Kailash Manasarovar Yatra 2004

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Starting the Parikrama in 'Tar Po Che' - the Valley of the Gods
The Yatris start off on the Parikrama trail along 'Tar Po Che'. In the photo, the Yaks are getting loaded with the camping equipment. Some have started off on the horseback.

Along the River 'Lha Chu'
This is all that is there to guide a Yatri - the trail. Most trek alone - lost in the sublime!

Gracious Valley
Sometimes the trail is clear and flat. A lot of Bon-Pa devotees cross you, doing the 'kora' trekking in the opposite direction. We greet them with a call - 'Tashi Delek'.

Water Fall along the valley.
Several such waterfalls off the rugged and steep valley mountains greet the Yatris. This one was across the river and facing Mt. Kailash.

The BonPa Pranam
Do you have the devotion, inspiration, grit and perseverance to do a parikrama with shastanga namaskars only? Along the way you will come across boulders, rocks, rivulets, snow, etc. Some Bon-Pa devotees do! Here is one.

Mt.Kailas - First view along the parikrama
This is the first view that we get of the Holy Mountain. So near and yet so far. There is a hidden valley between us and the mountain.

The Classic view of Mt.Kailas
Beautiful as it is when seen in person, this classic view is the best and the only full one that we get during the entire parikrama.

Mt.Kailas - a close up.
The sheer vertical walls of this holy mountain are several hundered meters in height. From this location, the mountain is about 3 kms away and about 2 kms into the sky.

Dheer Puk Gompa near Mt.Kailas
This Gompa is located across the river. Can you see the small brown colored building? It is a huge structure. And the mountain behind is even more huge!

The Yatra Diary

Day 7: Sunday, 1st August 2004
From Darchen to Tar Po Che to Dheerpuk

The day one of the Parikrama had arrived. We packed light for the three day trek. Most of our personal luggage was left behind in the truck. The minimal requirements were packed and brought by the Yak. After breakfast we were taken in the vehicle to the general Buddhist kora starting point - 'Tar Po Che' - or the Valley of the Gods - about 6 kms away from the village of Darchen. It had a tall flagpost with a lot of Buddhist prayer flags - with the main prayer 'Om Mani Padme Hum' - tied around it in several directions. With a namaskar to Lord Shiva, Ganesha and Guru, we started the parikrama. Each one on his own! Perhaps within calling distance of each other - within an hour some had gone beyond and some had started to lag far behind. The river 'Lha Chu' flows nearby and we go along its banks, in the valley between two close mountain ranges. Wonderful scenes! Sublime and spiritual!

Chanting Mantra along the Parikrama

     The beauty and peace of the valley and the mountains including Mt. Kailash makes a devout yatri's mind swim in the spiritual sublime. There is the spontaneous chant of several mantras according to one's ' Ishta bhava'!

To start with there is the all powerful 'pranava' mantra - the chanting of 'OM' synchronized with 'pranayama' - the yogic method of deep breathing. At that time we can meditate on the Oneness of the inner with the outer. And then we have the 'Shiva Panchakshari Mantra' - 'Om Namah Shivayah' that reverberates internally. And then there is the 'Hara hara Shankara, Jaya Jaya Shankara, Shiva Shiva Shankara' to resonate with one's trekking beat. Add to it your own Ishta devata mantra. And then there is the 'Mrthyunjaya Mantra'. So are several other mantras - each private to the person having it.

The Buddhists chant the mantra of peace - 'Om Mani Padme Hum'. All these chants happen within the mind even as it soaks in the glory of 'Tar Po Che!'.

The big question - why do we pray?

Popular notions amongst the general religious folks is that undertaking such a yatra will destroy the 'sins of a lifetime' or will help one get over one's current problems even as one (unwittingly) persists in one's problem causing behaviour - well - God bless such folks.While good and bad karma creation and experience happen concurrently, I think it is futile to do these yatras without the right approach and motivation. Especially a spiritual approach and motivation!

We pray so that we can weaken and get over our own 'vasanas' - traits that create bad karma. We pray so that our people can get over their bad karma creating habits. We pray so we can do good karma. We pray so that our own people can do good karma - and thus they can get over from the vicious cycle of problems that they create for themselves and us. We pray so they can have the peace of mind.

Why peace of mind? It is so easy for one to blame others for self-created problems even as one persists in these futile behaviours - these are pretty commonly seen in inter-personal relationships. And the peace of mind will help in the clarity of introspective thought - which in turn will help one amend her or his behaviour.

Ofcourse of profound significance is the 'mahavakya' from sages down South India - 'Anbe Shivam!' - the true meaning of love is Shiva! In it lies the secret of understandingly putting up with the above troubles.

'O Lord, May we have the 'vairagya' - detachment to see the reality clearly, the 'titiksha' - fortitude to bear the ill-will generated by our own folks in their delusions, and the 'karuna' - compassion to pray for everyone's well being!'.

Yes, by prayer, we seek God's grace! We seek to have the courage to see our follies, so we can change them with our 'free will' and sadhana efforts! We seek to have the wisdom to see the play of God's grace where we have no control or influence though others might imagine we or they have! Like the other's emotional behaviours! And self-inflicting painful actions (The conceited will deny any suffering! 'I was shrewd to get away from it!', would be the bravado claim!)

This, in a nutshell, is the '2-cents' worth (non-fatalistic) karma and prayer theory that I believe in!

I crossed several devotees from various other groups - I wished each one of them a warm 'Om Namah Shivayah' - some were from Chennai, some from Mumbai, some from Chinmaya Mission, some from Gujarat, some from Delhi... and many were Tibetans! Coming in the opposite direction were the BonPa devotees (Tibetans) who counter-circumbulate the Holy Kailash. In fact some did it with sastanga namaskars all the 50+ kms - through the rocks, boulders, streams and up-gradients! Wonderful energy, stamina and what a spiritual faith these people had! I do a namaskar to everyone that I come across - old and young, steady and inspiring. With every such Tibetan, it is loud call of 'Tashi Delek' which brought a smile on their face and reciprocated greetings!

In between, the mind is immersed in Lord Shiva and His beautiful creations around, resounding to the continuous inner chant of 'Om Namah Shivayah!' as well as other mantras.

Lord Shiva

     'Shravana masa' is an auspicious month for the devotees of Lord Shiva and is spent in devotions, austerities, and meditations. Lord Shiva is symbolized to be catering to the devotees from their lowest level of spiritual evolution to the highest. From 'Kala Bhairava' - the grossest keeper of time (death or endpoint of any activity) to the Lord Dakshinamurthy - profoundly absorbed in teaching the Non-Dual reality in silence!

Lord Shiva is best comprehended as that Non-Dual Reality that is everywhere and indivisible - with no attributable qualities and yet the Being that one experiences in the inmost depths of oneself! And as Sri Dakshinamurthy, the youthful and blissful Shiva communicates through silence to the elderly and wise disciples.

The Lingashtakam poetically describes the Shiva Linga as that non-dual reality comprising this Universe - the 'Brahma�da!' The Yajur veda devotionally describes Him to be the Master Yogi. The Shiva Mahima Stotra captures Him as a Hero removing the undesirable from this world - the Neelakanta! And then there are so many Shiva Mantras and the texts of Saiva Sidhaanta - 'Periya Puranam', 'Thirumandiram' - are replete with descriptive expressions of sages who have experienced so many forms of Him!

After several hours of trekking (and with several mild breathless hikes up the smoothly increasing gradients) we reached Dheerapuk (4800m) - a loftly place from where Mount Kailash blesses you with a wonderful view of the north- north-western face. Because all along the various mountain ranges surrounding Mount Kailash obscured the view. In fact, this is the only place within the parikrama trail that we are closest and we can most visibly see the holy Mountain. Beyond this, for the next two days of trek we were not be able to get a glimpse again.

The camp was set up beyond the Dheerapuk monastery and near the primitive bridge over the river. Beautiful place. Dark clouds hovered, it started raining. Opening and closing the zip of the tent was strenous - am panted for breath. Interesting. Within a tent we had a group chant and prayer. Later, too tired, after separate dinner within tents, I just went to sleep. Om Namah Shivayah!

Parikrama Programme at Mt. Kailas and Manasarovar

     When you go in a group - you are lost in the group activities. And when you go alone - you might be lost in not knowing what to do. Also remember that there are no formal temples around. So here is a checklist for the latter types.

v     At Kathmandu, start the parikrama with a visit to the Pashupathinath Temple by foot from your hotel. At the temple, choose to spend a few minutes on the river ghat meditating at the flow of time, water and life, in that holy place.
v     Do not forget to purchase the Prayer Flag for offering to Devi Tara at the Drolma Pass during the Kailash Parikrama.
v     Enroute, at the first sightings of the Holy Lake and the Holy Mountain, the driver typically circumbulates the Buddhist Prayer Flag mast and prostrates fully to 'Kang Rinpoche'. Join him. Pray and meditate on Lord Shiva - as the distant Kailasa parvata along with the 'Ashta parvats'!
v     Ask that at every Gompa that you will come by, the vehicle shall stop to allow you to offer pranams. There pray and meditate on Lord Shiva and your Ishta devata also.
v     Go over to drive along the Rakshas Tal shore. King Ravana of the Ramayana fame is said to have meditated on Lord Shiva here.
v     Ask to camp at Chiu Gompa. Dont miss the hot springs (though it is difficult to come by on a rushed tour). If you are here on the Purnima day, do not miss the night calm - it is a wonderful time for prayer and meditation. Sleep late. Get up early.
v     Meditations along the banks of the Lake Manasarovar can be done before the religious bath in the cold waters. At noon when it is relatively warm, take the dip facing Mt. Kailas and do not forget to offer 'argyam' to the Ishta and the Gods, and prayers for forefathers. Do offer prayers for your people. And those that would like offer 'tarpanams' to their departed dears do it here.
v     Do closely watch the flora and fauna that populate the seemingly desolate but rich landscape - off the lake on the one side and the mountains on the other.
v     Reach Darchen early in the afternoon. Then plan to go to 'Ashtapad'- it is a climb for about 7 kms. You can see the southern face of Mt.Kailas as well as the surrounding inner valley from here.
v     Start the parikrama early from Darchen itself if possible. With a manasika pooja to Lord Ganesha and Shiva, trek to 'Tar Po Che'. Then to Dheer puk. Carry atleast 3 liters of water. Several spots along the way afford for wonderful 20 minute meditations. Do not miss when you feel you wish to do.
v     Reach Dheerpuk early. The North - north western face of Mt. Kailasa is wonderful. Climb over cusp between the mountains - there is a prayer flag stupa. Go beyond and you will start approaching the base of the mount kailash over a glacier and a rivulet that flows down into 'Lha Chu'. Go as nearer as possible. Pray and Meditate. Ask for a campsite near the Inn there. Look overnight at the Mt. Kailas in the beautiful moon light. Yes, weather can play spoilsport. It is too beautiful to miss out. Do a 'Shivaratri' there.
v     When you start for Drolma La, cross the bridge and visit the Dheerpuk Gompa if possible - it is a retro trek on the otherside of the river bank. The view from here is also wonderful. Pack atleast 4 liters of water for the climb. You will need all of them.
v     At the Droma La Pass, offer your prayer flag to Devi Tara.Though crowded perhaps, choose a nice place to sit and meditate for sometime. It is wonderful to see a lot of beautiful color and peace amongst the rugged peaks and boulders. Is life like that?
v     If possible and if you are not very tired of climbing up again, go down to the Gauri Kund - depending on the season you might find several small ponds along. The water is absolutely magical and holy! Lord Ganesh was born here says the legends! Choose a place, pray and meditate!
v     During the Summer, and specifically during Shravan, you will rarely come across snow. Yet, after getting past Gauri Kund, you will descend to a disappearing glacier and will have to cross it. Stop after getting into the middle of the pathway, take a panoramic view and allow the mind to ascend to the eternity .. hold it that way for a few minutes.
v     After coming down to the banks of the river Lham Chu, choose a nice spot amidst the rocks in between the flowing waters. And you said it - pray and meditate on Lord Shiva. The trek thereon is almost on level ground - perfect for a step synchronized chant in the mind even as the vast ambience around sinks deep in.
v     At Zutul Puk, do visit the Gompa and pray inside the cave where the Buddhist Monk Milarepa stayed and meditated. Light yak ghee lamps and meditate on all the saints and sages that have been enlightened by the presence of Mt. Kailash.
v     At the end point, do not fail to give thanks to all the Gods for having helped make your parikrama a successful one thus far. Join the prayer flags in the hot sun perhaps to meditate on the meaning of a Parikrama -- the inner journey and the outer circumbulation.
v     Ask to camp at Hor Chu (the place where the river Hor Chu meets Lake Manasarovar). And use the best of the opportunities to meditate on the distant Mt. Kailash along with its 'ashta-parvat' range.
v     Finally, on your way out, just before the Mt.Kailash and Lake Manasarovar finally disappears, ask for a stop at the starting point of Manasarovar Parikrama.That is the exit route as well. You would have now completed the Manasarovar parikrama as well. Meditate on the significance of the entire yatra here. And offer your heartfelt gratitude to Lord Ganesha and Lord Shiva here. Join the Buddhist flags in spreading your prayers calmly into the air.

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© 2004. T S Mohan, Bangalore. All Rights Reserved.