"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

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kailash 2010 Day 7 : Paryang to Chiu Gompa on Manas Sarovar, Thursday July 01 2010

The road from Paryang was unbelievably dusty.

The beautiful scenery may inspire poetry but in the meanwhile, we were roasting in a non-air-conditioned car with closed windows struggling through sands in the desert, with a driver with whom we communicated by signs. To roll the window down, we would tap his shoulder, tap the window and make a "lower it" hand gesture. Many cars had a few stops as occupants threw up by the roadside, or may I say by the sand track.

Along with the memories of heat and dust that stay with me from this day, it is essential to mention the locals. The Tibetan women, dressed in shades of red and pink look gorgeous. This is not a crowd that dresses simply in T-shirts and jeans and a jacket thrown over for effect. They have taken the trouble to wear layers and layers of clothing and pieces of jewelry each more beautiful than the other. And at all times, the beautiful smiles despite the tough existence.
With my luck, the baby looked down just as I took a picture. The women are gorgeous, check out the accessories.

After a tough and tiring day in which I did little more than sit in the car and breathe in dust each time I rolled down the windows to take some pictures and rolled the window back shut, we finally saw a blue line in the horizon. Manas Sarovar - says the driver. Finally we are at the tranquil, divine Manas Sarovar - "mind lake" in Sanskrit, created by a thought of Brahma. It is known in Tibetan as Mapham Yum-tso - "the lake of victory". Manas Sarovar is one of the highest fresh-water lakes in the world with a depth of 90 m (300 ft) at an altitude of 4,556 m (14,948 ft). Its perimeter is 88 km (55 mi) and its surface area is 320 sq km (120 sq mi).

Like every moment spent at Kedarnath six years ago, I will always remember and cherish every moment spent at Manas Sarovar. Mount Kailash, on the opposite bank of the lake, has chosen not to reveal itself. Everybody got out of the cars, some people tried spotting it with binoculars. Though all the other peaks could be seen quite clearly, Kailash alone stayed under cover. For the better part of an hour, people waited for the clouds to move. The clouds did move, but Kailash stayed obscured from vision. It was 6 pm now, and some people wanted to take a dip in the lake that we had earlier expected to reach by 2 pm.
The grand Gurla Mandhata whose melting snow feeds the Manas Sarovar
Though Kailash did not choose to be seen, the 34th highest peak in the world, the Gurla Mandhata 7,728 m (25,734 ft) was seen in all its magnificence, as we drove along the lake. This peak was first conquered in 1985, and there have been several successful attempts at scaling it since then. The waters from this mountain fill the Manas Sarovar lake.

The inauspicious Rakshas Taal

Off we went towards the shore of the Manas Sarovar lake where a dip could be taken - it was an hour around the lake when we reached Chiu Gompa. As we drove down the road, to the left was Raakshas Tal  - "demon lake" in Sanskrit, at 4,752 metres (15,591 ft) with a total area of 70 square kilometres (27 sq mi) shown above. It is associated with the arrogant king Ravan. The waters of Rakshas Tal are darker than the waters of Manas Sarovar to which it is connected by a natural channel, Ganga Chhu, through which water flows sometimes.

The crescent-shaped Lake Rakshas Tal attracts no life, and there are no monasteries around though the lake is filled with the waters that flow from Kailash. The Tibetans call this lake Lhanag Tso - "lake of the dark deities". The river Sutlej that originates from Rakshas Tal, flows into Pakistan.
Some people are comfortable publicly immersing in natural waters, I am one of those who are not. I have not done this before, despite going to the mother goddess - the river Ganga, so many times at so many places. Even at Gaumukh a few years ago, at the mouth of the Gangotri glacier, shown in the Google image above, from which flows the Bhagirathi that later becomes the Ganga - a trip I do not know if and when I will be able to make again, I did not dip in the freezing water but chose to wet my fingers and sprinkle some of the water on myself.
The divine lake Manas Sarovar

I changed in the car into a sweat suit and carried my dry set of clothes to the banks, before immersing my body in the Manas Sarovar lake. I went under three times, with my head completely inside the water, as Swamiji had said. A constant silent chant of Aum Namah Shivaaya and it is done. The water was not freezing as I had expected but it was p-r-e-t-t-y cold. In the middle of the spiritual experience and the mental transformation, the body had its own demands - I need dry clothes, I need dry clothes, I need dry clothes. Swarn had arranged for a small "changing" tent where I could get into my dry clothes. My hair, surprisingly, dried up immediately.

I could not believe I had reached this level of ritualistic worship in this lifetime - that I had actually wanted to do this, and that the immersion felt good. I feel there was a subtle change in perspective at this point, though I am not quite sure I can describe it just yet.
The monastery at Chiu Gompa, on the banks of Manas Sarovar, with Kailash seen across the lake
We stayed at the guest house in Chiu Gompa that night, that comprises of a set of single-storey buildings with adjoining rooms all of which have a clear view of Manas Sarovar. The Chiu Gompa monastery is built into the mountain behind the guest house.

A beach-front view of Manas and a breath-taking view of Kailash on the opposite bank - this is heaven on earth, and premium real estate. We had yet to see Kailash though, the cloud cover continued. Tomorrow, perhaps...

Yoga took a fantastic picture of Chiu Gompa at sunset that evening. I did not actually see this but if Shiva calls again, I will wait for this view on my next trip.
Sunset at Chiu Gompa
I did take a picture of the lake.
Sunset over the Manas Sarovar
There was no electricity. Swarn said that the generator will start at some point in the evening. Sure enough, at some point when it started getting dark, the sole electric bulb in the room came on. The restroom across the road, a good 100 yard walk from the rooms, was an enclosed set of two holes in the ground. People had used all the space around the holes - not sure how you can miss the hole. There were dogs freely walking around and barking at random.

In the evening, we had a pooja - worship ritual, for an hour. It was extremely cold, and icy gusts of wind blew across the lake.
We were freezing in the icy winds that blew across the lake, as the Swamijis performed the evening pooja facing Kailash
It was quite cold in the room, I lay in bed under the blankets with two layers of under-armor, a T-shirt, and a fleece jacket and my ski jacket, neck warmer, woolen cap, pants, rain pants, two pairs of socks, glove liners and gloves - basically I did not change, just took off my shoes. At night, going to the restroom would require putting on shoes - even tying shoelaces was a major effort at this altitude and got me out of breath. The importance of the hands-free headband flashlight cannot be underestimated - it stayed around my head or neck and all I needed to do at night was to click a button to have sufficient light, of course it blinded anyone walking towards me.

At 1 am, Seema knocked on the door to take Mallik and me to join Pratibha, Gaurav, Rajeev, Yoga, Swarn and others in an adjoining building to watch the lake at night. Staying up at the end of a long day was not so difficult as one would imagine. Making sense of what appeared to be happening on the lake was a whole different issue. The rational mind insists there has to be a scientific explanation. For those of us who were awake that night, there are memories and experiences to be shared over the years to come.

Tomorrow is the last day before we start the trek around Kailash.

Aum Namah Shivaaya!!

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