Marlon Saldin ascends Mt. Kailash, the abode of the
gods in Tibet
Tibet, situated on a plateau averaging around 14,000
feet, is one of the most isolated regions in the world. With the
Himalayas on its southern border, its northwest has the reputation
of being among the least explored regions on earth.
friendly natives, even nomadic tribesmen who roam around this vast
plateau always welcome strangers. Their beliefs were such they never
used anything with wheels in the past as it represented the Buddha
chakra. Nothing was killed as it may have represented a loved one
who had passed away. Nevertheless, living at altitudes of 4000-5000m
has its price. Tibetans age quickly and 50 years are said to be
the average life span.
roads, delays and bureaucracy take on a whole new meaning especially
if you're travelling overland. Once across the border however, one
is moderately comfortable and can spend the rest of the time absorbing
the surrounding beauty while wondering in the back of one's mind
the consequences of any driving lapses, that will see you end up
in some of the world's most difficult to access gorges. I, however
was seated in the luxury of a Toyota land cruiser, the best seat
that money can buy, but also wondering as to how, my fellow travellers
in an ancient Toyota car, managed to keep up on roads that indeed
looked like muddy paddy fields, probably worse.
after Nyalam, the road divides with the right heading to the once
forbidden city of Lhasa, while the left gets you to Lake Manasarovar
and Mt. Kailash. This was the time the great pilgrimage around the
sacred mountain was taking place and we were a group of 10 pilgrims
from around the globe.
the fine man he is, was unfortunately not a driver of any repute.
We firmly believe that he should get an award of sorts for getting
a land cruiser stuck seven times in one day, especially when the
day is under six hours. It does not get funny when one has to get
off into the snow and dig out a heavy machine that we all know is
going to get stuck again.
finally arrived at the base of Mt. Kailash with our truck that was
bringing our camping equipment, foodstuffs and our fellow pilgrims
who came by car. We were ferried across the Brahmaputra River, where
a pitched friendly battle between the truckies and the jeepies took
place. How no one fell overboard still remains a mystery.
Kailash, a 6714M snow-capped mountain with solid granite near-vertical
rock wall surrounding its virgin peak, is considered a holy if not
the holiest mountain in the world. It is a pilgrimage of a lifetime
for Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and those belonging to the ancient
Bon religion, who make the 53km circuit, yatra or kora around this
mountain to erase theie sins.
mountain is geographically important too as from it the Indus, Brahmaputra,
Karnali and Sutlej flow, draining the huge plateau of Tibet. No
matter what the prevailing conditions are, sunny or snowy, this
mountain does radiate its sacred name as "The abode of the
Gods". Some devotees crawl to the foot of Kailash, from its
first visible point, where rocky pagodas, prayer flags and silk
scarves are carefully placed. Pilgrims also do believe that this
is the centre of the world.
tying our prayer flags and scarves at the Serlung valley, we were
ready for the kora. Snowy conditions underfoot did not make the
going easy. Visibility here is phenomenal, like one's eyes have
finally cleared up. Our camp looked like 60ft away, but I was later
told the distance was around four miles.
on the plateau the day is governed by the weather where cloud cover
means very cold and everyone steps out in layered clothing. Sunshine
means that everyone wants to strip off all those layers but cannot
do so due to dangerous sunburn and sunstroke that can result. A
couple of sunny days does wonders as it melts the snow and turns
the plateau into vivid green, making you to look out of your tent
and feel like Alice in wonderland.
kora or circumbulance of Kailash is by no means an easy task as
pilgrims do suffer from altitude sickness. We too did have our moments
of breathlessness at the Drolma-la pass, as conditions here can
get pretty harsh. A Hindu family from Southern India had saved for
over 10 years to make it here. Repeated requests to assist the family,
as they were absolutely shattered, was firmly rejected as they said
it was in the hands of the gods whether they would make it through,
this at 5500M. We were later quite relieved to hear that the family
had made it across.
completion of the kora, we were asked if we would like to undertake
the trek around Lake Manasarovar, as a part of the sacred pilgrimage.
Lake Manasarovar I'm told, is one of the highest freshwater lakes
in the world. It is also one of the most beautiful places to be,
designed to drive a cameraman mad; a vast lake which has rolling
hills on one side, snow-capped mountains on another, grazing yaks
and horses besides a shoreline, a gompa on a mountain's edge and
a line of trekking pilgrims.
covers and uncovers it all like some giant amphitheatre. Our Belgian
cameraman did not know whether to shoot left, right or centre and
most of the time ended up filming almost nothing. When conditions
are perfect, which is not quite often, the blue sky, gleaming white
mountains, green rolling fields, vividly blue waters of the lake
and little coloured flowers that pop-up amongst the grass make it
easily one of nature's greatest spectacles.
grand finale of the pilgrimage is a bath in the lake, which I was
told is the final part of washing away your earthly sins. The waters
of Manasarovar are bitterly cold and pilgrims just fall down, although
they are in ankle deep water, like someone had just pulled the carpet
from under their feet. It all looks funny but not when tried. This
concluded our sacred pilgrimage and we were reluctantly ready to
leave the heavenly heights of Tibet and travel down to our respective
countries in all probability to restart our sinful lives.