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To Shiva’s Home: A Survivor’s Guide to Kailash Mansarovar Yatra

Here’s how I cheated death, soul-searched, overcame the ‘mountains’ within, and successfully completed my yatra.

Published
Travel
6 min read
Image of Mount Kailash used for representational purposes.
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The  Skanda Purana (11:23) states that there are three kinds of tirthas (a Hindu pilgrimage). The Jangam Tirtha is to a place that is ‘moveable’, like a rishi or guru's ashram, or to be in their presence. The Sthawar Tirtha is to a place that is immoveable, such as Benaras, Haridwar or Mount Kailash. The third, Manas Tirtha, is to a place in the ‘mind’ – a place of truth, peace, clarity, compassion – or to the ‘soul’. To us, a group from Kolkata that went for the Kailash Manasarovar yatra last month, the tirtha was not one of the three, but all of them combined, in a unique way – an experience that encompassed Jangam, Sthawar and Manas Tirtha.

Manoj Mohanka, the author of the piece.
Manoj Mohanka, the author of the piece.
(Photo Credit: Mansi Agarwal)
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Where the Stars Rise and Fall

In a far corner of the world, beyond the greatest mountains, a wind ripples the waters of the hallowed blue Mansarovar lake, an hour’s drive from Darchen in Tibet,  the last village where a few locals reside, and the soul-searching  journey for the seeker begins. The lake is near a holy mountain, which, in the dawn’s first light, rises like a shining crystal towards the sky, aglow with the golden rays.

Photos of the sky from Lake Mansarovar at 3 AM (Brahmamahurata).
Photos of the sky from Lake Mansarovar at 3 AM (Brahmamahurata).
(Photo Courtesy: Harsh Bansal)

A God himself (Lord Brahma), it is said, ‘dreamt up’ the lake after which it manifested on earth, and another (Lord Shiva), made the mountain – Kailash – his home. To take a dip, or bathe in this lake’s icy waters is to cleanse your soul; to circle the mountain is to find Shiva, it is said and believed. So blessed is the lake that on certain nights the stars themselves fall from the skies to bathe in its waters. We were  told this by  pilgrims who had watched the stars rise and fall.

There is a moment here when you realise you are in the midst of creation and perfection; a moment when the universe is seemingly within your grasp.

We saw for ourselves and felt it at ‘Brahmamuhurtha’, at 3 AM, in the bitter cold. There were 27 of us pilgrims standing on the lake shore, gazing at the sacred mountain. We  had arrived here after many travails and uncertainties. Still, among a fortunate minuscule. Not everyone who wants to touch the lake’s waters or circle the mountain can make it there.

Lake Mansarovar.
Lake Mansarovar.
(Photo Credit: Mansi Agarwal) 

Living On A Prayer

The following day we began our  pilgrimage, desirous of circumambulating the sacred  Kailash. We were  tested to our limits and beyond – in our limbs, spirit and faith. We  endured an arid, unforgiving terrain, and cold that teared up our veins, and freezing winds that bit to the bone.

We endured air so thin that every breath felt like torture. For those three  days, once we crossed Yam Dwar (Gateway of the God of Death,15 kms from Darchen), we were indeed at the mercy of Lord Yama, and the harshness of the wind and weather Gods. But most of us were believers had either our faith or were driven by an inexorable force.

Some were seekers and at least one – that is, yours truly – who didn’t know what he was – seeker, pilgrim, both or neither?

Perhaps adventurer? What or who guided us? How could we have come so far?

Mt Kailash.
Mt Kailash.
(Photo Credit: Harsh Bansal) 

Several chanted hymns as we were going along the journey; others were lost in thought. Or just focusing on navigating the treacherous, narrow, slippery, often icy pathways, including the steep climb up the mountain. We carried the hopes and prayers of those left behind at ‘Dirapuk’, for it took both fortune and fortitude to proceed beyond. We had brought the wishes, hopes and longings in pictures and letters from mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters and bothers. We had promised to place these prayers at the sacred site, the highest point of Dolma La Pass (19,500 ft), which we did.

Gauri Kund: a waterbody which one encounters during the Mt Kailash parikrama. It is also called the Lake of Compassion/Parvati Sarovar, where Goddess Parvati acquired her son Ganesha from the wax on her body and breathed life into it. 
Gauri Kund: a waterbody which one encounters during the Mt Kailash parikrama. It is also called the Lake of Compassion/Parvati Sarovar, where Goddess Parvati acquired her son Ganesha from the wax on her body and breathed life into it. 
(Photo Credit: Harsh Bansal) 
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‘May the Universe Guide & Protect You’

A close friend, who had dreamt of going but was unable to, had sent this heartfelt prayer: “May you embark on this great adventure of mind and body in good spirits and health. May you return the same way. On your journey, may you find the sun’s light and warmth on your face, and the wind on your back, as and when you need them. The Mountain has called, and may the universe guide and protect you at every step. And when you arrive, may all your hopes for the journey be fulfilled when you find yourself at the sacred site. May time wait and horizons stretch so that you carry this experience forever. The Mountain will always be with you.”

Mt Kailash’s silhouette.
Mt Kailash’s silhouette.
(Photo Credit: Harsh Bansal) 

And these lines  for those who didn’t or stayed back at Darchen or Dirapuk: “Regret not. Not only because there may be other times or other passages to divine places, but because this exquisite, hallowed, holy mountain is also within you. Isn't it? It is deep within us, arising of pure clarity and energy, embedded. The hallowed lake too, with its sacred, cleansing waters. What are we, if not pilgrims who daily circle our own inner mountains, rising to challenges, navigating uneven, often unforgiving terrain.”

The Mountains Outside, the Mountains Within

When I was near Dolma La Pass, my guide – a young girl, Kangsu – and I, heard a commotion, and learnt that a pilgrim with another group had developed  signs of high altitude sickness and was gasping for lack of oxygen. An inner-force drove me, and there was not a moment’s hesitation on my part in using  my oxygen canister entirely to help the suffering pilgrim breathe.

Even if we cannot always feel the power of Mt Kailash or always reach the cleansing waters of the Mansarovar lake, they are there.

So let’s close our eyes. Look within.

Parikrama trail 
Parikrama trail 
(Photo Credit: Harsh Bansal) 

The Mountain will come to us and the  waters of the lake will provide serenity and calm. For me it was a longstanding dream, and a pledge fulfilled – Both to myself and my late mother – alas, it didn’t happen in her lifetime, but I firmly believe that her blessings from the heavens above and fervent prayers of my friend who missed making it, whose power of prayer and presence I could feel all the time, saw us through. And above all, gave me the strength to part with my oxygen supply, though much of the arduous trek was left and my own exigent need could have arisen.

Lake Mansarovar is relatively round in shape with the circumference of 88 kms and height of 15,060 ft above mean sea level. 
Lake Mansarovar is relatively round in shape with the circumference of 88 kms and height of 15,060 ft above mean sea level. 
(Photo Credit: Mansi Agarwal) 

At times when I look back, I wonder if it was some sort of a karmic or cosmic debt that I was repaying since this opportunity for me worked out after three previous failed attempts, the first being way back in 1990. One will never ever know for sure. But then. I was sanguine – what can Yama do when you are with your dearest friends and well-wishers, the prayers of those closest to your heart and soul being chanted for your well-being, and with Shiva there to protect you. Om Namah Shivaya.

(Manoj Mohanka is a businessman but is more interested in affairs of the state rather than the state of affairs. He follows politics and religion closely and runs a trust to educate Muslim girls from poor families. This is a personal blog. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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