By D R Kaarthikeyan
We flag off a periodic column by D.R. Kaarthikeyan, president of life positive, presenting a bird's eye view of spiritual India. in this, he writes about his recent pilgrimage to Kailas-Mansarovar.
My connection with Kailas-Mansarovar goes back many years to the time when I read a book on the subject by Swami Pranavananda. The introduction to the book was by Jawaharlal Nehru and this is what he says:
'I had worked out many a plan for paying my homage to this wonder Lake of Tibet and snow-covered Kailas nearby. But those plans remained unfulfilled�I wonder still if I shall ever visit Kailas and Mansarovar. But I can at least read about them and look at pictures of them and thus, to some extent, soothe the longing which has possessed me for so long'.
Since then I had always wanted to undertake this pilgrimage. Kailas-Mansarovar is considered the most sacred place by four Indic religions, namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
Twenty-six years ago, I named my son Kailas, little knowing that both of us would be undertaking this 'ultimate pilgrimage' at least twice.
The first trip was after completing the challenging, risky and difficult investigation of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination as chief of the Special Investigation Team of the CBI. I was perhaps the most harassed and threatened officer of the government at that time. Beyond a point no one was with me, though the multitudes, majority of the media and right-thinking public empathized and sympathized with me. I needed enormous inner strength to withstand the calumny and conspiracy of many highly placed persons who were frustrated in their failed attempts to politicize the investigation to suit their narrow personal agenda.
Therefore, I adjusted my work at Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad, and undertook the 'Journey to the Heavens'.
I walked the entire distance of over 400 km and climbed up to 20,000 feet. I gained enormous inner strength and peace. When I returned I could face the situation with equanimity and courage and defeated the many attempts to derail and demoralize the investigation and trial by the deadly LTTE as also many self-seeking personalities within the country.
I attribute my ability to face all these obstacles and regain my inner spiritual strength to the pilgrimage. It cannot be explained. It is an experience one has to go through and feel. I had almost similar feelings of inner calmness and equanimity during my two visits to Jerusalem, the holiest spot for three other major religions, namely Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Though I myself did not specifically invite anyone, 18 others, including my son Kailas, formed the present group. There were 13 ladies and seven men. Two senior IAS officers, Mr Pradeep Bhide, Additional Secretary (Home), Mrs Sheela Bhide, Additional Secretary (Defence), Government of India, Dr Mrs Nagi Rao, the director and owner of Med-Win hospital, Hyderabad, Mrs Yashodhara Oberoi, social activist and mother of leading actor, Vivek Oberoi, Mumbai, five NRIs from America, one religious leader Swami Maruthachalam of Perur Mutt, Coimbatore, and Sunyogi Uma Sankar of Midnapur, West Bengal, and others formed the group. The members belonged to various parts of the country, even USA, and from different fields of activities.
Nature's bounty and beauty in the wild mountains and snow-clad peaks all around was captivating. However, interior Tibet was barren and arid. For hundreds of kilometers, you could not find a single human being or even a tree.
The first view of the snow-clad peak of Mount Kailas and the serene and colorful Mansarovar lake was breathtaking. The experience and the joy of it is indescribable. A great sense of calmness, fulfillment and achievement flooded through me.
The grandeur of creation brings home to you your own insignificance. One realizes that everything that is created is unique and beautiful. At the same time we also know that we are a part - an essential part - of the universe. One's ego diminishes and vanishes.
The Nepalese and Tibetans are innocent, humble and warm-hearted. In spite of living a frugal, simple life in the undeveloped interior areas of Tibet, they were full of joy and hospitality towards the visitors.
While my first visit to KM via the Indian side - Kumaon Hills - was thrilling and enjoyable for different reasons, this trip enabled us to enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of Nepal, Kathmandu and surrounding beautiful hills and temples, as well as the grandeur of the Dalai Lama's Potala Palace and the beautiful and ornate monasteries in the region. Lhasa and Kathmandu are full of Chinese goods, which are of good quality, well packed and reasonably priced.
For us, the most challenging moments started at Lhasa at an altitude of 12,000 feet above sea level. In spite of taking medicine for neutralizing high altitude sickness, some members were quite ill.
Altitude sickness struck some members at Mansarovar (15,000 feet) too. But by simple treatment, motivation and willpower, all 19 successfully completed the yatra.
At Dira-puk (18,000 feet) where one has the most beautiful and closest darshan of the west face of the snow-clad peak of Mt Kailas (where it looks like a huge Shivalinga), four members required oxygen which was administered by the efficient, helpful, sincere and affectionate Sherpas, who came all the way from Nepal to look after our needs like tentage and food.
Sunyogi Uma Sankar (38), who remained without food and water till the yatra was completed, became the focus of attention of Tibetan, Chinese, Nepalese and even Western tourists throughout the yatra. Even at the altitude of 18,000 feet, he continued to wear only two pieces of cloth, like Gandhiji.
He traveled barefoot throughout and wore no woolen apparel. Not only that, he surprised everybody by lying down on the glacier comfortably. He remained alert and healthy throughout and treated others even late at night with acupressure. All of us owe much to his solicitude and assistance.
The extreme cold conditions and very heavy cold wind discomfited many of the members as did the lack of even basic toilet and bathing facilities around the yatra area. Everybody was anxious to get back to Nepal as quickly as possible. However, we had an adventure on our way back. We reached Saga and stayed for the night. Early next morning, when we attempted to leave Saga, we were stopped at the bridge by the Chinese army and the police. For two hours we did not know why we were stopped and when we would be allowed to go. I returned to Saga town and met the police chief, who told me that some serious incidents had occurred early morning and hence Lhasa had given orders to stop all movements both ways. I pointed out how ill some members of my group were. He pleaded his helplessness and advised that all the vehicles should come back and be prepared to stay at Saga till the experts came from Lhasa and gave clearance.
We moved the Indian Embassy in Beijing and our travel agents in Nepal and Lhasa. Five of our members who had come from USA and who are American citizens moved the American Embassy in Beijing. I spent hours together on telephone calls and meeting local officials. The ill members became quite impatient and depressed. At 9 p.m., the local police chief came and told me that clearance had been received for our movement from Saga. We thought we would leave Saga early next morning. But he advised us to leave immediately as the ban on movement was likely to be re-imposed by midnight and may not be lifted for a couple of days. The problem, we learnt, was a death due to an infectious disease, suspected to be plague.
We got ready within an hour and left Saga at 10.30 p.m. We drove the whole night in that wilderness, where it was difficult to find a path even during the day-time. It was cold, windy and raining. As always, to discharge my responsibility as leader and to take care of everyone else, even though I was the oldest in the entire group, I traveled in the last vehicle in the convoy. We stopped the convoy every two hours for the convenience of the travelers and to ensure that all the vehicles were taken together.
We reached Nyalam early in the morning, where we heaved a sigh of relief. From then onwards we traveled for two hours through the beautiful Tibetan mountains dotted with huge and beautiful waterfalls and trees. They resembled the Indian Kumaon hills and were a stark contrast to the arid terrain we had passed earlier.
We reached Zhangmu, the last post on Tibet, where we generously tipped the wonderful Tibetan drivers who drove our heavy vehicles through horrible roads the whole night and brought us safely through. When we crossed the Friendship Bridge and entered Nepalese territory, we felt at home in the company of our warm and friendly hosts.
As the leader of the group it was nice to be responsible for all those who gathered with confidence to undertake the pilgrimage - for many of whom it was dream of a lifetime. I felt happy that I could make this contribution to their joy, though it meant a lot of tension and additional responsibility and workload in that very challenging environment.
I had to exercise some firmness from time to time, while heeding individual problems. Ultimately, people understood the good intention even behind my tough decisions, when all of them returned home safe and healthy after a successful yatra and enjoyable stay in Nepal and Lhasa. There is an indescribable bond that developed amongst us towards the end of the journey.
Looking back on the whole perilous and physically demanding adventure, I truly feel how blessed I am and how fortunate.
The yatra made us appreciate anew the gifts of life - the love of family and friends, comforts of our own little homes and the greatness of our own country, faulty though its system and governance may be. It has inspired us to give more of ourselves to the world and to care for it more deeply.
We pass through this beautiful world but once. So let us leave this planet a little more beautiful, a little more human, a little more lovable, a little more fragrant, for those who will be following us.
Being born on this planet is a great opportunity. It is entirely for us to make it a heaven or hell. It all depends on our attitude. Our nature is to be loving and peaceful. Let us regain our true nature by visiting such sublime places.
We may die, but the way we lived will create its own vibrations; the people of the future will be reminded, with gratitude, that they are inheritors of a great planet and of a great race of human beings.
People who have good health and who can afford it should travel to the nearest beautiful hill or forest, considered holy by any religion. Everybody can afford it. Pilgrimages to places like Kailas-Mansarovar should be undertaken as early in life as possible. When you are young and healthy you enjoy the journey much more and live a better and more fulfilling life.
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