It was a cold misty morning at Nathu La, the natural high-altitude passage between India and Tibet, across the Himalayas, in Sikkim. Passports had been verified for the one last time by the Indo Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP), baggage tags checked, and the visa papers secured, as the rain came down lightly on the first batch of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatris standing in a straight file at the Indo-China border, some 4,310 m feet above the sea level. These thirty seven pilgrims were witnessing history being made before them by being the first travellers from India to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) through the Nathu La after the border was closed in 1962.
We, the members of the first batch, or the historical batch as the authorities would tell us over and over again could feel the unmistakable excitement and festivity in the air. Having dreamt of a Kailash-Mansarovar visit all through our lives, we were finally heading to the most sacred spot on this planet to almost half of humanity including the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Jains and the Bonpas.
The mountains had always fascinated us. “The Godly Kailash and the Manas-Sarovar (translated as ‘the mind-lake’), how placid and beautiful could a lake be whose name sounded so heavenly?” such thoughts kept us occupied. We had all heard stories or anecdotes of the Kailash visit from those who had been to the holy land. Some experienced yatris in the group would often share their tales over meals and acclimatization walks from day one of the yatra.
“Yea in my mind these mountains rise,
Their perils dyed with evening’s rose;
And still my ghost sits at my eyes.
And thirsts for their untroubled snows”
Swami Pranavananda quotes Walter De La More in his memoirs
We were fast getting initiated into a direction that would eventually take us into the deep stillness of our inner-self by way of sacred communion with nature. Away from the madness of the cities, we had never felt more alive than when we were in the embrace of the Himalayas. Inside our minds, the mystical yearning to visit the Holy Kailash Mountain and the Mansarovar Lake in Tibet had been germinating for many years. The very thought of such a possibility would leave us dreaming about the grand solitary spaces of the Himalayas. The moment when our yearning of years was going to be fulfilled had finally arrived. It filled us with great delight when our wish and desire to pay our first homage to this natural and divine wonder through Nathu La got materialized.
This blog series is a joint effort by Aarti Saxena (who also happened to be the Liaison Officer of the batch) and Satyender S Dhull, who were blessed to have been a part of the first batch of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra (KMY) via the Nathu La. As we write this with deep contentment of finally having visited the Holy Land, we cannot help but wonder still if we shall ever be able to visit Kailash again. For us, our spiritual-escapade into the Sacred Space would always be a rare adventure in Tibet, a country absolutely full of history, interest and significance.
The following posts are an endeavor in capturing the most magical moments of the yatra, before and after we crossed the Tibetan border! We hope you enjoy reading about our journey and experience it through our eyes and perspectives. Om Namah Shivaya!
Preparing to climb the Roof of the World
From plains to Sikkim
Reception at Gangtok
Adjusting to the higher altitude
The legend of the soldier Baba Harbhajan Ji
Crossing the Nathula
Getting shepherded through Tibet
On the Friendship Highway
By the Tsangpo Chu
Traversing the Barkha
The Kailash and the Yam Dwar
A Glimpse of Eternity by the lake
Retracing the trade route to Nathula
The Festivities around
Back to the Plains