PILGRIMAGE TO KAILASH VIA SIKKIM
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
Pradhan Mantri Narendra Modi and President of People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping talked sweet things when the latter visited Bharat in September 2014. Gujarat’s hospitality overseen by Narendra bhai Modi touched the hearts of the honoured guests from across the Himalayas. Both the distinguished guests, Xi jinping and his wife, the first lady of China, Mme Li Pengyuan did a good turn to the common man in the host country. The First Lady, a soprano in her own profession of music and opera, sang a song in Hindi that moved millions who saw and heard on the national TV channels of both the countries. The President sat on the floor of the Sabarmati ashram dangling his legs from the plinth and looked absolutely relaxed with Narendra bhai charmed by his heart to heart talk.
Among myriad topics touched by the two leaders of neighbouring giants was the opening of an easy route for the Hindu pilgrims visiting holy Mount Kailash, 6700 Meters above sea level, and Lake Mansarovar, 4,600 meters above sea level covering an area of 400 sq Km, in the Autonomous Region of Tibet in the People’s Republic of China. Premier Modi proposed and President Xi nodded assent. The result is there for the world to see.
The first group of Hindu pilgrims on way to the sacred places crossed the Nathula pass in Sikkim in June 15 and entered Tibet among fanfare and reception organized by the Chinese authorities. As a goodwill gesture the hosts presented pilgrims a jacket, a backpack and a blanket each that was appreciated by one and all.
Opening of the new route will make going easier and cut the arduous journey time from 20 days to just eight days or so. It will be more economical to go on pilgrimage to the most holy places of the Hindus, now affordable by economically weaker sections of the society. Further, the new route is safer and more convenient for senior citizens, both men and women. The mutual trust between peoples of Bharat and China will indeed be enhanced and permeate other fields of social, political and strategic exchanges flowing from the religious one.
The Nathula pass is located at an altitude of 4545 meters above sea level whereas the former route via Kumaon hills had to go across the Lipulekh pass situated at an altitude of 5,200 meters above sea level. The old route led to fatal casualties at times and generated fear in the hearts of older pilgrims.
Way back in 1993 I too had the proud privilege of being a pilgrim to holy Mount Kailash in the sixtieth year of my life. Akashvani (All India Radio) needed a comprehensive radio feature in Hindi on the two holiest of the holy places and chose me, an old war horse, to deliver the goods. I did not belie their great expectations. The radio connoisseurs called my radio features a work of art completed under trying circumstances compounded by inclement weather and merciless environment of high altitude. I thanked the AIR bosses for their complimentary words and returned home after collecting my cheque of remuneration, not a princely sum by any standards.
YATRA FROM ANCIENT TIMES
The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra has been going on from time immemorial. When the present regime of China did not exist and Tibet enjoyed an independent status, the Hindu pilgrims from Bharat and elsewhere went to holy Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar on a pilgrimage. The pilgrims were not shackled by rules of passport and visa which were non-existent. Hermits, holy men and women, commoners and kings alike wished to go there once in a lifetime. Generally speaking the Yatras or pilgrimage started from Almora, a district headquarters in the Kumaon hills. They travelled in large groups and were on their own logistically. Their needs were simple and were easily met by local village shops enroute. The fear of theft or robbery was non-existent in the hilly region, also known as Devbhumi. How could Rakshas-like acts and omissions take place in a region permeated by godly virtues of religious travellers. Sexual crimes had not found their way in the lexicons of Yatris till then.
I have had an opportunity to interview a German couple on pilgrimage to the aforesaid holy places like we were. They stayed in a small bivouac overnight. I asked them that in that small sleeping space where their bodies rubbed against each other involuntarily, did they have an erotic feeling at dead of night. “None, whatsoever”, that was an emphatic reply of the burly husband whose petit wife nodded assent. I was impressed indeed! I too had lived a life of Brahmacharya for the entire period of a month or so of the pilgrimage. It was a circumstantial compulsion in my case since I was a geographical bachelor for the period of pilgrimage.
Came the unfortunate 1962 war between India and China. The relationship between two friendly neighbours was soured for almost two decades. Of course, the Hindu yatris clamoured for reopening of a pilgrimage route, notwithstanding political and military relationship between the two countries. China was now firmly established as a fate dispenser of the Tibetan region and it was the central government in Beijing that called the shots. Both the countries entered into a negotiation to reopen the religious route along the traditional lines. The government control on the religious pilgrimage was loud and clear but the Yatra did start in the early 1980s. The pilgrims were constantly under surveillance and their trucks canopied on all sides like the ones of prisoners of war.
The tension was reduced gradually as the relationship between the two countries sweetened by amiable behavior of leadership of both the nations. Of course, friendly relations were never better than what they are now, thanks to Narendra Modi Ji and President Xi jinping. Our citizens hope that the mutual good relationship will proceed from good to better and the best. One day our Hindu pilgrims may see the dawn when they travel from Bharat to holy Kailash Parvat and Mansarovar Jheel unencumbered by passport and visa.
A question comes to mind about continuation of the old yatra route; the new one becoming more popular day by day. It is given to understand that both the yatra routes may continue to be operated because the number of pilgrims is on the increase year after year. Some pilgrims are taking the Nepal route too where there is no walking involved until one reaches the base camp of Kailash Parvat. The place is named Tarchhen or big flag in the Tibetan language, that can be seen from miles by pilgrims giving them solace that their goal is not far off. Thereafter one perambulates the holy mountain on foot or on the back of a Yak – a special species akin to bison of our jungles in India. In our case, the perambulation had taken two and a half days but it was not tiring.
The Yak is an animal of many utilities. It is a beast of burden and the female yak is milked for making butter and other goodies. There is no stirrup or reins, just a makeshift saddle of blankets tied with ropes that may shift with the shifting weight of the rider. However, even lady pilgrims cling on despite hazards created by wayward behavior of the male yak, especially when it sees a tuft of green grass – rather rare in the region. But even a fall may not cause an injury as the yak stands still thereafter.
Sometimes words of wisdom come from cowherds tending to cattle on the Tibetan plateau. During the Yatra, a nomad brought a silver sheathed steel dagger to sell as an antique to me. On being told that the price was 30 Chinese Yuan plus in the 1990s, I asked a cowherd standing there whether it was expensive. He gave me a sermon on Economics and said” Sir, if you need the dagger, the price is not expensive; if you do not need it, the price is very expensive.” I was impressed and bought the small dagger.
CALL OF KAILASH PARVAT
I am so enamoured of the beauty of holy Mount Kailash that I wish to go there again and again. The Vedic Dharm that I profess teaches that Ishwar is Omnipresent and is NIRAKAR – without a form and has no abode as such. Thus Kailash Parvat cannot be the permanent abode of God. Nevertheless the natural scenic beauty beckons despite hazards of the arduous journey. Likewise Lake Mansarovar reflects moods and shades of colours of the firmament and always looks bewitching. The hue changes from moment to moment and all hues of all moments are equally fascinating. One goes round the Lake Mansarovar on a pony back as the ground is sandy. We Hindus love to bathe in a lake or a river but the Tibetan Buddhists consider it sacrilege. Bathing dirties the purity of the lake water; so they say. They do not object to our bathing since we are from the Land of the Buddha, the founder of their faith.
It may not be feasible for me to visit Kailash Parvat or Mansarovar again since I am in my early Eightees now and rules forbid me to undertake the arduous journey in the high altitude of Tibet where the atmosphere is not conducive to breathing rarified air by super senior citizens. Nevertheless, Kailash Parvat and Lake Mansarovar come to my mind and are seen by my inward eye every now and them.
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