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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 6

Lake Manas Sarovar  

Lake Manas Sarovar is widely known as Mapam Yumco in the Tibetan region. It is a precious site of visit for Hindu, Jain and Buddhist pilgrims. It is a freshwater lake situated on an elevation of about 15,000 ft above the sea level. The lake signifies purity of mind and heart. Devotees believe that a ritual bath in the lake would cleanse off all the sins committed so far.
The Lake is located near the Mount Kailas and the Meru Mountain ranges. This beautiful lake looks like a heavenly abode in a clear daylight. In fact, it is said that the ‘Devatas’ (gods) come here every morning to take bath in the lake. Keeping the Mount Kailash in the centre, two lakes are situated in that place, actually. One is the well known Lake Manas sarovar and the other one is Lake Rakshas Sarovar. Lake Rakshas is a saline water lake.
Lake in the backdrop of mount kailas (image courtesy:prajna LS)

For Buddhists, Bon Buddhists in particular, Manas sarovar basin is a holy site of meditation. Guru Rinpoche is said to have stayed in this place and we can see Buddhist Gompas around the lake. We visited the Chiu Gompa situated on top a steep hill.
We had arrived there at about 1.30 pm. It was a clear sky. We were bewildered by the serene lake and its beauty. White clouds had gathered over the lake like a white embroidered lace. Sun beams crisscrossed over the crystal clear water that reflected the color of the sky, which was blue at that time.
The place is well maintained by the Chinese authorities. A station has been built for the tourists accommodating a huge hall. There is enough space for a helipad around the building, in the forthcoming days one may get helicopter service upto Manas sarovar. The bus that we travelled dropped us there and it will come again to pick us on the last day of our Parikraman. Pilgrims do get special bus service meant for Manasarovar Lake (for pick and drop to nearby places).
Luckily, we got to have a dip in the lake. After that, we reached our base camp near another side of the lake. That night it rained like anything. We were speculating that the Kailas Parikraman would be cancelled if it continues to rain. We woke up to a clear, but a misty morning.
That day, in the afternoon, we were supposed to reach the base destination for the 3 day Kailas Circumambulation. Till then, we were allowed to take rest. Some devotees were performing rituals (Puja and havan), though it was not compulsory. In fact, the place does not have any Hindu temples, except some Gompas. Some were taking rest at the dormitory cells. We decided to explore the place. We visited the Chiu Gompa which was nearby.
The place where we had stayed is a small campus consisting rows of dormitory cells specially meant for the pilgrims. These dormitories will be booked in advance by the travel agencies. Rooms are equipped with solar electricity providing beds for 4-5 members. You can charge your camera cells and mobile phones. This is common during all three days of Kailas Parikrama. Earlier there used to be tents, now, tents have been replaced by tin sheds providing bare minimum amenities. Hot water will be provided for drinking and basic utility purpose. Common latrines were highly dirty. However, one must be prepared for extreme conditions.
Base Camp (Image Courtesy:Prajna LS)

In the afternoon, we left for Darchen located at about 8 km from the camp. The 3 day trekking will start and will end up in Darchen. On the first day, we walked from Darchen to Dirapuk (12km), on the second day, from Dirapuk to Zutulpuk (32km) and on the third day, we reached Darchen (8km) from Zutulpuk. Darchen is good for buying walking sticks, bead and Tibetan jewellery. As we walked back to our dormitory from the market place, a face of Mount Kailas was visible from a far distance. We were amazed at the sight of Kailas like that all of a sudden! Within a few minutes, the peak was covered behind a veil of clouds.
We stayed that night in Darchen. Our Parikraman began the next day morning. It is an experience for lifetime. Wait for the next episode!!

[To be continued]
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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series - 5

Nyalam to Manas Sarovar

Nyalam is situated at about 35 km from the Kodari border at 12, 300 ft altitude. It is located in the Shigatse Prefecture of Tibet. It has expanded from being a village to a small town by housing shopping streets and hotels. From here onwards, we start experiencing the climatic variations of a typical Tibetan Plateau. We can feel a warm morning changing into a windy noon, accompanied by sudden downpour. Evenings will be very cold and it gets dark very late. Nyalam is the place where we get acclimatized with the crazy weather conditions of Tibet. It is better to be wrapped up with warm cloths.
Nyalam (image credit:Prajna LS

The road from Kodari border to Nyalam was mesmerizing. The journey begins at the lower point of a Ghat section and as we move on, the landscape changes. Green hill slopes, river streams, steep valleys, countless waterfalls…nature unwinds in varied forms. As we approached Nyalam, we began noticing the Rocky Mountains and dry pastures.
We were accommodated in a dormitory. Accommodation for all Yatris will be the same upto Manas Sarovar. These towns will be closed for winter. Don’t expect any luxury at these dormitories. There will be common latrines with very poor conditions. It is better to carry tissue roles. At some points, especially during the Kailash Parikrama, we used the open ground for that purpose. But, be careful about the dogs there. Never go alone.
Food will be prepared by the Sherpa team, a soup will be provided every evening. Good enough for the survival. The leader of our Sherpa team was Sangey. The team carries utensils, cylinders, groceries and vegetables in a separate vehicle. After reaching every destination, they would be busy with unloading, cooking, washing, serving, and again loading everything into the luggage van. They were our chefs, guides and doctors! They are well experienced trekkers; they know how to survive in extreme weather conditions. If at all could get through the risky Parikrama of the Mount Kailash it was due to the support of these Sherpas. Very friendly and affectionate companions.
The team used to provide the Diamox tablet after dinner. Diamox tablets are essential to overcome the ‘altitude sicknesses. We had started the diamox course in Kadori itself. As we move on to higher altitudes, we start feeling nausea, headache, and fever. Symptoms may vary from person to person. Increased heartbeat, pulse rate, palpitation, sweat, and loss appetite may cause troubles. We get tired very easily. It becomes very hard even to walk. Once after acclimatizing with the climate, these symptoms may disappear. Nevertheless, it is better to take diamox tablets to avoid the risk.
You can buy accessories of trekking in Nyalam. Walking sticks, down jackets, shoes, water cans could be bought here. Carry enough Chinese Yauns, you may need the currency to pay for porters and ponies during Kailash Parikrama.
Next day morning, we left Nyalam for Dongba. It takes about 8 hours to reach Dongba from Nyalam. On the way to Dongba, we passed through the Brahmaputra River valley. We had finished the packed lunch on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. We reached Dongba at about 5 in the evening. Most of our teammates were tired and despite the intake of Diamox, we were suffering from Altitude sickness. Headache, nausea and loss of appetite were common symptoms. We were instructed strictly to cover our body with thermals and down jackets. We stayed that night at Dongba.
The most awaited day had arrived. We left Dongba, next morning. It is about 3 to 4 hours journey from Dongba to Lake Manas. Our bus moved along the serpentine path, passing through bare hillocks covered under white clouds. Our initial excitement to reach the ultimate destination had been hushed by the tedious travel experience. Most of our senior mates looked tired and sick. It was indeed a hard time for us to manage our mental and physical health under the erratic climate condition of Tibet.
Manas sarovar lake (image credit:Prajna LS)

But, all that misery seemed temporary when we had a glimpse of Lake Manas from our moving bus. It was a clear noon, fortunately. All our dismal faces brightened up. Wow, what a breathtaking moment!! In a clear day light, the lake surrounded by snowy mountain peaks like a glittering blue veil appeared heavenly. It was an ethereal sight.

[To be continued…]  
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Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra Series-4

The Friendship Bridge

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
 Next day morning, we proceeded towards Kodari border along with a team of Sherpa men in a private travel bus. These Sherpa team accompanies us throughout our journey.  This team takes care of routine breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It is a team consisting of trekking experts, a chef, and other helpers. A pantry vehicle follows the bus carrying pilgrims. Fortunately, our Sherpa team consisted of very caring and jovial persons.

 Our aim was to cross the Kodari border that day. We took the Arniko highway that connects Kathmandu with China occupied Tibet. Kodari is a small township comprising Tibetan migrants mostly. Nepali people are scantly visible. It is the last town of Nepal. Traveler inns are available providing only basic amenities.

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
Kodari lies in a God gifted ambience. Whether it is a boon or a curse, one should decide for himself. Situated on top of a Himalayan valley, the town is blessed with a picturesque landscape. Green hills, countless waterfalls and the meandering Botikosi River flowing down the valley make this town look beautiful. However, the fate of migrants is a big question mark. Poverty and an uncertain future haunt the township and that is strikingly visible for travelers.

 The road to Kadori from Kathmandu is called the Arniko Highway. This road has been constructed with the initiatives taken by the China Government for the improvement of bilateral trade and commerce. You can’t call it a proper highway. It is a narrow strip of road skirted by steep hills on side and the Botikosi River Valley on the other side. Landslides are common during rains. We could notice the damage already done by previous landslides. A scary highway indeed.

A bridge has been built across the Botikosi River and the bridge is known as ‘Friendship Bridge’. This bridge is a part of the Arniko Highway connecting China with Nepal. One will have to cross the bridge on foot. Nepali vehicles are not allowed on this. A red line has been drawn in the middle to mark the boundary between two countries. Chinese military commandos will be guarding on the other half. Border crossing is done through strict immigration process.

Chinese immigration center is located on the Chinese side of the bridge. That area is called Zangmu. The United Nations has not officially recognized Chinese status on the Tibetan territory. However, China is executing its supremacy over the land and visitors are supposed to respect the law of the land. After crossing the border, tourists will have to travel with Chinese travel guides in the Chinese permit vehicles.

Due to Indo-China border tensions the Kailsh Manas Sarovar Yatra was banned from 1962 to 1981. Kadori is the only official gateway to enter China from Nepal side. We were strictly warned in Kathmandu as not to talk about political affairs of China and about Dalai Lama.  It is almost a known factor there. There seems to be an undeclared deal among the Nepali merchants/businessmen/traders/travel agencies. They do not encourage any kind of activities against the Chinese policies in Kathmandu or anywhere inside the Chinese territory. In that way they have secured entry into the Chinese territory. One can use the trade route for uninterrupted trade and commerce. That must be the reason, perhaps, that the number of private travel agencies in Kathmandu is increasing day by day for conducting Kailash-Manas Sarovar Yatra. These private agencies assure us of a safe journey inside the Chinese Territory for the same reason. As long as one does not protest or keeps showing green signal to the Chinese Supremacy the show goes on!

Most of our travel mates were elders. Most of them had come to accomplish the ultimate yatra, it was a dream come true for them. They were excited, thrilled to have that ultimate experience of reaching the abode of Shiva. However, the Kailash Manasarovar yatra (on this route) makes us to think about the bilateral relations of India and Nepal with China. We did share a bit of unexplainable anxiety, could observe the same in the eyes of the migrant workers crossing the bridge everyday for the daily bread.

One needs to obtain a valid passport and a Chinese Visa before crossing the border. We had group Visa, but we had to get through the immigration check in. The Chinese agent booked by the Nepali travel agency must be present on the Chinese side to complete the formalities. To our bad luck, that fellow didn’t turn up on that day. We were put up in a roadside inn. We waited till the evening for the Chinese guide. Late in the evening, our Nepali guide came back with the message that the Chinese guide would come next day morning. We were made to stay in the same inn where we had lunch that noon.
Image Courtesy:Prajna LS

Image Courtesy:Prajna LS
Houses of that town were roughly built on the hill slope, terraced residences. Timber houses without foundation. The Inn we had stayed was built on the edge of a slope overlooking the Botikosi river stream. It had a balcony and if we stand on that we would feel as if we were standing on a hanging bridge! Such an unstable condition. Kids of migrant workers rush towards you asking for snacks, and money. Pretty and adorable Tibetan faces, mostly girls and women were seen.

Next day, we woke up to a chilly morning, bought hot water paying 100 Nepali rupees for each bucket, had bath and got ready to cross the border. After this day, we again had bath only in Kathmandu on our return journey, on the twelfth day!  It is just five minutes’ walk from our inn to the Friendship Bridge. We crossed the bridge in a line. It was indeed an emotional moment for all of us to cross the border of a country on foot. I was imagining about the experience of crossing the Indo-Pak border!

Photography is not allowed on the bridge. Even at the immigration center, visitors are not allowed to take photos. But, we noticed a few foreign visitors shooting outside the immigration center. Please confirm anyway with your travel guides before taking snaps. We took a snap of the bridge from a far distance.
The Chinese guide had arrived and we proceeded towards Nyalam in a bus. The road from Zangmu to Manassarovar is well maintained. We would be provided with a well conditioned luxury bus to travel. So, the bus journey till we reach Manas Sarovar is completely hassle free. But, one can’t be so confident about the accommodation facility. Now, we have entered the Tibetan Plateau.

Let’s explore the Tibetan plateau in the next episode!

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