Let us become nobler

Sanskrit word 'Arya' or 'Aryam' stands for nobility. Let us implore everyone to become noble, the Arya or Aryam. Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews, communists or capitalists, rich or poor, clever or dumb, weak, meek or bully. Uncomfortable perhaps are they with other, threatening peace. Ray of hope for the world is ‘include-all’ ideas of ancient Indian wisdom popularly known as Hinduism. Only they knew how to celebrate individuality of each person. Aryas respect ideas of others, respect way of worship of others, help others and become a noble citizen of this wide and varied world. Idea behind this blog is to bring out those ideas and help each of us become better than what we are. 'N' in the 'Aryan', by the way, was a mistake made by colonial 'experts' who wanted to underplay and undermine the culture and religion of those who they clandestinely enslaved.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

10- Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A Story of Shiva and Me.

(A decade ago after a trip to Tibet, Nepal and India, I wrote down my impressions. It was not meant to be a book, however after it was read by some, it was suggested that if it gets published, interested persons can use it. However I thought (and still think) that the narration was more of a personal quest into Bhagavan Shiva and that it may not interest a wider audience. Therefore instead of commercially publishing it, I thought of placing it on a website of Publishing house Harper Collins’s website known as Authonomy.com. It remained on their website as "Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A Story of Shiva and Me",  for people to review my narration for many years. However, last year, when Harper Collins shutdown Authonomy.com and I realized that some people still wanted to read my account, I decided to place all 26 chapters of that travelogue on this blog. Reader views and comments are welcome)

Chapter 10.   Town of Nyalam, A break for acclimatization with thin air and lack of Oxygen. 

Our next halt was a Tibetan town known as Nyalam. We reached here fairly late at about 9 pm due to border-delays, bad road and weather. It was already dark and we could hardly see anything except the dimly lighted guesthouse that we entered. We were assigned rooms, our duffel bags were handed over to us, after unloading them from a truck that accompanied our Landcruisers, we were told to freshen up and come for dinner. It was a hot dinner that we highly appreciated due to freezing cold climate. The chill necessitated our deploying of all warm clothing; overcoats, pullovers, caps and mufflers for the first time this trip. This place was chosen as our acclimatization center where they would keep us for about two days and would make us climb nearby mountains and fight out the altitude-sickness. From today onwards, until our return, we were given medication by way of ‘Dimox’ tablets everyday. It was compulsory to swallow one tablet of 300mg by each of us for protection from effects of high altitude. Owing to reduced oxygen intake, the heart is not at its best and that results in weaker pumping. This leads to water accumulation in all the cells of the body. Water retention in the body cells is responsible for bloated appearance (In a long haul flight, haven’t we noticed swollen feet?) and can create health complications in lungs and other parts of the body if fluid is not drained off. In effect, this tablet, we were told helps draining of water, increasing urination and consequently leaving one thirsty as a side effect. Even for a perfectly healthy man, the altitude-sickness manifests initially as headache and or nausea and if this is not taken care of, it leads to breathlessness, disorientation, aphasia and paralysis. If a person has a precondition of blood-pressure or diabetes, his symptoms could get much worse.


Some people, when we were on the way up and many of us, after reaching Nyalam discovered unexplained headache. Also experienced the strange fatigue that surfaced upon slightest exertion, even a walk of few steps! We soon understood why. Altitude-sickness. We had yet to acclimatize. And soon.


Feeling of chill and need for woolens was expected so that did not shock us but our first big shock was discovery in Nyalam that no one knew what a hotel is, what bathroom is or what lavatory is. We realized subsequently that worse areas were still to come. But no worries we had soon known how to tackle those issues – Bath: No need, climate does not allow perspiring – you are always clean – dress does not become soiled, and if it does, who is there to point out? There are no mirrors either. Lavatory: No problem, a hole in the floor, toilet roll and wet wipes in your pocket are more than sufficient. What more a man needs? Yes, food and drinking-water, both are hauled from Kathmandu in that truck that faithfully follows our convoy. This truck also carries our duffel bags. Hurray, welcome to Tibet.


However in all honesty absence of these basic facilities seemed curious but we never felt hopelessly deprived. The real hard shocker was community lavatory with nothing else except three or four holes in the floor and no walls around. All can do it together! We were in a different world and our spirits were very high. No one complained and learnt to adapt, still maintaining urban decency. If one went in the other would stand guard to warn next person to wait out.


Tibet was not only a cold place but also was a water starved territory where water too was scanty. None of the guesthouse or hotels that we stayed in had running water. Just a drum of non-potable water, a tumbler and if you are lucky, a few communal wash basins were all that was available in the name of sanitation provision. Wet-wipes and tissue papers was a good investment.


Next day, when we woke up, there was one more shock in store. We were taken aback at the scene unfolding before our eyes the moment we emerged from our rooms. It was a completely different world than what we had seen last before the darkness descended over us. Yesterday it was fantastic green Himalayas with thick vegetation, low hanging clouds and tall trees on the mountains and innumerable waterfalls. Today there was no vegetation, no trees and none of those dreamy idle clouds and no waterfalls. What we could see was nothing else but just rocks, mountains either bare or ice-peaked. Nothing else! Desolate! The change was drastic. We soon realized what it means to be at a height of 15,000 feet, on the roof of the world. Hardly anything could grow here. Nothing except short grass in random patches was visible as ‘vegetation’ and a few lonesome mountain cows, goats and yaks, as if separated from their herds feeding on those patches.


Post breakfast, we were invited to climb a nearby mountain. With some difficulties most of us made up to the top. My previous experience from climbing expeditions as a member of ‘Hikers and Mountaineers society’ of Mumbai University (Then known as Bombay University) came in handy, I was, though not the first to reach the summit, came first in climbing down, which was considered more difficult due to slippery slopes with tiny loose pebbles. Kudos to me! I reached even before the group leader could hit the base; ‘technique’ mastered of placing feet at proper places and at proper angles during college days had not yet obliterated from mind. Poonam climbed up ahead of me but returned much later with other members of the group. Up there, what we thought from down, to be a summit, was not a peak of a mountain but it was like a wide flat tableland area. Wind blew with whistling sound due to its high speed. Chilly dry wind and a scorching hot sun was a strange and contrasting coexistence. Believe me unless your face is covered with cloth mask, no matter what sunblock you use, you are sure to get severe sun burns here in chilly cold Tibetan highlands.


The acclimatization climb was certainly worthwhile. A 360 degree grand view of ice-capped mountains all around us and a tiny, 2-street, town of Nyalam below us! All those climbed, returned with a renewed confidence of a conqueror – now trek around Kailash would not be a problem where one encounters a height of 19,000 feet en route. I too returned to hotel brimming with joy which can be well understood only by a person who has undergone angioplasty procedure and who wears a few stents in his arteries around heart. Upon reaching my room, I got a not-so-brilliant idea of going to hotel’s terrace and have a cup of tea, overlooking Lhasa-Kathmandu road. I forgot that most doors in Nepal and Tibet were narrow and not so tall. Just as I was trying to joyfully emerge on the terrace, my head hit the lintel and I nearly fell down on the staircase. It was a hard hit. Head injury though was soon forgotten, it was my left knee that was worrisome. I knew any minor injury or sickness can jeopardize this trip. It was probably a minor sprain but seriously threatened my walking aspiration. I prayed for faster relief and applied whatever I thought could help me cure and kept massaging periodically.


In the evening we took a stroll on the street and felt the pulse of town. Street was being paved with concrete at some places. Some where roofs were coming up on the one-storey structure. Fierce looking dogs were sleeping on the street, appearing as if dead. Many shops in the street sold travelers and climber’s items such as shoes, jackets, woolens, thermos flasks, torches, etc. Also were there restaurants, fruit-vegetable shops, grocery stores and telephone shops from where one can check mail and call home.


Most of us had successful 2 days of acclimatization; however there was also some disquiet among a few pilgrims on account of altitude sickness. Fortunately among the pilgrims, we had a qualified physician with us and that fact was very reassuring. Unfortunately, one of the pilgrims, a forty-year-old businessman from Madhya Pradesh, who felt very sick, threw up, causing some concerns. I was carrying a lot of medicines, suggested by my cousin who is not only a cardiologist but who himself and his wife, were both veterans of Kailash trip. Problem with our sick pilgrim was initially diagnosed as stomach or acidity related. I volunteered my medicine chest to the doctor to choose the medicines from. He selected ‘Domstral’ to control vomiting and ‘Rabiloc’ for controlling acidity and gave them to the patient. Hoping that things would improve with gradual acclimatization, we set out for our next camp early morning after a wholesome breakfast.


The destination today was a town called Saga. It was good 200 km away. A new road was under construction, hence part of the journey was comfortable but rest was difficult, only on a vehicles of the likes of Landcruiser can one endure. Drive was not perilous like what we had witnessed between Kathmandu and Nyalam, still, as it was a dirt track with stones, pebbles, holes and sand arranged in random order it made it back-breaking. On the ‘roof of the world’, no valleys and ridges were expected on this route anymore now. The terrain would be almost flat except for occasional ups and downs throughout our onward journey until we return to this place. There were only three problems, one of back-breaking tiredness, second of boredom due to monotony of scenery and third of ever looming possibility of car break-down due to rough roads. All three were real problems.


Route took us over the Lalung-La pass, which is 16,000 ft high. It was the highest point we had ever reached. We got out of the car to fill-in the experience. We knew this was the height at which we would be walking for three days during circumambulation of Mount Kailash and we better get acclimatized with this height when the opportunity has presented itself. Our fleet stopped near a communication tower with antennas and microwave dishes atop. We got out of the car to stretch our feet. All around us we could see huge mountains, every one of them was ice peaked. I am not sure, if we would or could have seen the Mount Everest among them as this was one of the high points close to it. Even if so, no one mentioned, probably being unaware or assuming our focus was elsewhere. As soon as we got out of the safety of our Landcruiser, we were hit by a sweeping chilly wind coming from ice-capped mountains around us. We drove further, leaving behind the pass. The landscape was monotonous, either lightly grassed or dry and sandy with pebbles. One could spot occasional herds of goat, or yaks with herders who travel with them along with their family, wife and children. Traffic was negligible, perhaps one or two vehicles, either a rag-tag bus or truck passing at interval of several hours. There were hardly any sign of village on the way except when we stopped at one place for lunch. On the way we saw huge lake, known as Paiga-tsu, which many mistook for Manasarovar. With backdrop of mountains the blue lake was very picturesque. We were driving parallel to the river Brahmaputra. It was our dream to touch its water. Brahmaputra River is one of the longest, widest and wildest rivers. Due to this characteristic, in Sanskrit language it is indicated  as ‘Nad’ with masculine gender while all the rest of the rivers are indicated as ‘Nadi’ indicating  feminine gender.


Little by little all pilgrims had by now overcome altitude sickness but our one patient pilgrim was not showing any signs of improvement. His wife was in distress. She was worried about her husband on one hand and also worried at the prospect of aborting much-coveted trip midway. It had become necessary to refer him to the clinic, fortunately within reach now at the next destination.


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