"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 11, 2014

Kailash 2014 Day 09 : Parikrama Day 2 - Zutulphuk, Thursday Sep 12 2014

Today is the second and the toughest day of the parikrama and the trip. The limits of physical stress and fatigue are reached on this day, as also one's mind control is tested over the full gamut of emotions.

The exceptionally devoted Sherpa team had given tea, coffee, Bournvita and breakfast in each room by 5:30 am, so that those who were going to walk around Kailash started off with porters at 6am. And those who were to take the pony left at 7:30 am. This is a good time to start to cross the Dolma La pass before noon. It usually rains or hails in the afternoons, so it is best to finish the trek for the day as early as possible.

Kailash, 7am
I looked up at my dad, and he had some clouds around his head, like the foam of a good shampoo.

The peak of Kailash is 21,778 feet (6,638 m) tall - it is not so high as some of the Himalayan peaks but its spiritual power give it the status where no mountaineer would climb it, if he respected the sentiments of the billions of people who call themselves the Bon, Buddhist, Jain or Hindu. The last time China gave permission to scale Kailash was in 2001, but it was withdrawn after severe disapproval from various parts of the world.

Tip for the yatri - please go with a travel agency only if they will send an experienced representative with the group on the parikrama. Not only was our Travelorg/Travelorg India agent who had apparently made the trip 38 times, inexperienced with no advice or tips for us before the parikrama, but he was staying back at Manas Sarovar and will have no knowledge for the next batch he brings, though he will tell them he has made the trip 39 times. There was nobody from Travelorg/Travelorg India during the parikrama to do a headcount, the running around if someone fell down or fell sick, or provide any logistics support. We had to plan all this ourselves, with the Sherpa team and the Chinese guide. Swamiji had some people in the beginning of the group, and some at the end of the group who would do a headcount. Also, during the way, if someone fell sick, we were to behave like ants that send messages up and down the line as they trek, so that others in the group would provide support.

finally, on pony after a brisk walk for half a kilometer

When leaving Deraphuk, the first half kilometer is to be walked till we reach a small bridge - there were some icy points along the way, but mostly the way was dry and sandy. It is difficult to walk at that altitude anyway, and people were huffing and puffing their way up, I was more breathless than most. My pony driver was more considerate of me and got me on the pony at an earlier point. Others were not so fortunate, or I should say - their ponies were more fortunate.

the sun coming up in the Kailash region
As we started our trek that morning at about 17,000 feet, the sun was just coming up, and the bright light brought out the beauty of the stark landscape. The mountains in the picture look like hills till we look at the size of the people walking at the bottom to get some perspective.

the single line of ponies
At the beginning of the trek on day 2, there is a path and the ponies line up behind one another and walk in a straight line, but as we climb higher, it is each on his own. The ponies find paths around boulders to more or less travel in the same direction. People get separated in distance by the differences in speed as well.

walking up to the Dolma La pass

where the pony driver goes, the pony follows - the pony drivers were acting as porters carrying our backpacks

as long as the pony driver knows where he is going

most pony drivers were carrying backpacks today, while they had put them on the ponies the previous day

break for pony snacks

my dad watcheth me
Like a petulant child, one keeps looking behind - is my dad still there? Sure enough, he watches from behind mountains, and on top of peaks, there is a hint of Kailash all along the trek.

the locals doing the parikrama
As we describe the challenges, and sit on the ponies unless we are made to walk, I have often wondered how comical and unprepared we must seem to the locals who also walk around the sacred mountain, with far less paraphernalia. At least these people in the picture were walking and not embarrassing me by prostrating themselves along the parikrama - circumambulation.

the father watches over his children

the Beaumont gang together at 18000 feet

people leave behind what they value, as offerings

almost there, but not quite yet

the prayer flags that precede the Dolma La pass
The pony drivers had asked us to keep our heads low as we pass through this area entirely covered in prayer flags. To me, the biggest surprise was Dolma La pass at slightly below 19000 feet was completely free of ice and snow in September. One of my concerns about coming to Kailash in September was the increased physical hardship with the cold and the snow and the ice. But the path was absolutely dry, some moisture would have been nice actually - it would have held the mud and pebbles together so each step did not feel like it was slipping or sinking.

no idea why my horsie needs to gaze upon the chasm below

going down is as tough as climbing up
After Dolma La pass, we were asked to get off the ponies and start walking. I had prayer flags from a friend to tie here, and her necklace to leave here. She had given me her necklace in a silk pouch. When I started taking it out to tie the necklace to one of the strings that held the prayer flags, one of the pony drivers asked me in sign language if the silk pouch was for her. My pony was one in a group of three, basically there were three people from a family as pony drivers for the three ponies - two men and a young girl, possibly siblings. The young girl was not thinking of the turquoise necklace I was leaving behind as offering, just wanted the silk purse that I would have put back into my backpack. I gave it to her. She was very happy and immediately wore it across her shoulder.

The descent is steep and challenging all the way through. The last time around, when I was here in July, the mud was wet with the daily rain and it was slightly easier to find a path. This time around, the mountain was completely dry, and sometimes one had to actually choose between two precarious paths down the slope and figure which one seemed more maneuverable.

I was walking away at random, mostly following the track of some person in front of me. The young pony driver who had taken the silk satchel came back to find me. She extended her hand so I could hold her hand and walk. Extremely comforting as this was, she looked at most twenty years old and was less than half my size, I could not imagine her being able to keep her foothold if I fell. I smiled gratefully, and walked slowly with her, offering her my candy and protein bar.  

the babies of the Himalayas
As we walked, every now and then, someone would yell - watch out for the yaks, and people would stand close to the cliff to let them pass. The enfant terrible of the Himalayas, a yak will run around happily in any direction, much like an infant in a mall. Having five times their body weight tied to their back does not stop them from running down a slope to ruminate on a spot of grass, and then run back up the slope again and scare some poor ponies and trekkers.

A small walk after Dolma La pass, past the prayer flags is the beautiful bathtub of the Mother. Gauri Kund - the fabled lake where Parvati comes to bathe, is beautiful and secluded. The picture above is an illusion, we are about 500 feet above the line of people, who are about 1000 feet above Gauri Kund.

Gauri Kund, where Parvati comes to bathe
To give a perspective on the size of this pool, I have zoomed in a couple of times on this picture to get an idea of size. It would take about a couple of hours to go down to the lake from where we were trekking, of course the Sherpas and the porters go running down and back up in less than an hour, charging 10-20 yuan for the trek to fill your bottle with the jal from Gauri Kund.

Gauri Kund, where Parvati comes to bathe

Gauri Kund - zoomed in

Gauri Kund - further zoomed in
So the speck in the original picture is actually a man bending down to fill the waters of Gauri Kund into a container. Comparing the size of the boulders to the man should give an idea of the distance that Gauri Kund is from our trek path, though it seems so close when we look below.

onward downward

a local resting on the way

it is always great to look behind and say - you've come a long way, baby!

a Lord of the Rings scene

the sole representative from Chinmaya Houston, enjoying every moment of the trek

the monk who sold his Ferrari, and the guy who owns a few

though it seems like there is a line of people down the slope, when it comes to it, it is each on his own

people making their way down the slope

the next 8 kilometers is going to be relatively flat, walking by the riverside

untouched landscape

almost there
The last descent that brings us finally to the tents with the refreshments is the toughest, the slope is almost vertical. I was low on oxygen, struggling to breathe, and having to pause after every four steps - I was among the worst hit this time. Not sure if it was my exhausted body or disoriented mind or a clarity of intellect, but the thought did arise that I need not descend and I wondered how long I would last the night if I just sat here. This is the way I have always wanted to go, may be the time had come. All the while, the young lady had my hand in hers, and kept making sounds of encouragement. Suddenly, Sunil and Katak from the Sherpa team showed up - they were among the last to leave from Deraphuk, and had just caught up. They saw my pathetic condition and made me rest against a rock, gave me water and candies from my backpack, and held an arm each and started guiding me down. Relieved, I told the young pony driver to leave, I would come down with them.

Half way down the steep slope, my body would not want to move at all. Each step was a such a small progression that Katak asked me to just put my hands on their shoulders and they would bring me down. I was not sure I was that needy though I was aware that my body was struggling for oxygen. When the lack of oxygen hits, you are not in a position to make good judgment on how badly you are hit. Either on their shoulders, or holding their arms, I did come down to the refreshment tents. I did not have the energy to lift my hand and give myself water to drink, and Katak said - open your mouth and he poured some flavored drink he had bought from the tent, tasted like pineapple juice. The sugar solution did wonders, and after ten minutes of rest, I was fit to start walking. My pony drivers found me, a bit irritated that I was sitting in one of the tents while they were looking around for me. Sunil gave me a snack from Nepal - it was basically a pickle wrap, very tangy and sharp - to keep me awake on the horse.

And all this while, with body and mind not functioning much, I do know that there was a steady Aum Namaha Shivaaya chant reverberating through my being. If I am conscious when I leave the body one day, I hope this is the way I go - nothing else matters, as long as the name of Shiva is in my heart.

refreshments in the tents

riding a pony, licking the pickle wrap

and everywhere, Bhairava, the denizens of Kailash

2/3rd of the parikrama is done
Based on this you-are-here map, we are done with 2/3rds of the parikrama around Kailash. The two lakes shown in the map are the Rakshas Tal to the left and the Manas Sarovar to the right. We were at Manas just two days ago, and already, it seems a lifetime away. Right now, the mind is hankering away - are-we-there-yet for Zutulphuk, where we will spend the night.

people taking iPhone pictures as one more form the group descends from the pony

at Zutulphuk
The last time we stayed at Zutulphuk, we had a few rooms in the mudhouse, so the Swamijis had decided that women and children and sick people were to stay in the rooms, and the rest in a tent outside. The tent below is where most of the men had spent the night.

This time, there are some new units for accommodation so we have plastic walls. Of the additional people that Travelorg/Travelorg India has forced along with our group, five people are incensed that they have to stay in a mudhouse. A couple of people started yelling and cussing, and one man tried to accost Katak, our Sherpa lead. Katak called the Travelorg/Travelorg India agent resting at Manas Sarovar that if his group misbehaved, he would have to complain about them to the Chinese authorities. It is such a pathetic situation for Katak who needs to be focussed on tonight's meal and tomorrow's planning that the Swamijis told him not to worry, they would stay in the mudhouse - they do not care where they board. The group asking for money's worth and not wanting to live in the mudhouse is so shameless that they welcome this exchange with men of god. Some of the people from the Chinmaya group who found out what was happening wanted to go to the mudhouse instead. But the Swamijis were insistent they did not want to bother anyone else, and they would live in the mudhouse.

a room in a mudhouse, much ado about nothing
Tip for the yatri - Plan your yatra with a like-minded group, with a travel agency that you can trust. We had booked a trip with Travelorg/Travelorg India in good faith that this was going to be a group of 48 people from the Chinmaya Mission. He booked more people on the same permit without informing us. If he wanted to increase the group size, he could have requested Swamiji - we could have easily added any number of people with the same discipline and values. We would not have had such pathetic behavior towards the Sherpas who are people sent from heaven to make others' lives comfortable, nor would we have had such unforgivable behavior towards men of god who themselves do not need to make this yatra, but make it with us so we can benefit.

Many people are at their breaking point today - the Sherpas did a great job of getting soup to each room, and then food. We ate a little and then fell asleep. I heard a knock on the door around 11 at night, so I opened it, and someone said something in a language I did not understand. When he realized I could not answer his question, he went away down the road. Along with him, he had a porter carrying his backpack. This would be someone who had chosen to walk around the mountain, and hired a porter to carry his things, and who had just reached Zutulphuk. I looked in the direction in which he was walking, and I was not sure if he was planning to walk to some tent or to Darchen four hours away.

Tomorrow, the last 12 kilometers back to the place where buses will take us to Chiu Gompa.

AUM Namaha Shivaaya!


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