"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

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kailash 2014 Day 05 : Nyalam to Dongma/Zhongba, Monday Sep 08 2014

Today, we were to drive from Nyalam to Dongma. On the way, we would pass through Saga, and have lunch by the Brahmaputra. Where the blue path our bus would take diverges from the grey road, we would be going through a dirt track from Nyalam to Saga - we would cut four hours from the journey by not taking the road shown in grey.

from Nyalam to Dongma/Zhongba
Milarepa was a Buddhist monk in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, in the eleventh century. Born to a well-to-do family, he was cheated of his inheritance by his uncle and aunt. He went away to learn sorcery, and wreaked havoc on his uncle's family. Later, he repented using his powers in bad ways, and went in search for a spiritual master. After more than a decade of meditation and tapas, he found enlightenment, and he was known as Milarepa - the cotton-clad great one. The cave that he lived in, is in a tiny town of Zhonggang, 10 kilometers north of Nyalam. Milarepa is a siddha, one of the legends about him being that he would circumambulate Kailash in the air.

There is a story about Milarepa that he challenged the leader of the Bon faith in Tibet to climb Kailash. While the leader of the Bon faith elevated himself through the air, Milarepa meditated in a cave. When the Bon leader reached the peak of Kailash, he found Milarepa sitting there, and this victory with Tantric powers established Buddhism as the dominant faith in the region.

Zhonggang, 10 kilometers north of Nyalam

the river , that flows by Zhonggang

Milarepa's cave down the road in Zhonggang
As we got off the buses, the Travelorg/Travelorg India agent came to tell Swamiji not to let people who found the acclimatization trek difficult, go down to the cave. We listened silently to this person who himself had not made the acclimatization trek, and then turned around and started walking to the cave.

Travel tip for the yatri - It is about 30 steps down to Milarepa's cave. At the altitude of 12000 feet, many people will get out of breath, especially when climbing back up. If you have the opportunity to visit, you must visit this spot of earth that this great monk graced a millennium ago. Do not let travel agents with no respect for the yatra - the pilgrimage, the  yatri - the pilgrims or the teertha-sthala - the shrine, keep you from visiting this wonderful place.

There is a Buddhist monastery and a yoga room built around the cave now, with an admittance fee of 15 Yuan per person in 2014. The monastery has hand-painted walls, clear designs in striking colors. Swamijis stayed outside as we went in single file, paying 15 Yuan as we entered the monastery. but later the caretakers of the monastery invited the Swamijis in. Shivayoganandaji told us to get Milarepa's blessings inside.

paying 15 yuan to enter Milarepa's cave

Some of the people sat down on the ground to meditate and ask for Milarepa's grace.

praying to Milarepa

striking colors

tireless climber

tireless climbers



yatri beyond compare

the Buddhist wheel

As we climbed the 30 steps back from Milarepa's cave into the village, children were seen shyly eyeing us from doorways.

Travel tip for the yatri - These are the children of Tibet for whom we need to get gifts - Tshirts, pens, pencils, caps, bags, and of course, we can share our protein bars and candies with them all we like. In more commercialized towns like Nyalam, they shoot out their palms and ask for money. In smaller villages where tourists come rarely, they are the silent observers of the political changes that are sweeping over Tibet. Blessed to be born in this sacred land, they do undergo a tapas - penance, in spending their lifetime here in this century. 

the children of Tibet

Lalung-La pass
The Lalung La pass at an elevation of 5050 meters (16,500 feet), is the highest point we have reached so far on the Friendship Highway. The bus could not stop here as we are climbing uphill, the driver promised to stop here on his way back. A short while later, he stopped so people can go to the restroom. And take pictures of the signpost here for Lalung La pass.

Travel tip for the yatri - At all times, have an antiseptic hand-sanitizer and wet wipes in your pocket, on this yatra. The vehicles stop for meals or toilets, please be sure to use the hand-sanitizer at all times, you will not having to worry about infections on top of everything else.   

The Sheshbangma peak, the fourteenth highest peak in the world was visible at this point, and Johnny stopped the bus where we could take pictures of Peiku Tso lake as well - an aquamarine pool of immense beauty, around which you can see many species of birds, and sheep and goats as well. In the Google map above, this lake is seen at the midpoint of the dirt track between Nyalam and Saga.

Peiko-Tso, aquamarine lake north of Nyalam

cool dude near the cool lake Peiku-Tso
After the lake Peiku-Tso was behind us, we saw the river flowing far below, and asked Johnny which river it was. Yarlung Tsang-Po - he said. That is the Tibetan name for the Brahmaputra - the son of Brahma, one of the seven male rivers of the Indian sub-continent. The Brahmaputra originates in the Angsi glacier in Tibet and flows east till it enters India through Assam and Arunachala Pradesh, and flows through Bangladesh to merge with the Meghna, one of the tributaries of the Ganga, and through the delta of the Ganga, it empties into the Bay of Bengal.

paying respects to the Brahmaputra
I gathered my atmalingams from the Brahmaputra. Anywhere in the world I go, Shiva appears in his iconic form - the lingam.

by the Brahmaputra, near Saga

the scenic, serene Brahmaputra
The Brahmaputra flows quietly through Tibet, its stormy nature unmanifest in the languid flow near Saga. The river picks up energy as it flows through the Himalayas, including the Yarlung Tsang-Po Grand Canyon, into India. The melting snow of the Himalayas engorges the river, and the Brahmaputra wreaks havoc on the eastern parts of India in the spring season with the flooding. The waters of the Brahmaputra are shared by Bangladesh, India and China. China has assured in 2010 that the dam being built by China near Zhangmu on the Brahmaputra, will not impact the waters in India. India suffers from severe crop damage, deforestation and land erosion because of the flooding Brahmaputra, a project to protect the Brahmaputra basin is still under way.

After the lunch by the Brahmaputra, we passed through Saga. I tried, but could not get a glimpse of the iconic Hotel Saga where I had stayed for two nights four years ago.
Saga, growing as we watch
The town of Saga itself had grown quite a bit larger from what I had seen it four years ago. Various construction projects were under way, people working away with dust flying in the air.

Past Saga, the tar road goes east towards Nepal before it curves towards Tibet - as seen in the map far above. We travel north-west instead, on a dirt track. From here till we are back on the road to Dongma, the dust flies in the air, reminiscent of the roadless piligrimage of 2010. Like four years ago, I had carried the super-economical face masks from Walmart on this trip, and they came on. The dust that flies in the air, settles in the air passages and can develop into an infection like bronchitis by the end of the trip.

the unimaginable beauty of DongMa
The last time that I had come to Dongma, we had lived in a mudhouse, with very dim light from a lamp that came on for an hour. This time, we have an actual hotel to live at - we are still four people to a room, with shared gender-unbiased bathrooms at the end of the passage, without a flush, that stink up the place. Travelorg/Travelorg India had said that at least for the Swamijis, they would book a room with a separate bathroom - but keeping up with their tradition of not doing anything they have promised, sure enough when we reach Dongma, the travel agent says those rooms are already taken. The Swamijis are sanyasis - renuciates, they have given up the world and they do not care where they are asked to board, but their followers like me are very much people of this transactional world and understand the greed that drives the underhand operations of travel agencies that promise premium services but do not deliver.

amazing sunset by the lake at Dongma
Just behind the hotel is the lake where we see beautiful birds, and far behind the lake are the horses grazing in the pastures. The idyllic scene is mesmerizing in its beauty at sunset.

One of our group members had just had a birthday, and a couple of Travelorg's additional members had a birthday as well, a couple who shared a birthday. We sang the "janmadinamidam..." the Sanskrit birthday song by Guruji, the Sherpas had spent an additional hour baking a wonderful eggless cake for the people celebrating their birthday.

Happy Birthday

Dinner was way late, and the cake even later. But the hard work and commitment of the Sherpas has to be commended. Always smiling, these people of god serve yatris - pilgrims, who are far away from home, with tea and coffee and soup and meals with flavorful plentiful varieties in cuisine, and persuade us to take seconds, and then wash the dishes, and pack up for the next day. They wake up again the next day, far earlier than we wake up, and make tea and coffee and breakfast and lunch. They serve the breakfast, load the lunch into their truck to be able to serve it to us at a comfortable stop along the way. And again, as soon as we reach a town, they serve tea and coffee, and soup and make dinner. The Sherpas are an entire community of good-natured hard-working people who live to serve others. No token of gratitude from the rest of the world is sufficient for what they do. 

Again, the Travelorg agent is nowhere to be found. I got the program for the next day from the Chinese guide and the Sherpa team, and share it in each room with the yatris. Travelorg's smooth promises had not prepared me for this amount of administrative work. Evidently, the travel agent does not care for customer service or feedback. Despite daily frequent reminders, he has given no group briefing, nor shown any knowledge of the Kailash-Manas Sarovar yatra, it is like he is doing it for the first time, he is only seen at mealtimes. We are determined that his poor attitude will not be allowed to impact the yatra for the Chinmaya group. We will work with the Sherpas of Nepal and the Chinese guides directly. It is a pity that it is an Indian that we cannot trust for a Hindu yatra.

Tomorrow Manas Sarovar!!

AUM Namaha Shivaaya!

1 comment:

  1. Such nice account of Brahmaputra river and the Sherpa services without which many of us could take them for granted and an account of what to expect.. Sheela D