"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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Kailash 2014 Day 06 : The Full Moon at Manas Sarovar, Tuesday Sep 09 2014

Dawn in Dongma is as spectacular as dusk. We got up to a beautiful orange sky reflected in the lake and cattle standing on never-ending pastures.

The Sherpas had a breakfast ready at 8, they moved our duffel bags into the buses in Dongma, and we promptly got into our buses at 9. 

The first stop was the gas station where the buses stopped for refueling. I remembered this gas station from four years ago when it was a pleasant surprise to see female attendants filling gas. This time around, I was waiting to take pictures, but there was not a single woman among the attendants. 

Refueling past Dongma

There were tall mountains in the background, and suddenly the grand gate of a monastery showed up. Not sure if there is a monastery in the background somewhere in the mountains, but the beautiful gate on the road was very impressive.

impressive gate of the monastery

Today was the long day of driving through sand dunes till we reach Manas Sarovar. We were going to stay at the Chiu Gompa guesthouse on the north-west shores of Manas Sarovar, but before that, we would dip in the lake at Horchu, or Huo'erxiang. The water is clear here, and it is a good place to immerse in the lake, walking into the lake with Kailash in sight. The idea is to reach the lake while the sun is still up.

After the beauty of green slopes and waterfalls, snow-clad cliffs and glaciers, streams and lakes, rocks and boulders, we were finally enjoying the breathtaking magnificence of the desert. The winds blew across miles and miles of sand, and twirled and swirled the dunes in gorgeous formations as we watched.

miles and miles of sand dunes, aquamarine lakes beyond and turquoise skies above

the vasanas imprinted on the BMI, like footprints on sand
As the footprints on the sand deepen with repeated pedestrian traffic, and die away if left to be blown over by the winds, so the patterns of thought that manifest as body, mind and intellect patterns deepen with repetition but die away over time if they are not repeated. Over the centuries, no imprints remain on these shifting sands. Years of sadhana - penance or discipline, allows us to be free of the imprints of our own past thought and behavior. As time passes, the past patterns are reduced in frequency and depth, and ultimately fall off - whether it is a smoking habit, or a competitive streak, or a tendency to procrastinate - this body-mind-intellect equipment loses the tendencies by which it identifies itself, and through this continuous process of dis-identification, it ultimately recognizes its true nature - the pure Self.

amazing beauty of the sand dunes

leaving transient footprints
Our bus driver Johnny was very young but was very much in touch with the tourist mindset and stopped the bus at every photo opportunity. All four buses stopped, and we were given the time to take pictures of the sand formations. The bus drivers were far more tourism-oriented and tourist-empathized than the private car drivers of the Toyota Landcruisers we had used four years ago.

We got enthusiastically into the sand dunes, getting pictures taken as if we had managed to imprint upon Tibet. All our footprints would be blown over by fresh sands by night. Such is the transient nature of human life, and yet we persist in striving to make our mark upon this world.

back massage through 5 layers - is that legit?
The buses had stopped at a scenic viewpoint. The Sherpa team set up a table and immediately set up lunch. As we were serving the first three plates for the Swamijis, a couple of people that Travelorg has forced upon us, started serving their own plates. We requested that we needed to serve Swamiji's plate first, then the group can start eating. One person piped up - are we not humans too?  Swamiji was standing next to me, he made a face to say - let it go. If it was someone cutting in line in front of me, I would have ignored it but there is no point to my existence if someone can insult my guru in my presence. I told the guy to talk to Bharatbhai of Travelorg who has brought him here without Chinmaya approval, to explain the Chinmaya discipline. Realistically, anyone would serve a guru first, not sure where this guy had grown up or lived. No society can survive that does not serve its spiritual leaders first. And I would like to add here that no business can survive that tries to make money from dharma yatras and creates the conditions where gurus are insulted.

While we served the first three plates for the Swamijis, the person now started yelling at the Travelorg/ Travelorg India agent - "Get me a return bus to go back, I cannot even eat here." This was the same person who had complained in Kathmandu about not getting to see the stupa, in Dhulikhel about wanting to get into helicopters before us, and now this. Seriously, buddy? You will join a yatra only if you get to sit in the helicopter first and you get to eat first???

serving the Swamijis first

the Tibetan lady rejecting the rice and lentils, but taking the canned gulabjamuns

the young man stocking up on fruit juice
Just as we finished our lunch, a Tibetan lady and her child came over. We tried interesting her in taking away all the steamed rice, vegetables and lentils - our left-over food could have fed another twenty people. But she did not want any of the freshly cooked food, she instead chose to take the canned gulab jamuns - doughballs soaked in sugar solution. Her son had healthier tastes, he took all the fruit juice packages we offered him, and was quick to start consuming them before he may have to share with others.

yaks running across the road
As we took off in buses again, our bus honked loud for a long time. The human head in the center of the picture above is the Chinese policeman in our bus, whom we fed all kinds of Indian sweets and spicy snacks, and he ate them with a healthy appetite. He was staring out at the yak on the road - there were yaks on the slopes, and one yak had ventured out. Yaks run up and down mountains and roads as they like, without any understanding of need for control. This yak was still making up his mind whether he should run up the mountain when he heard the loud noise, or should he jump over the railing into the fields, or should he just stand there and let the bus pass. Ultimately he decided he would cross the road for the fifth time and stand there till the bus passes. And so the bus curved around the yak and moved on, towards the divine lake - Manas Sarovar.

There are vast expanses of sand on both sides. As always, the young Shankara came to mind, visiting Kailash, walking across this land. Anywhere in the Indian subcontinent that I have been - Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and other states, the young Adiguru - the first guru, always comes to mind. He has written commentaries on all the Vedic scriptures and has explained many subtle concepts in crystal-clear terms that leaves no ground for ambiguity. As we hurtle through this ancient land in an air-conditioned bus, discussing the lack of toilets and stocking antiseptic soap and face masks and wet wipes, he travelled unchartered courses all over the Indian subcontinent in simple garb in all weather, two milleniums ago. It is because of his exhaustive travel and literary effort, that Advaita - non-duality, is the dominant school of thought in Sanatana Dharma today. Overwhelming gratitude does not even begin to describe what we owe to Shankaracharya.

When the driver said - Manas Sarovar, there was that surreal moment when everything seems to happen in slow motion. Suddenly, through the front of the bus, we could see the surface of the divine lake, Manas Sarovar.

first glimpse from the front of the bus, Manas Sarovar

We were still absorbing the fact that we were so close to the destination, when the bus curved along the route, and we had the fervently-hoped-for but yet totally unexpected clear view of Kailash. It shone bright as a snow-clad peak among clear brown cliffs.

first glimpse - shining Kailash

tears well up at the first sighting of my über dad's home, Kailash across Manas Sarovar
When the bus stopped, the sight of Kailash across the lake Manas Sarovar brought people to their knees. I had not expected to come here, it was a small hope - chhoti si asha - that had culminated in a group of forty-eight people coming here, I had needed this group with its collective prarabdha - destiny, to fulfill mine. Shiva had made it possible, he had brought me thus far, he would take me ahead. Tears streaming down my face, I bowed to my father on bended knees. Grateful for this life, for everything that has happened and is about to happen, for the opportunity to visit his home, I do not need to ask or understand anything, I accept everything.

Every emotion, every thought, every experience fell off - and for a very long moment, there was nothing but Kailash, pulsating with the primordial energy that created the universe and maintains it. Kailash is the physical manifestation of my über dad, Shiva, the eternal formless supreme consciousness. The air vibrates with the hum of his name - AUM Namaha Shivaaya. Steeped in the noise of a worldly existence, we may not hear the constant hum, but in the quietitude of the shores of Manas Sarovar, the divine chant reverberates through the air, in the sound of the undulating waves, in the flight of birds, in the faint murmur of the breeze as it blows past the waters, in one's very breath.

There is a huge government complex built here, that did not exist in 2010. At this point, we had to get down from our buses that were currently being allowed 18 passengers each, and fill into blue government buses that accommodated 50 persons each. We had two buses at our disposal - these would take us to Horchu, where we wanted to dip in the lake, and then to Chiu Gompa where we would stay tonight. After the three-day parikrama - circumambulation, around Kailash, we would return to Chiu Gompa for the night, and then we would come back here on the fourth day to get back into our buses again.

Manas Sarovar is the physical form of the mind of Brahma, the Creator. Shivayoganandaji said dipping in the lake was literally like dipping in the mind of the Creator, and Kailash is the pure Self, the Brahman. As the peaceful waters of Manas reflect Kailash, so when the mind is quiet, the Self shines forth.

dipping in Manas Sarovar

the jal from Manas Sarovar to carry back home

the unruffled lady from Dallas at Manas

Wading into Manas Sarovar was a bit tough, with feet slipping on the rocks covered with weeds. There are little fish and other marine creatures swimming around, if you look carefully at where you are stepping.

As I walked in slowly, I was waist deep and it appeared I would have to go in considerably into the water to immerse in it. Seema was just a few feet away, and asked me to go down on bended knees and then move forward.

immersing in Manas

Looking at the south-east view of Kailash in front of me, I went down on my knees, thinking of all the people in my life on whom I would like his grace. The water was oddly still, absorbing every moment and slowing it down into a gentle undulating motion, I dipped my head in with a quiet Aum Namaha Shivaaya and came up quickly for breath, I had already been breathless and going underwater heightened the need for air. My hair was not all wet yet. I struggled to remember the prayer I wanted to say - "sarve bhavantu sukhinaha..." - may all be happy and in good health, may all see what is auspicious, may nobody suffer, peace to all. This prayer that I can rattle off in my sleep if asked, had finally come to me in pieces, it had taken a minute to come to mind - it was probably the effect of the altitude or the exhaustion. Trying to recollect the prayer gave me that additional minute to stand in Manas and look out at Kailash. Two more head immersions in the lake, and I turned around and walked out. The water was cold, but surprisingly not freezing like I had expected in September. And even coming out drenched into the gentle breeze was not freezing cold, like I remember from July 2010.

There were a couple of tents for changing but it took so long for people to peel off wet clothes, and put on Underarmor and layered clothing, that some of us just moved at the back of the bus and started changing. A couple of cars passed by as we were changing, but I was too swollen and breathless and exhausted to care, hopefully no recognizable Twitter pictures out there that give us away. I went back into the lake again, and picked up lingams - rocks that are worshipped as icons of Shiva.

After immersion in the Manas Sarovar, we drove towards Chiu Gompa, the Buddhist monastery on the north-west shores of Manas. This monastery has a direct view of Kailash and Manas Sarovar.

prayers offered by the lake

Chiu Gompa monastery

sunset over Kailash

sunset over the lake

sunset over Chiu Gompa and Manas Sarovar

preparations for a yagna by Manas Sarovar

Attached to the Chiu Gompa monastery is the guest house where we stayed, a mud house with 4 or 5 or 6 people in each room. As the Sherpas prepared dinner, we prepared for a yagna on the banks of Manas Sarovar. The breeze that blew over the lake gathered force and blew as cold winds over our yagnasthala. The full moon of Bhadrapad Poornima rose above the lake.

the rising full moon over Manas

the full moon over Manas Sarovar

yagna in progress

some serious chanting in progress
Everyone performed the yagna at Manas Sarovar by turn. The yagna successfully completed, we went back to our rooms till dinner was announced. The Sherpas had excelled as usual, and at the end of a fantastic dinner, we settled back in our rooms.

This land once was an integral part of Vedic culture. The south-west region of current Tibet used to be an independent kingdom, and in the sixth century was the Zhangzhung empire that was centered around Kailash. What is currently known as central Tibet was the land of Bod, an empire that existed from the seventh to the tenth century, that absorbed the kingdom of the Zhangzhung and became the land we currently call Tibet. The descendants of the Zhangzhung live as nomadic tribes of cattle-herders in south-west Tibet.

Tomorrow, we start the parikrama - circumambulation, around Kailash - the Sherpa team informed us that we would not be able to get the mudhouse in Deraphuk, and we would have to live in tents if we left a day later. But if we changed plans, and left tomorrow morning, we would get accommodation in the mudhouse at Deraphuk. Swamiji decided to start the parikrama on Sep 10. Where is the Travelorg/Travelorg India travel agent in all this? Nowhere, we were planning directly with the Sherpas and the Chinese guide.

Tomorrow morning, Yama Dwar!!

AUM Namaha Shivaaya!


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