Kailash Mansarovar Yatra – Where the Soul meets the Divine

A long harbouring dream to visit the majestic Kailash-Mansarovar, finally came true for Dr Nita Jagad. After a patient 38 long years of wait, she finally made it to this stunning pilgrimage spot and came back feeling closer to the divine. The Lifestyle Portal is humbled to share her travelogue written by her for our readers. May we all be inspired to travel…

The journey begins...

The journey begins…

Text & Photographs by Dr Nita Jagad

Ever since I read about a trip to Kailash Mansarovar yatra, in my first year of MBBS in 1980, I had a desire to visit this place and witness the beauty personally. I did a lot of research about the tour back then and was very keen about the trip, but somehow it did not materialize.

I had plans to visit the USA in June 2018 with a few friends and sisters. One of my sisters Bhavna, decided to back out and join the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra with her family. That’s when my long awaited wish reappeared stronger than ever. Along with my other sister Karuna, we decided to join them and I am so thankful for having made this decision.

Selecting a tour operator was not a problem as it was Bhavna’s third tour to Kailash Mansarovar and they had a wonderful experience with Yatra tours. We just had to follow her. My dream journey began as soon as we booked the tour in October 2017. The preparations started since then.

With my lovely sisters

With my lovely sisters

Preparations before the trip

The first step was to be physically fit and improve my stamina. Four months prior, I started walking daily for two hours in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The second step was to get a medical checkup done for myself. I being a doctor, prepared a medical kit for prevention and management of altitude sickness and any untoward medical emergency if it happens to any one of us; and the third step was to shop for warm clothes and accessories.

I was so excited about the fact that I am going to visit my dream destination, that all packing was done a week prior to the day of travel.

A visit to the Pashupatinath Temple

A visit to the Pashupatinath Temple

Reaching Kathmandu – 20th June 2018

We were a group of 22 travellers. On 20th June 2018 morning we flew to Kathmandu a bustling city at the height of around 4,593 ft/ 1,400 m situated amongst mighty mountains. We visited the famous Pashupatinath Temple and the Buddha Neelkanth Temple in the evening and collectively offered puja to Lord Shiva.

Lhasa City

Lhasa City

Place of the Gods – Lhasa, Tibet – 21st June 2018

On 21st June 2018 morning, we were off to Lhasa by Air China flight. Lhasa is an administrative capital of Tibet. Lhasa means the place of the Gods. It’s a very beautiful city with a systematic town planning managed by the Chinese Government. Lhasa is surrounded by gorgeous mountains and is situated at the height of 11,975 ft / 3,650 m above sea level and is one of the few highest cities in the world.

Potala Palace

Potala Palace

Potala Palace – 22nd June 2018

We stayed two nights in Lhasa for acclimatization. On 22nd June 2018 while in Lhasa, we visited the Potala Palace. Our tour guide Mr Kelsang explained that this is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was home to the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama, who came to India during the 1959 Tibetan Uprising. It has a White Palace, which used to be the administrative headquarters and a Red Palace, which is the spiritual headquarters and its construction dates back to 7th century when the King of Tibet named Songtsen Gampo built this palace.

Our tour guide Mr Kelsang

Our tour guide Mr Kelsang

The 5th Dalai Lama who was a spiritual and political head of Tibet added many floors to its construction in 1645. After that, every Dalai Lama added their Shrines to the Palace. At present, it is a 13 story building, that stands 110 meters tall, covers an area of 1,30,000 sq meters and has 432 steps to reach the top. It was a difficult climb due to high altitude.

The palace has 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and 2,00,000 statues which includes a giant size statue of the present Buddha (Shakya Muni) and the future Buddha (Maitreyi Buddha) in it. Its walls are made of straws to absorb strong winds. The curtains of the palace are made of Yak hair to keep the interiors cool during summers and warm during winters. It took 45 years to build its interiors and furnishings.

The Red Palace was built sometime between 1690 and 1694. Some portions of the Potala Palace were damaged twice, once in 1959 at the time of the Tibetan Uprising against the Chinese and in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution. The restoration work was done between 1989 and 1994. The statues inside the palace are huge and tall, and the walls are painted with traditional Tibetan art. The ancient religious books on Buddhism are preserved in large glass cupboards.

Assembly of Monks

Assembly of Monks

Gateway to Mount Everest – Shigatse – 23rd June 2018

On 23rd June 2018 early morning, we were off to Shigatse by bus. Shigatse is a place of the Panchen Lama, a spiritual leader in Tibet. Shigatse is also called The Gateway to Mount Everest and it is situated at a height of 3843 m/ 12608.27 ft above sea level. It’s the second largest city in Tibet with a very systematic modern development.

It was a beautiful six-hour road journey through the mountains. On the way, we saw traditional Tibetan villages, people in traditional Tibetan attire, sheep and yak grazing, scenic mountains, river streams and lakes. I was totally awestruck with the naïve beauty of the place and wondered how unsafe it would be to be travelling during bad weather.

Upon reaching Shigatse we visited the Tomb Monastery also known as the Tashilhunpo Monastery. It was built in the 1440s and most of it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Even today, it is the largest functioning religious institution in Tibet. There are a total of four shrines, has large photos of 9th, 10th, and 11th Panchen Lamas, and to the extreme left is a chapel of Jampa which houses a 26-meter statue of Jumpa( Maitreya) the Future Buddha, carved in 1914.

Then there is a Victory Chapel, Tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama, Tomb of the 4th Panchen Lama, Kelsang Temple, Tomb of the 5th to ninth Panchen Lamas. I noticed, that there were seven bowls filled with water kept in the chapel. Our guide Kelsang told us that in ancient years many scholars from Tibet went to India for studies. But due to the distance and the harsh weather, many died on the way. Only seven returned to Tibet. The seven glass bowls represent the seven scholars. In the chapels, I also saw stunning Mandala paintings across the ceilings. We were lucky to witness the assembly of monks and their spiritual question-answer session in the Tibetan language in the Monastery hall.

Happy land – Saga – 24th June 2018

On 24th June 2018, we travelled from Shigatse to Saga, which was a 10-hour journey by bus. Saga is situated at a height of 4487 m/ 14721.13 ft above sea level. It’s an army town. Saga means happy land. Here the houses are painted in bright colours. We rested at night for acclimatization at Saga.

Lake Mansarovar

Lake Mansarovar

Lake Mansarovar – 25th June 2018

On 25th June 2018 morning, we left from Saga to reach Lake Mansarovar by evening and drove along the shores. Mansarovar is fed by the Kailash Glaciers. Situated at a height of 4,60m/ 15091.86 ft, the lake is round in shape and stretches to 320-410 sq kms.

It is the highest freshwater lake in the world nestled at the foothills of Mount Kailash. The Sutlej, Sindhu, Brahmaputra, Indus and Ghaghara Rivers flow near Lake Manasarovar. The first site of Lake Mansarovar and Mount Kailash was so mesmerizing that most of us became emotional, a few cried like a child and I know for the fact that the feeling was too overwhelming. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world I have visited. I sat in front of the Lake to fill all the beauty in my eyes and heart to carry it with me forever.

Feeling closer to the divine

Feeling closer to the divine

Mansarovar and Mount Kailash are considered a sacred place in four religions Hinduism, Bon, Buddhism and Jainism. Lake Manasarovar overflows into lake RakshasTal, which is a thin half moon shaped salt-water lake. Legend has it that Lake Mansarovar was first created in the mind of Lord Brahma and then manifested on earth, and that’s how the lake got its name. It is also believed that Lord Buddha stayed and meditated near this lake several times. In Jainism, the first Tirthankar Rishabhdev attained Nirvana on the Ashtapad Mountain.

Mesmerising beauty of Mount Kailash in the morning

The mesmerising beauty of Mount Kailash in the morning

Overnight stay at Lake Mansarovar – 26th June 2018

We stayed overnight at Lake Mansarovar. On 26th June 2018 morning we offered puja at the shore and after lunch left for Darchen, which is just one-hour drive from Mansarovar.

Darchen

Darchen is situated at 4731 m/ 15,521 ft altitude and the weather is cold and windy. It is a very small township, in the midst of the mountains and is a starting point of the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash. We got a better and a closer view of Mount Kailash from here. The evening was free and we did some traditional Tibetan shopping and also bought some portable oxygen containers for our trek.

Yamdwar

Yamdwar

The journey to Yamdwar – 27th June 2018

On 27th June 2018, our tough pilgrimage Trek to Mount Kailash began. We were taken to a place called Yamdwar by bus. The rest of the journey after this spot is either walking or on a pony or both intermittently. It took us about seven hours to cover a distance of 12 kilometres from Yamdwar to Dirapuk which is situated at the altitude of 16,600 feet. (https://www.yowangdu.com) This again was a beautiful trek with the stunning mountains on both sides and the flowing river giving us company all along the way. It was very cold and windy from Darchen onwards. We had to wear layers of warm clothes and jackets to brave the harsh cold.

Our Dormitory at Dirapuk

Our Dormitory at Dirapuk

Awestruck once again as we reached Dirapuk and had the closest view of the north face of Mount Kailash from our room itself. Mount Kailash is made of a great mass of rock soaring to a height of 22,000 feet. It is located at the heart of six mountain ranges symbolizing a Lotus. Mt Kailash lies near the source of the longest rivers of Asia – Sutlej, Indus, Brahmaputra and Karnali. It is considered the world’s most recognized Holy place but (thankfully) least visited. It is believed that Mount Kailash is the Axis Mundi where heaven meets earth, a celestial centre of the world and considered Lord Shiva’s abode. Even Google maps show Mount Kailash as axis Mundi and are said to be the Pillar of the world! What a splendid combination. The mesmerizing beauty, blowing cold winds, the spotless clear sky, calm and serene atmosphere and the spiritual feelings brought me closer to the Divine.

CharanSparsh – 28th June 2018

On 28th June 2018 most of our group trekked up closer to Mount Kailash, they called it CharanSparsh and conducted a puja there. I preferred to stay at the hotel room, sat outside the room and enjoyed the serene and spiritual stillness of the place until everyone returned in the evening. It was a full moon night and we sat outside to witness the stunning beauty of Mount Kailash. We all felt breathless and tired even at rest due to low oxygen levels in the air but it was easily forgotten owing to the serenity of the place.

Our group

Our group

The journey back – 29th June 2018

On 29th June 2018, most of us decided to descend back and few from the group continued two more days of Parikrama, going around Mount Kailash. It is to be done walking or on a pony. Starting from a height of 15,000 ft from Dirapuk to cross the Drolma La pass at 19,500ft and then coming down. We all met at Taklakot, height 13,205 ft and from there our return journey started. We had a very comfortable and beautiful train ride experience from Shigatse to Lhasa on our return journey

Throughout the 15 days of our journey, our fellow travellers became close to each other like a family, made new friends and helped each other. We were back to Mumbai on 4th July 2018 evening from a memorable trip.

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is a tough journey with unpredictable weather but we were lucky to experience very comfortable weather throughout our journey. The day after we left from Lhasa the weather turned 360 degrees and there were rains, winds and landslides, many pilgrims were stranded and had to be evacuated.

Day time moon at Lake Mansarovar

Daytime moon at Lake Mansarovar

My travelogue would be incomplete if I don’t thank our tour organizers of Yatra Group, Prasadbhai who accompanied us and Nimishaben who organized things sitting here in India. It was a well organized comfortable tour with good accommodations all throughout. I thank the hard-working sherpas and our guide Kelsang without whom we couldn’t have been so comfortable.

And a special thanks to Yogeshbhai Sharma for his kind gestures to bond all group members like a family

My suggestions to those who are planning the Yatra:

Before the journey

  • Get yourself checked by a doctor for physical fitness and get blood tests done at least 5-6 months prior to travelling. Start medicines to improve your Hemoglobin level in the blood if its low. Carry all primary medicines, a good stock for 15-20 days.
  • Start practising walking and climbing daily at least 5-6 months before the trek.
  • Practice pranayam daily starting at least 3-4 months prior.
  • Know the symptoms of altitude sickness.
With our Sherpa Noory

With our Sherpa Noory

During the journey

  • Start taking Tab Diamox 250 mg once daily morning 2-3 days prior to travelling and continue until one day after reaching home. Take it regularly without forgetting.
  • Drink 3-4 litres of water daily.
  • If you are uncomfortable, communicate to your tour operator.

References:

Dr Nita M Jagad, MBBS MD DCH, is a senior paediatrician based out of Mumbai.  She’s an EQ trainer, certified and trained by Equip kids, India. She is a passionate advocate of Emotional Intelligence in children and parents. She’s one of our esteemed students at The Lifestyle Portal Online Writing Program.

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