GOD OF ALL MOUN­TAINS

A TRIP TO KAILASH MANSAROVAR

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Breakfast Of Champions - Text and pho­to­graphs by Shoe­joy

HIGH IN the Hi­malayas there stands an icy mas­tiff, a strange-shaped mono­lithic gar­gan­tuan in black – Mount Kailash. At its foot are two huge lakes, one more mas­sive than the other, Manasarovar and Rak­shas Tal; revered by the fol­low­ers of four an­cient re­li­gions – the an­i­mistic Bons, the non-vi­o­lent Jains, the truth­seek­ing Bud­dhists and the eter­nal Hin­dus.

A few years ago, I went on a Kailash Ya­tra, part of a TV crew em­bed­ded with one of the re­li­gious tours that reg­u­larly op­er­ate on the Kath­mandu Kailash route, and I went the year the ‘pucca’ road was still be­ing built.

A flight to Kath­mandu and a cou­ple of days later a bus ride to the Nepal-China bor­der brought our 125-strong group to the Friend­ship bridge, which we had to cross on foot, pass­ing through Chi­nese Cus­toms, one per­son at a time. On the other side was Zhangmu, a small fron­tier town where the next morn­ing we boarded Land Cruis­ers that would take us to Kailash. We started off on the high­way to Lhasa and as we climbed out of the gorge, the turquoise blue of a lim­it­less sky wel­comed us to the Ti­betan plateau. The high­lands stretched in all directions, bro­ken by snow-capped moun­tain ridges, there was not a tree in sight, only grass­land fur­rowed by an oc­ca­sional stream. On the pitch black road our con­voy, of some 40 odd Land Cruis­ers, hur­tled through time, cart­ing dreams of a hun­dred in­di­vid­ual quests of dis­cov­ery. A cou­ple of hours later, we left the high­way, as our ve­hi­cles turned west, to travel on grass fields that led to Manasarovar. There were no signs, no habi­ta­tions, no mark­ings and no land­marks to in­di­cate that we were even headed in the right di­rec­tion. It takes a while to re­alise that are no elec­tric­ity poles, no agri­cul­tural fields, no air­planes fly­ing above, no shacks, no plas­tic blow­ing in the wind and no FM ra­dio. There are just four silent peo­ple in a car over­awed by this strange new ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a speck, in the vast­ness of their sur­round­ings.

As we kept stop­ping, to film along the way, we saw our con­voy dis­ap­pear, its dusty wake tak­ing us away from hu­man con­tact, one ve­hi­cle at a time. The only sound was that of the wind and un­der the harsh ul­tra vi­o­let rays of the sun, that first day, we had the first of our many punc­tures. We drove through in­nu­mer­able small streams, saw small trucks and big cars chang­ing wheels or be­ing stuck in wa­ter and soft mud. We saw lakes that were pris­tine blue, we saw smoke rise from rare lit­tle ham­lets on the hori­zon, we saw a don­key cart loaded with house­hold goods go­ing from nowhere to nowhere, we met lo­cals who smiled and waved as they walked the plains and we saw the first signs of a road be­ing built, to take fu­ture trav­ellers to Manasarovar. We saw birds fly­ing and swoop­ing for food in rivulets and wa­ter bod­ies, our driver told us that more than six months a year, this en­tire grassy land­scape re­mained cov­ered un­der snow and ice. At a height of about 15,200 feet, Saga is the last town on the way to Kailash where one can stock up on pro­vi­sions. There are ho­tels and small res­tau­rants and it be­ing a gar­ri­son town we were warned not to point our cam­eras at any­thing mil­i­tary. This was the place where we were to wait out a day, to ac­cli­ma­tise our bod­ies to the high al­ti­tudes, we would now be cross­ing.

It took us two days, af­ter leav­ing Saga, to reach Manasarovar. The jour­ney was more of what we ex­pe­ri­enced the first day of the drive, ex­cept for the Kiang or the Ti­betan wild ass. We saw a herd, roam­ing free, graz­ing on the grass that grew in

At first sight, Mount Kailash looks looks like a piece of gi­ant black rock topped with a wig of pure white

MOUN­TAIN MAGIC

(Top) Lake Manasarovar in Mount Kailash is among the holy sites that draws devo­tees in large num­bers; (Above left) The sight of the snow-capped Mount Kailash from Di­ra­puk is a real vis­ual treat for the visi­tors; (Left) This ar­dous sacred trail of­ten in­cludes mishaps such as buses get­ting stuck in the mud

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