"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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kailash 2010 Day 6: Saga to Paryang, Wednesday June 30, 2010

I had dehydrated myself with not much food and water to deal with the non-water situation in Hotel Saga at Saga. Slept at 1, got up at 5 and had to wait till 6 to be able to brush my teeth. The hotel switched off the connection to the plug points, maybe too many people plugged in their chargers. I can only hope my camera has enough juice, and that the additional battery I have brought would work if needed.

We left Saga at 8am to drive 250 km to Paryang.
Amazing landscape from Saga to Paryang

Once on the road, I found out that the sand and dust of yesterday was nothing as compared to the sand and dust of today. The surroundings are spectacular but oh, look at the road we travel on. :) Many vehicles got stuck in the sand and had to be pulled. We stopped for breakfast on the banks of the Brahmaputra.
The surprisingly peaceful flow of the divine Brahmaputra, the highest of the seven male rivers in India
I got to touch the waters of the Brahmaputra river - one more unexpected delight, and I collected my quintessential shivalinga from the banks. Anywhere in the world I have gone, I have collected my swayambhu Shivalinga - naturally-shaped obelisks that are Shiva icons, from river banks and mountain tops. Last year in Denver, I was quite out of breath climbing at about 12K ft, when I saw the familiar shape in marble on the slope, that I scooped up immediately. Anish and Ash are highly skeptical my rock collection helps me move mountains but humor me and don't argue about it. The Tibetans call the river the Yarlung Tsangpo. The Brahmaputra seemed full of peace and serenity, somehow I had expected a turbulent gurgling flow - maybe faint memories from a middle school geography lesson that talked about flooding and destruction.

Deep-fried bread pakoras for breakfast on the banks of the Brahmaputra - again the question arises, must we binge and purge? I am sure Adi Shankara would have composed something sharp along the lines of "punarapi janmam punarapi maranam..." - again birth and again death, for the ritual binging and purging caused by fried foods before bumpy rides. For lunch, it was rice, palak dal, paneer sabzi and stir-fried karela. I ate my fill of the crisp karela - not sure that's a good thing before the drive but love it too much to ignore it, and then my two spoons of rice and dal water and the Frooti drink. People appear to enjoy the lunch, clearly our group had bouts of nausea in our near future.
The mud-house at Dong Ma where we will return on a magical afternoon 7 days later

The lunch place in Dong Ma was called "Yak House"- a typical Tibetan mud-house building with a good view of distant snow-clad mountains and of the sand dunes that regularly blow in sand. And again a couple of dogs roaming around the place, the icons of Kal Bhairav.
Kal Bhairav outside the kitchen at Dong Ma
As we left Dong Ma, we drove first to the gas station to fill up the car. This remote gas station that stands in the middle of nowhere had female gas attendants, some things are universal, I guess. They were fully-dressed, unlike the bikini-clad damsels at some car washes in Dallas. The driver shook the car to get as much gas in as possible while we used the restrooms - enclosed rectangular holes behind the gas station. Even that short walk was enough to get the heart beating faster. There was a strong wind that made it difficult to walk, and sand blew in little twisters across the expansive landscape. The post-bath feel of yesterday was long gone - my hair creeping out from under my cap felt like thick straws, my face was dry, my lips were parched, and there was sand all over me and my clothes.
Tibetan cowboy suddenly riding next to our car, on way from Saga to Paryang
An odd sight, a lone Tibetan cowboy showed up alongside the car. I will be returning to Texas soon, I needed to savor each moment and take back the memories of these days back with me.
Sand dunes changing shape as the winds blow across the desert, close to Paryang
Two hours before Paryang, is a beautiful aquamarine lake surrounded by grandiose sand dune formations that command respect. Even as I watched them, strong winds blew across the desert, changing the shapes of these dunes. After the hundredth diversion from the road into the dust trails, we were at the beautiful town of Paryang around 7 in the evening.

We were booked at the Sheeshbamba Hotel - a mud-house with four beds to a room and common bathrooms with non-flushable commodes - fill the bucket outside, and take it into the restroom with you. I live and learn. There was a dim light in the room. I am glad I had seen all the youtube.com videos and read all the travelogues and blogs I could before coming here - at least, the element of surprise was not there.

I think the most useful things that Bhavna and I had purchased in Dallas were flashlight headbands, and we had practiced wearing them while taking early morning walks in the dark around White Rock lake. From Paryang on, I had the headband around my head or neck at all times, even when I slept.

Satsang - discourse was at 9 pm. Our group's youngest traveler, Varsha sang a beautiful bhajan - hymn. So maybe I listen to bhajans when children sing them. A child invoking the Divine is positively angelic. The two pictures that follow are from Sairam Appaji's collection, he was the official photographer for this trip - again perfect selection of a volunteer by Swamiji.

Varsha leading a hymn in the evening prayer session at Paryang
After the bhajans, Swamiji read out the name of each traveler, and asked for Yes/No/? for the circumambulation of Kailash. I was hoping he did not have a ? to my name for any reason. I got a 'Yes'.
Waiting for a yes to my name as Swamiji announces Yes/No/Not Sure for each traveler to trek around Kailash
Some people were sick and nauseated and had fever and cough but wanted to go around Kailash. Swamiji suggested that they consider the option to stay at the Chiu Gompa guesthouse overlooking the Manas Sarovar lake. They would be able to see Kailash across the lake. People with "?" to their names need to have a private one-on-one with Swamiji to decide whether they should try the trek around Kailash or not.

Again, I was glad I had come with the Chinmaya Mission group here, Swamiji was leading, coaching, advising, recommending trip logistics. My own expectation had been that the travel agency would have this expertise, but my experience was that they were booking agents for flight, hotel, porter and pony. And they had a team of super-efficient Sherpas to cook food and load and unload duffel bags into trucks. And they gave a Diamox a day for each person on the trip.

Ultimately our planned group of 80 that dropped to 71 by the time the trip started, had 68 people wanting to trek around Kailash. I was concerned about my ability to trek and I was hoping I could make it. I was not sure how people with headaches or fever or nausea or diarrhoea or breathlessness were going to make it. Tonight we needed to make the payment to book a porter and a pony+pony driver - 1600 yuans for the 3-day trek around Kailash, whether we walked or actually sat on the pony. People who may decide tomorrow to not come for the trek would lose the money - there would be no refund from the Tibetan organization.

Tomorrow we will be at the Manas Sarovar lake.

Aum Namaha Shivaaya!!


  1. hey...m planning to go next month...can you pls suggest me a good operator whom i can join. i shall be travelling all by self...so in need of a group.
    pls help..plannin to attend saga dawa...so it has to be next month. plsplspls help.

  2. So sorry saw this email so late. We had a group with travelmasti.com traveling on the same timeline as us. They were happy with their operator.