"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, September 4, 2014

Kailash 2014 Day 01 : Flying into Kathmandu, Thursday Sep 04 2014

Jaya had a yummy idli breakfast ready with piping hot sambhar but I could not eat anything for fear of not keeping it in. The last few days has not been a party, with the nausea and the fever and the lower back pain and the swollen feet and ankles. My breakfast was a cup of piping hot water boiled with a spoonful of jeera – cumin seeds seen in a happy cup with big red circles at the bottom right in the picture, as we left for IGI T3 in Delhi.
the last breakfast
We hit the road and the Delhi office-rush traffic at 9. An hour and a half later, we reached the airport and rushed past security to reach the gate where the calm and collected yatri from Madurai and Chennai were waiting for the same flight, I am sure they had all arrived in time. Swami Shivayoganandaji with the ancient eyes, was there - I had met him for exactly two weeks 4 years ago, and yet I met him now as if he has always been with me.  
Just as we started boarding, Anup found me - and that is how I met the yatri from Minneapolis who were all on the same flight as well. A common purpose, a common perspective binds the Chinmaya yatri so that people from different corners of the world can come together instantly as one. As much as this has been explained to the travel agent earlier, he has signed on 4-6 people on his own into the group without Swamiji’s approval. I had warned him in Dallas that if Swamiji says we leave at 4am tomorrow, the Chinmaya group will be ready to leave at 4am tomorrow, and the travel agent needs to explain to the additional people whom he has included for the greed of money, that they will need to follow suit. The discipline of a group that comes with a spirit of surrender to the spiritual leadership creates issues for those whose ego stands in the way of accepting the guru – their intellect needs to ask why and why not at each step, slowing down the entire group. 
The idea of buying Indian snacks and chai on a flight is such a delight that Anish must buy all the snacks the airline lists, never mind that he will leave most of it uneaten.
samosas and chai? bring it on
As we descended on Kathmandu, the ethereal beauty of the landscape invades through every window of the plane. The soft green slopes, the clouds lingering over the valley, peaks for miles around, rows and rows of mountains, the sunlight lazily resting on the cottage terraces, streams and waterfalls adding to the magic that is called Kathmandu - one could hear clicking sounds from all over the plane as people put their smartphones to good use.
Landing in Kathmandu
The immigration desk at Kathmandu had become more lackadaisical, if that were possible, since my last visit in 2010. Knowing that the Chinese consulate on the Nepal-Tibet border looks far more closely at paperwork, I knew I needed a stamp as proof of legal entry into Nepal. The guy at the Nepal desk looked at my passport, and returned it with a smile. Seeing that I was being dismissed, I requested for a stamp on the passport - he said it was not necessary. Not necessary for a foreigner entering the country?? I said politely that I did need a stamp on my passport, he said there was no stamp. Not sure how to carry this conversation any further, I passed into Nepal and asked some of my other co-travelers if they got a stamp on their passport, sure enough they did.

I went to another immigration desk and asked if I could get a stamp on my passport, he said - how did you cross (the immigration area) without a stamp? I asked him to process my passport. He said - No, go back to the officer who processed your passport. Frankly, without a stamp, there is no proof that any officer has processed my passport. Anyways, I went back to the smiling gentleman who had let me into his country without a stamp, and he says - you are back again asking for a stamp? I said - yes, please ask the other officers, they are all stamping passports. He shook his head like I was an idiot and said - You want a stamp, here is a stamp! I checked if he had stamped the current date. Luckily, yes. I was now a documented legal entrant into Nepal. 
It took a while for the bags to come down the conveyor belt at Kathmandu, that gave us ample time for all of us to check we all had stamps on our passports. As we walked out into the Kathmandu heat, there was a person from the travel agency with a namecard - Travelorg, we filed in line behind him.
walking to the bus
The porters who loaded our bags asked us for money, and the Explore Kailash Trek operator - the Nepali partner for our travel agency Travelorg/Travelorg India, said we needed to pay them. At the time, hungry and tired, we paid for the group – this should have been the first sign of how the trip with Travelorg/Travelorg India would go.

Tip for the yatri - you should not have to pay for porters, the travel agency is supposed to pay for your travel once you reach Kathmandu - whether they load the buses themselves or hire porters to do it.

the welcome sun and heat of Kathmandu

The Gokarna hotel is half an hour away from the airport, and we arrived at this beautiful resort around 2 in the afternoon. Nepal is dotted with ancient temples and new structures that are built like temples, so there is an unexpected delight at each corner. The road curves to show stupas, and from behind trees emerge the spires of some temple.

driving to Gokarna from KTM

the entry at Gokarna
The Gokarna Forest Resort, true to its description in the Internet, is a beautiful resort 20 kilometers from Kathmandu. The staff and service is impeccable, all courteous and ready to help.

The lunch buffet was already served. We handed over our passports to the travel agent. As we began our late lunch at the resort, the last person in our group arrived from the airport - Swami Sarveshanandaji, and with his arrival, our group was complete. We asked the travel agent for a room for the logistics session with the entire group that evening, and settled in our rooms – we were told the room Trishna was booked for 7pm.

 At 6:45 pm, the Chinmaya group walked into Trishna - the room was dark, the air conditioning was not on, and there were no switches evident in the room. The travel agent was nowhere to be seen for the 7pm meeting. A a quick run to get the hotel staff to get the room going while the travel agent is nowhere to be seen, and finally at 7:15, we started our logistics meeting, the travel agent showed up at 7:30. Lesson learned, we cannot trust this guy to be on the job - not even to be in time for his own briefing, or to validate the meeting room is ready for his cutomer - and the yatra has not started yet.
Swamiji addressed the group to answer logistics questions. When the travel agent showed up, Swamiji introduced him to the group. For a person who has supposedly been to Kailash Manas Sarovar 38 times, he had surprisingly nothing to say except tell us that he would return our passports by evening the next day. And he brought in a couple of guys to collect $300 for the sudden increase in the Chinese trek permit, and $250 for the helicopter ride over the landslide - again no proof of the cost, except that he said it would take 4-6 hours to walk across and the walk could get tough if it rained, so Swamiji took the executive decision that the Chinmaya group would take the chopper across the landslide.
At dinnertime, we catch up with the travel agent again - it is 9:30 pm, and he has not announced his plan for the next day. Through chewing his food, he replies - yes, we can leave at 9. When were you planning to tell anyone, buddy? Or were you expecting people to magically appear? This is his third strike on the first day. Physical discomfort at the end of a long day was adding to the irritation with Travelorg's inefficiency, and I told the guy that 9:30 pm is not the time for him to divulge his secret plans for the next day, when asked. From tomorrow, he needs to confirm with Swamijis in time, and give a group briefing so everyone is on the same page.

Travel tip for the yatri - when you hear that a travel agent has made 20 or whatever trips to Kailash, let this guy address the group BEFORE you pay him. Travelorg/Travelorg India was Dallas-based, and we had met him face-to-face to plan, but we had not tested him out like this because someone had recommended him. In retrospect, we should have tested him out - we would have definitely changed our travel agency. Also, a daily briefing is common practice for travel agents, one would think, but we are going to learn more and more about Travelorg/Travelorg India lack of organization each day.  
Tomorrow, Pashupatinath!!!
AUM Namaha Shivaaya!

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