Kailash Parikrama: Hiking Around Kailash, Day 11, 12 and 13
Approximate Elevation: Dira Phuk: 4,775 m (~ 15,666 ft);
Dolma La (Pass): 5,650 m (~18,500 ft)
Within an hour of starting our Parikrama, the rains stopped, the clouds dispersed and the sun broke through. By this time, our small group of hikers and porters were spread out and I was essentially walking alone (with Pema way ahead). The elevation was slowly taking its toll and I would make frequent stops – just to catch my breath. And with Pema leading, we made steady progress.
At one point, we reached a gap in the fortress of mountains ringing Kailash, and there peeking through the break was the imposingly massive, black granite Kailash!
The overnight storm had covered it in fresh snow and clouds still kissed its forehead. I learned that Kailash is shaped like a rounded pyramid with four distinct faces aligned with the cardinal directions. From Manasarovar we had earlier seen the South face – Aghora! Here was the West face of Kailash – Sadjyota! WoW! I was so close to Kailash! I had brought along several Shiva Stotras (Shiva Raksha Stotra, Shiva Ashtakam) to recite along the way, but with the brain deprived of oxygen, and the body barely conscious, I did not have the energy to recite. I could only chant Om Namah Shivay.
At one point our trail passed within 2 kms of Kailash. Here I foolishly left the trail and tried to hike up to the base of Kailash. At sea level I could have covered this distance in 15 minutes, but at this elevation (~ 15,000 ft), I was gasping at every step. I was having an absolutely bear of a time. It took me nearly thirty minutes to hike just 500 meters and it looked like I made hardly any progress. By this time the rest of the group had walked on way ahead. I could see a few of the Sherpas and one the organizers behind me on the trail. They had spotted my side adventure and had been screaming to get my attention. They thought I had become delusion and was intent on “going to kailash” – as in giving up my life. So two of them were trying to catch up with me – but even they had a hard time. Then I thought it was time to yield on this adventure and turn around! But not before asking Pema to take a pic of me – the closest I got to Kailash! Near my feet was a tiny, crystal clear stream, carrying snow melt from Kailash. Its icy cold water felt like nectar, as it coursed down my throat.
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A little ahead when we stopped for a packed lunch break, this caravan of yaks carrying our camping supplies passed us by.
By late afternoon, we had reached our destination of Dira Phuk: a tiny clearing for tents. There, right under this awesome gaze of Vamadeva – the North face of Kailash we camped. It was a moonlit night and Kailash shone brilliantly in the clear sky. This pic was taken earlier in the evening. Om Namah Shivay!
Note: This would be our last glimpse of Kailash, as high mountains would block our view of Kailash for the next two days. We would not get to see Tatpurusha – the East face of Kailash.
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The next day would be the most difficult, when we would hike 22 km of rough terrain and across the Dolma La (Pass) at 18,500 ft. Several of our groups had planned to not continue further and would retrace their steps back the next day.
At the campsite, there was not much to do, I stayed in my tent for the most part and rested. It was still freezing cold, and no hope for a warm shower! Even removing our shoes and unpacking my sleeping bag was an exhausting chore. I would take off my shoes and fall in the tent for a 5 min rest; Then open the sleeping bag and crawl in for another rest. Any simple activity required a corresponding period of rest. In my waist pouch I carried my toothbrush and painkillers, as hunting for those would be an additional chore. We had a quick dinner, immediately brushed my teeth and went back to sleep (restlessly, albeit) in the tent. Yes, we all slept at we were dressed in our jackets and else. We had not changed clothes for several days. The bathroom was the great outdoors!
Early next morning, after a quick breakfast, we continued on the parikrama. It was one of the most tiring hikes I have ever done. It felt like at mile 23 of running a marathon – where your enthusiasm has evaporated, every muscle in your body is hurting, and you are only going forward because you “have to.” I was looking for even the slightest excuse to stop. I would walk for five minutes and rest for five minutes. Om Namah Shivay. Just place one step in front of the other – Om Namah Shivay. My mind was so focused on the ‘here and now’, I could not even force myself to let my mind wander, and think of home, M, my parents or anything else. Om Namah Shivay. Walking was no longer a subconscious activity. Om Namah Shivay. Every step required all my energies and my conscious presence. Om Namah Shivay! I chanted at every step. Om Namah Shivay! One foot forward and then the other. Om Namah Shivay! My lungs were screaming! Om Namah Shivay! I can do this! Om Namah Shivay!
The peak seemed only a few feet away, but I seemed to be crawling at an ant’s pace! Even now I see the peak – just so near and yet so exhaustingly far away! I did not take any pics from this segment! It was exhausting to even bring up the camera! Yes, I was that tired.
Some of the sherpas carrying emergency oxygen tanks and medical supplies, who were bringing up the rear, had caught up with me. With them I could make small talk and asked about their families. I shared the granola bars I had saved for this part of the trek. They in turn taught me how to hike in this rarefied air: take small steps at a steady pace. Even after a rest, don’t rush, keep a steady slow pace! Thus the miles passed. With Sherpas as translators, we chatted with Pema as well.
As we neared the peak – the surrounding mountains were covered by stacks of clothes left to the elements. Here the locals leave a piece of clothing as offering to the Devi who graces this pass. At the top, one of our sherpas unfurled a prayer flag he had brought along. See the mounds of clothing left over – and a glacier in the background. You cannot see Kailash anymore as it is already behind one of the mountains.
The sherpa reminded me to leave something behind and also that it was better to give to someone less fortunate than leaving it on the ground. So I gave my gloves to a passing tibetan who was overjoyed. Because of the low oxygen levels, we were not allowed to sit at the pass for more than a few minutes, and slowly descended onto the other side. Within a few steps, I found a gold ring by my foot – must have been an offering by an earlier devotee. I picked it up and gave it to Pema! At first she hesitated, then grinned widely and put on the ring. She was smiling the rest of the day! And the next!
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There are many more pics, but here I will end my diary. I obviously made it around and back to Mumbai safe and sound. I survived an asthma attack and nearly died of suffocation, had blurry vision till I returned and could not even tell time on my wrist watch. That was really scary, but I got back to normal on my return to the US. Had a mild case of pulmonary edema as well. I survived! and completed the Kailash Parikrama! I think this was more of an accomplishment than running a marathon!
On seeing so many fabulous pics, M wants to go. For her I will have to go again. Now I am ready for the next yatra: Chaar Dhaam and Valley of Flowers in the foothills of the Himalayas for the Summer of 2008! If others are interested, let me know. We could organize something together.
This is the concluding portion of the Kailash Manasarovar Travelogue. Miscellaneous pics from the trip will follow in subsequent posts. Select the “Kailash Manasarovar” Tag in the sidebar.
Start at beginning of Kaliash Manasarovar Travelogue:
Rendevous with Sagarmatha (Everest)