side of Kailasa (as we shall see later)….

And near Yamadvar is a site  that connects one squarely with death…It is a Tibetan sky cremation site…

Swami Bikash Giri, the veteran of Kailasa Yatra, writes – “Situated on the southern corner of Kailash, 6 km from Tarchen is Tarpoche. This place has a flagstaff situated on a corner of a huge ground with a river flowing near it. As we move from Tarpoche, one comes across a huge ground made up of a same type of stone. One will find lots of torn clothes, broken utensils, strands of hair and shoes here. In the middle of the ground there is a round stonewall. Whenever any local man dies, his dead body is first brought to Tarpoche by car. The dead body is cut to pieces, and put inside the rounded wall, which serves as food for kites, crows and dogs. The items such as clothes and utensils, etc of the dead man are also thrown at this place…

Evidently, the idea is to renounce the body identity and the all the attachments of that body…

And yes, there is a sky crematorium site on the other side of Kailas as well.

But one need not worry… Unless one is looking for them, you will not come across these sites in your parikrama. The guides hustle you through the parikrama, and the language difference inhibits any meaningful communication. Moreover, you are battling with your own fear of unknown, and focused as you are on your parikrama, you are not likely to be distracted with questions such as these… Soota missed it all right… Connecting the dots only later…

Be that as it may…

Yes, the holy places of Siva are associated with death. He is the God of Dissolution. He is the shmashana adhipathi, the Lord of the cremation ground. The ancient and holy city of Kashi (Banares, Varanasi) is one big cremation ground. In the Sankalpa mantra-s chanted there, the city is referred to as a Maha-shmashana-bhoomi, “a great cremation ground.” . And to die in Kashi is said to bestow salvation, freedom from the endless death-birth cycle.

Yes…The presence of Siva makes the cremation ground auspicious…. Most auspicious… The body identification dies…Siva-ness alone remains.

As the great sage Kabir of Kashi says,

जीवन मृतक ह्वै रहै, तजै जगत की आस।
तब हरि सेवा आपण करै, मति दुख पावै दास

When a man dies alive, renouncing all attachment to the world, then Hari, the Lord, himself comes to serve. Indeed, no sorrow can touch a devotee of Hari…

This is the essence. The death of body identification…The death of the mind…  And being alive to Siva, in Siva, as Siva.

So here we are… At the first death-life crossover at Yamadvar… And here, again, is a view of Kailasa from there (For source click here).

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07 Kangnyi Chorten With Mount Kailash Behind On Mount Kailash Outer Kora

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And at this point, let me once more rewind to another memory.

It was 25th June, 2013, the day that I was catching a flight to Kathmandu from Delhi, starting off on this Kailasa Yatra. In the airport bookshop, my eyes fell on a book ‘Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master – A Yogi’s Autobiography’, By Sri M. I had not heard of this book before. It looked interesting and I picked it up. I had no idea that the author had also written about his own Kailasa Yatra in that book…. I read it when I could during the Yatra, and completed it upon completion of the Yatra, back in Kathmandu.

In this book, the author, “M”, shares the incredible story of his spiritual journey… Writing about his Maanas-Kailas Yatra, he narrates a very interesting experience in Manasarovar, where he has a vision of a yogi of Gorakhnath panth coming out of the waters and blessing him. He also had visions of his own past life, as a loin-cloth clad yogi meditating in a cave in Gurla Mandhata mountain, overlooking the Maanas…

Here is a quote from the book, where he narrates his experience at Yamadvar, on the first day of his Kailasa Parikrama

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“Then, we reached the Yama Dwar. Here, we had the closest view of the great Kailash, sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and the Bonpas of Tibet. As the great snow peak towered above us, an extraordinary deep meditative mood enveloped me,

Some of our group who had opted for ponies had to wait till the ponies and porters could be organized. Others like me, decided to walk the parikrama, but we waited at Yama Dwar for half an hour. I sat down on a rock facing Kailash and dived deep into myself.  I heard the sound of the little drum called Damaru which Shiv Mahadev holds in his hand whilst dancing the Tandava Nritya, dance of destruction, in my inner ear – dug, dug, dug, dug… This was soon replaced by the enormous bhum, bhum, bhum that seemed to explode inside my head. With my inner eye, I could perceive a strong, conical, whirl wind at a distance. It was moving towards me, threatening to take me with it. Suddenly, I heard the loud greeting of the Natha – Alek Niranjan and the typhoon disappeared. The whirling stopped, there was absolute silence. I opened my eyes, said Sivoham and began to walk. Sivoham remained with me throughout the journey and even afterwards”

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Concluding this post with a verse from Jagadguru Shankaracharya’s Nirvana Shatkam

न मृत्युर् न शंका न मे जाति भेदः ,
पिता नैव मे नैव माता च जन्मा ,
न बन्धुः न मित्रं गुरुर् नैव शिष्यः ,
चिदानन्द रूपः शिवोहं, शिवोहं ||

Neither death nor doubt have I,
Nor any difference of race!
Neither a father have I, nor mother, nor birth,
No relatives, no friends, no Guru, no disciple!

I am the ever pure consciousness-bliss,
Siva am I! Siva am I!

Sivoham! Sivoham!

*** To be continued **

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 28

February 28, 2014

Blog date: 27-Feb-2014… Report of travel date 2-Jul-2013….

Swami Bikash Giri is a Sanyasi from North India who has deep experience of the regions of Maanas-Kailas. He has perhaps completed 108 Parikrama-s of Mt Kailash by now… He says that Maanas, which gets almost completely frozen in the winter months, begins to melt on Shivaratri… Writing about one of the periods of his stay, he says  – “The first glimpse of the water of Manasarovar took place exactly on the day of ‘Sivaratri’ (the night of Lord Siva). It looks as if Brahma Saras is waking up from its meditation… Winds start blowing from the day of ‘Sivaratri’ onwards. It appears as if the creator of universe after waking up from his meditation is making himself busy in its work of creation. Aquatic birds and Swans start coming to Manas again three to four days after Sivaratri…

Today, 27/Feb/2014, is that day… Mahasivaratri…. The great night of Siva!

Om Namashivaaya!

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sadashiva-in-kailash Miniature painting

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The picture above is of a miniature painting that is now in Museum Reitburg in Zurich… This is from a Kashmiri prayer book… The scene shows Sadashiva, the eternal Siva, on Mt Kailash…

Switzerland, Kashmir, Kailash… Wonderlands of snow… And now that Lord Nataraja graces the facility of CERN Lab in Geneva, the three are connected by the immediate presence of the great God Siva!

Namasshivaya vaazhga!

Let’s get back to the travel date: 02-Jul-2013… The start of Kailas Kora…

Having had some good Pongal for breakfast (thanks to Usha), we are now ready to begin the kora. The bus has dropped us off at that start point…. Large plains at the base of the mountains that surround Kailash like petals of lotus around the pericarp… It is a gloomy day… Sky is completely covered by clouds.. .

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The plains are ‘lovely, vast and deep’… And yes, we have ‘a promise to keep’… To walk around Siva…

At the start-point, for Soota it is like stepping into a time warp… Where space and time cease to matter… Where measurements do not exist… All that remains are raw feelings… And the unseen presence of Siva…

The group is accompanied by Chinese tour leader and Nepalese Sherpa-s and cook… Gas cylinders, food items, etc are being loaded on yaks…

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There are no signs of horses (ponies) that we are supposed to hire.  Are we to ride yaks?

Dasan, one of our coyatri-s jokes saying ‘what do you expect… Your next halt is Yamadvar… Naturally, you have to go there on a buffalo, the vehicle of Yama…’

But Indra. The Lord of Gods, is kind…

Suddenly, as if by magic, horses appear out of near nothingness… Brightly dressed Tibetan nomads emerge in the landscape, happily chattering, bringing ponies along…

At this start-point, the tour organizers allocate porters and ponies to the Yatri-s… They do this by picking lots – whose who….Which Yatri gets which porter, and which horse and horseman… Like all things Asian, I think there is some leeway here… The lottery is ‘managed’…A lady co-yatri gets a lady horse handler… They both hug each other happily like sisters meeting in afterlife!

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When the allocation is done, we find that we have been shortchanged…  The original rules of engagement were as follows… You have to pay separately for the pony and the porter. The pony handler will only handle the pony and will not carry your backpack.  You need to hire a porter for that. You are not allowed to load your backpack on the pony… And oxygen levels being low, you would be hard put carrying it yourself. So you need  a porter…

Having collected separate payments of pony and porters, the tour guides suddenly turn around us and tell us that the horse handler would double up as porter… But payment will be same….You pay as before… No change…The Chinese guide shrugs his shoulders and tells us “Not enough porters available… ab kya karein?” he says in Hindi…

Well that’s that.

With a prayer to Ganesha, we begin the kora…

From here on, it is each  yatri for himself… The porter / pony man does not speak our language. We do not speak theirs… While us and them do dance to the tune of the same drummer, namely Siva of Kailasa, one quickly realizes that Siva carries one drum for us and another for them… He has many hands and many drums and he loves dance!

We walk along the kora, and the pony people come along in their own pace… We are walking in the valley of Lha Chu, the river divine…

The oxygen levels make walking a challenge… Some yatri-s are unaffected… Some are panting…. It is very cold…. We walk along, and soon arrive at our first port of call… Yamadvar – literally the ‘portal of the Lord of Death’.

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The Yamadvar is in the south western direction of Kailas…. Known locally as the Kangnyi Chorten (the two legged gate), the pilgrims, as per timeless tradition,  walk through the gate, to wipe of their negative karma… For Hindu-s, the idea is that one prays to Lord Yama as one walks through this portal, and one symbolically dies, and is reborn….

Below is a small gallery of pictures… Click on one and use arrows to browse… Esc to return

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During our yatra, the sky is overcast, and we could not get  even a glimpse of Kailas from here…

But on a clear day, this is what you will see from Yamadvar… A picture that I got from the net (Click here for source )

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Beautiful isn’t it….

In some narrations, it is said that the yamadvar is linked in mythology with the place where Savitri dialoged with Yama, seeking the return of her husband Satyavan, whose life Yama had taken away…

Whatever it is, there is a symbolic death and birth experience that one undertakes by walking through the Yamadvar…

As I walk through I chant the prayer to Yama that is a part of the daily Sandhyavandana ritual… (Mantra)… When Shankar, my co-yatri follows me, he too chants it (with a little help from friends)…

Yamaya Namah
Yamaya dharma rajaya , mrutyuve cha anthakaya cha
Vaivaswathaya kalaya sarva bhootha kshayaya cha
Oudhumbharaya dhagnaya neelaya parameshtine
Vrukodharaya chithraya chithra gupthaya vai nama
Chithra gupthaya vai nama om nama ithi

Salutations to Yama, the God of death
Salutations
To Him , the controller
To Him who is the king of Dharma,
To him who is death
To him who kills,
To Him who is the son of Sun,
To him who is the devourer Time,
To him who causes destruction of all beings,
To him who is supremely strong,
To him who is called Dhagna,
To him who is of color blue,
To him who is worshipped by all,
To him who has the belly of a wolf
To him who is really awesome,
And to him of sublime secrets!

Siva is the one who overcomes Yama. It is He who kicked Yama on the chest when Markandeya was being taken by Yama. It is he who grants freedom of fear from death. It is he who is Mrityunjaya… Vanquisher of Death…

ॐ त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम् ।

उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मा ∫ मृतात् ।।

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Let us come back to the date of this blog .. Mahasivaratri of 2014…

Soota spends this night of Mahasivaratri in 2014 at Arunachala… The Mountain that is Siva….

He shall join thousands of pilgrims who shall walk around the mountain this night.  Before he sets off on the pradakshina of Siva, he sees the first segment of Puja at Sri Ramanasramam … After the Puja, the priests proceed towards the Goshala, where they set about to make Vibhooti (sacred ash)… The Ash for the whole year is made this Sivaratri night…

Signing off this post with a picture of the chief priest setting fire to a heap that shall burn the whole night, and become transformed into the ‘sacred ash’ of Siva!

sivaratri-2014-vibhooti

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As the fire crackles here,
The ice of Maanas would be melting there,
It is the dance of Siva everywhere…

Om Nama Sivaya!

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 27

February 17, 2014

July 2nd, 2013… We are at Darchen…

Had it been a clear sky, we would have had a wonderful view of Mt Kailash… Like the picture below (Source: wikipedia link here)

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Darchen-from-wikipedia

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With just our backpack, we board a bus… The bus will take us to the start point of the walking, some  eight kms or so from Darchen (marked as D in the map in the previous blog post)… This is the site of Tarboche (or Darboche) flag post…

This (blog) post is about that (flag) post…

On the full moon of the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, a flag post is erected here at Tarboche, the base of Mt Kailash, which marks a great festival… Pilgrims from all over Tibet and elsewhere come here for this ceremony… The ceremony also marks the traditional opening of the kora around Kailas.

The Tibetan calendar is a cousin of the Indian lunar calendar. The new year in the Tibetan calendar is called Losar, and is one of the most important days in their culture. As best as I can make out, the Losar commences on the new moon day of the lunar month on which the spring solstice falls. Spring solstice is that day of the year when the Sun crosses over the equator from South to North. The Northern journey of the Sun, commences in the Winter Solstice (of the northern hemisphere) sometime in end of December… This is  known as the Uttarayana in Indian astronomy… At that point in time the Sun is in the Southern hemisphere. And then, in its northern journey, the Sun crosses over the equator, onto the Northern hemisphere on the spring solstice day. That marks dawn in North pole – the start of the long North pole daytime… . The lunar month on which this occurs is observed as the new year in Tibetan calendar.

Now, the fourth month of this calendar, heralds a very important festival. On the full moon day of the fourth month, Tibetans celebrate the festival of ‘Saga Dawa’ (literally, the ‘fourth month’). In their tradition, Saga Dawa is ‘Vesak’ – or the holy day of the triple events of Buddha – his birth, enlightenment, and release (Nirvana)… This date may or may not coincide with the Vesak (Buddha Purnima) date of the Indian lunar calendar… May be the same or a month this way or that… But the event celebrated is the same – that of Buddha Purnima…

On this day, in Mt Kailash, a great celebration takes place… A flag post, around 80 feet or so in height, is raised up with great ritual fanfare. Pilgrims from far and wide come here to participate in this event… The flagpole from the previous year would have been brought down earlier, and raised again on the saga dawa (purnima) day…

A Lama from the nearby monastery is in charge of the ritual procedure… A great number of devotees gather here, and circumambulate the flag pole, as it lies on the ground.  Hundreds of prayer flags that were attached to the flag pole the previous year are removed, and new prayer flags attached… The pilgrims also throw ‘windhorses’ up in the air… These are colored paper flags with Buddhist mantra written on them…

Under the supervision of the official Lama, the pole is slowly raised, using ropes and fixtures. An “A” structure is moved below the inclined pole to keep it at that angle… Then the folks take some rest, and then the start again, raising the pole higher, and push another “A” structure to hold it up at a higher angle. All the while, there is a great festive atmosphere, traditional musical instruments are played, the child in one and all emerges, and there is a lot of happy hooting and cheer…. In the final tug, steel cables are attached to the pole, and are pulled by two trucks…. Pilgrims hold on and to pull other ropes so as to ensure that the pole does not slant in any direction… Under the guidance of the Lama, accompanied the joyous whoops of pilgrims, the great flag pole finally is made to stand erect….

Check out photographs below, of the Saga Dawa pole raising festival, taken from the Net ( Click here for source gallery ) .

Click on first picture and use arrow keys to browse, ESC to return…

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If the flag pole stands bolt upright, then that is said to be a good omen for Tibet… Good prosperity that year…. But if the pole stands tilting in any direction (either towards or away from Kailas), then that is said to be a bad omen. All will not be well for Tibet that year… That is the belief…

After the flag is upright, the pilgrims go around the pole in great festive joy. Pilgrims throw windhorses again… And they also throw Barley flour in the air, a tradition known as ‘Dra Lha Sol’… Horsemen join the festivity by thundering around the pole…  The season is open… The pilgrims shall now start on the kora around Kailas!

Here is a youtube clip of a saga dawa festival…

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The flag pole raising ceremony of Saga Dawa has been celebrated for more than a thousand years.. Soota wonders if this flag-post raising festival is a part of a cultural continuum of the Indian subcontinent where the flag pole of Indra has been raised to launch festivals. This has been a tradition for thousands of years, as can be seen from references in Ramayana, Mahabharata and other ancient epics. The Indra Dhvaja, the flag of Indra, which is hoisted during Indra festival, is mentioned in several places in Ramayana. It is specifically mentioned that the flag is raised during the full moon of the month of Ashvin, and is brought down after the festival. This festival of Indra is seen to have been celebrated all over the Indian subcontinent. The most ancient of Tamil literature mention Indra vizha, which was celebrated during the new year (the month of Chaitra) for 28 days. The festival was commenced by people hoisting the Indra Dhvaja (the flag of Indra). The details of the festival have been given in Manimekalai and Shilappadikaram (two ancient Tamil Sangam classics). ( Click here to read a good blog post about Indra Vizha of ancient Tamil people )

The Indra dhvaj festival is still observed in Puri Jagannath and other temples in eastern India. There is the festival of “Indra Purnima” during full moon of Bhadrapad month, which is preceded by Indra Dhvaj puja a few days earlier.

In Nepal, the Indra Jatra is a spectacular festival. This is also celebrated from Bhadrapada month… The festival is flagged off by hoisting a tall wooden pole (thirty six feet or so, in height), that has been chosen with ritual care from a specific forest every year. This pole is the Indra Dhvaja and is also known as the Linga (siva linga). This is pulled up by the people and is dismantled at the end of the festival.

Another festival called the Bisket Jatra, marks the beginning of the new year (the chaitra month…)  and  is celebrated in Bhaktapur, the old capital of Nepal. There too the Indra dhvaj (linga) is hoisted up. This festival corresponds in time with the Indra vizha of the ancient Tamil culture. The hoisting of Indra Dhvaj on new year has been a part of Indian tradition for sure.

Do see this youtube video of the Indra flag pole hoisting in Nepal…

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Soota conjectures that the Tarboche flag pole hoisting is perhaps a part of the same cultural continuum of Indra Dhvaja hoisting….

Take a look at this picture of a Lama in Saga Dawa festival

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Lama... With treatise.. And a vajra of Indra

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Notice the instrument (that seems to be like a paper weight) on the manuscript in front of him. That is Vajra, a symbol of Buddha and a weapon of Indra.

When Sister Nivedita visited Bodh Gaya in 1904, accompanied by Ravindrananth Tagore and JC Bose, she was inspired by the Vajra. With that symbol she designed the first national flag for India… Here it is… The Vajra in the middle, with the words “Vande Mataram” written in Bengali…

nivedita-india-flag-1904

Her idea of a flag for India was an Indra Dhvaja….

Here is another interesting data point… The Indra dhvaja  hoisting has been an integral part of Indian theater (Natya) tradition. As per Natyashastra, the very first drama in the world was staged on the occasion of Indra Dhvaja Mahotsava, the great festival of the flag of Indra…

Let us move in time, and have a glimpse of Kattaikuttu, one of the folk drama tradition (terukootthu, or street theatre) of Tamil people. Here rural artistes perform all night drama festival depicting scenes from Mahabharata, as handed down in local traditions since ages… One of the important depictions is that of the penance of Arjuna.  During the forest exile of the Pandava brothers, Arjuna proceeds to Himalaya to do penance and please Lord Siva, whereby he may acquire celestial weapons from Him. On the way he overcomes temptations meant to divert him from his task, and finally reaches Mt Kailas. He climbs Mt Kailas and does penance. In the folk theatre, Mt Kailas is represented by a long pole, which is called as “Tapas Maram”, or the tree of penance. In the theatre, the artiste acting as Arjuna, climbs this long pole, goes to a platform on top, and  enacts doing penance there.  It is then that Siva and Parvati, come in the guise of a hunter and his spouse, and a fight ensues between Arjuna and Siva, over a boar. They both shoot it at the same time and fight for the prize. Siva flings Arjuna into the air, and he is caught by Parvati… And then Siva and Parvati shed their disguise and reveal their real ‘presence’ to Arjuna, and bless him with great Pasupata Astra… And btw, Arjuna is Indra’s son….  (More about this drama scene can be seen in this link here   )..

So, the wooden pole in Kattaikoottu represents Mt Kailas!

Here is  a picture of Arjuna climbing the Tapas tree ( Click here for source )

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So, let us come back at the pole of Tarboche… The flag hoisting of Saga Dawa…. The start of the season of Kora. Pilgrims will circumambulate the Pole and then commence on the circumambulation of Mt Kailas…. Saga Dawa in the year 2013 was on May 25th … Soota and co-yatri’s have been dropped off at the Tarboche point by bus to commence the kora… The date is July 2nd, 2013…

Signing off this post, sharing one more youtube video, which has lovely photos of the Saga Dawa festival some years earlier…Enjoy the tour…

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Off next, on the kora.. Om Nama Sivaya! Om Mani Padme Hum!

** To be continued **

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 26

February 9, 2014

We have crossed over to Darchen from Maanas-Raakshas lakes, across Barkha plains, and at an average elevation of around 15000 feet, we are right up there, in the barren highlands of western Tibet…

We spend the night of July 1, 2013 here, at the base camp for the Kora (pradakshina) around Mt Kailash…

Sharing a video I found on youtube, that shows Darchen…. Gives you a good idea of the desolate terrain… You would see some Tibetan pilgrims starting on the kora, doing prostrations… Prostration parikrama, an unimaginable form of penance, where the pilgrims prostrates full lenth, gets up, walks to the point where his outstretched hands reached during the prostration, raises his hands in obeisance, prostrates again…

You would also see a view south, of the Barkha plains, the Rakshas Tal in the distance and the Gurla Mandhata mountains behind… And last but not least, you would see Mt Kailash…

Here goes… Watch… Absorb the mood of the landscape…

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North of Darchen, directly towards Kaillash, is the holy Ashtapad. Our group did not visit the place.  The authorities do not always permit one to go there. Also, one would need to add a day to the itinerary of kora. In any case, our tour operator did not breathe a word about Ashtapad to us… All things said, if you are planning to visit Mt Kailash, if the authorities permit visiting Ashtapad, then put it down in your ‘must do’ list… From here you can get a splendid view of the southern face of Mt Kailash… My good friend Narayan Iyer has been to Ashtapad during his yatra a few years ago.. I am sharing below, some pictures that he took… Lovely pictures…

Click on the first picture to use arrow keys to browse the gallery, Esc to return….

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If you go to Ashtapad, you also see the most lovely Nandi peak, of which Lama Govinda says in his book (The Way of the white clouds) – “Before the valley turns to the north-east is a rock rising thousands of feet sheer from the bottom of the valley, shaped like the sacred Nandi bull, with its head raised towards the summit of Kailas, as if looking lovingly at its master…”

Here is a picture of the Nandi peak…

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353 Nandi

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The gyangdrak gompa that you saw in the video is directly between Darchen and Nandi peak…

Now, before we set off on the kora, some background information…

Here is a rough map of the kora… We need to cover around 54 kms of high altitude trekking, in three days… The rough route is marked in red arrows. The start point is Darchen, marked in a yellow circle at the bottom of the map.. The Gyandrak gompa is marked with a green circle, just above Darchen…  In the middle of the map is Mt Kailash, marked with a yellow triangle..

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The kora has four ‘chaktsal gang’ or ‘prostration’ points, where pilgrims prostrate full length on the ground, looking towards Mt Kailash. These have been marked in the map above with icons of a person prostrating. There are two stop overs in the three day trek. Day one would end in Diraphuk which is around 20 kms from Darchen. Day 2 would start from Diraphuk, and is the most strenuous of the three day trek. You go past the high Dolma La Pass, and traversing a distance of 22 kms you come to the second stop-over point, Zutulphuk. Day 3, you start from Zutulphuk and reach Darchen, a distance of around 12 kms or so… In the map above, the two stop over points are marked with ‘house’ icons. The one on top is Diraphuk, and the one on right side, below, is Zutulphuk.

All told, in three days, we cover a distance of approx. 54 kms, and get back to base camp.

That’s the plan.

1-July-2013…

We get up to a bleak morning…

Last night’s food was terrible… The most incredible Usha has been having a tete-a-tete with the tour cook and is busy for hours on end working in the kitchen… And lo! This morning, she has prepared Pongal for all… How she managed it with the limited ingredients available, one doesn’t know… But after many days, we get to eat some really tasty food… And most of the tour group folks are thrilled… Except a few of course, who grumble about “these Madrasi-s forcing apnaa  khaanaa”. Ho hum!

Breakfast done… Time is past 9 am… Time to leave….

Our duffel bags have to be left behind now. All we are allowed to take is a small backpack, which should weigh no more than 3 or 4 kilos. And a camera. You really need to pack neat… Just the essentials… Thumb rules of ‘minimum needs’, mentioned earlier, in my first post of the series…

Absolute must have’s are:

  • A backpack (one, where you can stick your water bottle on one side…)
  • A good pair of trekking shoes (which you need to get used to, well before the yatra… Your regular walking shoes won’t do. You need to get good hiking shoes that hold your foot above your ankle…)
  • A few pairs of good socks… Sounds trivial… But it’s not…And a pair of slippers…
  • Tissues, including wet tissues
  • A mug will prove handy for your sanitation needs…
  • A pair of good quality Sun goggles… At high altitudes, you need protection from UV rays… There is risk of sun burn and there is a lot of glare out there, reflected by the snow and ice… Also get some good quality sunscreen cream for your face….And do not forget to take lip balm…
  • Rain-proof trekking trousers (at least one)
  • Inner thermals… Take at least two pairs of uppers and lowers… Layers matter when it comes to dressing for the cold…
  • A good (North Face type) thin warm jersey
  • A down jacket (you can also hire this from the tour organizers)
  • Warm gloves, muffler, woolen cap… A summer cap as well… Weather can change from freezing cold to a mild biting warmth in no time…
  • A poncho raincoat (with hood)… When it rains, it may well pour…
  • A nose mask or two (even the local folks, the porters and guides, cover their nose when they walk in the cold).. This is a life saver…
  • A trekking pole (or two, if you prefer)… You are not fully dressed if you do not have a trekking pole.
  • Torch
  • Some ready eats (dry fruits, kismis)… These are your body’s battery chargers…
  • A little bottle of sandal oil (useful fragrance when you are fighting mountain sickness)
  • Your regular medicines, altitude sickness medicines and first aid stuff…
  • Water purifying tablets, if you are particular, or are from the Western world… Soota was making do with spring water of Mt Kailash, which although a bit brackish, was quite ok… The tour organizers give you some water too… But then the trek is such that  each person goes at his or her own pace and you need to be self-sufficient for your basic needs…
  • No shaving kit… Been many a day since one shaved…
  • Notice, no mention of towels… Last bath was at Manasarovar… Next will be there too…

By the way, if you can somehow manage to charge your cell phone batteries, you can carry a cell phone… Depending on your carrier, you can catch signals in Maanas and in Kailas… You could also buy a local sim when you enter Tibet… Then again, do you really want to be on call when you are doing kora of Kailasa? It’s a toss up… You may like to send pictures, tweet live… It’s an online world today! Or you may like to log off from the online world, and ‘just be’ with the winds of Kailas…. Om Nama Sivaya!

So that’s a reasonable kit. All of which, other than what is on your body, should be less than 5 kgs. Anything more, the porter shall refuse to carry. And you cannot carry stuff in any case… Just the strain of walking in the low oxygen altitudes is tough enough… Conserve every joule of energy that you can…

Ok… Ready?

We assemble outside the rest house… Waiting to go….

Sky is overcast… Rains in the offing…. No view of Kailash at all… Many folks are dropping further yatra from here…

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Darchen July 1, 2013

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Om Nama Sivaya!

As you leave, listen to the song of Siva.. Sing along, this ancient song of Tamils… The immortal song of Maanikka vaacagar… Namashivaaya vaazhga!

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** To be continued **

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 25

January 27, 2014

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….

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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)

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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…

Click here to see a magnificent picture of Darchen village and the Barkha plains….

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!

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Om Nama Sivaya!

** To be continued **