Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, and Mansarovar lie a few hundred kilometers inside Tibet. It is the ultimate destination for Hindu pilgrims and the hard core devotees have always found ways to make, what must have been this very tough and challenging trip. In fact, there is a letter written to the local Raja by the then Maharaja of Mysore in 1929, thanking for local hospitality.
However, the route was closed following the 1962 war and reopened in 1981, for a limited number of visitors. The Government of India organizes the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra (KMY) through Ministry of External Affairs (MES) along with the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) and supported by Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).
An advertisement comes out in the national dailies in the early part of the year. But the Ministry’s website is active and gives all the relevant information along with the forms. The last date this year was in early March and the form has to be accompanied with a Rs 500/- draft. But many people on the yatra with me had applied through the website even before the ads came out. Applying early gives you no advantage, the selection is by lottery and the draws are made sometime in April. The agreement with China currently is for 960 visas and this number is distributed over 16 batches.
I got the selection call on 1st of May and I was slotted for Batch 11 leaving on 31st July. Since I had a fair idea of the level of difficulty, I joined a gym the very next day!! And with a personal trainer worked hard for the next 3 months. I will talk later of my fellow yatris.
May and June were busy months for various reasons. But once July came around I started worrying about the other preparations. The booklet that had arrived from KMVN had a list of items that one must have. I had been to visit my brother in Europe in April and had come back armed with a pair of expensive professional trekking shoes. I got around to collecting the other stuff, that extended from the warm inners and jackets to face the cold climes of Tibet to candles, matches, whistle etc….. The booklet did say that all nights would be spent under a pukka roof and no camping would be involved. I set about collecting most of the items on the KMVN list, with one trip to Gopinath Bazaar with Rahul.I was nervous about the small things I did not have – like hunting around for a whistle!!
I still felt inadequate since I had never undertaken anything of this kind before. So, I looked around for friends and friends of friends who had trekking experience and got additional inputs. Also the locations of specialty stores where trekking gear could be sourced and Mukta accompanied me to get some stuff from there.
Of course, there is also the large amount of advice that you can gather when you google KMY!! All of which is a bit confusing. And finally when I laid out all the stuff that I had got together, taking into account that it was a 28 day outing with little scope for laundry in between, it certainly looked more than the allowed weight limit of 20 Kilos. So, there had to be some decisions on what to take and what to exclude – and not all these turned out to be wise ones, on later experience.
Having got this far, I attended the medical check up on day -3 of the trek. At the briefing that afternoon by an ITBP officer, I got a real feel of the challenges. And so I dashed home that evening and tried to source water proof large Urea bags into which my whole bag would fit. Fortunately, my driver lives in a village outside Gurgaon and promised to get some from his home! I also was prudent enough to get a whole packet of nylon rope – a wise decision, as i was to learn later. Later in this series you will learn how critical this part of the packing was. We were also asked to put all the clothes into plastic bags!! This called for a trip to my dry cleaning guy who gave me a bunch of large sized transparent plastic bags.
So I was more or less set, I felt ……….. and as the later experience proved, nothing on the list is redundant. The only things I did not use was the umbrella, because I did not have it when I needed it and the whistle!!