Jun 11, 2019-
Visits to the Vatican in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, Faisal Masjid in Islamabad, Tooth Temple in Kandy, Mount Wutai in Shanxi, Jokhang in Lhasa, Kinkakuji in Kyoto¸ Jama Masjid in Delhi, Kamakhya in Assam, Pashupati in Kathmandu, Golden Pagoda in Yangon, Taktshang in Bhutan, Dukha Niwarak Gurudwara in Patiala and Mahakal Than in Darjeeling would invariably provide peace, tranquillity, sense of direction, ingrained feeling of global harmony and a degree of fulfilment.
Our just-concluded long sojourn in Kailash and Manasarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China was no exception. It was a challengingly magnificent pilgrimage dotted with natural hazards, sharp altitudinal variations and contrastingly pristine topography, and witnesses to water towers and river sources and, of course, recollections of the awesome history of how Guru Padmasambhava and Songtsen Gampo made Buddhism a key basis of civilisation in the Himalayan region. East to the west, it was a significant blending of Hinduism and Buddhism with a visible influence of Islam and Christianity. We started with the Jokhang, Potala Palace and Norbulingka in Lhasa and took a longer route to reach Gyantse and Shigatse.
A little beyond Lhasa’s Gongga airport, the Yarlung Tsangpo River (the Brahmaputra) was at its full stretch even before the monsoon rains hit the affluent biodiversity of the Eastern Himalaya. Except for the mountainous backdrop, the hydrological flows of this trans-boundary river looked strikingly similar to the Brahmaputra fiercely flowing under the Bogibeel bridge in Dibrugarh of Assam. No one can think that the serene Yarlung Tsangpo crisscrosses all the way to the Bay of Bengal after acquiring the name of Siang in Arunachal Pradesh and Jamuna in Bangladesh.
Further up, Kampala Pass at over 4,500 metres above sea level presented us the warmth of the otherwise very frightening but noble and intelligent Tibetan Mastiff dogs. They were huge, bulky and heavily wrinkled, but deeply domesticated, friendly, and calm with expressive eyes when photographed. Privately, we were told that in the wild, nothing could be more protective and fierce. The turquoise blue Yamdrok (Nomad) Lake was just breathtaking, like the Issyk-Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan. A prolific rainbow revolved around the sun at this 4,441-metre altitude lake. By this time, it was quite clear that this longer route to Gyantse was far thrilling and excitingly joyful than the engineering feat of the Lhasa-Shigatse high altitude railway line that hardly took three hours to cover 280 km. The Karola glacier awaited us with a profuse showering of snows. This was hardly 50 metres away from the camera platform, and one could fathom and watch how climate change has started eroding the natural glacial melts. With absolutely a naked black rocky base, the water streams that originated in this glacier were thin and halting.
More marvellous surprises were in store ahead. The Younghusband mission with a military escort (1903-04) under the command of Brigadier General JRL Macdonald and three infantry regiments, two companies of sappers and miners, four guns and a maxim gun section, had captured this very Gyantse and reached Lhasa on August 3, 1904 to sign a convention between Great Britain and Tibet. The Gyantse Fort overlooking the architecturally affluent Kumbum Monastery reminded us of the flourishing trade via Nathula and Jelepla and Gangtok and Kalimpong as core business centres till at least the Sino-India war of 1962. At Shigatse, the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery of the Panchen and Dalai Lamas was built in 1447 at 3,500 metres. It has the largest statue of Maitreya Buddha in China.
It was in Saga (elevation 4,300 metres), more than 450 km from Shigatse, where hordes of pilgrims coming over five popular routes--Kathmandu-Kerung; Nepalgunj-Taklakot; Simikot-Purang; Kathmandu-Lhasa and Gangtok-Shigatse--actually converged. They throng this small village town wearing multicolour jackets and pullovers issued by multiple travel agents like Kathmandu-based Alpine Kailash. Astonishingly, pilgrims calmly queue up for a hot Nepali masala tea and glucose biscuits. It was on the way from Saga to Darchen village (4,686 metres) at the base of Mount Kailash that we got a prized display of the 2,900-km long Brahmaputra originating at the Jima Yangzong glacier in southwestern Tibet. It was a superb June 5 Eid al Fitr. By then, the Yarlung Tsangpo had shown us its various forms and scales, and in some cases, its tributaries remained totally dried up. Huge and delicate sand dunes were formed on its banks.
China’s development penetration could be seen all around. The road, electricity, communication, drinking water, sanitation and other physical infrastructures have adequately trickled down to these high altitudes. 4G internet connection adorns even the high ridges of Mt Kailash. Many a time the landscape is brilliantly arid and tastelessly monotonous as there are no greens, plants and settlements. However, right from Shigatse to Gnari city, about 200 km away from the Kailash-Manasarovar base, the monotony and desertified topography are creatively and intermittently interrupted by wildlife like handsome wild donkeys, robust blue sheep, yaks, mountain goats, eagles, solar plants, high voltage direct current transmission lines, rivulets and streams and snow-fed falls. Small settlements with Chinese national flags aloft do indicate the federal government’s consistent efforts to mainstream the distant periphery.
Finally, it was Manasarovar Lake (Mavern Tso) that exhibited the real core of nature. Not a single human being around, the placid lake with its crystal clear depth were surrounded by snow-clad mountains, a dotless blue sky, blazing sun, fierce winds, thorny bushes and silt and sand and the invisibility of gods and goddesses. This was nature in its real fathom with unimaginable dimensions. For the first time, nature was so near, so real, so natural and so charming. Here the cultural ecology is so boundless that everyone tends to go beyond individualism and embraces the global. This was ecstasy at its height. Many pilgrims take a dip in this cold placid water.
Sense of fulfilment
The Kang Rimpuche (Mt Kailash) was the climax. It exhibited its changed mask from scores of directions. When viewed from the west, it was a freshly painted white rock, and from the south, it seemed like a ladder to enter the abode of the lord. How can the nature gods be so kind to Mt Kailash? It was a spotlessly clear sky, cheerfully embracing each pilgrim and guest. In the 54-km long kora (circumambulation path), Kang Rimpuche received all as Basudhaiva Kutumbakam (universal brotherhood). Though pilgrims go there with a sense of spiritual ownership, the religious affiliations, nationalities, language and creed and colours are all meaningless to this insurmountable mountain deity. Prostrating Tibetans take scores of days to complete this kora. Many pilgrims breathe their last on the lap of Mt Kailash. I prayed for all--my country, people, societies, family, friends, teachers and students, and also for those who were martyred for the national cause. And for those who sacrificed their lives for the cause of a separate state in Darjeeling and Dooars within the constitutional framework of India. When I looked up to Kang Rimpuche with my wet eyes, I saw that glimmer of hope and felt a sense of fulfilment and injected reinvigoration from Karunamayi Mt Kailash.
Many pilgrims would like to come back to their villages and towns and nurture a changed approach to life. Many of them can never come back, as emergency medical facilities are unavailable in this far-off bastion of pilgrimage. There will be deeper friendship between India and China if these two countries together build a high altitude hospital at Darchen village for the sake of humanity, brotherhood and trans-boundary cooperation.
Published: 12-06-2019 06:30