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A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

Kailash Mansarovar Travel Tips

I feel energised visiting ancient Shiva temples. Having visited the Pancha Bhootha Temples and most of the Jyotirlingas I have had a deep desire to visit Kailash Mansarovar. This materialised between July 30th & Aug 14th in 2018 – a great advance 50th Birthday treat for me. A long and challenging trip that was executed to perfection by the Isha Sacred Walks team.

There is something mystical about Kailash that has drawn pilgrims for thousands of years. Many keep coming again and again. I would say this is how a temple should be – spread over 1000’s of km’s across pristine nature, no rituals, no flowers, no aartis, no poojari – just you and the Lord in direct contact. 

By the Grace of God and the blessings of the Masters the trip worked out magically. Here is a  summary before I delve into the details

  • We travelled via Lhasa (Bangalore – Kathmandu – Lhasa by flight) and then 1500 km bus drive @ 500 km / day from Lhasa to Mansarovar.
  • Lhasa is at 12,500 feet and Mansarovar – Kailash at 16500/17000 feet. For a perspective Simla is 7000 feet and Leh/Ladakah is 12,000 feet.
  • Our journey was across a fortnight spanning 14 different hotel rooms. Wake up at 5 AM, Pack your bags by 5.30 AM, Guru Pooja and Kriya till 7 AM, Breakfast then start the journey at 8.30 AM driving almost 10 hrs every day. Reach the hotel by 7.30 PM – Dinner – Bath – Sleep. It was a blur as the 14 days whizzed by.
  • Temperatures  ranged from – 5 to 10 degrees, cold and wet, and at times the high altitude sun searing down on you. The challenge of altitude sickness, lack of appetite, tiredness – all of this overcome with one singleminded purpose – the goal to visit and experience  Kailash Mansarovar.

The journey in Phases 

Phase – 1 : Planning 

I made my bookings in Dec 2017. I had been hunting for a good reliable agency and finally decided that Isha Sacred walks was the best. They have been at this for years and do a professional job with the highest regard for safety and convenience. This year Isha is conducting passage for 21 groups with ~ 70 people in each group. Thats a total of ~ 1500 Yatris which contributes to almost 15% of all who will visit Kailash Mansarovar. The pre travel communications for packing / medicines / fitness were crisp and efficient.

Phase – 2 : Arrival at Kathmandu  (Day – 1) 

Our assembly point was at Kathmandu. I reached a day early to visit the city and the famous Pashiupathinath Temple (The package covers this on the return leg). Kathmandu looks like a bombed city – dusty, potholed roads, congested, chaotic. We stayed at The Yak & Yeti in central Kathmandu a nice 5 star property. We completed our debrief, tied the Abhaysutra’s, collected our kits (Isha gives you a Duffel bag, back pack, sling bag and a Down jacket on returnable basis), converted currency to Yuan. We were strictly informed to remove all books / T Shirts that had any connotation of “Free Tibet” and travel as Yatris and not activists. One wrong message can put the whole group in jeopardy. Next morning we started with Guru Puja and Kriyas (Something we did every day) and then headed to the airport for the flight to Lhasa with our coordinators.

Phase – 3 : Acclimatisation at Lhasa (Day – 2/3)

The flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa is less than 90 minutes. Clearing immigration was a hassle – the Chinese are not very friendly and it took us over an hour to complete the process. Lhasa at 12500 feet is a modern city, well maintained with the hallmark Chinese infrastructure of broad roads and nice footpaths. We stayed at the Lhasa Mansarovar hotel – a nice spacious property with good facilities. Breakfast was the regular hotel buffet but lunch and dinner were Indian meals cooked specially for us. That was one of the highlights of the trip – we had fresh piping hot Indian food all through the trip.  

The weather in Lhasa was bright and sunny and we had time to visit the ancient Jokhan Temple, The Potala Palace and The Summer Palace. Tibetans are happy friendly people, and they always oblige to take photos. But they seem to be a minority amidst the Chinese population.

The city was disciplined, organised and clean. We spent more time at Lhasa on our return leg and had dinner at a beautiful place, so more about it then.

 

Phase – 4 : Bus Trip from Lhasa to Mansarovar (Day – 4/5/6)

From Lhasa our journey shifted to buses for the next 9 days. Lhasa to Mansarovar is almost 1500 Km and we covered ~ 500 Km / day. Our first stop was at Shigatse, the 2nd largest town of Tibet at 12,500 feet. And this was the shortest drive of the trip for 6 hrs. From Shigatse we drove to Saga and reached a altitude of over 16,000 feet. This was a long day with over 10 hrs of driving. And then from Saga to Mansarovar.

As we travelled from Lhasa the quality of the hotels started deteriorating. However, till Saga we had rooms with hot water and bathrooms.

We were lucky to get Indian food all through. Even lunch was packed. Breakfast was Khichdi, Upma, Cereal, Fruits, Milk, Tea, Coffee and lunch was Rice, Dal, Sabji, Rajma, Canned Sweets, Bhujia, Apple etc.

The landscape changes after Lhasa. Tibet is the worlds highest plateau. It’s a cold desert. All you see is undulating plains of grasslands with Yaks and Sheep and hardy nomads. There are no trees.

After reaching Shigaste (12500 feet), I fell sick. A combination of AMS and GERD hit me. I lost my appetite and felt feverish and weak. I rarely fall sick and was a little underprepared with my medicine kit. The YAK Butter, Milk Powder and Puri with Rajma for lunch must have caused the problem in this high altitude zone. Luckily we had doctors travelling with us in the bus and stationed at the hotels. They were checking everyone twice a day and thanks to their support I recovered in a few days.

(Doc in Green T Shirt was a fellow Yatri who was doing Gods own service by treating and helping us. I owe it to him for getting back in shape)

On this trip it is best to avoid greasy food. I had carried a lot of “Groundnut Chikki” which I gave away. Figs, dates, biscuits, ginger balls, chocolates , energy bars etc are good to have. The family of Yatris helped me out with medicines and useful supplies all through. It’s amazing how people who you have never never met before come together as a family to help you in your time of need.

If you suffer from GERD or acidity, stick to a light diet. We got bananas and apples every day – so you can stock up on that. Falling sick has nothing to do with age. Our group of 75 had people from 26 – 66 and many of the people in their mid 50’s were the fittest of the lot.

Diamox to prevent altitude sickness is a must have twice a day. It is recommended to start it 5 days before you leave for Kathmandu. With Diamox you drink a lot of water so that means frequent restroom breaks. Which is a challenge. There are no decent loos on the highway so your breaks are always in the open.  Diamox kept me waking up every hr at night all through the trip adding to the tiredness. At these altitudes its difficult to get a restful 5 hr sleep at night. And I am a super sensitive light sleeper.

Phase – 5 : We reach Mansarovar on Day 6

After 3 days of long drives we finally reached Mansarovar. We stayed at a camp right across the lake. Our camp was a Pucca brick structure room with no attached bath. For the next 4 days we would have to manage with no bathrooms, which was a challenge. The toilets were sink pits inside small tents and with no air circulation, it can be smelly. You have the option of using open air starry sky toilets also – which was a better option. At 4 AM, pitch dark, no power, armed with a torch on your head like a coal miner, wet wipes, toilet paper roll, a rain coat, layers of warm clothing you hunt for a nice starry corner. (Suggestion if you are using the tent loos carry some Camphor with you – the smell of Camphor minimises the stink)

Mansarovar is a large lake. It is mystical and has a close linkage with Kailash. We could see the South Face of Kailash from our camp. Many have seen lights and divine bodies taking a dip at the lake during the Brahma Muhurtam  – we also woke up at 2.30 AM and spent some time but were not lucky to witness any celestial beings.

The next morning we did our meditation and prayers by the lake. It is a serene experience and as you sit quietly you can’t but help choke and feel the tears running down your eyes.Many brave souls took a bath in the chill cold water. The authorities don’t allow you to take a dip – so the sherpas get water in drums. Recovering from fever, I splashed water all over my body and it was very refreshing.

Phase – 6 : The final Trek to Kailash – day 7 /8

After breakfast we had a short 1 hr ride to Yam Dwar and started our trek. Many people do the full 72 Km Parikrama that takes 3 days. We did a total of 32 Km (16 Km up and down). Starting from Yam Dwar and walking along the Western face till we reached the Northern face of Kailas where we camped for 2 nights.  We had views of the Southern Face, Western Face and the Northern face.

You have an option of taking a pony. Most people walk. Its a easy trek. Broad path, scenic views, fresh air. You can do it comfortably in 4 – 6 hrs.  Good to have a porter as at this altitude even a few 100 grams can tire you out. The porters cost 850 Yuan for the round trip and the Pony costs 2200 Yuan. There are a few stopover points for tea and snacks to catch you breath and warm your hands.

I was all set to walk but after 3 days of fever the doctor insisted I take a pony. Isha paid for the pony – which was a wonderful gesture, 2200 Yuan is almost Rs 24,000. The horses are young, wild and very sensitive. We were in a group of 4 horses and the Yatri on the 1st horse opened his umbrella, which got his horse troubled. In the neighing and confusion, my pony suddenly started running and knocked me down. For a few minutes I was in a state of shock, wondering if I had broken bones. Fortunately by the grace of God all was well, the thick jacket had saved me and all I had was a few bruises. In this panick moment I saw the horse man remove my RADO watch – but was in no state to stop him. With little oxygen, your memory loss is high and I forgot the incident. After the fall, I refused to sit on the pony and trekked the remaining way to Kailash and back. It was only late in the evening after I reached Kailash that I realised that my watch was missing. By sheer luck the organisers managed to get it back. Miracles do happen in Kailash.

Kailash is the source of enormous energy. The mountain looks different from others in its vicinity. Its majestic and towering. It draws sadhaks from across religions – Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Tibetans. Many come and spend years drawing energy and knowledge. The 1st Jain Tirthankara Rishaba spent over 7 years, Milarepa the buddhist monk spent many years. Sages, wise men, monks, students are all drawn to the power of Kailash. Some say it was made by extra terrestrials, others say it is the centre of the universe, and the global HQ of energy and power which the puny human mind cannot comprehend. Many holy rivers originate from here. You go to Kailash to dissolve. Not to ask, but to merge and take back a spark of that energy with you. You are lucky if you can connect and get that spark embedded in you.

After you reach Kailash you sit quietly trying to absorb this infinite power. You thank the Gods and the divine masters for a safe journey. And you can sense a catharsis within you as the tears swell up and flow silently. We spent 2 nights at Kailash – I wish we could have spent more. I did get a view of the full mountain, but it was cloudy most of the time. We did not have blue skies and at night could not see the stars. Old timers say that later part of Aug the weather gets clearer.

Our stay at Kailash was also in pucca camps similar to Mansarovar. The toilets were better as they were not tents. they were better designed with open roofs. It snowed at night making it very cold. The rooms were comfortable and the piping hot food was a treat. People started reaching Kailash by 4.30 PM and the last set by 7.30 PM. The sun sets only by 9 PM. Tibet is set to Beijing time so its 2 hrs 30 min ahead of India.

Next morning after breakfast we did our group meditation in front of Kailash and visited the Milarepa Monastery close by. The brave Sherpas went close to the mountain glaciers and collected “Kailash Teertha” for us. Fresh with minerals and the energy of Lord Shiva – one drop is all you need to energise yourself.

Phase – 7 : The Trek Back – Day 9

You dont feel like coming back from Kailash but after 2 nights we had to head back. The return walk is easier. This section is not steep and we touched a max of 17,000 feet. There are however parts of the 72 km Parikrama that are steep and a tough trek with altitude touching 18,000 feet. Many buddhist devotees do the entire Parikrama by prostrating. That takes nearly 45 days to complete. 

Our luggage came by Yak’s. This is Yak land – they are strong wild beasts and the local population survives on everything YAK. From Meat, Wool, Milk, Leather – life in Tibet is tough and would not be possible without the Yaks.

Tibetans are tough people and with all the challenges they are a smiling lot. They may be Buddhists but their religion is steeped in tradition and rites and has a lot of Tantric aspects of Hinduism. They say that when the invaders came the Tantric knowledge of Hinduism was smuggled to Kashmir, Tibet, Nepal & Assam as it was safest here in the remote Himalayas. Somehow from here it managed to find its way to Kerala also.

After 4 days of no bath we finally reached Darchen – to a nice hotel with a bathroom and hot water. What luxuries. A nice warm bath, lovely hot food, contentment, a sense of accomplishment and happiness gave way to a relaxed nights sleep.

Phase – 8 : Back to Lhasa

Over the next 3 days we drove back the long 1500 Km back to Lhasa Via Saga & Shigatse. Most of the drive was along the Brahmaputra that was in spate and we had a few long stop overs were the bridges were broken or landslides had blocked the roads. Small incidents nothing serious. We were lucky.

After reaching Lhasa we  ventured out for dinner to a lovely places called The Tibetan Family Kitchen. Nobody knows a word of english in Lhasa – locating the place was a challenge. After a few misses I was lucky to find a young English speaking couple who escorted me to the restaurant. There are good helpful people everywhere.

The service and food at the restaurant was outstanding. We ordered almost every veg dish (Their speciality was Yak Meat) and enjoyed the meal. The group of 75 was split across 4 buses – we were in Bus 4 and over the last 12 days had built a good camaraderie with the group. Far far away in Lhasa, it was fun dining with a few good people.  The lady who runs the restaurant was the perfect host. She booked us cabs and got us back safely to our hotel. 

Phase – 9 : Back to Kathmandu

On the 13th of Aug we headed back to Kathmandu. And the jinx of 13th played up for a bit. Our flight almost landed at Kathmandu and then had to turn back to Lhasa as the weather was bad. A short stopover for refuelling and we were headed back to Kathmandu reaching in time for a late lunch at 2.30. the 2 1/2 hr time lag was a blessing.

That evening we had a Satsang with Sadhguru at the Gokarna hotel. Its rare to meet Sadhguru in a small group of 150 people. We were lucky. We were the 1st batch, A1, and there was a batch heading to Kailash the next day. The Satsang was for both groups. Sadhguru was in full flow and enthralled us for almost 2 hrs in an interactive session.

Phase – 9 : Back to Bangalore

Aug 14th we headed back to Bangalore. We had left on July 30th. It was day 16. We had covered a lot and had accumulated memories for a lifetime. We had survived on an adrenalin rush till now and as I sunk into the  Jet Airways seats, I was overcome by exhaustion. It’s going to take a few days to recover. Something tells me that this is not the last trip – I will head back again to Kailash again in the near future. And as I sign off a special thanks to our team lead from Isha, the young Pooja from the ashram, who did a stellar job with her band of volunteers in managing and coordinating this trip so well. A big thanks to the volunteers, sherpas, cooks, all the support staff who make this trip possible and the friendly helpful fellow yatris who were like family forging new bonds.

Other Tips 

  • Travel light. Dont pack too many woollens, reuse. Ensure 3 sets of Thermals, Undergarments change every day, Socks for every 2 days. Dress in layers.
  • Carry healthy food – Dates/Figs/Biscuits/Chocolates/Energy Bars/Gur/ Something salty – helps to munch something in the long bus rides.
  • Carry 2 – 3 pairs of Gloves, Caps, Mufflers – they tend to get misplaced. A good raincoat is a must. Wear ziplocks over your your socks so that they dont get wet as you trek.
  • Pack all your clothes in Ziplocks / Plastic covers. Use number locks for duffel bags.
  • Carry a flask for hot water and a regular water bottle.
  • A head torch can be very useful
  • Medicines I ended up having – Dymox, Domistal, Omniprosol, Allegra, Azithrol, Dexam, B Complex. (Carry the list that Isha subscribe – http://www.sacredwalks.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/First-Aid-Kit.pdf
  • Packing suggestions : http://www.sacredwalks.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/E-Brochures/Kailash-Packing-Suggestions.pdf
  • There is network connectivity available in almost all the places including Kailash & Mansarovar. Battery pack is needed only at Kailash & Mansarovar.
  • Hotels in China have Wi Fi – but FB/ WhatsApp / Google are banned – activate Airtel Roaming pack before you travel.
  • How much does this cost? Ex Kathmandu 2.85 Lacs. Flight to Kathmandu, 1 extra night stay, Porter, Misc etc add 30 K – so thats a total of 3.15 Lacs for the trip/person.

A few more Views from the trip

 Mythily with the bus drivers friend 

A Tibetian lady selling flowers at the Jokhan temple

Meghna & Vikramjit

Playing TT at the park at Shigatse

Afternoon view of Kailash

A performer / model near the Potala Palace

Community dance at Park at Shigatse

Locals we met Enroute

Mustard fields on the road to Saga

Room at Lhasa

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3 Comments

  1. nice post and excellent narration with details.. this is one of my bucketlist items.. and blogs like this inspire me to plan it sooner.. tq.. pl try to elaborate (even more, i know its never enough) the time you spent at the foot/around mt.kailash.. hope you enjoyed the trip of a lifetime sir…

  2. I have gone through a doc on the internet where sadhguru is with the people during the entire trip. Does this ever again, happens with Sadhguru being one of the traveler to kailash along with other people. If so, when would be that.
    Link for reference: https://www.ishafoundation.org/Yatra-Sacred-Treks/kailash-manasarovar-sojourn.isa

    • vak1969

      Yes there is 1 group which travels with Sadhguru. This is not published but if you request the Isha walks team they can share the details. the cost for this is significantly higher than the regular groups.

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