A highly valued place of pilgrimage, Kailash is one of the most sacred mountains in the world. Kailash is revered by Bonpos, Buddhists, Hindus and jains since times immemorial. However, its remote location, inhospitable, rugged and dangerous terrain makes it the least visited of holy places. A journey to Kailash is a challenge, both at an emotional and physical level. Of the various route to Kailash-Manasarovar, the route via Lipulekh Pass on the Indo-Tibetan border is the most ancient, from India. This travelogue follows the travails and tribulations of the author on his journey to Kailash and the way the holy mountain reached out to him.
Kiran Shankar Reddy is a professional working for a multinational. He is passionate about travel and photography. For him travel is a voyage in self-discovery. Based in Bangalore, he is married and has a son. This is his first book.
I first heard of Kailash and the sacred Manasarovar Lake when I was about 38 years old. This was when my grandmother, Snehalathamma, recounted her journey in 2002 to Kailash-Manasarovar to me. She spoke of the arduous nature of the trip, the hardships along the way, the harsh weather conditions, the swirling dust. She felt disappointed with what the spiritual aura of Kailash and Manasarovar led her to expect and what she experienced — the "less than holy" environs of Manasarovar. That she could not complete the kora (circumambulation) due to unfavorable weather and her failing health added to her disappointment. As she described the Himalayas and the mystical Tibet, referred to as "the roof of the world" or "the forbidden land" and the barren landscape that she had to traverse, I was drawn to Kailash. The remoteness and the enigma attached to Kailash and Manasarovar was equally alluring, urging me to know more about the sacred mountain. I was attracted to the idea of travelling to Kailash not so much as a pilgrimage, but as a travel experience and an opportunity to be in the Himalayas. I filed away the imagery somewhere in the back of my mind. Did I think of actually undertaking the journey? I cannot remember.
In 2004, while browsing in a bookstore in Kolkata, I picked up a travelogue on Kailash-Manasarovar. As I read, the sketchy details I had gathered from my grandmother became clearer, increasing my desire to visit the place. The book chartered the author’s journey from the Indian side and varied from the account I had heard from my grandma, who had travelled via Nepal. Though not very informative, the book described Kailash and Manasarovar in some detail, and the narrative had a religious tone to it. Later that year, I chanced upon government of India’s notice inviting applications for the yatra. I decided to try my luck, wondering if the Lord would grant me the privilege. Even then, I was more curious than determined to undertake the journey.
Luckily, I was selected and asked to send a confirmation of participation in the yatra in 2005. Feeling that god was willing me to come I began to take the opportunity seriously. I was thrilled to be among the ones chose. I did not know what I would find there and was unaware of the immense spirituality associated with Kailash and Manasarovar and could not explain why I wanted to do the trip.
But I was excited enough to send the money as a confirmation. I started thinking about and buying things for the yatra. I still remember the first clothing that I bought in preparation for the trip- a Lee jacket . It was a thoughtless buy-typical of me, showing my lack of knowledge of the climatic conditions in the region. The jacket was more of an urban accessory, unsuitable for the rough and tumble of the journey and also woefully inadequate for the extreme temperatures, as I would realise later.
I would like to take it as god’s will or as a judgment on my not being ready that I could not make it for the yatra that year, but Kailash remained on my mind. Every year, I would look longingly at the advertisements calling for applicants to the pilgrimage. Finally, in 2009, when the advertisement appeared in the papers, I applied, hoping to make it to the list once again. I prayed that the Lord should not be upset with my lackadaisical attitude the last time and allow me a visit this time.
When the intimation came in March 2009, selecting me for the sixteenth batch of the Kailash-Mansaraovar Yatra, I was more than overjoyed. From then on, I lived, breathed and dreamt of the yatra. What was I dreaming about? What did I look forward to? What did I was to achieve? I did not know. I thought a lot about the reason why I wanted to go on the yatra. I knew that I would be asked this many times in the run-up to the yatra and also during the journey. It wasn’t the culmination of a religious belief or a desire for salvation; it was neither a vow, nor meant to prove anything to anyone. In spite of asking myself several times, I just could not arrive at a reason. So I let it be. I told myself, I want to go and I’ve been given an opportunity, so I’m going. But, as I later realized, answering this question is important of r oneself, not merely to answer others.
This lack of purpose, however, did not take away my mind from the yatra. Everything I did-at office, home and for myself-were directed towards it. I became serious about my fitness routine: cycling, playing tennis and dieting. At work, I pending. I began to worry about other things: my nagging knee Pain and having to leave my family alone for a month. But I was too caught up with the yatra to give much thought to these concerns. I did not even mention the word “yatra” to most people afraid that a bad omen would upset my well-laid plans. I became sensitive and edgy.
I made a list of things to a carry, trying to stick to essentials. I did research on what was important to take along- shoes, warm clothing and other trekking accessories. In fact, I spent so much of my office time, planning that it made me feel guilty. While Deepa, my wife, was convalescing from a minor ailment in the hospital, instead of attending to her, I hopped across to a store nearby and bought a sleeping bag (not necessary, I realized later), a collapsible water jug for carrying water from Manasarovar (I made list of essential food items, something to recharge my taste buds and munch en route.
My parents were very supportive when they heard of my plans.My mother was very encouraging and blessedme toundertake the pilgrimage on her behalf. My father feared for my safety but did not express it. Deepa, concerned about my obsession with the yatra, was ambivalent. Finally, when my 30-day leave of absence was granted-0colleagues joked: “If there is a crisis in your absence, we will miss you and you may be required back here. If everything is smooth, consider yourself dispensable”; the decks had been cleared for my yatra !
Thus my pilgrimage, my voyage, my yatra started on August 26, 2009.
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