"Full many a ray of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness to the desert air."
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kailash 2010 Day 3: Kathmandu to Nyalam, Sunday Jun 27, 2010

The plan is to go by bus from Kathmandu to the border at Kodari, about 123 kms. We will have lunch on the way before Kodari. After the immigration formalities, we would enter Tibet, where cars would be waiting for us. These Toyota Landcruisers will take us around in Tibet. Today, we would drive about 30 km to Nyalam, 3750m (12,300 ft).

We started the day with the morning pooja. I remembered to give Amma the prasad - offerings, from Pashupatinath. Her helpers cut the coconut so that slices could be distributed to everyone in the buses.
Br Vinayak Chaitanya, Br Uddhav Chaitanya, Br Suved Chaitanya, Swami Shivayogananda, Br Jaganmitra, Br Anshuman Chaitanya - the magic of yellow and ochre
Our backpacks and duffel bags are the sea in red

Getting ready to leave Kathmandu
Srini and Usha Amble, the Diamox man and his woman
We started off from Kathmandu looking out at one of the most scenic countrysides in the world. Each view from the bus window is one in a sequence of picture post cards. A group of people in the bus started chanting - the energy of the vigorous chant was infectious.
Enjoying God's view of the world, driving from Kathmandu to Kodari
View of the valley, on way from Kathmandu to Kodari
Statue of the hermit Shiva, on top of a mountain, on way from Kathmandu to Kodari
An hour outside of Kathmandu is an amazing tall statue of Shiva, on a mountain top that has a commanding view of the valley as the buses make their way through the roads spiralling upwards towards the Chinese border.

Amma and others at  a chai ki dukan - tea stall, Nepal countryside
Step farms for paddy in the Nepal countryside
Yoga pointed out a hydro power station on the Bhotekosi river - should it be so close to the Chinese border?

And finally, the 180 m tall bungy jump site I have researched so much, about 12 km away from the Tibet border. When I jumped in Taupo in New Zealand, it was over the Waikato river - very peaceful and scenic site, and I had looked around one last time before I jumped in case my head hit the water or I went blind - rare but possible. Nothing of the sort happened, it was a fantastic sensory experience of free fall and then bouncing up and down over the river, my ankle tied to the elastic rope. But six years ago, at Lakshman Jhoola in Hrishikesh, I could not walk even 50 steps on the suspension bridge as it shook over the raging river Ganga. I have wanted to jump off one of these suspension bridges towards a raging river since then. I hope we can stop here on the way back for a jump from Nepal's longest steel rope suspension bridge over the raging Bhote Kosi river. I wanted to put all my fears of heights, deep water and shaking structures into this one jump in Nepal, hopefully on the way back from Tibet.
Bungy jump site over the Bhotekosi
Our truck is about to get stuck
After a 3-hour drive, a couple of short breaks, and a lunch break preceded by an exciting stuck-in-the-mud situation where the Sherpas, other bus drivers and the locals all helped push and pull to get us unstuck, we reached the Kodari border.

Six months ago, after offering the beverage of choice at the highest seat of tantra, the temple of Kal Bhairav, the fierce form of Shiva used for annihilation, I was delighted to know that the dog is associated with him. Taking care of dogs is a form of worship of Kal Bhairav. Not that I need one more visual icon to remind me of Shiva.
A man and his best friend

Once we reached the border town of Kodari, there was a 1 km uphill road to the Friendship Bridge that we needed to cross on foot into Tibet. Mallik is my perfect bade bhaiya - big brother, walking every step with me along the way and within 20 steps convincing me to hire a baby porter for my camera equipment. The 15-yr-old porter put me to shame, walking eagerly with me carrying my camera equipment, and talking enthusiastically about how he could also cross the border and help me till my car in Tibet. Once at the Friendship Bridge, there was an imposing Chinese building from which people watched over us. Nobody from Nepal appeared to be watching, which is why the Chinese side was so intimidating. A lot of chaos about who stands in what line, sorted again thanks to the Chinmaya discipline with the appointed volunteers and personal instructions from Swamiji, and finally I was in line for my entry into Tibet. I paid 50 INR to my ecstatic baby porter who appeared to be bragging to other baby porters. After the passport check in the middle of the bridge by the Chinese authorities, I carried my bags into Tibet and stood in the slow-moving lines at the immigration counters. It was now an hour since I had got off the bus.

Another hour later, finally somebody in Immigration was looking at my passport and he called his supervisor. They talked quite a bit in Chinese and started laughing, and looked at me and laughed again. I was hoping they were not laughing at some missing stamp on my passport - ha ha, she needs to go back to Nepal to get that. Then the supervisor asked me in English where I lived, - Dallas, I said. And where was I coming from? - India and then Nepal, I said. With his fingers, he pulled his eyes into further slits, and said - we think you are Tibetan. They were both hysterical now. I get the joke - I appear to be a Tibetan who lives in Dallas and is coming to China through Nepal on an Indian passport. I was fervently hoping this was not a prelude to an interrogation. It was not, they probably realized by then that they had made me quite nervous, they were very warm and cordial and made some small talk to put me at ease, and wished me a good trip. To them it did not matter that I called myself Indian, I looked like one of their own. Swamiji told me later that he has not seen the Chinese officers get so friendly with anyone. It is strange how affectionate people get with perceived apnewaale - own people.

Yoga near the cars in Tibet

We waited another hour and a half till all passports were processed. And then off to the cars waiting for us. Swarn from Shrestha had warned us very helpfully that the cars may not be parked close by and we need to be prepared to walk another kilometer. Luckily for us, they were parked close by, and again, Jay Ho to the Chinmaya discipline - in no time, we had four passengers alloted to each car, and we were given car numbers to search for.

The car drivers were Tibetan, ours could not speak English or Hindi - we would have to communicate with sign language, this was going to be an interesting trip. The driver knew the Sanatana Dharma chants though - and started with a vigorous Aum Namah Shivaaya - obeisance to Shiva, Kailashpati ki Jay - glory to the lord of Kailash, etc etc. Then he started his own prayers, and for 15-20 minutes chanted under his breath.

After a hair-raising drive for maybe half an hour through dust paths and cement blocks on a road that is still being built, we stopped at ZhangMu, we did not know why. It was stuffy inside the car, and as we sat on the ground under the awning of a store, the local residents looked at us curiously from balconies. Some of them came up much closer to check us out - reminded me of my Pooh bear co-traveler in the flight from Chicago. I am now getting used to being stared at.

Curious onlooker at Zhang-mu
Curious passer-by at Zhang-mu
An hour later, our driver appeared and we set off for Nyalam, an hour away. Later, we found out from Swarn that there is a check post in ZhangMu, and the drivers had to collectively get a permit. The vast landscape, the winding roads, the waterfalls, the step farms, the sheer drop on one side and the risk of landslides reminded me somewhat of the road to Badrinath, which is decidedly much riskier. At a couple of places, the road had a roof on which fell a mountain stream, and at another place, the mountain stream passed under the road - either way, the car is not splashed and the road is not wet - some engineer with an aesthetic sense is building these structures.

Mountain stream, on way to Nyalam

And finally, Shesha Bangma hotel in Nyalam
In Nyalam, at the Shesha Bangma hotel that is really a guesthouse with basic facilities, we were four or five or six or even seven to a room with little space between the beds to keep our duffel bags. Again planned order brought in by Chinmaya volunteers. It took one quick announcement from Rajeev to scuttle people into rooms. This was the first time I got to meet people from India - Seema from Delhi and Niveditha from near Bangalore. I would be sharing my bed with my two backpacks and my heavy jacket.
I share my bed with my stuff
The Swamijis announced that they would be serving dinner. There is nothing more awkward than being served by men on the path of renunciation whom we should be serving hand and foot. This lasted all of two meals with protests from many people in the group. After that, we had volunteers to serve the food when the Sherpas brought it in. The food ran out for the first couple of meals - either the Sherpas did not cook enough, or we served too much, or we ate too much, or we got served too much and wasted it. Additional meals had to be cooked for the volunteers for two meals in a row, after which the calculations appear to get corrected. There was an assigned volunteer for each Swamiji to make sure they were served before we were.

Being served food by Swamijis, awkward
Again this evening, more bhajans - hymns, rather than my preferred satsang - discourse, but it was a group and whatever worked for the larger number was what I needed to go with. 

Tomorrow, an acclimatization trek, I hope I can make it.

Aum Namah Shivaaya!!


  1. Neeraja ji,

    I enjoyed reading your posts. Its great that you took a pic of the Ardhanarishwara statue atop the hill. I saw it, but could not take a pic myself.

  2. Awesome - almost can't stop reading. Taking a compulsory break now. Will return for more later.

  3. Hello I am Dr.Chandrashekar, a physician from Arsikere Karnataka. I have booked my kailas manasa sarovara yathra from 7th june 2014 to 20th june 2014. Your blog is very useful and inspiring. Thank you very much

    1. Hope your yatra was good, sir. I just completed mine in September in perfect weather - the entire group of 48 did the Kailash parikrama,