In the current BRICs Summit the possibility of an alternative route to the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage in China through Himachal Pradesh was taken up by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi jinping. Here Mr. Modi raised the possibility of additional route for the Mansarovar Yatra since the present one from Uttarakhand is quite complicated, rather daunting. The Chinese President gave an assurance to consider the request for an alternative route. He said the additional and easier route from Himachal Pradesh would result in better bilateral relations between the two neighbours and also create additional employment in the transport and tourism sectors.
The alternate way to Mansarovar goes from Kinnaur in Himachal and is much easier, shorter and safer. From the last Indian village of Shipkila in Kinnaur the holy lake of Mansarovar is just 91 km away and can be covered by road with little trekking needed to reach the destination.
This move has not only been welcomed by the locals but the tourism industry as well as it will allow many more pilgrims/ tourists to undertake this yatra. An assurance in this regard has been given by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to the PM Narendra Modi. If that happens, pilgrims have a reason to rejoice as presently they have to cover the distance for 1897 Kms from Delhi where 1717 kms is by bus and 127 Kms on foot. Isn’t it daunting effort to achieve this feat?
Following the political and border disturbances across the Chinese-Indian boundary, pilgrimage to the legendary abode of Lord Shiva was stopped from 1954 to 1978. Thereafter, a limited number of Indian pilgrims have been allowed to visit the place, under the supervision of the Chinese and Indian governments either by a lengthy and hazardous trek over the Himalayan terrain, travel by land from Kathmandu or from Lhasa where flights from Kathmandu are available to Lhasa and thereafter travel over the great Tibetan plateau by car. The journey takes four night stops, finally arriving at Darchen at elevation of 4,600 m (15,100 ft), small outpost that swells with pilgrims at certain times of year. Despite its minimal infrastructure, modest guest houses are available for foreign pilgrims, whereas Tibetan pilgrims generally sleep in their own tents. A small regional medical center serving far-western Tibet and funded by the Swiss Ngari Korsum Foundation was built here in 1997.
Walking around the holy mountain—a part of its official park—has to be done on foot, pony or yak, taking some three days of trekking starting from a height of around 15,000 ft (4,600 m) past the Tarboche (flagpole) to cross the Drölma pass 18,200 ft (5,500 m), and encamping for two nights en route. First, near the meadow of Dirapuk gompa, some 2 to 3 km (1.2 to 1.9 mi) before the pass and second, after crossing the pass and going downhill as far as possible (viewing Gauri Kund in the distance).
Some pilgrims believe that the entire walk around Kailash should be made in a single day, which is not considered an easy task. A person in good shape walking fast would take perhaps 15 hours to complete the 52 km trek. Some of the devout do accomplish this feat, little daunted by the uneven terrain, altitude sickness and harsh conditions faced in the process. Indeed, other pilgrims venture a much more demanding regimen, performing body-length prostrations over the entire length of the circumambulation: The pilgrim bends down, kneels, prostrates full-length, makes a mark with his fingers, rises to his knees, prays, and then crawls forward on hands and knees to the mark made by his/her fingers before repeating the process. It requires at least four weeks of physical endurance to perform the circumambulation while following this regimen. The mountain is located in a particularly remote and inhospitable area of the Tibetan Himalayas. A few modern amenities, such as benches, resting places and refreshment kiosks, exist to aid the pilgrims in their devotions. According to all religions that revere the mountain, setting foot on its slopes is a dire sin. It is claimed that many people who ventured to defy the taboo have died in the process.
Mount Kailash (22,028 ft, 6,714 m), the famed holy peak, is situated to the north of the Himalayan barrier in Western Tibet. This legendary snow-shrouded rock dome is one of the most revered pilgrimage sites for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bonpos (Pre-Buddhists) and draws pilgrims from India, Nepal, Mongolia, Tibet, Japan, China, Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. At the slopes of Kailash, a stream is said to pour into Mansarovar and from this lake, flow four of Asia’s great rivers ¬ the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Karnali and the Sutlej.
Hindus cross the frozen mountain passes of India and Nepal to circle the peak that is Lord Shiva’s throne and bathe in the lake created from the manas (mind) of Brahma. Buddhists journey from Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh, Mongolia and every corner of Tibet to this holiest of mountains they call Kang Rinpoche.
Manasarovar, the lake born from the mind of Brahma, is among the most ancient and holy of Hindu pilgrimage sites. Hindu legend tells of twelve Rishis, wise ‘Seers’ of pre-Vedic times who retreated to this remote region for meditation and prayer. They stayed many years performing penances and austerities, and were awarded a vision of Shiva and Parvati, the divine Lord and Lady of Kailash.
According to ancient Hindu folklore, it was Brahma – the Creator, who himself created Mansarovar and the divine Jambu tree, which though invisible to the human eye, grows in the centre. It is for this reason that the world was called Jambudwipa by the ancients; and it is said that because of the fruits of this divine tree that the waters of the Mansarovar have turned into a life – giving elixir! Mansarovar’s clear waters are said to possess miraculous healing properties.
Lake Mansarovar – Gauri Kund, the “Lake of Mercy’ called Tukje Chenpo Tso by Tibetans, lies in a setting of jagged ice cliffs. Pilgrims come across this lake while descending Dolma La, the Pass of redemption and salvation where the pilgrim is said to be reborn. At 18,600 feet it is one of the highest lakes in the world. Gaurikund is considered the bathing place of Goddess Parvati (Uma), the consort of Lord Shiva. Tibetans call it Memo Namgyal. At 25,355 feet this is the third highest mountain in Tibet. Here it is viewed from the village Houre, where the 53-mile Mansarovar kora (parikrama) begins.
For pilgrims, the distances seem unending. The weather is harsh. The temperature could soar to 40 Degrees C and drop to 0 Degrees just in a matter of a few hours. Supplies are virtually non-existent. The pilgrim has to undergo extreme hardship under extreme temperatures. The terrain is not very friendly either. Nevertheless, pilgrims come from all parts of the world, defying all hardships. They trek for 53 km around Kailash and 90 km around Mansarovar at altitudes between 15,000 – 19,000 feet above sea level.
This yatra is known for its religious value, cultural significance, physical beauty and thrilling nature. The Yatra is organized by the Ministry of External Affairs every year between June and September. It is open to eligible Indian citizens, holding valid Indian passports, who wish to proceed to Kailash Manasarovar for religious purposes. The Yatra involves trekking at high altitudes of up to 19,500 feet, under inhospitable conditions, including extreme cold and rugged terrain, and may prove hazardous for those who are not physically and medically fit. Only those healthy and physically fit should apply to undertake the Yatra.
Yatra fee is Rs.32,000 approx.
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