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Tibet: Mansarovar Kailas Yatra: Preamble, Preparation, The Journey, Lake Mansarovar, Mount Kailas Parikrama
Mansarovar Kailas Yatra - The Journey
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The trip commences with a customary briefing on the eve of departure. Owner of Fishtail Tours & Travels, Narayan Pokhrel, introduced us to the team leader Dem Bahadur Mahat and his group of 18 Sherpas. I was happy to note that Dem had already completed 14 trips to Kailas and Mansarovar and most of the Sherpas had been there a couple of times. Notably, one Sherpa named Neema had even supported a group to Mount Everest. We were indeed in safe hands. The briefing essentially revolved around the dos and the don’ts. I have summed it up under various headings in this article.
Each traveler was given a back-pack, a wind cheater a down jacket and a large duffle bag. We were asked to repack our clothing and other stuff in the duffle bag. Our bags would be left in Kathmandu itself to be returned after completion of the trip. Each operator has a different colour code. Our was blue. The number of my bag was 26. And that would be my identity for the rest of the trip. The standardized luggage makes it easy for loading and unloading and most important it enables the yaks to carry the same on their backs during the Parikrama. While we travel in 4X4 vehicles, the bags and the ration for the trip come along in trucks. At every destination, our bags were dropped in our rooms and tents. I only had to tell the number. The arrangement is simple but efficient.
After breakfast the next morning we all boarded a bus that would take us to Kodari that was only 126 kms away. Let not the distance fool you. It took well over 6 hours to travel that small distance. Thanks to the traffic as well as the narrow road on the hilly terrain. Kodari is a border town. River Bhotikoshi seperates Nepal and China. Along the way we crossed the hill station of Dhulikhel.
Lunch was served at one of the restaurants in Kodari. As we had our meals, our bags were carried by porters across the border and loaded on to waiting trucks on the other side. We had a group visa that allowed us entry into China. Call it a permit if you want. Surprisingly, no stamping was done on our passports. In other words, there’s no proof that I actually visited this region in China. It took us about 90 minutes to clear immigration. The bridge that connects Nepal and China is called the Friendship Bridge.
On the Chinese side, Tibetan organizers took over. We made groups of 4 and walked to our assigned Land Cruiser. My peer group consisted of my cousin sister Trupti, her husband Rajesh and an author whom we lovingly called Billu (he is the one who has penned the famous Billu Badshah joke books). Our driver was a young Tibetan named Tin Jin. Thankfully, he understood sign language.
The difference on the two sides of the border was obvious. From shattered roads and poor towns we were on plush highways and crossed towns that showed reasonable amounts of wealth. And fashion. I was amazed to see scores of beauty salons even in the smallest of towns. No wonder, China is the largest consumer of cosmetic products!
The drive from Kodari to Nyalam lasted for about 3 hours and was truly picturesque. Snaking up the mountains passing through fog and low flying clouds, we reached Nyalam at about 4 in the afternoon Nepal time. That would mean 6:15PM China time. That was kind of funny – a 2 hour and 15 minutes time difference between the two banks of river not more than 100 feet wide! This was a little hard too. When we commence journey early in the morning, China time, it’s pretty dark. So be it.
At Nyalam we were assigned dorms in a hotel named Sheesha Bangma. 10 passengers were stuffed in one room. Though there was a toilet (a hole dug in the ground) most of us preferred to venture out in the open. I need to find out whether there’s a co-relation between bowel movements and crisp mountain air. I found it difficult for the first couple of days but then got used to the technique and the environment. I won’t dwell more on meals as I have already mentioned that we were served 3 wholesome vegetarian meals every day.
We would be in Nyalam for the rest of the day as also the next day to acclimatize. The next morning, after breakfast we were asked to climb a mountain rising about 300 mtrs from the base. The Sherpas would be with us. They would observe how the travelers progress. This was litmus test. Fortunately I passed with flying colours. Like everybody else, I would make the trip too.
The view from the top of the mountain was simply outstanding. The sky was clear. We could see at a distance the Sheesha Bangma peak shining in full glory. As a photographer, my day was made.
That evening we strolled around in the Nyalam market. I bought a walking stick and a few rolls of toilet paper – experience makes man perfect.
Day free for acclimatization and trekking.
After breakfast we left for Saga our next destination that was about 265 kms from Nyalam. We were on the highway that goes all the way up to Lhasa. After driving for an hour, we turned left on dirt tracks. Beginning now, we would never see good roads again till such time we return to the same spot on our return leg. We were asked to roll up our windows to avoid the dust coming in. But that made the interiors hot. We had no option. The drive gave me the true picture of the Tibetan terrain – raw & rugged. I believe the pictures I could take will tell you more. After all, it’s very rightly said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Wherever possible, I have explained the pictures to the best of my ability.
It was an 8 hour drive. Our hotel for the night was Jinlin. We were 4 to a room. It was indeed a pleasant surprise to get attached facilities with a shower and a commode. Though the water was only trickling (that too only from 7PM to 9PM), I did have a bath – my last one on the trip save for a little dip in the chilly Mansarovar waters. Saga is reasonably large town settled on the banks of River Bramhaputra. The town has a large military base. We were specifically asked not to take pictures of any military installations and risk our cameras being taken away.
Our destination for the evening would be Prayang about 260 kms away. Post breakfast we drove for another 8 hours, stopping as usual somewhere between for lunch. The highlight of this drive was the fantastic formation of sand dunes. The topography reminded me about my dessert safari I had in Dubai and the camel ride in the desserts of Rajasthan. Our guest house for the night was Hotel Sheesha Bangma. This name keeps coming up that’s because the name is not only an important peak in Tibet but also the name of a sage. I was told that this sage has built many guest houses on the route to Mansarovar for the benefit of the pilgrims. Here, 3 of us were in a room.
Nyalam, Saga and Prayang Image Gallery Photo viewer
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