Thursday, April 20, 2017

Lack of Knowledge and its effects

The other day I parked my mobike at the Jayanagar Shopping Complex stand and struck a conversation with the contractor who had leased out the space for parking of scooters and motorcycles from the BBMP (Bangalore Corporation). He told me that the parking rates had been hiked from Rs.2 to Rs. 3 for a period of three hours. Before I paid up the sum demanded I decided to make some discreet enquiries from him. As we conversed on he unwittingly came to give me some bits of information that were harmful for him to reveal.

It appears the BBMP periodically check up with the hand-held electronic ticket-issuing contraption that have been provided to them to compile statistics about how many people, on an average park their two-wheelers at these parking lots. Based on these statistics they assign the rates of collection per vehicle and thence, in turn, the leasing rates for awarding the contracts to these contractors. It was only when I heard this bit of news that I realised how important it was for every person to collect the parking ticket from the hand-held ticket issuing machine, because if you fail to do it, the contractors claim that the number of clients using these parking areas is much lesser and consequently ask the rates for parking charges to be enhanced. Further they use these statistics to bargain for a lower minimum rate of lease.

When I realised this and hence chose to demand for a printed receipt from the device, he told me that in such a case I have to pay up Rs.4/-  So what these contractors are doing is that they are letting off one rupee to collect an unaccounted amount of three rupees that serves him not only to avoid tax, but also gets him a greater factual support to bargain for higher parking rates and a lower leasing rate.

However, it is true that if everyone chose to demand for tickets people would have to wait considerably longer and no one seems to have a patience for this. But by cutting corners we are only harming ourselves and then we protest vehemently when the country is being ripped-off by huge scams and wonder why India is getting to be like this! All that is needed is more awareness, more patience and shunning of laziness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One Universal Truth

If there is one universal truth about the nature of humankind, it is this : Humankind despises.

Have you noticed how this works?  Suppose you have been brought up on a strong belief that 'drinking liquor is bad', have you noticed how you despise drinkers? You tend to despise even those social drinkers on whom liquor obviously has no apparent bad effects. I used to drink liquor as a social practice - I was never fond of it, but drank occasionally to keep company with other drinkers. When I was advised by my Guru to avoid drinking and gave it up for a considerable period of time, I found my mind playing tricks. I spotted within me a tendency to despise people who drank! Just so that I don't end up judging boozers badly, I now occasionally quaff liquor - firstly to convince myself that I too am a drinker, and then as a side-effect, to help people realise that just because one is on a path of spirituality, it doesn't mean that these things are proscribed per se, but are rather advised to be avoided due to the effects liquor can have on your mind and thence upon your nervous system.

I have noticed that whenever I've drunk any liquor my mind tends to speed up. And when my mind speeds up, it tends to revolve round and round and round over unpleasant experiences, or even over ideas that tend to excite me. My mind tends to get fixated like that famous Beatles song 'I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in'. I find I am more peaceful before I have a drink, and invariably after a drink (perhaps the next day) I'm decidedly at a lower state. My Guru's advise made me observe such a state of affairs in me, and thence when I found it very convenient to stay away from liquor, and further, I had stayed away to convince myself that I was a teetotaller, I noticed the rather unhealthy tendency that I began to despise people who were still given to drinking.

As a step in self-awareness, I now drink occasionally when I have to correct my own impression about myself, and then sometimes to correct others' impression about me. Likewise I have observed the effects of meat upon my mental state, yet occasionally ingest it only to rectify other people's ideas.

Have you ever caught yourself despising others because they are 1. Lazy 2. Workaholics 3. Sloppy 3. Too fastidious 4. Inconsiderate 5. Too formal and too considerate to be natural  4. Miserly 5. Spendthrifts 6. Too spontaneous 7. Too thought out in their actions to make them appear synthetic and plastic etc. etc. Do you see how one set of adjectives contradict the succeeding set and either way you despise!

I had made the near fatal mistake of despising myself based on other people's opinions about me, until I realised that the whole of humanity is playing this unwholesome game. And I thank my benefactors who pointed how my view of myself was too lopsided. I didn't need to despise myself so much, or rather perhaps as you'd prefer to have it, you are perhaps more despicable than me. Or are you?!


The Blessed Sachin

Many years back I had to wait at a motor-cycle repair shop near my house as my mobike was being repaired.  The owner of the repair shop was a large-built Muslim who seemed quite adept at his job. That day, at his shop, there was a lad of seven or eight - also a Muslim who had a closely cropped pate assisting the main mechanic.

    "Aslam, woh dus number spanner laa rey!"  the Mechanic ordered his young assistant (Get me the 10 number spanner)

The boy fetched a spanner and handed it over. The Master took it, briefly considered it, and rapped the boys skull with the heavy tool cursing :

   "Arrey ullu! Mein 10 waala poocha aur tum 8 waala dey rahe ho !!"

It would have hurt the boy, but barely wincing, he proceeded to fetch the right instrument. A little later the Master asked for another tool. The poor boy, I'm sure totally self-absorbed, thinking about his distant family - perhaps his mother or his playmates from another town - again fetched a wrong tool and was rapped on the knuckles with that instrument with fluent expletives spewing from the Master's mouth in rage.

I tried to intervene weakly in support of the boy, trying to explain that he was perhaps too young for the job. The Mechanic brushed off my comments saying "With this sort of training under me, in three years he'll be ready to take on any job and the world too!"

The boy was wearing a grease-blotched faded and dirty pale yellow T-shirt printed with the letters :

"Don't Ask Me to Think.  I was hired for my looks !"

Perhaps the T-shirt being given away in some rich western country as charity which once belonged to a rich boy and had found its way to this lad in the mechanics shop in Jayanagar, Bangalore.

These lads would work a 11 or 12 hour shift from 8:30 a.m till 9:00 p.m., perhaps staying in some slum under the roof of a distant uncle who had migrated to the city from some distant part of the state. Not for him any of his mother's delicacies. Not for him any medicines if he caught a cold or flu. No one would care if he were happy or sad. He was just being used without any compensations of any significant sort. The cursed of the world!


Then there is the other end of the spectrum. A lad from middle-class circumstances who is gifted in a different sort of way. He can connect a bat to a swiftly moving or suddenly spinning ball in various talented ways that are effective in a human-created game called cricket that we all, like him, would love to keep on playing throughout our lives and for 24 hours a day. He was fortunate to be born in a family that allowed him that luxury and in a country with a large-enough, somewhat idle middle-class population, who spread the notion around, that his efforts can define the self-image of the country. He may or may not have been good in studies, but to his luck, he is encouraged to play on. Life is just one big game for him at which, talented as he is, he excels. He is not forced to master complicated differential equations that seem incomprehensible to us. No need to learn Fourier Series or Laplace Transforms. No need to decipher the complex phase diagrams of silicate systems either with or without some god-forsaken parameters like PCO2 or PH2O nor the need to understand what in the world does the knowing  REDOX Potentials have to do to enable one to marry one's girlfriend! I remember the admonition I was given by my father as a 13 year old in Kannada:


Translated into English, and without the imperious rasping voice, it sounds so polished - almost coaxing and cajoling!

"As soon as it strikes 6 or 6:30 in the evening, after the streetlights are switched on, you better wash your face, hands and feet and bend your back even as you sit for studies with intense efforts! Understood?"

The cricketer becomes a hero of the masses at an age as young as sixteen years. He makes millions of Rupees. He creates records of various sorts. He is praised to the heavens, adulated and venerated. To make matters worse, he even has his head firmly placed on his shoulders and is down-to-earth! He has a wisdom beyond his years that helps him retain his humility and has an impeccable conduct. He falls in love with a woman and is even able to marry her! Not only is the woman quite attractive, she is also a doctor. And to cap it off they are a happy family !!

He is made an honorary member of the Parliament. Given various State honors and even the highest civilian award of the nation. His name earns, both to him and his sponsors, millions in advertisement promotions. He is felicitated by the world and is considered equal to God!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country, farmers hoping to keep their hearths alive would have raised loans at interest rates that would make Shylock weep - rains having failed and crops destroyed and bereft of all hopes several of them would have hung themselves. Other much more fortunate ones would have roamed the forests of Arunachal and Chhattisgarh and Orissa separated from their wives just to balance the account books. Many would have quit service early due to sickness and in some sort of shame at not being able to handle the contempt of their colleagues. Ignored by friends and rejected by colleagues they would have retreated into their rooms to be busy with what the modern world has to offer in electronic technology.

These losers marvel at the workings of the universe even as they sit in front of their computers browsing the internet and they see the exhortation in websites to "Show your love for Sachin Tendulkar !" and invite your comments as contributions.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mt. Kailash - Manasarovar Sojourn - 9

The trek from Shershong to Dirapuk starts off pretty mildly and the ascent is quite gradual. The initial parts of the trek is scarcely tiring, but soon enough, as the ascent becomes slightly steeper, one feels a shortness of breath due to the lack of oxygen. The trek is mildly strenuous and if one is relaxed in his approach, he would get to enjoy the wonderful scenery around caused by sheer barren rocks that have assumed various grotesque shapes due to erosion.

The terrain seems straight out of a hollywood movie set in the canyons of Arizona, and I recalled the movie of Gregory Peck and Omar Sharief - Mackenna's Gold. The rocks are clearly sedimentary stratified rocks and some geologically interesting features like cross-bedding seem to be present. The valley walls rise to towering heights and appear quite magnificent.

After about two or two and a half hours of trekking that is mildly strenuous, one arrives at a small tentative Tibetan settlement that consists of a few tents that have a fairly good system of seating arrangements and tables. A thirsty soul can get an international brand of drink that is also popular with trekkers in these regions - the 'Red Bull' and comes in sealed cans. This is supposed to be a caffeinated energy drink that peps you up quite a bit for the trek ahead. I found it quite expensive, but a generous mate Uday Kumar Naik purchased over ten or twelve cans for the thirsty trekkers of our group. I could not find words to thank his generosity.

(Left: Tea shop enroute at midway point)

We also refreshed ourselves with black salted tea that are served in these shops.  The Tibetan women who man these shops are a little too sharp for comfort, and if one is not too careful, one ends up paying much more than what he seemed to have bargained for.  These shops are roughly midway between Dirapuk and Shershong, and for a man of my physical fitness it would take a further two-hour trek to Dirapuk. The trek from Shershong to Dirapuk is about 9 km.

Along the way one gets a view of the western face of Mt. Kailash.

Right: Southern face of Kailash

We finally arrived at Dirapuk at around 6:00 p.m., and I have to say that towards the final portions of the trek I was frequently breathless. At the same time I add that I found the Gangotri - Bhojwasa trek of 14 km on the way to Gomukh which I had done last year to be much more tiring than this trek, as that path involved greater slopes and more ascents and descents than this one. By the end of the trek of 14 km last year at Bhojwasa, I was totally pooped out, whereas here, I did not feel as tired.

We were excited to see the sign of the hotel at Dirapuk at a considerable distance before the final destination.

The hotel was a quadrangular structure with an open fourth side and had a ground and first floors. We were allotted a room on the first floor on the western side. It offered us an excellent view of the North face of Mt. Kailash. The courtyard of the hotel was the resting place for the beasts of burden like yaks and ponies. On arrival at the hotel we were served refreshing cups of masala tea and salted crackers. The whole lot of us just collapsed on the camp chairs to rest and unwind. It was quite a while before the last trekkers came trooping in.

Left: Hotel at Dirapuk.

While the rooms were adequate - some of us were accommodated on a twin-sharing basis and others were allotted four to a room, the toilets were simply horrendous. They were in such a dismal state that one felt like puking as one entered them. Most people chose to use the open air, but many of us chose to remain constipated for two or three days.

View of the North Face of Kailash from the hotel room.

The altimeter reading of Dilli's watch at Dirapuk gave a value of 4820 m. (15,900 feet)

Ramesh Perumal (centre) flanked on his left by Balamurugan and on his right by the author.

Mt. Kailash - Manasarorvar Sojourn - 7

The 28th of August 2010 had the entire group waking up at 3:00 a.m. as we had planned to leave Paryang by 4:00 a.m.  This strategy was necessitated as we wished to avoid getting stranded by the Chinese road authorities like we were yesterday. We reckoned that if we were to start early before the road authorities got down to work, we stood a better chance of reaching Manasarovar on time. That is precisely the way things worked out and we were at Manasarovar by 10:30 a.m.  The books give the Paryang - Manasarovar distance as 277 km, but it certainly didn't appear to be that much.  Perhaps another significant fact was that the road on this stretch is in a much better condition and large parts of it are well laid out and tarred.

It was a clear and brightly sunny day when we arrived at Manasarovar. The camp site was very attractive and had a neat arrangement of alpine tents, medical tent, latrine tents and a large tent for dining and assembly. The day was exhilarating and the air felt fresh and invigorating. We had a refreshing cup of tea and later a sumptuous breakfast before we headed towards the lake. The books give Manasarovar's altitude as 4558 m or 15,500 feet.

White tents were the Drivers and staff quarters

The Manasarovar Lake

We meditated at the lake for a considerable time before we returned to the camp for lunch.  We were advised not to enter the waters as the Isha Foundation and Sadhguru had envisioned a certain set of procedure to be followed before one enters the hallowed waters. The holy dip and the bath was to come the following day. Accordingly the entire group stayed away from entering the waters respecting Sadhguru's wishes.

We spent the entire afternoon and evening lazing in our tents and taking leisurely strolls around the vast camping area. The alpine tents themselves were larger than the ones I had seen at Greenland. They were taller, more spacious and comfortable. We were accommodated three to a tent and I had Ramesh Perumal and Balamurugan as tent mates.

(Inside of the tent at Mansarovar)

The day being bright and sunny, it was uncomfortably warm within the tent in the afternoon. Later at night it got quite cold and chilly and we were snugly ensconced within the sleeping bag for the night.

The following day we were up very early and had assembled by 6:45 a.m. for the procedure and dip in the holy lake. We were asked to dip our left palms in a liquid mixture consisting of sandalwood powder and other ingredients and smear that on our scalps. Later we were advised a series of mantra chants and shlokas and following all the set procedure we took a shivering holy dip in the cold holy waters of the lake.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying the ambience of the lake. A few returned to the edge of the lake and on the whole we were really blessed to have a great stay at Manasarovar.

The reason why I stress that we were blessed is that the earlier B3 group had miserable weather while at Manasarovar and they had to perform the entire religious procedure before the dip in pouring rain and in cold shivers. A few of them reportedly went into a mild shock when they subsequently entered the waters for a holy dip and I was told that they had to be greatly assisted by the Sherpas.

I give here the many photos that reflect the varying moods of nature at Lake Manasarovar. It was too scenic and picturesque to describe in words:

Varying moods of nature at Mansasarovar

So after having had a great time at Manasarovar for the day we retired at night eagerly looking for tomorrow when we would be leaving for Shershong to begin the Mt. Kailash Parikrama.

Sunset at Manasarovar

Mt. Kailash - Manasarovar Sojourn - 4

Each day we would breakfast quite early in the mornings by about 7:00 a.m. and only after a diligently performed Guru pooja and Guru vandana that would take about 15 minutes would we board our cars headed for the next destination. As a sequel to the Guru pooja we were taught a shloka that was to strengthen us and steel our resolves towards our goal. The shloka went thus:

                                        Brahmaananda Swaroopa, Isha Jagadisha
                                        Akhilananda Swaroopa, Isha Mahesha.

It would be difficult to convince the sceptics, but it is really amazing that on religiously  following the spiritual guidance and various other instructions provided by our mentors none in the group faced any major problems of altitude sickness or other kinds of disorders. Besides this, we were advised the chant of the mantra 'Om namah Shivaya' and repeatedly utterring 'Shambho'. All these procedure had the significant effect of protecting us and even I, who had minor problems of wheezing even down in the plains of Peninsular India, felt no traces of exhaustion or tiredness. In fact I could keep equal pace with men who were ten to twelve years younger than me.

So it was that on the 25th of August 2010, after all the religious and spiritual observances we left Zhangmu for Nyalam at a distance of only 35 km but at a much greater altitude - a small town at an altitude of 3750 m or 12,375 ft.  The drive from Zhangmu to Nyalam is stupendously picturesque and one sees sheer vertical valley walls rising up from the river to touch the sky. The whole drive has many, many water falls and one is simply taken in by the magnificent scenery.

L to R: Author, Ramesh, Mahesh, Balamurugan (Jeep mates)

One of the many waterfalls on road to Nyalam

The initial parts of the drive has green, verdant valley walls covered mainly with grass and a few trees. Some
portions do indeed have many pine trees, but as one heads upwards, the trees significantly decline in numbers. For a short space along the drive, one notices a thick foliage of flowering plants and bushes that make for a pretty picture. But as one nears Nyalam, the terrain becomes essentially barren and rocky.

We reached Nyalam around 11:30 a.m. and after a brief spell of rest and savoring a few cups of masala tea and biscuits in the common hall, we shifted our luggages to our rooms. We were allotted four persons to a room. The accommodation is rather threadbare with rudimentary but adequate toilet facility.

Later in the day, we were taken on a short trek up a hill which is roughly 200-300 m high as an exercise in acclimatisation. I have to add that at Nyalam (12,375 ft) one does feel a shortness of breath as he or she undertakes any physical activity. Even ascending a flight of stairs to the first floor can leave one gasping mildly. The trek up the hill was quite invigorating.

(Right: Trek up a hill for acclimatization at Nyalam. The rocky barrenness of the surroundings is clearly seen.)

The town is a rather small one and has a series of condominiums each one looking like the other. The main street has a series of shops and a few restaurants lining it on either side. The merchandise that the shops offered was what one gets in any other town and consists of daily usage items like shoes, umbrellas, soaps, toothpastes, raincoats, gloves and so on.  We tried to spot a store that would be selling ethnic Tibetan stuff and local handicraft but we couldn't find any. The barren rocky landscape around the town is seen in the photos below.

Right: Nyalam at dawn.

Thanksgiving - Mt. Kailash - Manasarovar Sojourn.

There was a time not many years ago when I never stopped to consider how blessed I was, even when an endeavour that involved tremendous risks with possibilities of things getting fouled up, did indeed turn out very well. Now I am not so callous. I fully recognise the number of ways in which things could have gone wrong and bad weather is not the least of them.

We were really blessed to have excellent weather right when it really mattered - at Manasarovar and even more importantly during the trek up to Dirapuk and back to Shershong. Due to severe space and weight constraints I had failed to equip myself with a proper rain gear and I only had a rough plastic sheet type of raincoat that I had bought the previous year at Kedarnath for Rs 15. To my consternation the damn thing had torn at the shoulders and the hood was leaking too. If it had indeed turned out that the weather had gone drastically bad I would have been in a miserable state.

As we sat at the Tea shop midway to Dirapuk, the weather had shown signs of deteriorating and a strong wind was blowing up-valley.  Luckily good weather conditions held out and but for a very, very feeble drizzle that lasted barely for two minutes, we were spared of all danger.As I think about this I reflect on the bad-luck of the B3 Group which faced terrible weather at Manasarovar with all the attendant problems.

Then there was the clear and present danger of our convoy getting delayed by the Chinese road authorities. Luckily we made it all through without major hold-ups and delays. At one stage on our return journey from Paryang to Saga, I recollect how the whole lot of drivers ran back excitedly to their cars after being let-off easily in a short duration at a check point. Further there were no major landslides or other type of delays that are so common in the Himalayan terrain.

Further, the entire group had excellent health except for a minor hiccup at the very beginning of our trip to one of our young members of the team - Mr. Krishna Kishore. As luck would have it, all the elderly members were in fine fettle and the entire group had a very pleasant experience.

For all of this I pay special thanks to Shirdi Sai Baba whose blessings I ardently sought before I left on this trip. I had also made respectful salutations to Lord Ganesh, Lord Ranganatha, Lord Venkateshwara and Lord Shiva.

I am extremely thankful to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev who blessed us on the journey by tying an Abhaya Sutra and am doubly thankful for him being so considerate to ensure that many like us get the Mt. Kailash - Manasarovar experience. I thank him for personally meeting us on the trip and affirm that we thoroughly enjoyed the various DVDs that were played to us on the many satsangs organised at various stages of the trip.

I also thank Swami Prabodha, Ma Gambhiri, Ma Gurudasi and various other staff of Isha foundation for all the trouble they took on our behalf to ensure that we had a comfortable and safe trip. I thank all my B4 Group mates for the excellent company and camaraderie that they provided in making the tedious journeys enjoyable. Finally I thank Balamurugan, Ramesh Perumal and Mahesh for the consideration they showed to me as an older fellow-traveller in this journey that was adventurous, exciting and spiritually revealing.

My sincere thanks to all once again.

Best wishes.


Mt. Kailash - Manasarovar Sojourn - 3

On getting the clearance of immigration into Tibet, we boarded the cars and drove up the valley towards Zhangmu. This is a rather small town at an altitude of about 2300m (7590 ft). The town largely winds along the ascending highway. The day was wet when we arrived there at around 3:00 p.m. Nepal time or 5:45 China Time. We were put up at a hotel that went by the name CAI YUAN BIN GUAN. We were accommodated on a twin sharing basis, and I continued to lodge with Balamurugan who had been my roommate right from Katmandu. After a light snack of crackers, biscuits and tea we decide to take a walk around town.

 Right : A view of Zhangmu from our hotel.

 (Left:  A street in Zhangmu)

It so happened that the doors to various buildings were very similar and most of them were decorated with elliptical red lampshades. The appearances of the door to our hotel was very likely to be confused with that of other buildings by its side. Fortunately we noticed that behind a glass window of the first-floor of a buliding opposite our hotel, a pair of brassiers and pink women's underwears were put up for drying. We took those sexy items as an aid to landmark our hotel door and we had no further problems identifying the door of our hotel.

Even on the final return trip to Zhangmu from Kailash - Manasarovar we were on the look-out for the familiar landmark, but it was sadly missing!!

(Landmark bras and panties)

We dined at 8:15 p.m.China Time (6:45 p.m. India Time) and after a refreshing shower hit the sack after a tiring day.

Mt. Kailash - Manasarovar Sojourn - 8

It was 9:45 a.m. by the time the convoy left Manasarovar on the 30th of August as we headed towards Mt. Kailash. The road is a good one that is tarred and well maintained. After some 45 minutes to one hour of driving we came across a village called Horchi. That's the name that our driver Pasang seemed to give, but I must caution here that the way these drivers pronounce these names and the consequent spelling that we seem to deduce may differ considerably from the real spelling that is given officially. For instance, Pasang seemed to pronounce the name of a lake as Lake Picuso, but I gather that it is actually spelt Piegutso.

One interesting aspect of some of these towns is that they seem to be straight of a cowboy wild-west movie of the 1960 hollywood style. Horchi town exactly seemed to be like that as is clear from the photograph on the left. The inhabitants too are frequently donned in cowboy style hats of some Mexican style as will be shown in our photographs.

A Tibetan porter with a Mexican Outlaw appearance!

After another half-hour drive we arrive at what is called 'Yamadwar' (Door of Yama, the lord of death). It consists of a simple structure with an open passage running through. There is a bell suspended from the roof. One is supposed to pass through this passage to overcome the fear of death before he embarks on a trek to Mt. Kailash. On either side of this structure, there are cylindrical stone heaps, with boulder sized stones, some carved with Tibetan letters and others carved with various geometric motifs. I could not find anyone in the vicinity who would be able to explain the meaning of these carved stone mounds to me. All vehicles that come to this spot circumambulate the Yamadwara once before proceeding ahead to Shershong from where the Mt. Kailash Parikrama starts.

One of the two stone mounds.

Right: Mr. Yama in a red down jacket seated at Yamadwara

Later we drove from Yamadwara to Shershong which we reached at 12:20 p.m. At Shershong we were allotted porters or ponies as per our earlier spelt-out needs. As I found the cost of a pony rather stiff at 1200 Yuans, I settled for a porter at 600 Yuans. A local chief organises the allotment of porters and ponies and I was allotted a young girl by the name of Paso.

On the valley-wall to the left, as one looks upstream, one notices a Tibetan settlement at some height above the valley-floor level. This structure looks like a monastery and has some smaller structures beside it. It seems to have been built right into the valley wall.

(Left: Structures at Shershong)

We commenced the trek to Dirapuk at 12:45 p.m. armed with a cane stick and many chocolate bars and flasks of water. A Nepalese Sherpa with us called Dilli had an altimeter watch that gave an altitude reading of 4535 m at Shershong. (almost 15000 feet)

Mt. Kailash - Manasarovar Sojourn - 5


On the morn of August 26th we left Nyalam for Saga - a military town that was situated at a distance of   240 km from Nyalam and would take a drive of 6 to 7 hours. We started our journey at 8:30 a.m. after breakfast and Guru pooja. We were advised to repack some of the material from our duffle bags to our backpacks - the bare essential items required for the night at Saga, as it was thought unlikely that we would have access to our duffle bags.

The drive for roughly two hours from Nyalam is on an excellent road - the highway that leads from Zhangmu to Lhasa (800 km) and further on, to the ultimate destination of Beijing (over 5000 km away). On the way we pass an attractive Tibetan village that goes by the name Changan and has the famed Milarepa cave down in the valley to the right of the road. The valley river terraces have been cultivated and hence presents a pretty picture (Photo Left)

The famed Milarepa cave is situated below the main village and there are steps leading to the cave that has been  enclosed by a later superstructure with rooms and meditation halls. The cave itself is pitch dark and one cannot discern anything within, but on clicking a camera with a flash one sees a host of picture frames and brass articles and lamps in the cave. (See photo on right)

Left: A Hallway at Milarepa.

A yellow-ochre superstructure over the Millarepa cave.

Left: Changan village with Tibetan style dwellings.

After some two hours of driving, the convoy of eight Toyota land cruisers suddenly veered off to the left and left the smooth tar road and got on to a roughshod muddy track that was to form the bulk of the way right up to Manasarovar. The road is really muddy, dusty and bumpy and quite a few times the vehicles have to ford across rivers, as bridges are absent in many places, and at other places, they are still under construction. Quite often, even these muddy tracks are obstructed by road construction and maintenance authorities and the vehicles end up manoeuvring ad hoc trails over the countryside for long stretches. Quite often there is the real and present danger of the vehicles getting stuck in a quagmire of slush and wet mud when even the four-wheel drive cannot help extricate the vehicle. In a few instances, one of the other vehicles of the convoy took a detour and somehow got ahead of the stranded vehicle and tugged at the stuck car using a strong steel wire cable and managed to extricate the stranded car.

The drive is over the extremely scenic Tibetan plateau that forms a very wide plain tract and are bordered on either side by snow-capped peaks and mountains. We arrived at the Sisha Pangma Conservatory (photo left) at around 11:45 a.m. One gets a magnificent view of the Sisha Pangma peak to the left of the road in the great distance as one heads towards Saga.

(Right: Shisha Pangma peaks)

We also pass the Piegutso Lake -  a medium sized body of fresh turquoise blue water that renders the spot quite scenic. The altimeter reading gives a value of 4400 m or 14,520 feet.

The road skirts the lake at some distance and we stopped here for a brief respite.

As we drive on we come to the Lalang La (Lalang Pass) which is at 5050 m or 16,665 ft. One gets an exhilarating view of the Tibetan plains on either side from the top of this pass.

(Photo left: Lalang La)

A further drive of about two hours takes us to the Brahmaputra valley where the river is quite swift-flowing and hence rather muddy and brownish as it carries a heavy load of sediments.

Unfortunately tourists are prevented from taking photographs in the vicinity of Saga town as it is a military base and we were given strict instructions never to dare defying the Chinese authorities.

We reached Saga around 3:30 p.m. local time and lodged at the Saga Hotel. The room was quite spacious and comfortable but had three beds in it. There is a severe problem of water shortage at the hotel and it took quite a bit of persuasion to get even a bucket of cold water to flush the toilets, the cisterns being empty. For quite a while there was no water in the bathroom sink, and it was only after 8:00 p.m. that we got hot water in the bathroom for a shower.

Saga is at 4450 m or 14,685 ft and one feels a clear shortness of breath as one takes a few steps even on plain ground. We were advised to take slow steps and refrain from exerting ourselves. Our rooms were on the second floor and we found it quite strenuous to make the climb.

In the evening the group made its way to the banks of the Brahmaputra and we were made to shout 'Om Namah Shivaya' by exerting and forcing our breath as we uttered it. This was followed by a few other yogic practices.

Later in the evening we scouted around to see if we could make an international call to India. We found that the shops charged 4 Yuans per minute for a call to India. Later after dining, we retired for the night.

Mt. Kailash - Manasarovar Sojourn - 2

The 23rd of August 2010 was largely spent lazing around the hotel while some members of the group were assigned to undergo the Inner Engineering Program. We were given instructions of what we were to do in preparation for the trip from Katmandu to Tibet that was to commence at 6:00 A.M. on the 24th of August. We were supplied with down jackets and duffle bags. We were to leave a large part of our clothes behind at the hotel and repack only essential clothes in the duffle bag that was to accompany us on the journey henceforth. Hence we packed in our thermal underwears besides a generous supply of inner wear and banians, sweater, gloves, woollen caps, socks, towels and a generous supply of chocolate bars for our energy requirements during treks, steel vacuum flask, water bottle, torchlight, sunscreen creams, sun goggles emergency medications and so on. We were put on a dosage of Diamox - a sulfa drug that helps prevent altitude sickness. This tablet, unfortunately is a diuretic and makes one wake up many times during the night for urination. This also caused a mild purging during the initial days. We were advised to consume at least 3 liters of water and advised a physical exercise which involved stretching out our arms and very slowly turning clockwise on our legs for 12 rounds. We were to maintain all theses directions diligently over the next few days of journey to Kailash.

We left Katmandu by bus at 6:10 a.m. and traveled towards the Nepal-Tibet border. The bus initially reaches the Sun-Kosi river and later heads up the valley carved out by the Bhote-Kosi River. The Bhote-Kosi River has very steep valley walls and has a lush vegetation.  The sky was quite cloudy as we headed up the valley and there was a slight incessant drizzle.

The valley heads up-river to a town called Kodari which is the final border town before one enters Tibet. In the neighborhood of Kodari is the famous Tatopani hot spring. We lunched at Kodari, having arrived there 12:45 p.m. Further, this is the place where you can convert Indian currency to Yuans (Chinese currency) and the exchange rate we were offered was Rs.7.50/Yuan.

Post-lunch, we headed towards the friendship bridge which forms the border between Nepal and Tibet (China) and we crossed over the border towards the Chinese immigration office. We did not encounter much problems in immigration as we were cleared of our passage to Tibet.

(left:Friendship Bridge; Above:Chinese Immigration)

Back at Katmandu we were asked to make teams of four members to be accommodated in Toyota Land Cruisers and our team consisted of Mr. Balamurugan (an engineer working for an Australian MNC at Bangalore), Mr. Ramesh Perumal (an officer of the Reserve Bank of India at Chennai), Mr.Mahesh Acharya ( a software professional at Bangalore) and myself.

We were assigned a Tibetan driver by the name of Pasang who was of a rather jolly temperament who enjoyed moments of dance and song. He could understand no other language other than Tibetan and that was rather unfortunate as we couldn't gain much information from him about the local places, river names, cultural aspects and so on. He had a fine collection of Tibetan music that he jauntily played as he drove through the rugged terrain. He seemed to be of an amiable type who was quite popular with other drivers.
(Left: Pasang with his Toyota Land Cruiser)

From the Chinese Immigration Office at the Friendship Bridge we drove over to Zhangmu that perhaps lies at a distance of 8 to 10 km and this Tibetan town is visible from the Nepali Town Kodari. (See photo on right)

 (Right: Zhangmu in Tibet as seen from Kodari in Nepal)