(link to pictures at the end)
Travelling to the roof of the world does not need any excuses. Tibet is one of the last frontiers, one of the least populated regions of the world, among the most inaccessible. Our excuse to go there was the “Kailas Manasarovar Yatra” and the trip did not disappoint. Neela (my wife) and I, along with two of our friends, joined a tour group, and the comforts of cooks and guides were assured throughout the trip.
We reached Kathmandu on the 7th of June, and were supposed to get into Tibet on the 9th. However, that week, the Chinese authorities clamped down on all visas for entering Tibet due to some “Free Tibet” protests instigated by some foreign nationals in Lhasa. That gave us less time to acclimatize at the high altitudes of Tibet. But it did give us some additional days in Nepal – the compensation was spending a couple of days in Pokhra which is a beautiful hill town and at a resort near the border.
We reached the Tibet border from Kathmandu – a journey that usually takes half a day - on the 14th, and then ascended rapidly from a height of 1000 metres to around 3500 metres. The day after that, we were on the high Tibetan plateau stretching miles and miles in all directions at a height of 4800 to 5200 metres. The road having been built by the Chinese, was of course sans any potholes (what is that?) and better than any of our national highways. The roads are good, but the less said about the hotels on the Tibet side, the better. The hotel facilities are rudimentary, to put it mildly. A dip in Lake Manasarovar at 3 in the afternoon (when the water is not freezing, just biting cold) with Mount Kailas in the background, and then on to the foot of Mount Kailas.
The parikrama around Mount Kailas usually takes three days, but we had only one day to do what we could, due to the delay in getting visas. We went ahead for about five kilometres to a point which provides a very close view of the holy mountain, and then returned the same day. For those doing the three-day parikrama, porters and ponies are available. Tibetans too believe in doing the parikrama around Mount Kailas – as to taking ponies, they believe that if they do that, since the ponies are the ones doing the walking, all the punya goes to them and not to the rider!
Any travel is important for the journey, as much as for the destination. The starkly beautiful landscape of the Tibetan plateau offers breathtaking views of snowclad mountains at every turn. At that height of 5000 metres, it is almost a desert in terms of vegetation, but whatever grass grows out there supports animals like Tibetan gazelle, yaks, wild ass, and marmots. Since the population density is very low – one of the districts has 13,000 people inhabiting 8000 square kilometres – it is like driving through a vast national park. The mountains in the background seem small, rising as they do from a base of 5000 metres, but several of them count among the tallest peaks of the world!
The altitude did get to us, especially due to the short time we had to acclimatize. Most members of the party were nursing headaches, had some difficulty breathing, or felt nauseous. A small price to pay for the privilege of seeing Mount Kailas up close and taking a dip in the holy Manasarovar. The return journey to Kathmandu was quick and uneventful – we reached on the 19th, and flew back to Bangalore on the 20th of June.
Attempt this trip if you are deeply spiritual or if you like the idea of undergoing some hardship as part of your travel. For people who belong to either of these two categories, it is a must-do at least once in your lifetime.
Pictures (with captions) taken by Neela, Subbu and Sudhakar in the link attached:
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