Parikrama literally means ‘circumambulation’ or ‘walking around’ and it is a part of ritual associated with the visit to a temple. It is always performed clockwise around the periphery of the temple. The parikrama of the Kailash Parvat is the ultimate one for Hindus, as this is the abode of Shiva.
We started out on the 13th day morning (12th August) from Darchen towards Deraphuk, wearing our 3 layers of inners and leggings. Our luggage was to stay in Darchen and my small knapsack had to be stuffed with everything for 3 days and 2 nights. It had a towel, basic toiletries (including toilet paper and wet wipes) and a couple of sheets and all the eats, esp dry fruits and energy bars. The porters can carry much more and so it would have helped if I had taken a larger knapsack. Although the Finance Committee had collected the money in advance for the porters and ponies, and made all necessary arrangements through the guides, only few of us got the porters assigned to us at Darchen. We did the first 5 Km by bus and stopped en route at the Yamdwar (Yama Gate) where we donated some old clothes – and walked through the gate to leave our fear of death behind.
We disembarked at the point where from were to trek the 14 Km to Deraphuk. Here we were also to get our ponies and the remaining porters were to join us. Also, the common luggage (only the food stuff) was to be loaded onto yaks. There was considerable chaos and it took a lot of time to get it all sorted out. There is a lot of hassles with porters and ponies in the China side, as there is no language of communication and they can be quite unpleasant. What was interesting was that in contrast to the Indian side, 50% of the porters and pony guides were women! Also, while the ponies on the Indian side will carry baggage, on the Chinese side they just will not.
The trek to Derphuk (4900 m) was through a gentle broad valley and I reached camp around 3 PM. As soon as we reached, a large number of the yatris set for ‘Charn Sparsh’, which is the only point where you can actually touch Kailash – hence considered very auspicious. However, it is a very steep and tough 3 KM climb, and walking the 14 Km at that altitude had exhausted me. So, I was in no position to attempt that climb.
The camp itself was filthy, with only the open sky for toilet. The cooks got Maggi ready, which was very welcome as it was quite cold! Early dinner and into the cramped quarters – was glad for the sheets i was carrying as the linen was pretty dirty. Although an early start was planned, that did not happen as everyone was really tired. It rained most of the night and this turned into snow in the morning. So we got up to see the dirty sorrounding of the previous night under the white cover in the morning.
You also are the closest to Kailash and you get a marvellous view.
The second day of the parikrama is the toughest of the whole yatra, involving 25Km of walking and crossing the Dolam pass . It was freezing cold and snowing incessantly, and we finally set off around 8.30 AM. We had to walk a couple of kilometers to get to our ponies.
The climb up was stiff and it continued to snow through out – with fierce winds at the top. With 2 sets of socks and gloves and caps, it was still cold – and quite a strain to stay on the horse. We reached Shiv Sthal, where Tibetans make offerings, lie down and feign death to be reborn. I did not get off the horse as the winds were too strong and there was no question of striking a match to light the diya or agarbatti!!
We continued to climb and reached the highest point in the entire yatra, the Dolma La (5670 m), where many prayer flags flutter in the cold winds. At the base of Dolma La, I turned back to have a final darshan of the holy mountain. A huge boulder at Dolma La is said to represent Tara Devi. The air is rarefied and even though we have been our well-acclimatised it needs all your mental will to make the climb. Fortunately I did not have to resort to all the tips that we had been given (like smelling camphor, which we were all carrying) and did not suffer from headache, breathlessness or other symptoms of high altitude syndrome.
The descent was equally trecherous, slushy and slippery and had to be done on foot. As we came down, there was Gauri Kund, which is where Parvati is supposed to bathe. It is the highest fresh water lake in the world and my porter volunteered to go down and get the water for me. The route down to the Kund is pretty daunting and we had been warned not to try and do it ourselves. Later I learnt that some of our colleagues had not paid heed to this warning and had to be helped up by the Chinese guides!!
Once we reached the valley it was wide and the 12 Km trek did not involve any climbing. Along this valley is the origin of the great Tsang Po or Brahmaputra and you walk along this to Zongzerbu, our next halt. I reached camp around 5 in the evening – having had only a breakfast and the energy bars. The camp facilities at Zongzerbu, which is on the western side of Kailash, are even more primitive than at Deraphuk.
Through out this stretch, there is a lot of traffic as this is also an important pilgrimage for the Buddhists. Also, all the yatris who come thro Nepal also are doing the parikrama. The route is disgustingly littered with cans of every kind (Coke, Pepsi, all kinds of Chines drinks) and wrappers!! This is also a stretch where there are a good number of Westerners – we met a group of 6 Spaniards at the Zongzerbu camp.
The next day was, compared to the previous one, very easy. A relatively easy 5-6 Km walk and then the bus back to Deraphuk . Once we got there, the truly devout went off to have darshan of “Ashtapad” – a route that is considered unsafe because of a fatal accident on a previous yatra. Of course, the brave would not be kept back and there was some mishap as it started to rain very heavily and it became dark early!! However, every one got back to camp safely and we were all relieved.
It was a good feeling – of peace, achievement and humility as well.