On the last day of the parikrama, we woke up to start trekking at 5 am in the morning. After I consumed a bowl of warm porridge, Mani and I started our trek in the dark. I was very relaxed as today was expected to be the easiest leg with only a few hours of exertion to reach Darchen where a bus was waiting to take us back to the hotel and then towards Saga with a stopover by the river Brahmaputra.
I decided to finally engage Mani in a conversation to make up for 3 days of unintentional neglect and silence that I subjected him to. He appeared relieved and loosened up, sharing stories of his family, his village and the expeditions he goes on. As a bona fide Nepali, the mountains and hiking were in his blood. He craved the excitement and freedom the outdoors brought rivaled only by his love for Indian movies and their larger than life heroes.
It was an easy amble, until Mani quickly stopped me and held my pole. I looked at him questioningly until my headlamp revealed a line of bodies on the ground. We were upon a narrow ridge and Tibetan devotees were executing full bodied prostrations in its cavity with no light to guide them. Hands folded in the lotus mudra, they touched the crown on their head, throat and chest by the heart and then dropped their body to the ground. Then pulling themselves up and repeating the process, the practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism pay homage to their Gang Rinpoche, ritualistically purifying their bodies. This is a common sight throughout the parikrama where Tibetans, even young children, with only aprons and gloves over their attire would annually dispense of their karmic accruals by subjecting themselves to this rigorous pilgrimage. When they got tired, they would roll over where they were and rest. While it would take them a day to complete the entire parikrama of Mt. Kailash by foot, it would take several weeks if they executed full bodied prostrations. The sight is moving enough to bring in humility in even the hardest of us. How flimsy and ephemeral was our belief in the divine compared to theirs? How they looked at me warmly when they had a lot less material wealth and freedom than I did? On the first day, I saw an elderly Tibetan distribute candy from his pack to every Tibetan executing the prostration and they returned his gratitude with a wide smile. They didn't carry a backpack for food or necessities, just what fit in their pockets. Mani assisted me up above the ridge and we continued.
Pic: Tibetans on the kora prostrating
As dawn broke over the horizon, I was able to engage better with the other yatris. We laughed and regaled each other with stories of the past days until we reached where our bus awaited. We hadn't seen the mountain at all today so I asked in which direction Mt. Kailash lay, and prostrated on the ground. I may never see it again, but I couldn't leave without thanking Shiva whole heartedly for this opportunity for me to come to him. Turning around I thanked Mani who was instrumental in helping me complete the pilgrimage. My words were limited but I hope he understood their sincerity.
Pic: Brahmaputra River
It was an emotional moment for us all. We hugged, took a lot of pictures together and got into the bus. Together we had all shared an incredible journey and even though we knew nothing of each other and perhaps may never meet again, we felt as if we had known each other over this lifetime. Upon reaching the hotel for a quick breakfast, I finally called my family. I had cut all contact with them for 4 days consciously so that my resolve for completing the parikrama by foot is not shaken. The relief in their voices was palpable, even while I struggled to coherently explain all that came to pass the last few days. I would soon share their secure embrace as I returned to the comfort of my world.
Being a private person, I had not planned to write my experiences down. But I remember while researching on the Kailash yatra, that most of the literature on the internet was primarily from the tour operator's perspective and not the pilgrim's. I reasoned that only a few cared to share their journey as it was very personal. Having since received several enquiries on how to best prepare for the parikrama, I decided to blog in as much detail as possible before the year runs out. Mt. Kailash belongs to all who respect its significance and it is despairing to see many pilgrims denied an opportunity to experience it once in their lifetime, few of whom I met in Kathmandu. I sincerely hope the geopolitical situation eases in the future to allow for the first step to be taken in ease.
There have been some who asked me why I went to Kailash and not perhaps hiked another mountain. Could I not have sought peace and quiet in my own surroundings? This is a difficult question to answer adequately to solely satisfy the logical half of the brain, but easily done if I said the mountain chose me. Perhaps I had tried and failed many times in my past lives and this was an opportunity to fulfill a deep longing from those births. I was not looking for adventure, excitement or greatness, I was looking for silence and calm. Mt Kailash may have the trappings of an adventure but it is not a routine mountaineering experience. It is a pilgrimage inwards to tap into a little bit of the divinity within ourselves. A pilgrimage such as this is meant to be physically hard, so we exhaust, empty ourselves intentionally and work on our internal growth, hoping eventually it may be filled with sattva bhava.
For those who wish to visit it atleast once, I hope you are able to go early as this is a physically demanding trip. For those who greatly desired but were unable to make it, I hope my writing and pictures were able to convey the character of this yatra. While this journey demands a confluence of money, fitness, opportunity and a deep longing, the most essential ingredient in my humble opinion, is that of surrender. Humbling oneself before the vast expanse of nature, humbling oneself before Shiva so he may bear the responsibility of every step. Om Namah Shivaya!