A journey into the land of Gods

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mount Kailash Parikrama and Wrap up - Part 5

24th June 2005: Day 1 of Parikrama , Darchen to Drira Phuk

The first thing in the morning that we wanted to see was clear weather and it was indeed a clear morning. But it was very chilly as the wind blowing was strong.
It was Parikrama day(Kora)( circumambulation around Mount Kailash). A 3 day trek which would pass through some of the most secluded regions of Tibet.
Map showing Parikrama of Mount Kailash(Courtesy : ecotrek.com)

Many who felt that they would not be able to complete the Parikrama of 52 kms, stayed back. Many decided to trek the 1st day and return back the next day to Darchen. The rest, who were game for the 3 day trek were getting geared up. We were taken west to Tarboche(Yamadwar) which was a 20 min drive from our hotel.

En route to Tarboche(Yamadwar)

From Tarboche we could see the mammoth south face of Mount Kailash peeping above the canyon walls.The significant feature of Tarboche is a tall, graceful flagpole. It is festooned, like a maypole, with hundreds of prayer flags.

South Face of Mount Kailash from Tarboche

That's me at Tarboche in front of Mount Kailash(South Face)

We were allotted our porters and my porter was an old Tibetan man. His name was Nawang. I felt awkward to give him my backpack as he 60 + and I was just 1/3rd of his age by then. But then, that’s his bread and butter. Yaks weren’t available that day, so our luggage was also carried by porters.

Me and my porter

So then, we started our trek of 14 kms (approx) from Tarboche to Drira Phuk (4890m/16039 feet). Buddhists and Hindus make clockwise circuits while Bonpo pilgrims make anticlockwise circuits.
The trek trail was pretty straight with occasional ups and downs. But we were tested to our limits by the wind. It blew in opposite direction with gale force and it sure did give us a hard time. We were walking in the Lha Chu valley which means ‘Divine river” with Mount Kailash to our right (west face) and a small stream to our left.

West face of Mount Kailash

Lha Chu valley

We reached a small rest house where we had our lunch and then resumed our trek to Drira Phuk.

We could now clearly see some portion of the north face of Mount Kailash along with the West face. It was like a pyramid; the long and straight edge pointing towards us, west face to the right and North face to the left of the edge.

West and North face of Mount Kailash(pic courtesy: Prachee)

Around 4 pm, we crossed a small stream which was actually flowing from the base of Mount Kailash. The view we got of Mount Kailash after crossing the stream was to die for. The North face of the giant within touching distance. The best possible view.

North face of Mount Kailash after stream crossing(pic courtesy: Prachee 2006 Yatra)

North face of Mount Kailash ( During our trip, 2005)

I’m sorry, I have failed miserably to find words to describe what I saw. I can only say that my heart skipped a beat for the 5th time, this time not figuratively but literally:)

Our camp was already ready and I waited for others to arrive including my dad. After their arrival I decided to go up the hill from where I could get a better view of the North Face. The climb was pretty tough because I had already done 14 kms that day. When I reached the top, I kept gazing at the summit, a heavenly cone of ice and snow and the mountain itself. There is a peculiar aura that probably exists in this place which keeps u energized all the time.

Closer to North Face of Mount Kailash

The North face of Mount Kailash is almost vertical making it difficult for the snow to settle down at some places. The glossy black look of the mountain distinguishes it from the others which are brownish in colour. I wanted to freeze the moment forever. It was magical.

I met a man up there who wanted to go right near the base of Mount Kailash and touch the Mountain. He asked me whether I was willing to accompany him. Why not, I said without a frown.
We walked a few paces ahead and we came across a small glacier.

That's me in front of Mount Kailash(North Face)

But it was getting darker by the minute. All the peaks had turned dark except Mount Kailash which was bright yellow. We decided to walk back as it was unsafe and by the time I reached the camp, Mount Kailash was light golden in colour.

25th June 2005 : 2nd day of Parikrama,Drira Phuk to Sabje Dratok via Dolma Pass

We got up at 4:30 am as we had to cross Dolma pass, 6.4 kms away at 5630m/ 18460 feet. It was bitterly cold and chilly. The gloves I wore were of no use. My fingers had lost the sense of touch. Mount Kailash was white in colour owing to the Moonlight that reflected off the snow and ice.
Our guide, briefed us about the path ahead. At 5 am, still dark, having heavy heads, we were off with the most arduous day of trek. A total distance of 22 kms which would involve a 700 m slope ascent and an 800 m descent, preceding and succeeding Dolma La respectively.
Within 10 mins, we crossed a bridge over a small icy stream and were rightly heading eastward.

Bridge over a small stream

Once we crossed the bridge, we could see the trail gaining height gradually. It looked like a monumental task for the oldies. We trudged our way up the slope towards Shivastal, gasping for every single molecule of oxygen that was present in the rarefied air.

En route to Shivastal

The porters were not only carrying our backpacks but also were helping us to make good progress. Suddenly, one of our group members said aloud, “Guys, we are at 5000 m.” That pumped me up and I soon reached a point from where I could see all the people making their way up. Out popped the handycam and I kept shooting till they reached me.
Now, the peaks started turning golden again including Mount Kailash which was to our right (East face). It was Sunrise time. Mother Nature unleashed her beauty once again giving us a visual treat.

15-20 mins after sunrise

After some hard climbing, we reached Shivastal-a place where pilgrims leave some of their belongings as offerings and rightly so, we could see offerings scattered all over the place.


Now the trail was somewhat straight for a few kms. We could see people making their Dolma La assault at a distance climbing their way past ice and snow. We could see a number of small glacial ponds on our way towards Dolma La. We even saw a marmot (a rodent- rat/rabbit type) and many of them dwell in this region of Kailash.

Marmot, a rodent

Just before the final ascent to Dolma La began, we had to cross a small stream which was covered by ice in some places and we could hear the water flowing beneath. I had my camera ON all the time as I wanted to record each and every moment of this day’s trek.
I was lucky enough to witness a phenomenon which hardly any people get to see. The water that flowed below the icecover started turning into ice. Scientifically speaking, I saw crystallization taking place. This exhilarating moment took a heart beat away (6th time)

Final push to Dolma La began. The 45 degree slope was long and ice covered at most places with rocks and boulders strewn all over. This was really tough and challenging. I was barely taking 5 steps with every push forward.

Climb before Dolma La

My dad and others were way way behind so much so that I could not even see them. I was walking with Karma Sherpa. East face of Mount Kailash was gradually getting blocked by other mountains in front and soon Kailash went out of sight and my cassette( in handycam) also reached its maximum limit. It took me a good 15 mins to load a new cassette. In the process, I had to remove my gloves and expose my hands to the extremely cold climate. I had a tough time handling the camera.( Dad had the still camera(normal cam, not digital) and he was finding it difficult to click pictures :) ) Mount Kailash could not be seen thereafter.

Last view of Mount Kailash

As we moved up, we were gradually coming at par with the other snow covered moutains.

Before Dolma pass

We were now walking on ice, slipping several times. The formation of ice on the slope we were walking on was very strange. Small inverted cone like icy structures could be seen on both sides of the trail.

Dolma La could be sighted now and after having walked for almost 6 hours (1 km per hr), I was on top of the world. Dolma La-5630 m/ 18460 feet, the highest I have ever been to. Dolma La is a pass which is home to the shrine of Goddess Tara Devi-Goddess of love and compassion.

Prayer flags and Mani stones could be seen at many places atop Dolma La. We too tied a prayer flag which we had bought at Darchen as a mark of respect and leaving behind something during the trek. It was sheer bliss. 7th time beat skipped.

Dolma Pass-5630m / 18460 feet

We were told to leave the pass asap as staying at 18k feet for a long time could prove to be fatal. We had our packed lunch there after which we started proceeding downwards.

After about 15 mins, we could see Gauri Kund( lake of compassion ) to our bottom right-a few 100 feet below. The lake was completely frozen except at its periphery. Some people could be seen walking straight down the slope to fetch water from Gauri kund.

Gauri Kund

We were now making our way down through big boulders and later on we crossed a glacier which was dirt free to quite an extent. Beyond the glacier was some soft snow which we encountered for the first time in the entire trip.

Climbing down from Dolma La(pic courtesy : Prachee)

The trail now was straight for a few kms after which it dropped again steeply leading to a tea shop below. It was around 3 pm when I reached the tea shop. I wanted to have something but I had only 1 or 2 yuans with me. The rest were with dad. A sherpa then offered me coke and I thanked him.

My dad reached the tea shop after an hour or so. He was completely drained out by the sheer gain and drop of altitude.

It was too late to reach Zutrul phuk(4790m/15711 feet), our initial camp site. The guides therefore decided to pitch tents a few kms before Zutrul Phuk at Sabje Dratok wherever they could find flat ground.
The break that I took there at the tea shop gave me a burst of energy. I could walk at the same pace at which our guide was walking. The trail was straight but uneven with small marshy bumps. We were now in Lham Chu valley which had daunting sandstone walls on both sides. A small stream to our left accompanied us all the way. I reached the campsite in 1 hour. We( myself, guide and Vaishali) sat close to the stream, left our feet hanging in its cold waters. It was gr8. Soon others turned arrived; dinner and then sleep.

26th June 2005 : 3rd day of Parikrama, Sabje Dratok to Darchen

3rd and final day trek of 16 kms got underway early in the morning. I continued my walking spree and made good progress with the Sherpas. Kept shooting all the while and I reached Zutrul Phuk pretty quickly. We stayed there for a while for others to catch us up. We had tea/ coke in a small shop there. Zutrul Phuk monastery, which is located on the sight of a cave where the Buddhist sage Milarepa camped in 1100 AD. The quiet solitude of this place makes one feel that not much has changed since then.

Zutrul Phuk Monastery

Day 3 trek trail( above 2 pics courtesy : Prachee)

Again continued trekking, and by noon, myself and the Sherpas had crossed a bridge over a small stream and again waited for others to arrive.

We watched some people completing their Parikrama by prostration, lying full length on the ground so that their foreheads touched the earth with each forward stride. In this manner, each circuit takes them 13 days. Hats Off.

All of a sudden, our cook soon got to us and gave us terrible news. Vaishali had slipped and in the process her foot got soaked in water after which she was feeling terribly uncomfortable. She was in semi conscious semi unconscious state and had to be given shoulders for support while walking.

At the same time, Basant(guide) who had stayed back with the others( people who had not opted for the 3 day trek) in Darchen came and met us. We were surprised to see him and he said, “ I came from here-anticlockwise direction”. Shocking news again. An old lady had survived a heart attack at Darchen guest house. Luckily, the doctor was there by her side to bring her back to stable condition. The doctor was also among those who had opted out. Our main guide was calm about the things happening around but still one could sense the stress that he was going through at that time.

My dad also arrived and he left soon while I continued to wait with our main guide for Vaishali to arrive to see if I could be of any help. She finally came with 2 guides who were shouldering her. We then left that place and continued trekking for another 2 hours.
At around 3pm, we completed our Parikrama.

Parikrama ends

Thanked our porters for the wonderful job they did over the last 3 days and left for Darchen in Land cruisers. Vaishali was given oxygen for 2 hours after which she settled down.

I thanked God that there were no more casualties. Tired and drained out, mentally and physically, the eventful day came to an end.

27th June 2005 : Darchen to Saga via Paryang

Next morning, we left Darchen and headed straight to Manasarovar. On the way we could see the South face of Mount Kailash again.

At Manasarovar, we filled our bottles with the holy water which we took back for our relatives and others at home. We bid goodbye to the holy land for one last time.

I prayed and thanked Him for the wonderful journey, for the dip in the holy water, for the Parikrama, for the small uphill climb at the North face where I came face to face with Him and for being able to survive all odds, the scorching heat during the day time and numbing cold at night.

A bow to the Lord and we again zoomed through the Tibetan Plateau to Saga skipping Paryang. Saga experienced hail that evening and it was quite a sight.

28th June 2005 : Saga to Nyalam

Left Saga for Nyalam. En route, we lost ½ hour fixing the tyre of a land cruiser which was completely thrown out of the axle. Fortunately, nothing serious took place.
Reached Nyalam by evening. We had a small condolence meeting that night for the uncle who couldn’t make it with us.
Tipping ceremony took place later. All the drivers and guides who were the backbone of our trip were tipped.

29th June 2005 : Nyalam to Dhulikhel via Zhangmu

Nyalam to border(friendship bridge) via Zhangmu and then across the border into Nepal after completing the formalities again. We boarded a mini bus from the border to Dhulikhel, a charming hill station. It was really beautiful and was the perfect place to take rest after our journey in Tibet.

30th June 2005 : Dhulikhel to Kathmandu

It took around 2 hours to reach Kathmandu from Dhulikhel. Rest of the day, we just wandered through the streets of Kathmandu.

1st July 2005 : Rest day at Kathmandu

The rest of the group members left for India while we (myself, dad and guide) stayed back in Kathmandu as we were heading into Tibet once again to explore Lhasa.

2nd,3rd,4th July 2005 : Lhasa

We boarded Air China flight to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet( Elevation-3650m /11972 feet). Landed at Gonggar airport which is around 100 kms from Lhasa city. Gonggar airport is the 2nd highest airport in the world. 1st one is in some other province of China.
Lhasa city was quite clean and the Chinese have always been ‘A one’ in infrastructure and that could be clearly seen in Lhasa. Wide roads, beautiful buildings and bridges.

We saw the huge Potala palace, which is the summer residence of Dalai Lama and is a major landmark of the city. We also saw Barkhor Temple, Barkhor market, Drepung Monastery and Ganden Monastery(50 kms from Lhasa).

Potala Palace, Lhasa

5th july 2005 : Lhasa to Mumbai

Boarded Air China to Kathmandu from Lhasa which took us over the Himalayas.
Boarded Jet Airways to Delhi from Kathmandu.
Boarded Jet Airways to Mumbai from Delhi.

Reached home at 8 pm after leaving Lhasa at 4 am. We had turned black and all at home were surprised to see the change in our skin colours. We were tanned by the blazing Sun and it took 2 to 3 weeks for the skin to regain its original colour.

Now, when I think of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, I feel fortunate, privileged and blessed to have undertaken this journey of a life time at such a young age. It has made me strong, mentally and physically. I thank Him for the journey and also thank Him for the 7 wonderful beat skipping moments :)

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Lake Manasarovar - Part 4

21st June 2005: Paryang to Manasarovar

The mood early in the morning was somber and people talked less often than before. It was pretty difficult to get over the whole incident and digest the fact that uncle was no more.
We left for Manasarovar 250 kms away via Mayum La pass(Elevation - 5151m/ 16895 feet).

The route to Manasarovar(map courtesy: ecotrek.com)

The last stretch was a small climb after which we got our first view of the Majestic Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. It was the moment that we all were waiting for and was indeed a beautiful feeling. Prayer flags and Mani stones were placed (small area specially created) forming mounds as a mark of respect for the Holy Mountain and Lake. All vehicles reaching this point come to a halt only after circumnavigating the Prayer flags and Mani stones.

Prayer flags and Mani Stones

First view of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar(pic courtesy: Prachee)

We waited there until all the 5 Land cruisers arrived (6th one had left for the border) and then headed closer to the lake. We pitched our tents on the banks, a good 500 meters away from the lake. I helped the guides in pitching the tents and got my muscles moving which had become stiff due to lack of activity.

Inside the tent

Later in the evening, I and my dad went to the lake and sprinkled some pure cold waters of Manasarovar praying for uncle’s soul to rest in peace.

We were standing right in front of the Lake facing the Sun i.e west. To the south was Gurla Mandata and to the north was Mount Kailash(Abode of Lord Shiva) and in between the 2 giants was the colossal Lake Manasarovar. Elevation- 4550m/14924 feet.

Map showing Mount Kailash,Lake Manasarovar, Rakshas Tal and Gurla Mandata (map courtesy: ecotrek.com)

Lake Manasarovar

Gurla Mandata soaring over 7728m /25348 feet was spectacular and it was beginning to turn golden as the Sun began to set. While the 6714m/22022 feet Mount Kailash looked equally stunning. The lake or should I say sea, with small waves lashing the sand at our feet displayed various hues as one looked farther and farther away towards the horizon. Even the sky developed remarkable patterns with astonishingly beautiful colours leaving us flabbergasted. 4th time beat skipped :)

Gurla Mandata, Lake Manasrovar and Mount Kailash(pic courtesy:Prachee)

We turned around to see the Moon rise from east. Poornima-Full moon it was, that day. It started getting really cold and we returned back to our camp to have dinner.
That night, many ladies opted to stay out of their tents as they wanted to catch hold of a rare spectacle- the shooting star and they were fortunate to see one. I missed it :(

22nd June 2005: Rest Day at Lake Manasarovar

I wanted to see the Sun rise but unfortunately I couldn’t get up that early.

Sunrise (pic courtesy: Prachee, 2006 Yatra)

Bed tea was served and out I came from the tent. Brrrr….it was cold. I went into the kitchen tent to have some hot water and saw the cooks preparing breakfast for us. Those men were really terrific.

Campsite, Manasarovar

It was rest day at Manasarovar so that we could take the holy dip and perfom Pooja. Meanwhile, we also waited for our guide to return from the border. And late in the afternoon, they arrived. Seemingly stressed out and tired, I asked him, “how are u?” He gave me a smile and said, “don’t worry, I am alright.”

It was now time to dive into the cold waters of the Lake. Basant(guide) said that we should have taken bath early in the morning when the water was less cold. As the day progresses the melt snow enters the lake making the water colder. I got a serious chill down my spine right there.

But nothing could be done now. I was the first to enter the lake while my dad kept shooting. The water was pretty ok when I first stepped into it and it was pretty shallow too. I had to immerse myself completely and there wasn’t sufficient water to do so. I walked deep inside the lake till I felt that the depth sufficed. I took 2 dips successfully and just couldn’t complete the 3rd one properly. I could sense my body temperature coming down drastically. I came out of the lake quickly and had myself covered in a towel for a few minutes. But naturally, I had goose bumps all over my body.

I then took over the camera and it was dad’s turn to take a dip. He managed to take 3 dips but none got him completely immersed…haha…at least I was better off on that front.

In the evening we performed Pooja sitting close to the lake facing Mount Kailash. Mount Kailash- The Abode of Lord Shiva-The Center of the World. The unruffled ambience evoked immense spirituality leading to ecstasy of salvation. It was an amazing feeling!

Pooja on the banks of Lake Manasarovar

Sunset was magnificent that evening. Nothing can beat high altitude Sunsets and Sunrises. Look at the first pic below. The peak peeping is Mount Kailash.

That day was Mr.Naik’s birthday. A pleasant surprise was waiting for us. We saw a big cake and a big pizza on the table inside the kitchen tent that night. Hats off to the cooks. They even managed to prepare a dessert in the cold desert :)

23rd June 2005: To Darchen after Parikrama of Lake Manasarovar

Overnight change in weather caused frost to settle on our tents. The sunny and bright sky then, looked dull and gloomy now. It was overcast and peaks were shrouded in clouds.

We began circumambulating Lake Manasarovar on our cruisers and headed towards Darchen (30 kms from Manasarovar, Elevation- 4560m/14957 feet) which is the base camp of Mount Kailash. En route we saw Trugu Gompa, Rakshas Tal and Chiu Gompa.

There’s a small tract which goes uphill from where one can view both the lakes simultaneously. To the west of Manasarovar lies Rakshas Lake-the demon lake or Lake of Ravana. It is believed that even birds and animals don’t drink water from Rakshas Tal. Nevertheless, it looked beautiful and at that point of time it was much bluer than Lake Manasarovar.

Rakshas Lake

We then headed towards Chiu Gompa located on a hilltop. The climb was tough.

Lake Manasarovar from Chiu Gompa

It took around 4 hours to complete the circumambulation of 100 kms which is the circumference of Lake Manasarovar. Now we were getting closer to Darchen.

Approaching Darchen, Mount Kailash view

We lost some time tackling a small stream in which we were stuck for 15 mins. Like all cruisers, our cruiser too entered the stream but like all cruisers, our cruiser didn’t make its way out. We were stuck right in the middle of the stream.

Saachi (driver) opened the door. Without putting his feet in water, he made his way onto the bonnet, then stood on the mudguard, opened the bonnet, repaired the fault and came back inside the car the same way. Mind u, he had still not put his feet in water. Key turned, car started and we were out of the stream. Mi-nd-Bo-gg-li-ng stuff!

Another cruiser broke down some kms before Darchen. It then had to be towed. We reached Darchen by 3 pm and stayed in guest houses.

View of Gurla Mandata from Darchen

There were quite a few shops in Darchen. Dad bought himself a stick for the trek, a torch and a monkey cap. It was really very cold there.
The weather was still really bad and it looked like it might start snowing any moment. We prayed for a bright sunny next day as we hit our beds.

Click here to go to Part 5

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