Mount Kailash - Manasarovar Lake - Tibet

Teej festival - Pashipatinath nabij Kathmandu

Mount Kailash - Manasarovar Lake - Tibet

Mt Kailash - Nexus nirvana: Retreat & Return

I looked into the sky… dawn was appearing in the east.  The previous night the driver had driven until his eyelids were dropping.  We drove on and it mist have been around midday when we reached the little town of Darchen that marks the start of the 51 km kora circuit of the holy mountain of Kailash.  The clouds were low, hiding both the mountain and the full moon within; a sense of expectation lingered. We walked through the little town along streets lined with buildings made of mud and stone to the hospital where we had agreed to leave a message for Richard and Davor.  A girl opened the door and took the note.  Behind her, on the wall hung a striking picture of the mountain.  I asked where she had bought it and she described me the place.  We went there and I met one lama on pilgrimage from Doplo, Nepal.” I want to do a meditation retreat here,” I said to him in my broken  Nepali, “Go to Dri-ra Puk monastery, ask there,” he replied.  We then went to the little police station to obtain the permits that would allow us to stay in the region.

The next morning, we started the kora.  Expecting to do around ten days of retreat somewhere I had packed accordingly, but within an hour I was feeling strained by the load.  I threw the bag down onto the ground.  “This weight is making the journey unpleasant,” I said to Nuria.  “I’m going back to Darchen to leave it there.”  Feeling light as a feather, we returned to the path.  A full rainbow appeared around the sun, the first of many we would see there.  Along the way, one offers passers-by a cry of “Jinlab je” – “May blessings be upon you”.  Bonpo practitioners of Bon, the ancient religion of Tibet, circle the mountain anti-clock-wise, Buddhists, clockwise.  In this way, the path is a constant meeting place.  Yaks carrying provisions frequently passed us as many people set up camp during the summer months.

Later that evening, having finished around half of the kora, we were seated with one lama in the upstairs room of Drira Puk monastery. “My friend would like to do retreat here”, said Nuria in Tibetan.  “There’s a small cave above our monastery,” he replied, “she can stay there, we will bring her food and water.”  I asked Nuria to ask him how much I should pay.  “No money,” he laughed, “This is Dharma.”

For the next ten days, I remained in the cave. Three times a day one monk bought me food.  Rice mixed with sugar or tsampa and salty butter tea and sometimes a soup from which the meat had been removed.  Little stones lurked in the bottom of the bowl and I wondered if this was to make the meal more nutritious.  It was the rainy season and the stone ceiling leaked, but I came to learn where the drops would fall and dodged them as best I could.  The monk had brought me a mattress, two blankets and a little cardboard box that became a small table for my meditation book.

From the cave, set a little high above the valley where the kora ran below, I could directly see the north face of Kailash, seated perfectly between two mountains.  In buddhist terms, one represents Avalokiteshvara, the deity of compassion and Manjushri, of wisdom.  I looked at Kailash in between them and felt it within a hand’s reach.  The ‘baby’ Indus flowed in the valley below, just a few kilometers old as it would its way from its nearby source.  Each evening camps were set up close to the water, yaks set out to graze, but by early morning they had become blobs on the horizon as they walked the hardest part of the Kora, the ascent to the 600m high Drolma-La pass where many people surfer oxygen difficulties, vomiting or nausea. Nuria and I met back in Darchen twelve days later.  I had completed the kora with the lama from Dolpo, who had appeared at the door of my cave the morning I was to leave.  We had joined with others, playing various games along the way.  One is a series of thinly separated rocks that you must climb through to prove your virtue.  At another you discard an item of clothing and at one you must squint your eyes and fit your index finger into a hole in a rock at the same time.  There was much singing, a sort of duet between the men and the women.  We crossed Drolma-La and by evening I had a bad headache that was a form of altitude sickness.

Prior to proceeding to the hot springs of Tretapuri and to Lake Manosarover, we made an expedition to the start of the inner kora of Kailash, the ‘Khandro Sanglam’.  Two delightful nuns invited us to their little cave.  To actually walk the inner path, local rule has it that one must have completed thirteen outer koras so as not to arouse the fearsome protectoress of Kailash.  ‘Kandro Senge Donghcen’, the lion-headed Sky Dancer.  The nuns made ‘Nepali’ sweet tea for us and we exchanged the stories.

I had washed once in a cold river since arriving in Kailash, therefore the naturally hot water at Tretapuri was the most marvelous sensation.  We lazed for more than an hour in an natural pool the size of a large bath, full of natural minerals, while the sun shone down from above.  A Tibetan family traveling in a rugged jeep picked us up.  That night we camped with them at the bank of a river.

My next bath was in Lake Manosarovar.  We had met a Tibetan lady from Ali and her helper whilst on the road to the lake and spent the next three days with them walking around the sacred lake.  She became like our mother, stopping to prepare tea and tsampa while we would collect wood and scrub for the fire.

Late one morning, I had wandered over to the lake to take some photographs.  I couldn’t resist a swim even though the water was freezing.  I gazed across the surface of the water.  Kailash, like a noble palace, loomed beyond.  At night, if you watch the lake from the distance as I did from Tru gompa on the third night to stay there, a trick of reflection creates a magical display of lights shooting out of the water into the sky. 

The next morning, we headed back to the road to turn towards home.  It was our last day in the region.  We looked back at the lake, so still in that moment that it resembled a perfect mirror reflecting the ever-changing moods of the sky.  As if it had been pre-arranged, a jeep passed us and out jumped Richard and Davor, who were heading to the lake!  We chatted for a few minutes and departed, “see you in Nepal…, maybe,” they joked. We looked to the right and to the left on that road and smiled, realizing that either way would eventually take us to where we wanted to go. We sat down and waited for the next vehicle to pass.



Source: The Himalayan Times, February 27, 2005


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