Peigutso Lake towards Saga

Kailash Manasarovar Yatra, Day 6: Peigutso Lake (4,400 m; 14,436 ft) on the Tibetan Plateau


(noticed this in my private posts; edited and posted in Dec 2014)
photos of Peigutso Lake in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag
After lunch and pics of local kids, we headed west along a ravine and climbed a pass. There before us was the serenely beautiful Peigutso Lake. Overcast skies quickly gave way to more dazzling azure skies with bright cumulus clouds and turquoise blue water. The scene hushed us all and we simply stared in silence at the magnificence spread before us.
photos of Peigutso Lake in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag


There at that time, my mind was preoccupied by physical discomfort and I did not appreciate the view as much. It had been a few days without bathroom facilities or showers. It was biting cold and the wind was relentless. In the rarefied air I developed the characteristic high altitude-induced dry cough. While the medication (Diamox) ameliorated some of the effects, the cough and headaches persisted. Despite our sherpas’ best efforts at cooking, I was nauseous and could not get anything down. For most of the trip I survived on honey spread over thick rotis and warm yak milk. And boxes of ladoos and mithai I had carried from Mumbai.

photos of Peigutso Lake in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag

This is a yatra

And so on I complained about material wellbeing. It would have been excusable if I was on an exotic vacation and expected to be pampered. But I was on the most difficult and sacred of all yatras – where it should have been about the “inner journey.” The physical discomfort is essential to force us to divorce ourselves from the comfortable mundane of our lives and turn our minds inwards to pose the trickier questions: What am I doing here on this planet? What is/was my purpose? Who is breathing? You don’t need to arrive at the answers, but to start asking these questions; wallowing in the discomfort of reflection is the entire purpose of a yatra. Many revel in such an opportunity and each such yatra prepares us to reflect more deeply on our inner journey.

Personally, this yatra was a beginning, transition to a new level, turning a key to unlocking more mysteries and ecstasy. I didn’t know it then, but the mental and emotional manifestations of this yatra will continue to unravel over the rest of my life.

(I edited and reposted these two paragraphs in Dec 2014, more than eight years later)

We continued our drive in the valleys between rolling hills, through ravines and water logged streams. We crossed the wide, peaceful Brahmaputra river and arrived at the chinese military base town of Saga. Here in the middle of the barren desert were all the amenities you’d expect in an army town – pool tables, bars, gambling dens and dancing girls. Girls with garish make-up walked the pavement, reminding us once again of the impermanence of material beauty. It was also the last opportunity to buy warm gloves, hats or other cold weather accessories.


Next on the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra: Brahmaputra and Onwards to Paryang
Start of Kaliash Manasarovar Yatra: Rendevous with Sagarmatha (Everest)


Monks at the Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal

In an ancient stone portico (bhojan mandap) outside the Pashupatinath Temple (Kathmandu, Nepal), several sanyasinis (female monks) were resting and enjoying meals. Here donors arrange free meals for monks and the needy. Loved the colors.
Continue reading “Monks at the Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal”

Girl in Saga

Enroute to Saga [Elevation: 4,600 m (15,091 ft)], a Chinese army outpost on the Tibetan Plateau


photos of a Tibetan girl by Arun Shanbhag
After a long drive from Nyalam, past the Sishapangma Base Camp office, we had stopped literally in the middle of nowhere, for a lunch break. Our team of cooks had left a few hours earlier, so they could find a half-way place, pitch tents and cook warm food. At this point of the trip, I had lost my appetite and while the rest ‘enjoyed’ lunch, I sat in the car and munched on ladoos and granola bars. Continue reading “Girl in Saga”

Wave Back to the Kids in Kodari

During my travels to Nepal and Tibet, it was such a delight to photograph kids; even when they were simply waving at our passing bus. This is on my return trip through the border town of Kodari, Nepal. Eleven cute kids in these two households!
… feel free to wave back at them!

Continue reading “Wave Back to the Kids in Kodari”

Waterfall In Nepal

Frothy and mesmerizing pool of water at the bottom of a roadside waterfall. Shot this from the top of a bridge.
click image for larger version

The waterfall itself.

I took this pic during our return from Kailash Manasarovar.


To start at the beginning of the Kaliash Manasarovar Travelogue, click the following link:
Rendevous with Sagarmatha (Everest)

Kailash Finally

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.
photos of mount Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag
Continue reading “Kailash Finally”

Kailash Parikrama: A Trek Around Kailash

Kailash Parikrama: Hiking Around Kailash, Day 11, 12 and 13
Approximate Elevation: 4,560 m (~ 15,000 ft)

The arduous journey across the Tibetan plateau had taken its toll on most of us. While the fabulous vistas and the serene landscape of Manasarovar instantly lifted our spirits, our bodies looked forward to a few days of rest. The toughest part of the tirth yatra (pilgrimage) still lay ahead of us: performing a parikrama of Kailash.

In a temple, Hindus generally perform a pradakshina of the deity by walking around it in a clockwise manner. Mount Kailash is the icy abode of Shiva and Parvati and thus in reverence, we were to perform a parikrama; same as a pradakshina, but walking around the entire mountain. This would take us three days and we had to trek rough terrain, cross streams, climb steep trails, jump from boulder to boulder and traverse a pass high in the mountains at 19,200 ft on the second day – rain, snow or shine. And we would be camping on the mountain side. Coincidentally, the hike over three days was slightly over 42 kms, the same distance as a marathon.

After Manasarovar, we shifted our base to Darchen, a tiny compound of sheds at the base of Kailash. There our tour organizers identified half of our groups as not fit to continue on the Kailash Parikrama. After spending so much money and the long trip I’d have thought these folks would be upset – but not. They were tired and sick, and relieved they could stay back at Manasarovar. Of the rest, 20 were asked to hire and ride horses or yaks around Kailash.

I was one of seven considered fit enough to hike over the three days. I did not feel very confident though. I was still running a fever and having trouble with my breathing (small detail). Here the concept of surrender came to the fore. Yes, we all have to surrender to destiny and move forward. If I had to pass from this world, what better place in the world than on a parikrama of Kailash? And importantly, there was the ego thing: There was no way I was going to return home without doing the parikrama of Kailash.

All of us hired porters to carry our small bag packs which held only essentials for the day. Mine had an extra pair of socks (I hate wet socks), a rain jacket to go over my warm jacket, an extra bottle of water (I carried one bottle on a sling), my secret stash of granola bars, laddoos and other snacks. I carried the camera around my shoulder and bought an inexpensive walking stick locally. The organizers arranged for yaks and porters to carry our tents and kitchen stuff. Several sherpas walked with us carrying emergency medical supplies and oxygen canisters. The folks who did not go on the Parikrama were to camp at Lake Manasarovar with a skeleton crew.

During this tirth yatra, we had to re-acquaint ourselves with the divine. There were none of the material or verbal symbols of divinity here. No temple with stunning gopuras, or exquisitely carved mantapas. No shrines in niches and no priests chanting mantras and performing puja. Many were incredulous and asked: “There is no shrine here? Nothing?” Sorry, you have to engage the mind and see the divine outside the temple, inside your own heart. Realize the nirguna formless, aspect of the divine. Certainly, there was no hundi here to collect donations, either. The divine was all around us and within us.

īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānāṃ hṛddeśe.arjuna tiṣṭhati |
bhrāmayansarvabhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā ~ 18:61 Bhagavad Gītā

Ishvar abides in the heart of all beings Arjun; impelling everyone to act as if they are (puppets) mounted on a machine. ~18:61 Bhagavad Gītā

The Land Cruisers dropped us off at the starting point of the parikrama. Just a barren, inhospitable valley with a pebbley trail. It was grey, raining and cold. Not a good way to start a long, tough trek.

Here Tibetans had assembled a mound of stone tablets. Each was exquisitely inscribed with the Buddha’s mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. These are apparently offerings of devotees from bygone eras. Some of the larger tablets had many rows of etched mantras.
pics of stone tablets inscribed with Om Mani Padme Hum at Kailash by Arun Shanbhag
Continue reading “Kailash Parikrama: A Trek Around Kailash”

From Manasarovar, a Glimpse of Kailash

From Lake Manasarovar: A glimpse of Kailash, Day 11 and 12
Approximate Elevation: 4,560 m (~ 15,000 ft)

Reaching Manasarovar was only the first stage of our tirth yatra (pilgrimage). The plan was to rest for a couple of days in Manasarovar, and then perform a parikrama (to go around) of Mount Kailash. Tibetans also consider Kailash holy, and they too perform the equivalent of the parikrama, called the cora. But the parikrama was much more difficult and it would take three days to hike the 42 kms around the mountain passes. And during the second day, our hike would take us upto the high point of 19,200 ft. That is approximately a third of the oxygen available at sea level!

I’ll describe the actual parikrama in a later post, but first let me wrap up the Manasarovar pics.

For a long night we couped in the tent, while the storm passed overhead. The next day was stunningly beautiful giving us all a chance to rest and enjoy the lake. Around mid-morning the clouds cleared and we got our first glimpse of Kailash in the distance. Kinda resembles the linga and yoni we see in a Shiva temple. The horizontal striations resemble the horizontal marks Shiva devotees place on their foreheads. The deep gully on the mountain face is representative of Shiva’s vertically placed third eye.

In the evening we walked along the lake and captured this different pic of Gurla Mandatha on the South bank of Lake Manasarovar!

Continue reading “From Manasarovar, a Glimpse of Kailash”

Lake Manasarovar, Finally

An Accidental Pilgrim Reaches Manasarovar, Day 10
Approximate Elevation: 4,560 m (~ 15,000 ft)
Pictures of Lake Manasarovar Kailash by Arun Shanbhag

Over the six months I had planned this trip, I never gave much thought to the significance of going on a yatra (pilgrimage). I had signed up primarily as an adventure with my brothers and several of my cousins; to shoot fabulous pictures; and check off one more on my list of places to see before I die! That Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash were the most holiest of sites was only of passing interest.
Continue reading “Lake Manasarovar, Finally”

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