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To Mount Kalash and back

The recent disaster at Malpa reminds Madhav Masand, a former resident of Vijay Nagar in Marol, of his own arduous trek to Mansarovar and Mount Kailash three years ago.

For many years I had been curious about visiting Manasarovar and Mount Kailash because they are held in great reverence by all Hindus. So in February 1995, when the ministry of external affairs invited applications I submitted one and was overjoyed to receive a telegram some time later asking me to report at New Delhi on 5 June for the yatra which was to commence on 8 June.

At Delhi our passports and medical papers were checked and then we were taken for a medical examination by doctors of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Of 28 yatris in this first group, two were found medically unfit. Finally, on 8 June we began our trip in a bus run by the Kumaon Mandal Nigam.

Our first principal halt was at Rampur where we were served light refreshments. Lunch was at Nainital and for the night we halted at Kausani. Here conditions were not very good. There was insufficient water and sanitation was poor. When we set out the next morning at 4.15 there was no water in the taps. A truck fitted with a Sintex tank was brought but there was no attachment to take out the water. Finally the pilgrims had to suck out water. However, the base camp was good and the cots were comfortable. That afternoon, at around 1.30 pm, we reached Chaukori. The same afternoon, at 3 pm, we set out for Dharchula and arrived there at around 7.30 pm. Between Kausani and Chaukori we saw the Baijnath temple, said to have been built by the Pandavas on their way to the Himalayas.

We travelled by bus upto Pangu, from where we began trekking by foot. Our routine thenceforth was almost the same. Each day we would begin trekking at about 5 am and would continue with a few halts on the way upto about 1.30 in the afternoon. Conditions at the first halt, Sirkha, were bad. All structures were made of wood and even the bathrooms and toilets did not have bolts. There were flies all over and it was difficult to sleep during the day.

On 13 June we left for Malpa base camp. This is the place that has now become infamous after tens of villagers and pilgrims were killed there recently. Even in 1995, walking here was not very safe because the stones over which we had to walk were slippery. We also had to cross a river across a narrow, temporary and risky bridge. No vegetables were available in any of the villages here. These areas were long neglected by the government.Click here to see photo

The way from Malpa to Budhi is about 10 km and we managed to cover it in about four hours. At Gunji we were again examined by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and three pilgrims from our group were turned back. We were rather upset by this. Why permit medically unfit pilgrims to travel thus far only to turn them back after having covered a considerable distance on foot and bus? What was even worse was that these "medically unfit" people were asked to travel back on foot through difficult terrain.

At Navi Dang we got a glimpse of Om Parvat which was covered in snow as was most of the other mountains. On 18 June we left for Lipulekh Pass which marks the border between India and Tibet; the Macmahon line passes through this place. The Lipulekh pass is covered with glaciers or rivers of ice. The winds were chilly and besides it was raining. Trekking here is difficult and dangerous. Walking on the glaciers is tough, and covering even half a kilometre seemed to take ages. It is advisable that pilgrims going through this route wear shoes with spikes to provide a good grip on the ice. At this point the Indo-Tibetan Border Police handed us over to the Chinese authorities. We were provided ponies but the pony drivers were hardly courteous. They would drive the ponies down the slope at high speed ignoring the cries of the pilgrims. Three pilgrims fell and the drivers had a nice time laughing at us.

After some time we took a bus to Taklakot (also in Tibet). We found the food quite strange. The next day we handed over $ 500 to the Chinese authorities and also received Chinese currency in exchange for $ 150 more. We continued by bus to Tarchen where we were split into two groups, one group was taken on to Hore and the other was left behind in Tarchen.

Those of us who were left at Tarchen had to do a parikrama of Mount Kailash in three days. The first day we trekked 20 km and reached Direbu. The next day we did 22 km and reached Songzerbu, passing through Dolma Pass. All the mountains here were covered by snow. The third day we trekked 12 km and arrived back at Tarchen. Then we went to Hore to do a parikrama of Manasarovar and the group from there came to Tarchen.

A parikrama of Manasarovar is 124 kms but because of the mountains in the way one can do only 70 km. We had a bath at Manasarovar and then returned to Taklakot. I am proud of having completed the trek to Manasarovar and Mount Kailash but would refuse to repeat it even if someone offered me Rs 5 lakh.