"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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kailash 2014 Day 10 : Parikrama Day 3 - Chiu Gompa, Friday, Sep 13 2014

Waking up in Zutulphuk to the 3rd day of the parikrama was a comparatively relaxed morning. We were ready by 7, the Sherpas had brought breakfast and tea at 6. By 8 in the morning, we were off on our ponies, leaving Zutulphuk to meet our buses 2 hours away.

There is a 8-kilometer stretch to be walked or pony-ridden over. A few people were enthusiastic about walking, but most people got on the ponies. The walk can get long and tiring. I knew I would get sleepy on my pony. Without much change in scenery, the rocking motion of the pony has a cradle-like effect and the tired eyelids need just an excuse like this to droop over.

Finally, the trek came close to its last leg, when the land appeared to get flatter and flatter. The flat land just means that we were on the Tibetan plateau now - we were still at slightly above 16000 feet. The group had to walk on the path that ran parallel to the river to our left, in the gorge far below. It was just being breathless that was a challenge, the path itself is easy enough to traverse, after the trekking we have managed to complete the previous day.

The Gaumukh trek is far more challenging and scary than the walkways of Kailash.

The most unfortunate part of the yatra is that the yatris bring their habits into the sacred land of Kailash. The paths on the mountains, every nook and crevice is filled with the plastic waste that people bring. Our group of 48 had steel utensils, except for a couple of days when we had disposable plates, and we did have one plastic water bottle to throw away every day, that we put in the trash - I do not know where the Sherpa team was disposing off the trash. There needs to be a concerted effort to clean Kailash - either each group should bring back thrice the number of pounds of trash as the number of people in the group, or each group should carry back all their own trash, or there need to be other cleanliness campaigns where volunteers can pick trash - a Svachchha Shivabhoomi Abhiyaan - a clean Shivaland campaign. It is very sad to see the divine valley littered with leftover bottles and boxes from travelers.

After quite a few turns on the road, there was a sign asking us to be careful not to fall off the cliff - "Cliff Road Caution Falling", luckily there was a picture to explain what was meant.

The smiles were getting brighter as we reached lower elevations, people were feeling better and the worry of will-we-won't-we-be-able-to-manage-the-parikrama was now behind us.

Finally, we reached the gift shop, the government buses would pick us up from here and take us to Darchen and then to Chiu Gompa.

The pony driver and the pony had been instrumental in my Kailash parikrama, though quite a bit of the distance is to be covered on foot. These are the support resources sent by the one above to help with the journey. I hugged and put my hand on the pony driver's head, he understood it to be a blessing, and of course he was happier with the tip. The pony drivers make their livelihood for five months when the Kailash yatra is on. The rest of the months, they have to find other ways to make their living and feed their families. Any money and gifts given to them is a major help to their annual income, and keeps the support infrastructure going for the Kailash yatra.

thanking our Chinese guide Loya
At this lower altitude, my swelling had started subsiding, though the face and limbs were still heavily swollen. No two trips can be the same experience at this altitude. I could not remember being so oxygen-depleted in my last attempt, the body gets older and weaker with the passage of time, and it was a good reminder to take nothing for granted.

our group photo without Venkat
As we took responsibility of our backpacks and walking sticks and whatever else the pony and the pony driver were carrying for us, there was one extra bag - Venkat's. There was an immediate flurry of activity - people yelling his name in different directions, but he was nowhere. Then people began to voice concerns if he was yet to arrive, but a few people said he was ahead of them and should have been here a long time ago, a quick physical count or two decided he was definitely not around. Finally, someone had the bright idea of texting him and got an instant reply - thank goodness for wifi in uninhabited regions. He had been ahead of the entire group, he had not stopped, he had continued walking, not realizing he had to stop at the gift shop, and he had reached Darchen where we were to go by bus.

It does not immediately occur to us to call or text people here, but wifi has reached the Kailash region as well. You do not need satellite phones any more if you want to stay connected. Phones work here if you have an international plan, and messages can be sent to people far away while sitting at Manas Sarovar or anywhere along the parikrama - ust a stretch . It was only in some area around Dolma La that I did not appear to have a network connection. The choice of staying disconnected during the yatra was purely personal.

the coolness quotient just went way high - PT, the strong and silent hero is here

Anup, at the end of the parikrama

yaks being freed of their burdens
our group without Venkat and with four Sherpas

trash in every corner
We got into the bus, and drove to Darchen, less than half an hour away. The entry to Darchen could not have been any more spectacular for me. Four years ago, Darchen was a sleepy town, to be used as a rest stop before Yama Dwar, and the closest town for Ashtapada darshan. This time around, there is a market street with gift shops selling jewelry and curios where one could spend days shopping.

the market at Darchen

finally, Venkat is in the bus again
As we were going through the street, we spotted Venkat. We asked the bus to stop but neither the driver nor the Chinese guide would stop the bus. We had to get through to them that we were not asking for a photo opportunity, a person from the group needed to be picked up. Finally, they stopped the bus, and the prodigal son returned home.

for every Tibetan bazar in India, finally we have one Indian jewelry stop in Tibet

Darchen, a small town in Tibet is a focal geographical point. The cars that evacuate altitude-impacted people from Deraphuk come down to Darchen for the hospital facility here. Ashtapada, the south face of Kailash is a couple of hours north-east from Darchen. Due to some accidents involving cars falling off the slopes while driving to Ashtapada, neither going by car nor journeying on foot to Ashtapada is allowed in 2014.  
About 65 kilometers west of Darchen, accessible by road, is Teerthapuri where Bhasmasura is believed to have been turned to ashes. He was a Shiva devotee who performed severe tapas - penance, and was asked by Shiva to ask for a boon. Bhasmasura asked for immortality that Shiva said he could not grant to any human. Bhasmasura then asked that a person should turn to ashes if he put his hand on the person's head. The benevolent Shiva granted him the boon, and the delighted Bhasmasura tried testing this on Shiva. Shiva asked Vishnu for help who appeared in the form of an attractive woman. Distracted, Bhasmasura asked her to marry him, and Mohini in turn asked him to match her dance moves. As Bhasmasura matched her body and hand movements, he put his hand on his head and collapsed into ash. There are sulphur springs in Teerthapuri, and ashes on the mountains - the remains of Bhasmasura.
A hundred kilometers south of Darchen, is Taklakot as the Indians and Nepalese call it, or Burang as the Tibetans call it. Reminds me of the Karnavati/Ahmedabad name debate, and let us not even talk of the apbhransha - corrupted name, Amdavad. Currently, 500 Indian citizens come with army escorts through Taklakot, as a part of the government contingent to visit Kailash each year. Their first acclimatization point in Tibet is Taklakot, just as ours was Nyalam.
Travel tip for the yatri - Even if you are planning to use helicopter services, plan on acclimatization and a night halt at each point along the way. The dubious helicopter services that bring pilgrims from various point to Darchen in two days without time for acclimatization converge here with the yatris from India and from Nepal. It is not uncommon to find people on the street, obviously not adjusted to the altitude.

trying to buy turquoise
The Chinese guide had the buses stopped for refueling and paperwork. We asked her if we could stop for 30 minutes for shopping, and she agreed. This was again a pleasant change from my last visit - to find the figures of authority in Tibet so accommodating and friendly, the organization in Tibet/China is clearly trying to grow tourism. The yatra had been wonderful with the two Chinese guides and the bus drivers, and the devoted Sherpa team. It is only the travel agency Travelorg/Travelorg India with whom we contracted for this yatra that has been completely missing in any customer service transaction, and will not get our business or recommendation in the future.

Chiu Gompa

As the bus arrived at Chiu Gompa, we hurriedly assigned rooms, and the Sherpa team got to work on tea, coffee and Bournvita, and then soup. Some of us wandered off to the rooms, and started sorting our duffel bags again. Others went for walks along the Manas Sarovar. Tonight, most of us would stay up to watch the activity over the lake.

dinner at Chiu Gompa
I am not sure how food for 60+ people is prepared by the Sherpas in a couple of hours, but as usual a warm, freshly cooked vegetarian meal was very welcome.

After dinner, I joined the people taking walks by the lake. I needed to collect the small rocks from Manas Sarovar to take back to people as gifts. There is delicate grass and slime in the shallow waters of Chiu Gompa, so one has to carefully tread over slippery rock to find the right lingams.

As the evening progressed, the colors of the sky and the water changed dramatically as shadows formed on the mountains. Shivayoganandaji had said earlier that we would complete the parikrama in perfect weather, and it would start raining after that. And, now that we were back in Chiu Gompa, Kailash was not visible like we had seen four days ago, it was already behind dark rain clouds.

In the evening, many birds were flying around the lake - silver gulls and golden ducks.

golden ducks
We came back to the mud houses, and settled in. Katak had said that we would get breakfast at 8 the next day, and leave by 9. Swamiji had said that for those who wanted to look out at the lake, it would be a good idea to start around 2am. So I went from room to room to tell people of our departure plans, and to have their duffel bags outside by 8, and also to come out at 2 to start looking out at the lake. All rooms had windows to the lake, many people were going to watch from inside, and if they saw some activity, they would come out. There was an understanding that at some point after midnight, if anyone saw activity over the lake, they would wake up the others.

It was already past midnight. As I looked out at the sky, it was very different from the sky I remember from July 2010. Back then, Seema, Rajeev, Gaurav, Yoga, Mallik and I were keeping watch from midnight, and there was plenty of activity to keep us interested. The activity had become more intense and dramatic as the night progressed and finally at three in the morning, I thought I had seen it all and went to sleep. Rajeev had confirmed later that it was more of the same till he finally went to rest at four in the morning. This time around, as I looked at the sky, I have to ask the same question I had asked of Krishna in the NOIDA CM ashram two weeks ago - where are you? It appeared that the residents of Kailash had more important things to do. The night seemed dark and not ominous at all.

At about 1, I woke up from a light nap, Rashmiji was saying there was something on the lake. I went out, there were a couple of lights at ground level, they moved a bit but mostly just stayed there. A lot of people were sitting outside the mudhouse, staring at the water. I came back into the room to wrap myself in my blanket that also meant that my blanket would be really cold when I came back to sleep. My exhausted body was not up for the night watch at all, I kept falling asleep till I would hear some excited "Did you see that?". By about 1:30 in the early morning hours, I had seen six lights in all, a couple of them moving over the water, no forms or beings. Not that the powers that be need to impress me, but apparently they were not interested in making themselves apparent to me, and I accepted that. There will be another time, another place. I went to my room to catch up on sleep.

The journey back begins tomorrow.

AUM Namaha Shivaaya!!

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