"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, September 10, 2014

Kailash 2014 Day 07 : Parikrama Day 1 - the north face at Deraphuk, Wednesday Sep 11 2014

We were ready to leave Chiu Gompa at 8 in the morning, with packed duffel bags and backpack  - there would be 2 buses, with a seating capacity of 50 people each. All 48 people with the Chinmaya group would be in one bus. The other bus would contain Travelorg's additional passengers.

One bus arrived, we asked the Sherpa team to let the other passengers sit in it. The Chinmaya group would sit in the next bus. The Sherpa team said the next bus would show up in another twenty minutes. Fifteen minutes later, the Travelorg India agent suddenly came over and said that people from the Chinmaya group needed to sit in the first bus because the other bus would come after an hour. It made no sense since the first bus could not fit the entire group anyway. If he wanted a partial group to leave, the non-Chinmaya people that he had added to our group, could leave right away. He started verbalizing and communicating some body language that we were unnecessarily creating a problem - discourtesy is what we have come to expect from him. So we ignored him. Within 5 minutes, the next bus showed up. Just one more misrepresentation - if we had believed him, we would be split already. Cannot repeat often enough - our travel experience with Travelorg/Travelorg India was bad.

As we sat in the bus, we started the Hanuman Chalisa that we have been chanting every day when the bus starts. Soon enough, the chant ended and we reached Yama dwar - the door of death. The Travelorg/Travelorg India guy was nowhere to be seen, nor does he have any guidance for the yatris - this is the person who claims to have visited the place 38 times. The Sherpa team guides us along to pass through Yama Dwar to get over the fear of death. And then we circumambulate the door of death three times and return to getting a pony assigned to us.

walking through Yama Dwar - the door of death

navigating through prayer flags outside Yama Dwar

the Yama Dwar with the prayer flags

At Tarboche, where we waited for a pony, we had paid 2500 Yuan each the previous night to Travelorg/Travelorg India for a pony to carry us through the 3 days of parikrama so we just have to carry our exhausted bodies over the land. If the slope is not steep, the pony can carry us and the backpack, else it only carries the backpack and we straggle along, behind the pony.

A man suddenly came closer and poked my cheek and said - you have altitude sickness. It took a moment to recognize the travel agent from Mumbai, whom I had met in Nyalam. He asked me how much Diamoxx I was taking, I told him I was taking half a tablet in the morning and another half in the evening - he said I needed to double the dosage for today and tomorrow. Again, this is not medical advice - I trusted him because I had heard him coaching his group in Nyalam on where they would go next, and talking to them about the yatra - pilgrimage. Again, choose your travel agent with care - there are some who know what they are doing, and others are just operators after your money like our travel agent from Travelorg/ Travelorg India was.

a horse for 280 Yuan and a porter for 150 Yuan a day, 3 days = 1290 Yuan, Travelorg charged us 2500 Yuan

We suddenly spotted a rate board. Per this board, we should have paid, 1290 Yuan for 3 days of renting a horse and a porter (pony man). There is no paperwork from Travelorg on why so much money is being charged. The clarification is still being sought with Travelorg, including getting money back for two people who were not given ponies, The travel agency should have returned the money to us immediately, but we are back from the trek, and still waiting.

Kailash Parikrama - start of day 1, we are south-west of Kailash at this point

Once on ponies, we traveled along deceptively flat land. This gives first-time yatris the impression that they can just walk the distance. However, it is highly recommended to sit on the pony on the first day, and save one's energy for day 2 which will test the extremes of one's strength and perseverance.

We started the trek today at slightly above 15000 feet, and we will reach Deraphuk at 17,000 feet by evening. After a lunch break of almost an hour, we got back on the ponies and went on forever. I kept falling asleep, and startling myself awake when I felt I was slipping off the pony. A couple of times the pony man was suspicious and looked at me - and made signs to say - Don't sleep. Easier said than done. After all the mental stress and rush and lack of sleep, sitting quietly on a pony was a great opportunity to catch some shut eye at the risk of falling off the pony, of course. The number of accidents is fairly significant. In our group of 48, 6-8 people fell off their horse because of stirrups of wrong length or nothing to hold on to, and in a couple of cases, the pony fell on the person after dropping the person. The ponies are walking at an altitude of up to 17000 feet here, they are also struggling for breath while carrying us, most of us felt really sorry for having to physically burden them.

We had admired the beauty of Tibet so far with the physical senses , the proximity of Kailash is something to be experienced. When sitting in a car at a traffic light, there is invariably some teenager in a car close by, playing loud music with a powerful subwoofer, and we can feel not just the car and things in the car, but one's own body vibrating with it. Similarly, choirs and chanters produce a hypnotic effect through music and vocals, as the swaying motion of many church singers or the twirling of Dervishes. These are all physical experiences, the experience of the divine is very subtle but far more powerful. The journey through the region of Kailash is like walking through a powerful field - the heartbeat of the universe gets louder as one gets closer to the heart.  

A couple of times, we had rest breaks for the ponies, and we got to stretch our legs as well and walk short distances till the ponies caught up. Once we get close to Deraphuk, the last half-kilometer is to be walked. The pony gets some much-needed rest, and the path is not treacherous. With some bruises and pulled muscles and sprained joints from the day's trek, our group reached Deraphuk as planned.

porter only

unimaginable tapas by the Tibetan Buddhists

north face
The majestic north face at Deraphuk shows many things to imaginative minds. People get lost in finding the face of Hanumana, Hayagriva, and the like in the many lines and striations on the mountain. The un-manifest does manifest as multiple names and forms. These forms appear to a mind which is already thinking in that direction. If a cloud formation or striations on a peak remind you of divine icons, good for you, your mind is in the right direction. It is possible that someone is giving you a divine sign, but remember that only some who are looking for it, receive it. So one way or another, it is the purity of mind that makes what it likes of some lines or ink spots. And those who have evolved to the state where they see the creator in all creation, will look at the entire world and all its inhabitants with love and compassion, not just a particular name or form.

The north face of Kailash has a snow-covered canopy at the top of the peak that looks like a snake's hood. There can be no better reminder of Shiva.

the porters live in tents, as we retire into the mud house
4 kilometers down from Deraphuk is Charanapada - the closest one gets to touching the feet of Kailash. There are streams from glaciers around Kailash that flow around it like a moat. Swamiji had visited last time, and this time again he visited with some very physically fit persons from the group. It took them a couple of hours to reach the feet of Kailash, and a couple of hours to get back - a very hectic and exhausting trek to be taken by only a select few.

Travel tip for the yatri:
  1. Now there is an army camp and a police camp to prevent people from taking this trek - so tip to future travelers, please consult your Chinese guide before making this excursion.
  2. The Travelorg/ Travelorg India agent had stayed back at Manas Sarovar without as much as a handshake - we had no idea who the representative was at this point. We had to directly talk to the Sherpas and the Chinese guide to figure out what was to be done at each step. Again, if this has not been repeated enough, choose your travel agency with care. We do not recommend the one we went with.
Swamiji brought back atmalingam - a naturally formed lingam, for each person from the group from Charanapada - each  atmalingam from Kailash is a living icon of the Supreme Consciousness.

As we retired for the night, the porters retired into their tents. A friend who had gone very low in oxygen, had to be evacuated. There was only one oxygen cylinder that could not be spared for her as she was taken down in the car, because it had to be kept for the rest of the group who was to climb higher the next day. Many people in the group had bought small individual oxygen cylinders from Nyalam (10 yuan each), the size of a room freshener bottle, and gave these to her.

The Sherpa team gave an oxygen pillow to her that was to be squeezed as the oxygen got depleted. Luckily, her husband was with her, and would be with her in the car, taking care of her. We were a group of 48 with 8 doctors. The travel agency that claimed 38 trips did not even have a representative present when this disaster occurred - we would be in a foreign country, unable to communicate and get the right help in time. Luckily for us, our Chinese guide had lived in India for some time, and spoke English fluently, and Hindi quite fluently as well.

We were in a foreign country, unable to communicate and get the right help in time. Luckily for us, our Chinese guide had lived in India for some time, and spoke English fluently, and Hindi quite fluently as well. It was the Chinese guide who said a car or an ambulance can be called. Apparently two other people living in some mud houses close by were in much worse condition, and were being evacuated, so the ambulance was not available. We were able to secure a car to Darchen, where she would feel better at the lower altitude. Also, she could stay in the hospital at Darchen for the night so her health could be monitored.

We needed to pay the driver 1000 Yuan in cash to take her down eight kilometers to Darchen. The hospital stay in Darchen would need cash as well. And if she was not well and needed to be dropped off to Zhangmu on the Nepal-Tibet border, we needed to pay the driver another 3000 Yuan in cash. People immediately counted off cash to load up her husband with the money needed, and more. This is the reason one needs to carry plenty of cash in Yuan in Tibet, one never knows when it has to be paid for what. We had been advised by the travel agency to carry about 3500 Yuan per person. Between Anish and me, we were carrying 10,000 Yuan. And there were several others in the group who had similarly brought in extra cash in case someone in the group needed it.

Travel tip for the yatri
  1. Do not rely on the travel agency for oxygen when you most need it, it is your life, please keep your supplies handy.
  2. Form a group with doctors. The travel agency that claimed 38 trips did not even have a representative present when this disaster occurred -
  3. There is nothing in the travel agency brochures that talks about such situations, though these situations occur with every group. We had this Travelorg/ Travelorg India agent who had no knowledge of the Kailash trek at all though it was advertised that he had made 38 trips earlier. We had no briefings at all even before the parikrama. The health insurance you have purchased is for evacuation by helicopter - no helicopter is allowed to land in the Kailash area, ergo it is useless unless you are in a serious condition even when you reach a lower elevation. To reach the lower elevation, luckily now there are cars, earlier you had to rely on Sherpas and porters to carry you back, till a point where you can be evacuated by helicopter.
  4. Keep additional cash. There is no credit card payment. We collected Yuan to pay for one of our own, but if 3-4 other people had similarly taken unwell, our group would not have had the cash for transport or hospital stay.

Tomorrow, we will pass Dolma La pass at 18,900 feet, this would be the highest elevation during the parikrama, and we would rest at Zutulphuk in the mudhouses I remember so well from the trip 4 years ago.

AUM Namaha Shivaaya!


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