In Focus

A Journey To The Lap Of Kailash Parbat

Vidhi Shah (BA, St Xaviers College, Ahmedabad)

It wasn’t a trek for me, it was an experience; an experience which cannot be expressed in words... It changed my perception seeing how people live in such mountains with no facilities, how the army stays and protects us and our mountains, how the people there are so affectionate towards us even when we offer them nothing, how we survive with bare minimum facilities.

The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is considered as one of the most pious and difficult treks of all. One gets spiritual awakening during the trek. The Kailash mountain and Mansarovar lake are in Tibet part of China and thus one needs to cross the border in order to complete the trek. There are two routes for entering into China – Lipulekh Pass (Uttarakhand) and Nathu La Pass (Sikkim)

From the Lipulekh pass, the trek is of around 24 days and from the Nathu La pass it takes 21 days to complete the trek. The trek is conducted by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) as well as various other private tour guides.

The trek is organized between June and September and every year 18 batches, consisting of a maximum of 60 people each, are accommodated. Yatris (travellers) need to spend 3 or 4 days in Delhi for preparations and medical tests before starting the yatra (journey). The Delhi Government arranges common boarding and lodging facilities, free of cost, for the yatris.

DAY 1:  On the first day, all trekkers and yatris were supposed to reach and report in Delhi. Arrangements for their stay was done at Gujarati Samaj Sadan. The trekkers also met their LO (Liason Officer) who is in charge of the whole batch and acts as the team leader.

DAY 2: All the trekkers were taken to The Delhi Heart and Lung Institute (DHLI) to conduct medical tests to ensure the travellers are medically fit and in sound health to undertake and endure the trek.

DAY 3: A second medical check-up was conducted at the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) hospital in Delhi. If any trekker is rejected either at DHLI or ITBP hospital, he/she is not allowed to continue further and is sent back from Delhi itself.

DAY 4: A briefing session was conducted at the MEA where the trekkers were given information regarding various aspects of the trek, political agenda, possible dangers, experiences of the LOs of the previous batches, etc. All the technicalities and formalities were now complete and the trek finally commenced.

DAY 5: Delhi-Almora: The trekkers left Delhi for Almora by bus. Almora is a small town in Uttarakhand. It was a 340 km long route to reach this town located at 5250 feet above sea level. The night halt was arranged at Almora.

DAY 6: Almora-Dharchula: The journey continued from Almora to Dharchula by bus. Dharchula is the base camp of the yatra. It is 220 km from Almora and located at 2985 feet above sea level.

DAY 7: Dharchula-Sirkha: From Dharchula, the trekkers were taken to Narayan Ashram which was approximately 54 km away by road. The road was very narrow and uneven but harboured 2-3 small waterfalls along the way.

“Narayan ashram was a very beautiful place. The beauty was not in the simplistic temple or the flower-laden gardens but the serene atmosphere and the magnificent mountains that surrounded it.”

From Narayan Ashram the trekkers finally started their trek. After an arduous walk of 6 km we reached Sirkha - the first rest stop which was also the night halt for the day.

DAY 8: Sirkha-Gala: Morning the group left from Sirkha to go to Gala which was a 14 km long trek. The trekkers started early in the morning. After a slow descent, they had to climb a very steep mountain called the Rungling Top or Samuriya Dhar. The ascent and descent of Rungling Top was approximately 6-7 km. By lunch time the group reached the second camp, Gala, situated at 7680 feet, also the venue for night stay tonight.

DAY 9: Gala-Budhi: After Gala, the next segment was a steep and dangerous 18 km trek to Budhi. The first three kilometres were a downward trek to Lakhanpur and then to Budhi. The trek was very dangerous as the path was extremely narrow. On one side there was the mountain and deep valley on the other where river Kali was flowing ferociously. A little slip and fall into the river would have only meant death as there was no chance of survival.

“I think that the most beautiful route on the entire trek was from Gala to Budhi. Though very dangerous, it was very beautiful. There were at least a dozen waterfalls on the route, some of them falling on us. Apart from the waterfalls, the landscape was amazing...absolutely surreal!”

DAY 10: Budhi-Gunji: Trekkers left early from Budhi to reach Gunji village after a 17 km long trek. First segment of the trek was a 3 km steep ascent to Chia lekh where the trekkers were served breakfast.

Chia lekh was a valley full of flowers. One got to witness all possible varieties of flowers here - cobra flower, irises, may apple flower, kasturi, kamal, etc. From Chia lekh it was a normal trek upto Gunji where arrangements were made for night halt in a camp.

DAY 11: This day was a rest day for all trekkers. Everyone was staying in Gunji for a day. There was an ITBP camp here where all trekkers were taken for another medical examination. As per procedure, anyone who did not clear the medical examination was not allowed to go further and was returned back from Gunji.

DAY 12: Gunji-Navidhang: From Gunji, the group left for Navidhang, a 19 km trek in total. After walking 8 km from Gunji, we reached Kalapani. Gunji to Kalapani has been made a motorable road for use by the army personnel.

It is believed that Kali river originates from the Kalapani temple. One could also see the Vyasa Gufa where Rishi Ved Vyas is believed to have performed penance for many years and composed the Ramayana.

In the Kalapani ITBP camp, the trekkers had to verify their passports and other travel documents with the army officials and only after verification were they given the immigration stamp for China.

From Kalapani, it was another 8 km trek to Navidhang located at 13,980 feet above sea level. Navidhang was the last camp in India. The significance of Navidhang was the Om Parbat, a mountain where patterns of snow naturally form the shape of Om.

DAY 13: Navidhang-Taklakot: This was the most important day of the trek because all trekkers were to cross the border and move into China through the Lipulekh pass. The trekkers began their trek from Navidhang at 3 in the morning to climb the Lipulekh pass. It was only a 3 km ascent and took about 2-3 hours.

The time difference between India and China is 2.5 hours and for this reason, the trekkers needed to start very early from India to reach the Chinese border on time. At the border, the Chinese officials once again verified passports and documents of the trekkers.

“The Chinese have built amazing roads right from the border. But on the Indian side, there are no roads. This is a disadvantage for our army in case of an attack from China, as our army won’t be able to reach the border on time.”

The trekkers were then taken by bus to the custom duty office in Taklakot, China. Here, passports and luggage of the trekkers were checked one more time. The night stay was arranged at a hotel in Taklakot itself.

DAY 14: This was again a rest day for trekkers. Since Taklakot is an old trading town, the trekkers spent the day exploring the town and buying things from local shops.

Chinese guides were given to each batch in Taklakot. The trekkers were told to exchange their currency into Yuan for purpose of transaction. The money committee of the batches took charge of collecting the trek fee for the Chinese side (901 dollars per person in 2017). The food committee reassessed the ration and made necessary purchases.

DAY 15: Taklakot-Darchen: The trekkers were taken from Taklakot to Darchen by bus. It was a 102 km bus ride from Taklakot. Night halt was made in Darchen.

DAY 16: Darchen-Deraphuk: From Darchen, the trekkers were taken again, by bus, to Yam Dvar (Temple of the God of Death). The trekkers were allotted their porters and ponies. From Yam Dvar, it was a 12 km straight trek to Deraphuk located at 16,600 feet.

From here, the parikrama of Mount Kailash finally began. 

Deraphuk was the campsite and the night halt. From Deraphuk, it was 3 km of very steep ascent to Charansparsh - the foothill of Kailash. Though not mentioned in the MEA itinerary, the trekkers were allowed to go there if time and weather permitted.

“Going to Charansparsh was very tough. I had to be literally pulled up by a fellow trekker. Though the route was very tough and dangerous, we did make it to the top. I could see Kailash right in front of me. It was so close! That sacred moment was completely mesmerising.”

DAY 17: Deraphuk-Zunzhui Pu: The trekkers start very early in the morning (5 am China time). They had to cross the Dolma pass which ascended up to 18,600 feet.

While climbing Dolma, one could see Gauri Kund - the lake where Gauri or Parvati is believed to have bathed. The water from the Kund is considered very sacred. After descending Dolma, it was a straight trek to Zunzhui Pu situated at 15,680 feet.

DAY 18: Zunzhui Pu-Qugu: From Zunzhui Pu a 5 km trek completed the parikrama of Mount Kailash.

Next, buses took the trekkers 95 km further to Qugu located at 15,160 feet, where the parikrama of Mansarovar was done. So, Mansarovar’s parikrama was basically done sitting in a bus.

The trekkers spent the remaining part of their day on the banks of Lake Mansarovar, gaping in the awe of its serenity.

DAY 19: Today was a stay in Mansarovar. The trekkers went out for a dip in the holy lake. Though the water was freezing cold, it didn’t stop them from purifying themselves in the sacred waters.

“I was in awe when I first set my eyes on the lake. It had a calming effect on my mind. I could see at least 5 different colours in the same lake. I went far from the camp, away from other trekkers, to sit on the banks all by myself. It soothed my senses and took me to another world.”

DAY 20: From Qugu, the trekkers were taken back to Taklakot by bus, a 65 km ride. The parikrama of Mansarovar was now complete. The night halt was arranged at Taklakot.

DAY 21: Taklakot-Gunji: Early in the morning, the trekkers were taken to the customs office where their luggage and passports were checked again. They were then taken to the Lipulekh border by bus. On crossing the border, the passports were checked one more time by the ITBP personnel, who came to receive the trekkers.

The yatris then trekked the descent to Lipulekh pass and reached Gunji via Navidhang and Kalapani, making it a total of 30 km trek.

DAY 22: Gunji-Budhi: The trekkers returned to Budhi from the same route they had taken on their way up.

DAY 23: Budhi-Dharchula: The route this time around changed. The trekkers no longer needed to go to Gala or Sirkha. So, they took another route in small jeeps which took them directly to Dharchula. From Budhi, the trekkers had to walk for about 22 km till they reached the jeeps. It was another 37 km to Dharchula by car. The night stay was in Dharchula.

DAY 24: Dharchula-Jageshwar: It was a 185 km long journey by bus. Jageshwar is famous for its temples. It has a temple for almost every Indian God.

“We reached Jageshwar a day before my birthday. When it was 12 am, a fellow trekker woke me up and I saw a cake with my name on it. We all celebrated my birthday and had loads of fun in the middle of the night!”

DAY 25: Jageshwar-Delhi: The final segment from Jageshwar to Delhi, a 355 km journey concluded the trek.

“For me, this trek was the best trek that I have ever been on. Waiting for 5 years to go to the trek really paid off. Though there were difficult and dangerous times, I will always remember what it felt like being in front of Kailash and taking a dip in Mansarovar. I feel very fortunate to have completed this trek at a very young age.