"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

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Kailash 2010 Day 10 : Dolma La Pass, Sunday July 04 2010

The second day of the Kailash parikrama - the most difficult day of the trip!!

I woke up early in the morning to catch golden Kailash at dawn but there was a cloud cover.
Ponies and yaks waiting for travelers
The pony drivers started knocking on doors and sometimes just pushing them open to check on us, as they searched for their particular passenger, with a lot of chalo, chalo - come on, come on, and jaldi, jaldi - quick, quick, the two Hindi expressions that are to their advantage. The yaks were being loaded with the duffel bags that we had put outside our rooms early in the morning. The horses were waiting for the riders.

We started with a half-mile walk, or maybe it was a mile now that I see people walking far away in the picture above, and crossed a stream over a bridge of wood and ice to reach the horses, at the end of which I was gasping for breath. We were at an elevation of 17K feet. And the day had just begun.
Start of day 2 of the trek around Kailash, Kailash is behind cloud cover
We started our steep climb from 17K feet to almost 19K feet on ponies walking on very slightly marked trails on steep slopes.

It was quite cold, there was an icy breeze, and I had to keep my glove liners on so I could operate the camera. I did not wear the heavy gloves just yet - would not have been able to operate the camera or get a good grip on the saddle.

Pallavi's pony's baby walked alongside the whole way
Pallavi's mare in front of me had her baby along, shown in picture. If she could not see her baby, she would neigh loud, till the driver made sure she could see the baby. Ultimately, the baby horse walked the whole parikrama.

The steep climb was tough, and nobody in our group tried it entirely on foot though a few people did walk a little bit. There was another group of travelers on the slope at the same time as us, also from the US, who had a fair number of people walking the entire distance. I would have much preferred to walk but walking twenty steps on this slope would take me at least five minutes.

Far away, the east face of Kailash was still under cloud cover. I was taking pictures on the horse, and the Chinese guide came running to tell me that this was very risky because the horse may suddenly panic. A fall and a tumble down this slope would mean grievous body harm and possible death.

At one point while climbing the mountain, there was a sudden commotion. Apparently, a herd of yaks was coming running up the mountain. It is the size of these animals that is so intimidating, by nature they are like babies. They have no idea how much they scare people. They do not walk along trails, they run enthusiastically up and down the steep slopes of the mountains as they please though they carry hundreds of pounds of baggage on their backs. The Tibetan pony riders laughed and threw rocks at them to prevent them from coming closer to the horses that might get scared and throw riders off. It felt very sad to treat baby-like animals like this. Snowy wanted to be carried when she was six months old, though she was already 75 lbs and looked like a full-grown dog, and we indulged her always since she did not know any better. I saw the truth behind the many blogs I had read that described yaks as unpredictable. Some of the yaks ran in the opposite direction a bit before someone threw a stone to direct them forward. We need to remember again with gratitude that the yaks help the armed forces at heights where no other animal can carry loads at their performance levels.
Buddhist flags at Dolma La

A close-up of Kailash behind cloud cover at Dolma La

Descent on foot from Dolma La
At Dolma La pass, where prayer flags fluttered in the breeze, and we came closest to Kailash, we were asked to get off the horses and climb down the rest of the way.

Kailash was under cloud cover, as seen in the picture above. Swarn said that we needed to move quickly in case the weather turned bad.

Anyone who thinks coming down the mountain is easy, gravity is on your side, blah blah blah, needs to look at the picture alongside to understand the challenge of making your way down from Dolma La. I had purchased knee braces and walking sticks in Dallas, neither of which I had used so far. I forgot to wear knee braces in the morning and I hoped my knees did not hurt in the evening. The titanium telescopic walking sticks came in very useful and my knees did not hurt during this trip. I do recommend the purchase of both these products for walking down the mountains.

A short distance below Dolma La, is a scenic point that gives a stunning view of the Gauri Kund where Shiva's consort Parvati is believed to bathe. The waters are an amazing shade of blue.

Gauri Kund, where Parvati bathes

Who said coming down a mountain is easy?

Close-up of the steep descent from Dolma La
This is the close-up picture of the descent from Pushpendraji's collection. The picture shows Sherpas and the Tibetan porters holding the hands of the travelers to bring them down safely.

People coming down the mountain from Dolma La
If I went around Kailash, it was because of Pema Sherpa - he made sure the pony guy paid attention to my well-being, he led the way where I had to walk and all the time he carried my supplies. He stopped at scenic points along the way and asked me to take pictures. And anywhere he saw a risk, he would hold my hand and guide me to safer ground.

Pema's parents live 3 km away from the Everest base camp in Sagarmatha. Pema's daughter studies in a boarding school in Kathmandu. He showed me her picture on his mobile - a smart 8-year-old in a super-smart school uniform. Made me wonder again why Ash's school thinks school uniforms hamper creativity and independence.

This man and his wife work unbelievably hard to provide premier education to their only child, and I hope the child grows up to exceed her parents' expectations.

Are we shooting for Lord of the Rings?

Shailaja at the bottom of the hill

Refreshment tents at the bottom of the slope, where we took headcount

At the foot of the slope, there were a couple of tents. This was a welcome stop to eat the packed lunch that we had had no time to eat so far. I gave my lunch to the pony driver and had my Frooti drink and a cereal bar. We had a headcount around 3 in the afternoon. And then a short walk on steep slopes up and down, and then we were on horseback again for a couple of kilometers or slightly more - it took us an hour to reach our destination.

There was a bit of rain and hail while I was on my sinner pony, and I had to hide my camera equipment. Also, I had to put on the heavy gloves, it was getting really cold now. I was falling asleep on my horse with the exhaustion and the cold and the light rain, and mostly because the base of my neck hurt terribly. The pony driver noticed me, and made some signs that I was not to fall asleep. Easier said than done. My eyes would shut every couple of minutes and I would wake up the next instant with a start.

Toughest part of the trek completed, we make the quiet journey to Zutulphuk on pony
This last stretch is on practically flat land, and it appears to go on forever. A couple of times, some tents came into view and we got hopeful this was our destination but the pony drivers and the ponies kept moving.

Finally, we saw a mud-house that I thought we would pass because I was expecting to spend the night in a tent, when the pony driver asked me to get down. We had reached!!! The last person in the group reached the Zutulphuk mud-house within 3 hours of the first person.

Quite a few people fell off their horses, and there were some bruises and injuries at the end of the day. One of the Swamijis had fallen off the horse and cut his head - I have not seen anyone with such a zest for life and such a remarkable ability to hide pain and discomfort. He had climbed our test hill in Nyalam so many days ago with a sprained ankle, and now he was heading back to Zutulphuk with a cut head but not lower in spirits at all. When Sitadevi washed Swamiji's cap, red liquid poured out but you would not know that from his jokes within half an hour of being bandaged. Many people complained of backache at the end of this day, the pony may make the distance easier to cover, but the pony ride has its own challenges.

There were a few rooms in the mud-house at Zutulphuk which were distributed among the sick, the elderly and the women. There was a large room that some of the men shared, while some of them slept in a tent. This chivalry was a bit out of place and beyond its time, but very welcome and gratefully accepted as I settled in my room. I had reached a point where it did not occur to me any longer that the restroom was a hole in the ground and that the only light in the room came from a single dim bulb for a couple of hours over which we had no control.

Dogs howled the whole night, and the wind blew audibly, deadening out the sounds of the river running below.

Tomorrow, back to Chiu Gompa on lake Manas Sarovar.

Aum Namah Shivaaya!!

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