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Mt. Kailash - 1.  Beginning of a Journey

Something significant happens in your life that you are not able to fully assimilate. You chew on it, for days and months to come. You feel you haven't understood the full significance of it. Having lived a life of fairly 'well put together', you rarely ever see yourself succumb to moments of vulnerability and give into impulsiveness, much like a child.


I have never been an ardent devotee of Shiva. I have never harbored strong aspirations of coming to Mt. Kailash. Yet, on a morning walk in September 2022, I felt a strong urge to go visit. Maybe it’s the subconscious working of many books and podcasts of spiritual seekers from Paramahamsa Yogananda, Swami Rama, Swami Chinmayananda, Sadhguru or most recently Sri M who spoke to the wonders in these majestic mountains.  It certainly was on my wish list, one of the many places of worship I had hoped I would be blessed to go to in my lifetime, preceded by a long list of locations more accessible and amenable.


I was on a career break which I had taken to focus on fitness and family after over 16 years in the tech industry. Confronted by an uncertain future brought by markets surging south, I was calm, determined to not act on desperation until I was ready. I was frustrated though in not having an Ishta Devata as a focal point of my meditation or clear spiritual guidance despite many years of reading, meditating and listening. Perhaps, the serene surroundings would help me find purpose or direction for my spiritual restlessness, I hoped in desperation.


I rushed home to tell my family that I wanted to leave immediately, only to be confronted by shock and laughs. I was unfit, unable to walk a flight of stairs without panting and struggling to lose the weight that I had gained over several years. I didn’t know much about going to Kailash except that there's a lot of red tape with its location in Tibet, administered by the People's Republic of China. My parents and spouse assured me they would chip in to help with the kids when I was ready, but I needed to strengthen my limbs and lungs to support surviving the altitude of over 5000 mts. Grudgingly I laid this wish to rest indefinitely. I was not aware at that point that Tibet was shut down for tourism since the surge of the Covid epidemic for the last 3 years.


It would not be until March of 2023 when the urge came back far more strong, exaggerated perhaps with weeks of inactivity recovering from a fractured ankle. With a few days of research and tapping into my network, I was able to narrow on 4 tourist agencies in Nepal that would support the aspirations of a single woman traveler. The dicey geopolitical situation between USA and India with China and the uncertainty of the Covid crisis made it difficult for any agency to guarantee this trip.  The only entry ways into Tibet was Mainland China or via Nepal with a group tourist Visa from an agency in Kathmandu. Despite this uncertainty I paid my advance to Monterosa, a Nepalese travel agency that I had chosen based on a personal recommendation. The primary drivers of selection were an itinerary that included Charan Sparsh (touching the face of Mt. Kailash), a visit to Lhasa, tour group size and feedback from prior yatris.


I had resolved to go alone. I yearned for silence, not wanting to be burdened by anyone's safety or comfort. It was a selfish feeling that I wouldn’t debate with anyone. I needed to conserve the energy to focus on myself. This was mine to experience, mine to have a silent conversation with Shiva, mine to question and listen.


My itinerary would start in Kathmandu on June 28th and then lead into Lhasa, the epicenter of Vajrayana Buddhism before heading to Manasarovar and Kailash. This land based itinerary pivoted on yatris reaching Manasarovar on Guru Purnima where Rudrabhishek would be performed by its banks.


I was nervous, stymieing thoughts of excitement with practical warnings to prepare for the disappointment of not being able to complete the circumambulation or parikrama of the mountain. I didn't discuss my trip with many people, as it was unclear if Tibet would open up for travel. I tried burying my anxiety in actions within my control such as researching inexpensive gear that would be light and comfortable or executing suitable hikes in the Pacific Northwest where I live.


[To be continued]

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