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

7- 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 Collis 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 7.  Mount Kailash Geography. Route, brushing past Mount Everest / History / Sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Bons / Best Time to Visit Mount Kailash

First ever pictures of Tibet were published in Europe as late as in 1932, by Italian explorer Tucci. This says a lot about remoteness of this region that hides in its deep south-west the inimitable mount Kailash.


Warren Hastings[1], the first Governor General of British India had sent a Scottsman, George Bogle, officially to visit Tibet in 1774. However neither he nor anyone else could explore far western territories. It was a Swedish explorer Sven Hedin (1865-1952), who disguised himself (to circumvent Tibetan ban on European visitors) and entered Tibet from western border, in the central Asia and travelled up to mount Kailash. He was the first European ever to glimpse that sacred mountain in the year 1908.


According to the geologists, when Himalaya was not yet formed, a sea known as ‘Tethys’ separated ‘India-plate’ from ‘Eurasia-plate’. ‘India-plate’ was drifting northward from its initial location near south-pole. A collision takes place between these large landmasses floating on lava that forms the core of earth, 50 million years or so ago. At the impact, the edges of the landmasses buckle up, drying up the sea and forming Himalaya in its place. As a tale telling evidence, the remains of dead marine life is visible in these mountains till today. In the process, a lot of landmass of India-plate went underneath Eurasia plate, raising the height of what is now known as Tibet, making it ‘the roof of the world’. Earth-crust underneath Tibet has double the thickness as compared to other places on earth. Even the flat-looking plains of Tibet are at a higher height (around 15,000 ft) than most European or American mountains including Alps, Andes and Rockies. On this, already a high landscape, the Mount Kailash (In Sanskrit, Kailash means ‘Crystal’) rises above it.


From time immemorial, India and Tibet have shared extremely good relationship and people of both countries have maintained regular contacts at religious and philosophical level. However, to much of the western world, it has remained that mysterious Shangri-La. Initially Christian Jesuit[2] and Capuchin[3] monks travelled to Tibet in seventeenth century. Italian monk Ippolito Desideri (1664-1733) travelled in 1725. However, the ‘foreigners’ (meaning European missionaries), were forbidden, presumably due to threat perception to Tibetan way of life from their evangelism. They were accused by Chinese and Tibetan rulers of playing divisive politics and disrupting their religious life. Restriction on them forced ambitious missionaries, especially, Jesuits to invent crafty technique by which they defied Travel ban. They ‘smuggled’ missionaries, by recruiting Indian converts to work as missionaries, incognito dressed as common Indians for ‘salvation’ of unsuspecting Tibetans. Same technique was also used by British to obtain insight into Tibetan society, politics and military secrets, and to chart out territorial maps using Indians posing as ‘traders’ to plan future territorial expansion of their empire. British came to India as traders and it was not long before they became her ruling masters.


Mount Kailash is in south-western Tibet, east of Indo-Tibet border behind India’s Gangotri-Uttarakhand region, deep in Himalayas rising to 6,714 m (22,027 ft) height, identifiable among other mountains by its unique stand-alone pyramid construct with distinctive four faces and year-round ice cap. It is merely 150 km across Indian border across state of Uttarakhand. From New Delhi, it is at a distance of 865 km. It is approx. 1200 km from Lhasa and about 5,500 km from Chinese capital Beijing.


As virtually nothing grows except grass, most people are animal herders who travel with their animals and live in tents or mud houses. They live on meat, milk, cheese, butter and leather derived from their animal stock of sheep, goats, mountain cows, horses and yaks. In versatility, none can match Yaks with their ability of tirelessly carrying great loads and providing fat-rich milk, butter and cheese, On the landscape one often finds wild asses, occasional deer, many rodents, some as big as rabbits and ferocious dogs. Tibet has rich mineral deposits and is major treasury of precious stones.


Tibet was declared an autonomous region of China after its occupation in 1949-51 when thousands of communist China’s ‘People’s liberation Army marched into Tibet disregarding protests of the Tibetan leaders who had hardly any military to stop them. Buddhist ideology looks in contempt at war and saw no need to support a war machine. Thus they had hardly any military or weapon to defend. At that time in the history, the world was grappling with post World-War-2 blues and the international community was in no mood to defend Tibet. Despite fervent appeals by Dalai Lama, USA, UK and rest of all the Western countries looked other way. Even the Indian leadership under Jawahar Lal Nehru, did nothing more than a few words of sterile advise and when it became too much to bear for Dalai Lama in Tibet, allowed him to cross the land border in 1959 when he arrived incognito, hiding from Chinese soldiers, police and spies. Today Dalai Lama and scores of Tibetan Buddhist are living in exile in India.


Chinese army ran over the naively innocent Tibetans. Tibet became the latest among the victims of Buddhist nonviolent political leadership.  In past the territories dominated by Buddhist leadership such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives etc fell victim to aggression from outsiders. China itself being at one time follower of Buddhist ideology could not resist Maoist aggression when forced upon them. In time we would see other Buddhist countries soon giving up their faith and convictions in favor of more aggressive faiths. Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, etc may be next in line. Those societies who value bravery and adventure can survive for long and those who value knowledge and knowledgeable besides the brave will survive even longer and would live fulfilled rich lives.


There are three main gateways to Mount Kailash. Most used route since ancient times, starts from Almoda[4] or Kathagodam in Uttarakhand. It is shortest, (265 km, one-way) but takes approx. 15 Days for a return trip due to rigors of trekking. In this route one also can see the famous mountain the ‘Om Parvat’, not visible on rest of the routes. The mountain is so named because a pattern of Sanskrit alphabet ‘Om’ appears on its peak. Currently most popular, and perhaps easiest route (1,000 km, one-way) starts from Kathmandu. This is the route that we had taken. It took us 15 days for a return trip, but involved only 3 days of trekking; rest was covered, mainly in Landcruisers. Third route begins from Tibetan capital Lhasa, (about 1,200 km, one way) east of Kailash. It takes approx. 22 days for a return trip. This route passes through Shigatse and Lhatse before it merges with Kathmandu-Kailash route some where near the town of Saga. Lhasa route is frequented more by Europeans, by adventure-tourists and by pilgrims from Japan, China as well as thrill-loving pilgrims from all over the world with deeper pockets. A fourth route starts from Kashmir but hardly used by civilians and foreigners due to permission-denial on account of its passage through or its proximity to a politically extremely sensitive and volatile territory. The Chinese province of Sinkiang (Xinjiang), the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, the China occupied Kashmir and the Indian Kashmir! Apart from these land routes, one has an option to fly. Helicopter tour is available from Kathmandu. The Copter takes the pilgrims up to Takalakot, a town on Indo-Tibet border from where Kailash-base-camp of Darchen is just a few hours drive in a Landcruiser. All routes ultimately converge on to Darchen, from where one chooses either to trek on foot or hire a pony. Both take 3-days to go around Kailash.


Kailash is home of Bhagavan Shiva where He stays with his wife, Parvati, and two sons, Kartikeya and Ganesh. Bhagavan Shiva’s vehicle is a bull, Mata Parvati’s is a lion (sometimes tiger in her other forms), Kartikeya’s peacock and Ganesh’s, a mouse. All their vehicles too are said to be ‘parked’ in this region. Kartikeya is a martial man, a commander of ‘God’s army’. Ganesh is a leader of ‘Gana’ (personal assistants’ of Bhagavan Shiva. Kartikeya is also known by another name, Skanda.  Some say that present day Scandinavia gets its name from the mighty Skanda and their Vikings their valor.

Sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Bons


Pre-Buddhist Bon religious tradition identifies Kailash-Manasarovar area as spiritual center where its founder Shanrab is said to have descended from the heaven. Rhyming with story of Bhagavan Shiva, Tibetans believe that Kailash is abode of their fierce looking deity, the Demchog who lives there with his consort Dorje-Phagmo. Bons also perform Parikrama of Kailash and Manasarovar. Their Parikrama is anticlockwise while Hindu Parikrama is always done clockwise. Therefore, while on Kailash-Parikrama we saw many smiling faces and joyful greeting from Bons coming from opposite direction throughout our Parikrama. Mount Kailash is known in Tibetan language as ‘Khang Rinpoche’. (8th Century Buddhist monk Padma-Sambhav who hailed from present day Swat in Pakistan is known to Tibetan Buddhists as ‘Guru Rinpoche’. Padma-Sambhav was a great tantric and Tibetan Buddhism has recorded many interesting tales of how he used his exorcism techniques to defeat demons, how he convinced  local kings and how did he pass on the knowledge and spread Buddhism in Tibet) Buddhist saint Milarepa (1052-1135) had meditated in a cave here. Thus Kailash is a very holy mountain for Tibetan Buddhists too.


Founder of Sikh faith, Guru Nanak too visited Mount Kailash and thus making it an important place even in Sikh traditions.


As Hindus considered Kailash to be a permanent abode of Bhagavan Shiva, many known and unknown sages and sanyasis have meditated and have done Tapa here and have attained Nirvana in the caves around this mountain. While on circumambulation, one can see several cave-like holes and strange structures in the Mount Kailash and in the mountains that surround it.


A hillock facing Mount Kailash was used for meditation by the first ‘Tirthankar’, a saint and propagator of Jain faith, several millennia ago. His name was Rushabh[5]-Dev (Also known as Aadi-Nath). He attained Mokhsa (Nirvan) here. As he walked towards Mount Kailash, he, on his eighth step, miraculously, it is said, was absorbed in the Mount Kailash or say he became one with Mount Kailash. To commemorate this miraculous event the hillock is known as “Ashta-Pada” (Eight Steps)


This area was considered as the center of universe by the ancient people. We truly felt ecstasy to have been able to walk and talk in the very area that was once roamed by those exalted people who created or have been referred to in the scriptures, of Hindus, Buddhists, Bons, Jains and Sikhs. We felt more than privileged to share neighborhood of Bhagavan Shiva and His family. We were deeply humbled at thought of Brahma, Mandhata, Yama, Nachiketa, Indra, Kuber, Avalokiteshwara, Tara, Aadi-Nath and rest of the great Gods, Yakshas, Gandharvas, Apsaras, Sages, Saints, Kings, Queens etcetera who had made Kailash-Manasarovar and surrounding area as their home or work-arena. They were makers of histories and discoveries to which mankind has not yet reached. We were overwhelmed to think of their stories, philosophies, adventures, kingdoms and treasures.


Which Hindu is not familiar with exalted places such as Indra-Loka of Indra, Ilavrita, a kingdom of women ruled by Goddess Durga a.k.a. Bhavani, Brahma-Loka of Brahma, Alkapuri of Kuber, Vaikunth of Vishnu, Mount Manadara, Mount Sumeru , Mount Gandhamadan, etcetera? These are still lying undiscovered in this area. Mount Meru, described in the scripture as the center of universe is supposed to be somewhere in this region, perhaps to the northwest of Kailash, or as some claim, Kailash itself is mount Meru.


More research on ancient ‘stories’ could expand our understanding of the significance and the pivotal role this region had played at one time in the development of Hindu (Buddhism-Jainism etc included) philosophies and scriptures. Nevertheless we still had bountiful thrill, overwhelming, humbling and fulfilling.

Best Time to Visit Mount Kailash


Pilgrimage season starts from May and ends in September. However for adventure tourism, the place is open throughout the year. Permissions are always necessary from authorities for any trip or even any mid course deviation. The region gets completely frozen during winter months of October to April. We chose almost end of the pilgrimage-season to travel since most of the snow and ice would have melted and gone away, making it more comfortable for us. This we had learnt from our earlier experience of travelling in Himalayas. Once again, we chose the same period. This period coincides with south Asian monsoon. Many pilgrims are afraid of this period due to imminent possibility of fatal land-slides, mud-slides, frequent falling of loose rocks and uprooted trees, and swollen rivulets and streams and rain.  It is true that the danger increases, but there are four compelling reasons in my mind for this specific period. One, it is still not winter, hence less cold. Two, rain brings beauty; it paints landscape green, punctuates it with streams, lakes, lively rivers and waterfalls on the way. Three, as other tourists keep away, one gets more solitary moments with nature. And four, with rain-dampened soil, dust is firmly grounded hence dust-free journey on dirt tracks or in high wind situations.


[1] Warren Hastings was second British ruler but first to hold post of Governor General of British India. He also carried a brief on northern expansion. Under his tyrannical and deceitful rule, he expanded British territories in India and plundered India like never before. He was impeached upon his return to Britain due to accumulation of huge personal wealth by extortion of Indians.
[2]Members of the Christian organization known as “Society of Jesus” founded by ex-soldier, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Society is also known as ‘company’ with military reference to company of an infantry. Their objective is spread and protection of Christian religion. 
[3] Catholic religious order originated in Italy
[4]Wrongly pronounced as ‘Almora’ by many ( ‘Da’, “Dha’ and ‘Ala’ of Indian Languages, are generally mispronounced by speakers of Western languages as “Ra’
[5] He was born in Ayodhya in Ikshvaku Dynasty (Same Dynasty as that of Bhagavan


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