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

17- 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 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 17.  Kamlesh Trek, Day-2, Zuthulpuk Monastery.

Second day of Parikrama is dreaded by every pilgrim. We did not realize why it was so until we encountered the height of 18,600 feet when we had to cross the ‘Dolma-La’ pass. To get an idea of the height, think of it as merely 11,000 feet less than the world’s highest peak, the Mount Everest!


However we did not even begin to think of looming hardship. On our mind today was another very important work, or say ‘call to duty’. Trek would be next. Today was full-moon-day of the month of Shraavan, a very important festival, variously known as ‘Shraavani-Purnima’, ‘Nariyeli-Purnima’ or ‘Rakshaa-Bandhan’.

Shraavani-Purnima: Holy Thread and Raakhi


“Shraavani-Purnima” normally occurs every year around July-August. It is a popular festival that touches lives of everyone in India. Essentially there are three festivals that are rolled in one on this full moon day.


In the form of “Raksha-Bandhan” (a.k.a ‘Raakhi’), it becomes a celebration between brothers and sisters when she ties a thread, a ‘protection-band’ around right-wrist of the brother wishing him long life and in turn brother vows to protect her through any difficulty in life without claiming any right over her.


In the form of ‘Nariyeli-Purnima’ this day is celebrated by all sailors and fishermen as a day to begin fishing and sea voyages once again. As per the Hindu custom, fish-stock is not allowed to be disturbed during their breeding season. Therefore fisher folks observe moratorium on fishing and voyages during June-July-August months and only after full moon day today would they set to sea.


In the form of ‘Shraavani-Purnima’ it stores high significance for all those who wear Upaveet (Holy-thread) because on this day they are required to replace the old Upaveet with a new one after an elaborate ceremony during which the Upaveet holder invokes Devas and Vedas and installs them on the Upaveet, followed by renewing the vow to uphold Vedas, respect knowledge, respect teachers and respect mother earth.  The Upaveet is a cotton thread that is worn on the torso going across from left-shoulder to right-hip. Physician pilgrim in our group too wore the holy-thread. That made two of us. This meant that we had to wake up early morning, have a ‘bath’ and perform the ceremony. Under the circumstances, where there was neither water, nor bathroom, only a semblance of bath would, I presumed, suffice.


At one time, years ago, every Hindu wore the holy thread. However as time went by, when it began becoming harder and harder to uphold values under social, religious and political pressures, currently only a small population has remained balance who still wear the Upaveet, just only a few men but hardly any woman even among Brahmins and Kshatriyas. Mainly it is these two communities that are seen to be observing Upaveet rituals of this festival.


After a token ‘bath’, when we sat for the ceremony in the early morning, the world outside was still asleep. Moon was trying to give way to advancing sunrays. It was still dark but with a hint of daybreak. Snow around was reflecting whatever light fell upon it. Today stars had shied away by full moon and hence only a few were visible. Our room was not in its best state. Roof was leaking from unending rain. There was no electricity; hence the room was in complete darkness. A few candles and the holy butter-oil-lamp (Deepak) that was lighted for ceremony provided slight illumination. Holy water that came from Kailash spring, which we had collected yesterday, came in very handy for consecration. Wife of physician and Poonam had put together everything necessary for the ceremony. Poonam was waiting on us in case we needed any help. The proximity of Kailash, darkness, chilly climate, bare chest (Upaveet changing ceremony needs one to keep bare the torso), water drops from leaky ceiling producing eerie music, oh my God, this must be my strangest and yet holy-most Shraavani-Purnima. We performed rituals as we knew and replaced our Upaveets. The discarded ones need to be respectfully disposed off; hence kept them in our pockets and did the right thing when we encountered flowing streams on the way.


No brother can forget his sister and no sister can forget her brother today. As soon as I had completed holy-thread ceremony, fondly remembering my sister, I got her Raakhi tied to my right wrist at the hands of Poonam. By the time we rose from this twin ceremony and had exchanged Prasad (Sweets), we saw that other pilgrims had also woken up and were getting ready for the trek. We too quickly dressed up and in no time were ready to hit the road after a light breakfast and a cup of tea. Our destination today was a distant Zuthulpuk monastery to the east of Mount Kailash after an ‘extreme’ trek.

Trek Begins, Day 2 Around Kailash


We started our trek at about 8 am. Sky had cleared of nightly clouds and appeared to promise a clear day of sunshine. Hardly had we begun walking and we heard a loud scream and thud of someone falling. First mishap of the day, I thought as we turned our heads in the direction of scream. He was a bank executive from Dubai falling to ground from his unruly pony. To make matters worse, pony began to move while pilgrim’s one foot was still stuck in the stirrup. Pony-minder did control his pony, but belatedly.  Luckily, pilgrim escaped with only minor bruises.


Unlike yesterday’s almost level trek, today was a steady climb, which, in time became a steep climb and then equally bad or even worse climb down on a seemingly unending trail.


Just after the pony incident, we had to cross a fast flowing stream. Tree-trunks placed over it made for a makeshift bridge. Unknown to us, the overnight dew on the log was transformed into thin layer of slippery ice. I was careful almost till end, however almost at the other end of the ‘bridge’ my foot slipped, almost sending me into chilly waters; narrowly I escaped falling in the stream. As we made a steady progress, Mount Kailash that was to our right slowly began to disappear behind nearby mountains. It was completely eclipsed when we reached the beginning of the steep climb of Dolma-La. The climb was tough. On the mountain to our right was a glacier, with a huge chunk of sliding ice. By mid day, when we were at a reasonable height, mistakenly we thought that worst was over. Actually worse, much worse, was still to be endured.


Climbing further up, becoming breathless every few steps, we reached the highest level of 5,630 m or 18,600 ft. Here was a shrine of Dolma-La or Goddess Tara. The shrine has no formal temple structure but is marked by hundreds of colorful prayer flags and buntings. We saw that each prayer-flag is indeed printed with different prayers in Tibetan language, justifying its name ‘prayer-flag’. Not only the flags but also we came across many flat stones with Buddhist inscriptions written in Tibetan language strewn around the shrine, left there by devout pilgrims as their offerings.


Dolma-La climb is not describable adequately. It was an almost vertical climb; it was hard even for many ponies. It was muddy at places and stony at others, full of sliding rubble and extremely slippery. We were fighting terrain, extremely thin atmosphere, chilly wind and scorching sun, We could barely take a few steps and had to break for the breather. This went on until we reached the summit of the pass. It was nothing short of miracle that altitude-sickness did not manifest here. We wished to sit down and rest for a while upon reaching the peak but dared not because as per the Sherpa following behind, we were not even to halfway mark there and much longer trail was still to be covered.

Gauri Kund


As we started to climb down, we soon realized it was not easy. It was hard even for the ponies. All riders were asked to compulsorily dismount and make the descent themselves on feet. Now to our right is that famous ‘Gauri-Kund’. ‘Kund’ is a water tank like small lake. It is named after Mata (Mother) Parvati, one of her name being ‘Gauri’. This is the site where Mata Parvati was bathing, where Her young child Ganesha was keeping vigil against anyone intruding and where He tries to prevent Bhagavan Shiva from going to the ‘Kund’. What ensues is a well known story that needs no recounting, however suffice to say it is here that Bhagvan Ganesha loses His original head and dons elephant head.


The Gauri-Kund water is distinctively emerald in color. The lake was at a level far below our trekking trail. Not withstanding the daunting descent and even more difficult climbing back, one young man, our team-mate from Mumbai, somehow mustered up the energy to visit the lake. He was the only hero from our entire group who managed to reach the Gauri-Kund. He wished to collect holy water from the kund. However, despite reaching all the way down to the distant kund, he did not succeed in that mission due to treacherously loose rubble of stones that surrounded its sloping shore. If he was to pursue that mission, he felt sure to have slid down in the water. Even though he could not touch the water, his going down, having a closer look and his returning back safe and sound was a feat to recon with in this oxygen-depleted region. All of us were content viewing his bravery with awe from where we were and musing over the Shiva-Ganesha encounter. As we go further, slowly descending, we had to constantly orient ourselves in the north-easterly clockwise direction so as not to miss our destination especially when trail disappeared or was confusing. This area is peculiar with many large boulders, flowing water around them and with no visible trail. We had to walk only on hunch. Having overcome this area, and having taken a sharp clockwise turn, when we thought that it was the bottom of the descent, we found ourselves looking down to a further steep descent in sheer disbelief.


Helplessly we trudged down, taking care not to slip on the loose pebbles that rolled down from below our feet. More often than not we had to use even our hands for support and almost walk on all four limbs. The descent was made worse with unpredictable trail that either disappeared altogether or was branching in multiple directions. At one stage, at last we did really reach the base and felt relieved however once again it was a false relief.


As we were at the bottom of the descent, the route further appeared to be flat, well almost, with occasional slopes up and down. However, still the end was not in sight. A lot of streams flowing from the slopes of the mountain had now to be crossed. We lost the count but no less than fifty odd streams we would have crossed over precariously kept stones or jumping long jumps or when everything else failed, by wading through the rapidly flowing waters.


Now it was the turn of rain god to test us. Dead tired, yet it was with the grace of Bhagavan Shiva we were braving rain, thunder and lightening. The sound of thunder was deafening and their reverberations in the valley were frightening. The wind too was loud. When we were barely braving the rain and the chill, the hailstones followed. Remember, inhere, there is no place to hide. No shelter, no tree and no cave. You are out in the open with sky up and earth below. Hailstones too have to be braved. Our cap and jacket did cushion the hit however any accidentally exposed part received injuries. This ordeal lasted for about two hours. Skin had reddened where hailstone had repeatedly hit, clothes were wet and cold wind was doing its tricks. We were in a valley, in between two mountains; it is not difficult to imagine the outcome of rain and hailstones. Streams started gushing; terrain became especially muddy and slippery punctuated by millions of puddles to add to our woes.


Evening was setting in. We were shivering with cold, were dead tired and yet Zuthulpuk was not even in sight. We however kept up at it and at last, almost when the last bit of evening light was being eased out by advancing night, at about 9 pm we made it; a torturous distance of about 20 km. What a great relief! Most others of the group, had already made it before us, we were amongst the last. Up on the slopes, the ancient Zuthulpuk monastery with fluttering prayer buntings disappeared in the darkness that followed. Warm food was ready but we had no appetite. But for the chief Sherapa, who was veteran of Everest climb, who insisted that we must eat a little, we wouldn’t have eaten. Soon thereafter, profusely thanking Bhagavan Shiva, we hit the bed and slept, I was doubtful if I would wake up alive the next day. Somewhere on the way today, I had already informed Poonam, that should I die, cremate my body where I die, no need to send body home.


When I woke up the next day, “Oh, my God, Thank you very much, I am still alive”, I thought. Curiously but true, there was no sign of any tiredness. As we were last to arrive and first to sleep, we had not met most of the other pilgrims yesterday. In the morning, over breakfast and tea, we caught up with the news. Everyone had found the second day quite dreadful. We came to know that many pilgrims who had taken pony had a fall. One lady fell three times in a row. Some riders were so fed up with pony and even its minder that they had decided to walk. Also we came to know that one pony and its minder, both had disappeared, leaving pilgrims in the lurch. There were many falls but fortunately no one was grievously injured.



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