Saturday, September 06, 2014

Pilgrimage to Mount Kailash: A breathtaking experience

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“Why don’t you join us for a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash?” asked Sadhguru JV, a revered mystic and head of Isha Foundation, and I readily agreed without knowing what all it meant.
Soon I got a call, asking me to send my passport and a medical check-up report with a fitness certificate, as we would be climbing upto over 17,500 feet.
First time ever, it was going to be a break which would truly disconnect me from all the happenings back home. I asked myself if I would be able to disconnect from my work schedule for three long weeks. I decided that I will challenge myself and move on.
After doing proper research on Mount Kailash, Mansarover Lake, the route and the requirements, I was now getting ready to leave. However, getting the right trekking equipment was a tough task. But I was able to identify the right Mall in Noida from where I could get everything at one stop-shop.
Thereafter, I passed the medical test and was declared fit by the doctor. I passed it with first division at the age of 65!
On Aug 6, I was on the flight to Kathmandu to join the group. But before switching off my black berry, I mailed and tweeted a photo of the big trekking shoes I was wearing as evidence to my family and three million friends on social network. I was feeling like a child at heart!
On the evening of our arrival in Kathmandu, Sadhguru gave us an introduction about the pilgrimage. He said when on high altitude, we need to be in right frame on both counts (mind and body).
Our trek route planned was Simikot to Darapani to Kermi to Yalbang to Timkot (all in Nepal).
We entered China from Hilsa through the Friendship Bridge (sorry, not so friendly though, as we had serious issues concerning our overseas pilgrims). We had to seek the intervention of our Prime Minister, who was so gracious to connect with us.
We drove by road, with our group split, (half of them left behind who joined us after six days) to Mansarover through Tibet. From Mansarover Lake, we drove a few kilometers by road, thereafter a solid long trek to Mount Kailash of 34 km covered within 24 hours (going and coming).
The first phase of our trek was treacherous. Somewhere it was a steep uphill and at other places a steep decline. All on rocks or on loose pebbles! We used to trek almost 7 to 8 hours a day, with short breather breaks, before we could reach our halting night camps, all preferably by the side of running rivers.
The trek paths were breathtaking, but we were more focussed on every step we were taking on the rocks. The lesson was: watch every step that you take, as even one step missed may be enough for a sprain or a fall.
Also as the altitude was rising, we had to ensure we did not suffer from breathlessness or dehydration. We carried oxygen supplements. Few needed it. We also maintained silence to save our breath.
We used our walking sticks as legs to keep the balance. Some also held the hand of ‘bahadurs’ who were so sturdy and light footed. They were carrying our back- packs which had our rain wear, umbrellas, water and some eating stuff to munch and share on the way.
We would camp for the night in light tents and sleep in our sleeping bags with aching feet, knees and legs. We had no warm water to bathe and the toilets were at a distance. On the top of it, the nights were freezing. At night if one had to ease, it had to be under the stars and the moonlight with small head lamps on our foreheads. It was a unique experience. We were children again.
We of course had the luxury of hot food, as cooks and provisions were part of entourage! Thanks to donkeys and mares carrying our provisions!
With an overnight six hours sleep, we were always ready for the next day. It was an unbelievable discovery or recovery for many of us -- non trekkers.
Just few mugs of water were so precious for brushing, washing and cleaning. Tissue paper, swipes and the disinfectants were our hygiene. No question of any hot water bath still. The courageous would go for cold water bath in the running streams wherever possible. But we all meditated by the riversides -- all Yoga trained!
The trekking route we took will soon vanish, as the Chinese are building roads all over. We walked over recently-blasted rocks and soft tracks being prepared for driveways. But we captured the route and the trek on camera for posterity.
After six days of trek and few days of drive over tricky terrain, somewhere very risky and at places smooth, we reached Mansarover Lake – the highest lake on earth. And there we could see the majestic Mount Kailash. It left us all mesmerised!
We camped at the Lake, dipped in its cold waters, prayed and thanked the spiritual souls believed to be part of nature around and then left for the trek to Mount Kailash.
We trekked for 17 km almost non-stop for 7 to 8 hrs. Most part of the trek to Mount Kailash was with us in its spiritual splendor. We drove back all through Tibet and flew out of Lhasa, all through a nature gifted region getting modernised. Few years from now, it will be a different place.
Lessons learnt during the pilgrimage:
To value all one has. To dive inside oneself. To build teams. To stay fit (mind, body, soul): it’s yoga at work.

To stay human, realises the value of everything nature offers. Trekking teaches mortality and interdependence: no amount of book reading can.