Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar have been a part of my growing up years. My barely educated grand mother and grand aunt with whom I spent many a lazy afternoon were master story tellers. They wove stories around the happenings in Mount Kailash and the divine happy family of Shiva, Parvati and their offsprings making them appear like the uncle and aunty next door. Thanks to these entertaining afternoons, I considered the divine family up in Kailash to be my extended family quietly seeking solace, in conversing with them when things did not go my way. Being in Kolkata, India the belief was further endorsed by the annual autumnal visit of Devi Parvati with her children for five days generating festive fervor in all Bengali households. I loved the smell of new clothes, exotic delicacies and of course being away from my books.
Each time, I expressed a desire to visit Kailash, my grandmother promptly declined saying, no bus or train that she knew of could take me there. Instead, she offered to take me for a dip in the Ganga. Hugh!! As an 8 year old, I had whispered in Parvati’s ear just prior to immersion, pleading to give me an invite to visit her in summer in her hilly abode in Kailash next to Manasarovar. Eventually, I outgrew the stories and beliefs but the desire to visit them in Kailash and Manasarovar remained with me.
As I got familiar with history and politics, I realised that Manasarovar was in Tibet and was not easily accessible given strained diplomatic relations. I would yearn for a few days each time I saw an advertisement from the India Government seeking applications from pilgrims interested to pay a visit to Kailash and Manasarovar. A few years ago, I discovered an easier route through Kathmandu in Nepal. A flurry of mails and calls later, my date with the mystic mountain Kailash and dream lake Manasarovar were fixed. I carefully chose a full moon night to spend on the banks of the lake to try my luck at witnessing divine beings taking a customary dip as I had come to know from people who visited.
Traveling to Manasarovar:
I travelled through Kathmandu, crossing over to Tibet through the Friendship bridge that connects Nepal and Tibet. It is the only time I had to adjust my watch by 2 hours after walking a few metres. For the next 5 days, I travelled in a four wheeler land cruiser with 3 other co-pilgrims across the dusty table top mountainous regions of Tibet, stopping over at Nyalam, Saga, Paryang to adjust to hilly climes and refuel ourselves. The weather would change in a jiffy from the hot sun to cold chill to sandstorms but the wild, untouched beauty of nature was a treat for the eyes. The faces of the rough cheeked, Tibetan children peering through the window and smiling in gratitude for the occasional pack of juice or a small piece of chocolate is etched in my memory. The ever smiling and obliging sherpas who accompanied us, dished out tasty soups, porridges, noodles and lip smacking dal rice through the journey. I swallowed every morsel in gratitude, it was a luxury in extreme circumstances.
I was enjoying the journey, listening to the foot tapping Tibetan tunes and waiting in anticipation for my date. I don’t recall being as anxious for my first romantic date. On the 5th day, the driver informed us that we would approach one end of Manasarovar by late afternoon. When I sighted the lake from a distance, it appeared to be just another lake but when we approached closer, I was overwhelmed.
Holy Dip in Manasarovar:
We were standing at a height of 4600 metres in front the divine lake measuring 495 square kilometers. The sheer size and magnanimity of it, encircled by the divine mountains was overpowering. I was at the southern bank, near Trugo monastery, where the water is relatively clear. I swiftly removed my shoes and went into the ice cold water, stepping over slippery stones of all shapes and sizes. With tears of joy flowing through my eyes, braving the numb feeling in my legs from the chill water, I bent over to splash my face. The 8 year old me, surfaced from somewhere, urging me to take the customary dip. Within moments, I stripped myself of the layers of woolens and jumped back in, plunging to take a dip, not once but 7 times.
I balanced myself on the pebbles and looked towards the divine Kailash and prayed in gratitude. I am not sure whether my accumulated sins over the many births got washed away but I was definitely bathed in undescribable waves of warm pure energy. Groups of white swans flew over as harbingers of divine blessings. The tinkling bells hanging around the neck of the mountain sheep swayed in delight as they filed past the lake and the prayer bells in the monastery seemed to ring spontaneously. Ah!! this is the moment, I have always imagined. Who says Dreams are not fulfilled ? Here I was, taking a dip in dream lake Manasarovar !! Dream on, some where someday it will be definitely fulfilled. I filled in bottles of Manasarovar water, for my friends and family back home and specially for my grandmother.
Walking along Manasarovar
Later that evening, I tried to venture out to the banks along with other co-pilgrims but was deterred by the barking dogs and the fiercefully chilly wind. Anyway, I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the moon high up in the sky, reflecting on Manas, creating a divine silver pool. Next morning, tents were set up on the banks of the lake doubling up as bathing tents. The sherpas, carried the holy water in buckets and heated it for pilgrims who could not venture into the lake for a dip. I strolled along the banks of the lake, stopping by to observe and participate with the groups performing havan (hindu fire ritual) and chanting. I could feel my eyes well up, overwhelmed by the divinity around, and my inner voice assured me that I would come back again !!