– Dr. A Pranesh
A trip to Mt. Kailash and Manas Sarovar is the ultimate pilgrimage trip for all Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. Trip is seasonal, starting from mid May to mid September, subject to weather conditions.
It is a 14 day trip from Kathmandu, Nepal. Definitely not a luxury trip! One has to accept the hardship of high altitude problems and enjoy the nature’s beauty. Travelers can select the flight from IGI airport, Delhi and reach Katmandu in 45 minutes. Nepal is about 15 minutes ahead of Indian time and One Indian rupee is 1.60 of Nepali rupee. Indian currency is widely accepted at all the places in Nepal, but not 500 rupee note, which is banned there. Most of the local people can speak Hindi. Kathmandu town is congested and looks like any Indian town.
At Kathmandu, we went on an aerial tour for one hour in 18 seated aircraft, wherein the aircraft flew at 30,000 feet. The charges were around Rs 5000/ per individual. We can view the entire Sagaramatha ranges of Himalayas including Mt. Everest, which is at 27,000 feet and also the other popular mountain Gowrishankar.
Normally air trips are scheduled early in the mornings. After returning from air trip, we had our breakfast and visited Pashupathinath temple. It is an old temple of Lord Shiva, much older than Adi Shankaracharya’s period. According to the evidences Adi Shankaracharya visited this temple along with his four disciples. Infact Shankaracharya’s ashrama has been built in the premises of Pashupathinath temple.
10 kms drive from there is Budha Nilakanth temple. Here Lord Vishnu with Shanka and Chakra, sleeps on Sheshanag. This idol is about 17 feet long and is fenced with a 20 feet enclosure.
Another 8 kms drive, leads to Swayambhunath temple, a Buddhist monastery on a small hillock, with 365 steps.
Since there was a delay in receiving the Visa to China, we left Katmandu and travelled to Nagarkot. Nagarkot is a hill station, located about 200 km from Kathmandu. The roads were winding with beautiful sceneries. In the evening, while having coffee on the roof top of the hotel where we stayed, we suddenly noticed the letter OM formed in the clouds, with a backdrop of setting sun. The whole group was elated and inadvertently started chanting Har Har Mahadev.
Another day passed. Our Visas did not arrive. Hence our tour operator took us to Kodari, a village on Nepal – Tibet border. The altitude of Kodari and Nyalam in Tibet seemed to be more or less the same. So he decided to have us acclimatization at Kodari instead of Nyalam. We stayed in Kodari for one more day and waited for Visa.
Kodari is a small boder village, having small and simple lodging facilities at one side of the road and the other side has a stream separating Nepal from Tibet. Individual double rooms per couple were allotted there.
Before starting the journey from Katmandu, we were asked to put our luggage in a single duffle bag supplied by our tour operator- Narayani holidays. The duffle bags were marked with numbers. Throughout our journey, after checking into the rooms, all we had to do was to tell the numbers of our duffle bags to Sherpa (the helpers) who in turn carried them from the vehicle to the respective rooms.
Kodari village has beautiful waterfalls along with hot water spring called Tatopani. It was about a kilometer away from the lodge. Our tour operator told us that next six days we will not have bathing facilities. We enjoyed a wonderful hot water bath under the spring.
At last our visa arrived and the tour operator had brought the currency exchange agent to the lodge. We exchanged about Rs.25000/ worth Chinese currency- Yuans per head. Next morning, we left Kodari village, crossed a bridge and got custom clearance at the Nepal border and entered Tibet. The difference of time between Nepal and Tibet, just across the bridge is two hours. Tibet is 2 hours ahead of Nepal. We stood in the line at the Nepal bridge gate before 8 am. There is a small but beautiful Waterfalls before the bridge.
The bridge on the Tibet side is slightly elevated, and we were gasping and panting for the breath but were amazed to see middle aged Sherpa ladies carrying 3 to 4 duffle bags on their backs with a supporting strap running over forehead, walking effortlessly across the bridge smoking cigarettes and talking to fellow Sherpa.
At the Tibet entry, multi axle AC bus was waiting for us. We finished our lunch at the border village of Tibet and proceeded to Nyalam. It was a tortuous road till Nyalam. But the road was well laid and free from pot holes. Initially the topography was green but as we ascended, the topography was changed to dry Tundra region.
Finally by evening we reached Nyalam which is at an altitude of 3700 meters viz. almost 11,000 feet. The weather was pretty cold. As advised we wore thermal pant and shirt topping up with water proof tracks, sweater and a thick jerkin (given by tour operator). At Nyalam we were given rooms with four beds. The mattress was quite thick and the quilt to cover up was also equally thick and warm. Though the room was warm, there was only a common toilet and no hot water facility. Obviously no bath! There was power problem. Fortunately sun sets late in the evening and till 8 pm, one can manage without light.
Nyalam is a small village, having just 2 or 3 roads. It has couple of shops. We bought a rechargeable torch light which could be strapped to forehead so that it would be useful while trekking. It really was a great help while doing Parikrama.
Next morning after breakfast, we left Nyalam. Lunch was at Saga a small town. From there we traveled up to a tiny place called Dongpa.
Dongpa is much smaller than Nyalam. It had just one road with an altitude of 4500 meters, viz. about 13,500 feet. The rooms allotted had no power, hot water and toilets. This was the beginning for the usage of open air toilets. Each room had six beds. The cots were so tightly cramped that it was difficult to move around in the room. But the room was warm and beds were quite thick. There was a tiny solar bulb. But the amazing factor was food. We were served hot rotis, curry, rice and sambar along with soup and a sweet. In fact we should thank our tour operator for providing hot Indian food in such a remote place. The tour operators have taught Sherpa to cook Indian food so well, that we never felt we were in a foreign country.
Next morning, we left Dongpa after breakfast. The road was extremely good and the scenery was breath taking. We stopped in the midway just to enjoy the beauty of the place. A lake called Hanuman taal is on the way to Manas Sarovar. It is believed that Hanuman took bath in this lake while carrying Sanjeevini parvath.
Finally we arrived to the much awaited destination Manas Sarovar. It was quite warm and the sky clear. So we could view Mount Kailash from Manas Sarovar. Our lunch was served on the banks of Manas Sarovar. What an out of world experience to sit and gaze at crystal clear water of Manas Sarovar!!! This is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. It measures around 75 sq km and is about 70 feet deep. Three great rivers namely Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej take birth from Manas Sarovar. But it is difficult to pinpoint the origin of these rivers in the lake.
There are number of birds and dogs near the lake, which are unafraid of people. Adjacent to Manas Sarovar, there is one more lake called Raakshas Taal meaning ‘Lake of Demon’. As the legend goes, Ravan took bath in this lake while carrying Atma linga of Shiva. Hence this name Raakshas Taal. But peculiarly we don’t find any birds or fishes in this Lake, and is devoid of any habitations.
Manas Sarovar has Brahma Parvath on one side and Mt. Kailash on the other. Usually the trip is planned in such a way that we would reach Manas Sarovar on a full moon day. Even our trip was also scheduled in that manner, but since our visa was delayed by two days, we could not reach on full moon day. Some say that, there will be spectacular meteor shower at the night on full moon day. But we could not see any because of the delay.
We were provided accommodation on the banks of Manas Sarovar. The lodge had half a dozen rooms and each room with six beds. No power and hot water as usual ! We had to ease ourselves in the open air.
Next day, early in the morning, we walked till the lake. Our tour operator had instructed the Sherpa to get gas stove and a big vessel. So they pitched two tents on the banks- one to heat the Manas Sarovar water to take bathe and another for ladies to change their dress after bath. But in spite of taking bath in hot water provided by Sherpa, it was too difficult to bear the cold. We could just pour three mugs of water and immediately dressed up with warm cloth. It is a customary to perform Homa on the banks. Our tour operator had brought the Homa materials for our group.
Weather is so unpredictable there, that suddenly it turned cloudy and started raining, but fortunately after homa. So we returned to our lodge, which was just 300 meters from the lake. By that time, weather once again became clear. It is very common for the weather to change so fast in that altitude of about 4460 meters.
We left Manas Sarovar after breakfast and drove for an hour to reach the base camp known as Darchin. It is at an altitude of 4575 meters viz. is about 13,725 feet. This place is slightly bigger than the previous villages having four roads. The lodge had two floors and we were given a room with four beds. Here general toilet was available but without hot water. Only one bulb was provided in a room which worked on solar. It would glow only after 8 pm. But fortunately sun sets at 8 pm there.
After lunch, we proceeded to Ashtapad, which is about 8 km from Darchin. It is a motorable up to 6 km and we need to trek only 2 km. A jeep charging 400 yuans takes 4 people. The trek is not steep.
Ashtapad has 8 peaks. Hindus consider them as feet of Ishwara, Parvathi, Ganesha and Subrahmanya. Jains consider them as foot step of Adinath. Buddhists consider it as foot step of Lord Buddha. Here we see southern face of Mt. Kailash. So it is also called Aghora or Dakshinamurty.
After returning to the base camp dinner was served. We had to wake up early to start our Parikrama or Circumambulation next morning. All of us got ready for the long awaited Parikrama of Mt. Kailash, which can happen once in a life time. We were given packed food containing fruits, sandwiches, sweets and fruit juice. Our thermos flask was also filled with hot water. We are expected to drink lot of water while trekking as there will be dehydration and need to eat sugar or sweet to keep our glucose level up. It is better to eat half the stomach throughout the trip as there will be head ache and vomiting due to high altitude. We had covered ourselves so much that it was impossible to identify anyone among us.
Some of the travelers hired horses and porters which were allotted by a lucky dip. We started trekking early in the morning from Yamadwar. It is a 13 km trek on first day to reach Diraphuk camp at the altitude of 4890 meters viz 14,670 ft and 22 km on second day to reach Dolmala pass at an altitude of 5650 meters viz. 16,950 ft and 9 km on day three for returning to Darchin base camp.
By afternoon we reached a flat region which looked like a temporary resting site. A small makeshift hut had a shop. Our porters had their lunch in that shop. We also had our packed lunch there and rested for a while. We could see Mt. Kailash’s west face on the way and also from the place where we had lunch.
Finally we reached Diraphuk camp at 5 pm. It has a small building with ground and first floor with six beds in each room. The bed and quilt were quite thick and warm. The camp is at an altitude of 4900 meters viz. 14,670 ft. As usual no power and toilet facilities. We were served hot soup, rice and rasam for dinner.
We had a wonderful view of Mt. Kailash’s north face from the camp. Kailash was just 4 km away. The color of the mountain changed frequently during sunset which was at 8 pm.
Next day early in the morning we had to leave as weather became bad. The trek to Dolmala pass, which was 22 kms became quite tough. The altitude is 5650 meters viz. 16,950 ft. But throughout second and third day, Mt. Kailash is not visible at all. So east face of Mt. Kailash remained unseen.
Third day’s trek is smooth and only 9 kms. One could trek in 4 to 5 hours. After returning from Parikrama, we had lunch and started our journey back with a long cherishing experience.