Kailasa, believed to be the abode of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvathi, it is the throne of Truth, Wisdom and Bliss, the apex where Sound and Light merge into OM. Mansarovar, created by Brahma, is said to contain the essence of all the Vedas.
Every year, thousands make a pilgrimage to Kailash, following a tradition going back thousands of years. Pilgrims of several religions believe that circumambulating Mount Kailash on foot is a holy ritual that will bring good fortune. The peregrination is made in a clockwise direction by Hindus and Buddhists. Followers of the Jain and Bönpo religions circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction. The path around Mount Kailash is 52 km (32 mi) long.
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. It is a popular belief that the stairways on Mount Kailash lead to heaven.
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).
The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra takes normally 28 days. Of these 28 days, 11 days yatra is in Chinese side and rest days of the yatra is in Chinese side. The trekking starts on 4th day on the Indian side. The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited makes arrangements to provide accommodation, transportation and food on the Indian side of the Yatra. Whereas Chinese authorities makes arrangement for accommodation, logistics and other arrangements on the Chinese side.
FACILITIES ON THE INDIAN SIDE
The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited (KMVN) provides accommodation at all the halts from New Delhi to Lipulekh Pass. At the camps along the route, accommodation in ‘pucca’ barracks and prefabricated fiberglass huts is provided. There are regular toilet facilities at all camps. Portable generators provide electricity at all camps for limited hours in the mornings and evenings. Mattresses and quilts/sleeping bags are provided at all camps. Therefore, yatris need not carry any quilts/sleeping bags with them. However, they may wish to carry a bed sheet and pillow cover each for personal hygiene. Utensils for cooking will also be provided to each batch for use in the camps on the Chinese side. These utensils do not have to be returned.
Digital satellite public telephone (DSPT) facilities have been installed by BSNL at KMVN and ITBP camps on the Indian side of the Yatra route. Yatris can avail of this effective telephone service at subsidized rates to communicate with their families and friends.
FACILITIES ON THE CHINESE SIDE
Taklakot is an important town in the area. Accommodation is provided at Pulan Guest House for yatris, where regular rooms are available with cots, mattresses, comforters (rajai), etc. Electricity and hot water for bathing are available at specific times. At Taklakot, the Chinese authorities provide vegetarian food of Chinese flavour, such as bread, vegetable soup, noodles, boiled rice, etc.
The camps at Dharchen, Deraphuk, Zongzerbu, Qugu and Qihu are basic structures and have several rooms, which are to be shared. Each room can accommodate 4 to 6 pilgrims. Mattresses, pillows and comforters (rajai) are provided. There is electricity at Darchen camp only. Yatris have to prepare their own food in all these camps. The Chinese side will provide hot water and stove for cooking. Utensils are provided by KMVN. Yatris are also advised to carry some food items of their choice from India.
Mobile phone facilities are available on the Chinese side at all places, except on the Deraphuk-Zongzerbu sector. Yatris can buy pre-paid SIM cards to avail of mobile phone facilities locally there.
Only 25 kg of luggage is allowed per yatri. However, yatris are advised to limit their personal belongings to 20 kg only. The remaining 5 kg will be utilised to carry the collective food stuff purchased by the batch for consumption on the Chinese side. Any luggage in excess of 25 kg will not only be subjected to extra charges, but also, in case there is a shortage of ponies/porters, the excess luggage will not be transported. Yatris are requested to strictly adhere to this limit on the return journey from Tibet and keep shopping in Taklakot to the minimum.
Yatris baggage is carried by ponies/mules on both Indian and Chinese side. It is desirable to wrap individual items in polythene bags, place them in a canvas bag, and then again cover the bag also with another polythene. Canvas bags with zips are ideal as they are lightweight and tough. Yatris are not allowed to carry hard top suitcases during the Yatra.
For the Indian side, each yatri has an option to hire a mule/pony at a charge of Rs.7,500 for both ways (or as per the rates fixed by District Administration) ; and personal porter at a charge of Rs.6,500 for both ways (or as per the rates fixed by District Administration). These rates have been fixed by the Uttarakhand Government and are subject to change. These porters and ponies should be hired to be available at Narayan Ashram on the upward journey and at Lipulekh Pass on the return journey. Yatris individually need to decide and communicate to the Liaison Officer about their requirements of hired ponies and porters at Darchula itself both for the upward stretch from Narayan Ashram to Lipulekh and for their return journey from Lipulekh Pass. Arrangements to hire ponies and porters are to be made in advance at Darchula itself, as ponies and porters are not available for hiring at the intermediate camps. For the Kailash Parikrama in Tibet, porters and ponies need to be hired at Taklakot.
Vegetarian meals will be available at each halting point at KMVN Camps in Indian side. The cost of meals has been included in the payment made to KMVN. However, pilgrims must appreciate the difficulty in arranging a variety of vegetables, especially in high altitude areas, where fresh supplies and sometimes-even water are limited.
Two medical personnel provided by the State Government of Uttarakhand will accompany each batch of yatris up to Gunji. Beyond Gunji, Indo-Tibetan Border Police will take over the medical arrangements up to Lipulekh Pass. Yatris are nevertheless advised to carry some basic medicines. Yatris may also ensure that they carry sufficient stock of any special prescribed medicines for them. During the Yatra, should the accompanying doctor and the Liaison Officer feel that a yatri is not fit to continue, their decision will be final. No refund is permissible in such cases under any circumstances. On the Chinese side, there is no doctor to accompany yatris during the Parikramas of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. The amount paid to KMVN shall also not be refunded in the case of medical disqualification at Gunji, as the KMVN would already have borne expenses from Delhi to Gunji and return. During the Yatra, should the accompanying doctor and the Liaison Officer feel that a pilgrim is not fit to continue, their decision will be final. No refund at all is permissible in such cases.
Pilgrims must bring to Delhi reports of medical tests and carry these with them during the yatra, as these will be required at Gunji.
The Government of India establishes a wireless link between the ITBP Force and the Chinese side to keep track of various batches performing the Yatra and share information on their movement and whereabouts. It is also useful during any emergency that may arise.
Each Liaison Officer is provided with a Satellite Phone, enabling him/her to stay in touch with ITBP/KMVN, and to ask for assistance in case of any emergency. Under no circumstances is this facility to be used to meet any personal requirement. STD/ISD facility is available on self-paid basis at Dharchula, Gala, Budhi, Gunji, Navidhang, Taklakot and Darchen.
Digital satellite public telephone facilities have been installed by BSNL at KMVN and ITBP camps on the Indian side of the Yatra route. Yatris can avail of this effective telephone service at subsidized rates to communicate with their families and friends.
Mobile phone facilities are available on the Chinese side at all places, excepting the Deraphuk-Zongzerbu sector. Yatris can buy pre-paid SIM cards to avail of mobile phone facilities locally there.
Kailash and Mansarovar are in the region of 16,000-19,000 feet, with cold winds blowing in the daytime and in the evening. This is a hazardous trek at high altitudes, on mountainous terrain with occasional bad weather. Do not ignore these instructions or take them lightly, as the consequences could be serious. Clothing should be light, wind proof, water repellent and capable of providing enough warmth.
Yatris are advised to carry extra batteries as the discharge rate is higher at high altitudes. Power supply is available for a limited period each day till Dharchula on the Indian side, and in Taklakot (Tibet) for recharging batteries. For digital and video camera, yatris may carry an extra set of memory card and cassettes, respectively.
CAUTION: Between Gala and Budhi, the stretch along the River Kali is, possibly, the riskiest portion of the entire yatra. Yatris may need to exercise extreme caution and even desist from photography to totally focus on personal safety.
Yatris undertaking the pilgrimage during mid-June to August shall be doing so during the monsoons. The rains are unpredictable. The first few days of the trek in the lower reaches may often involve walking in the rain. The monsoon is less intense in the higher reaches. For the latter, colder part of the trek, it is necessary to avoid getting wet. A good raincoat is essential, and also so are woollens and windcheaters for protection against windy and rainy weather. In the higher altitudes, it tends to be hot during day time and cold after sunset. Cold winds, and the combination of changing weather and exposure to ultra-violet radiation there can damage the skin, unless adequate precautions are taken by applying liberal amount of suntan lotion. Each yatri must use a broad peak cap or straw hat to protect one’s face against the harsh sunlight. Extra pairs of warm socks are useful during wet weather.
Boarding Lodging in China
Taklakot is an important town in the area. Accommodation is provided at Pulan Guest House for pilgrims, where regular rooms are available with cots, mattresses, cornforters, etc. The electricity and hot water bath is available as per the Chinese Authority Schedule. While at Taklakot, the Chinese provide vegetarian food of a Chinese flavour, such as bread, vegetable soup, noodles, rice etc. The Chinese are unable to provide Indian cuisine in view of practical difficulties. However, the toilets facilities are quite primitive and not very hygienic. A Tibetan guide with knowledge of English accompanies each group during the Parikramas of Kailash and Mansarovar. The camps at Darchen, Deraphuk, Zongzerbu, Hore, Qugu and Zaidi are available. Each of the camps has several rooms, which can accommodate 4 to 6 pilgrims. Mattresses, pillows and comforters (Razai) are provided. No food is provided at these camps. The Chinese do, however, provide a stove for cooking, and hot water Cooking and other utensils, such as pressure cookers, steel ‘thalis’ ‘katoris’ etc., are made available by the KMVN and carried by the batch into China for use on the parikramas and brought back when the batch returns. If the permission is granted from MEA or Chinese authority then the yatries can hire the cook. Yatris are advised to carry some food items of their choice from India as indicated earlier.
Medical Facilities in China
Yatris must note that medical facilities on the Chinese side are limited. These medical facilities may not be adequate to deal with any serious medical problems that could arise. It shall be the MEA’s endeavour that there shall be at least one doctor in every batch. However, each pilgrim must ensure that he/she is at the peak of his physical and medical fitness during the Yatra and any medical problems are immediately conveyed to the doctor and Liaison Officer. Any attempt to conceal one’s illness in high altitude could lead to serious medical complications.
Foreign Exchange in China
US $751/- (subject to revision) payable in China to Chinese side for lodging for 12 nights, complete meal charges for four days at Pulan (Taklakot), transportation charges for the entire duration, including charges for transporting baggage, horse/pony charges at Lipulekh, entry tickets for Kailash and Manasarovar and entry tickets for Kejia Temple .