Continued from "Going on Kailash Manasarovar Yatra"
Dolma-la is the abode of the goddess Dolma. There is no temple, only rocks draped with prayer flags. I attempt to light a bunch of incense sticks specially carried from India but the lighter (specially purchased for 2 yuans from Talkakote) refuses to light. My yak man suddenly offers to help, manages to light a few and promptly requests for the lighter, all in sign language. I let him keep the lighter and stick the agarbattis in the snow. I also open a bag of chocolate 'clairs and offer the yak man and a passing porter girl. The toffees will serve as prasad on my return to India.
Right below the pass is the emerald green Gaurikund. Goddess Parvati is said to have bathed here during her penance to claim Lord Shiva as her husband. MEA had warned us not to attempt to climb down to collect water but pay the porters instead. The bottles had been accordingly handed over. We had met a Swedish couple in Qihu earlier and the lady had claimed to have taken a dip in the kund.
The walk from the Dolma pass to Zongzerbu, the site of night halt, is downhill over boulders and through marshes. The long trek is along streams and I enjoy being back on my feet again. I reach Zongzerbu at 6 pm with aches and pains and without lunch but thanking my lucky stars about the clear weather. Had it rained / snowed, the Dolma pass is exceedingly tough and yatris are exhausted by the 17 km trek that follows the Pass.
The following day's trek is like a morning walk after the past two days and in no time we cover 5 km to reach the motorable road where the truck is to pick us up for return journey to Darchen. We find another truck, a mobile shop, waiting for us instead. Some enterprising Tibetans have loaded crates of Chinese juice and soft drinks onto an army discard to sell to the thirsty yatris. We happily laze in the sun till the truck finally lands up. We reach Darchen by noon.
The Kailash parikrama is completed with a visit to Astapada. So after a lunch of Maggi instant soup we set out on foot for Astapada. The helper Karma is induced to accompany us. He leads us off the beaten track over what he thinks to be a short cut. We pass grassy meadows riddled with burrows of rabbits and marmots. We even see them standing up on their haunches watching us curiously. The actual road via a monastery goes along a different route. We finally land panting after a grueling 2-hour climb on to a mountaintop with incredible view of Kailash ahead and the entire valley behind right down to the Rakshas Tal in the distance. We also see a cloud pouring rain in the valley below. It is quite difficult to describe the visual effect of the rain spiraling down, like a scene from the 'Twister'. Since we are almost at the same height as the clouds we have literally a bird's eye view. Thunder rumbles and lightning flashes. But the Rakshas Tal in the horizon is spot lit in the sun. Some of us lie on the grassy hill top looking at the drama going on down below though fully aware that with a change in wind direction, the rain cloud might hit us. We decide not to play on our luck any more and return to Darchen. We take the proper road this time and visit the gompha to light butter lamps. They are rebuilding this gompha and a small van had gone up with supplies. We persuade the driver to give us a lift back to Darchen for 140 yuans. There are seven of us and 20 yuans per head seem better than a drenching that is imminent. Rains strike while we are in the open van. But we feel so high having completed the parikramas successfully that it is no botheration. The showers stop by the time we reach Darchen and the late evening sun comes out.
The Return Trip
The bus comes to Darchen to pick the Shakti group up. We get loaded. Last minute shoppers are dragged away from the market clutching bead necklaces, metal bells and onyx bowls. Blaring 'Soldier, Soldier' on the bus audio system all the way we drive down to Qihu. The Shiv group is found taking dips in the Manasarovar. Some of us dive in while the rest content ourselves with splashing water. We started the yatra with a ritual bath in the lake waters and now finish it with a repeat dip after completion of both the parikramas. The reunited group is taken to Taklakote.
We are woken up at 5 AM Beijing time (2.30 AM IST) for the return trip to India. Most of us doze off. The bus moves through the dark deserted countryside dimly lit only with the headlights. Suddenly we are jerked out of our stupor. The bus shudders to a halt in the middle of a river. The wheels are jammed in the boulders. We peer out with torch lights and see only gushing white waters everywhere. Driver tries to-and-fro movements, nothing works. The men get down and shout various and often conflicting instructions. The bus sinks deeper. We all get out and wade to the riverbank. It so happens that nobody has any emergency contact numbers in Tibet / China. Nobody answers the phone in India when dialed over the satellite phone. We are literally in deep waters with no way to communicate our plight.
Dawn breaks after about two hours and the red glow lights up some unknown snow peaks. In the semi-dark a group of ponies materializes. Luckily they turn out to be meant for us to carry our luggage up to the Lipulekh pass from the end of the motorable road that is still about 15 km away. The pony men help us in tying ropes onto the bus in order to drag it out. Even concerted efforts do not induce the bus to budge except deeper in. Meanwhile the water level is seen to be rising, probably due to continued rains upstream. After such futile exercise a human chain is formed to unload the luggage and carry it across the river to the dry bank where the ponies are waiting.
Then starts the long haul up to the Lipulekh pass. The Tibetan ponies are different from their Indian counterparts, being better trained. The pony men do not lead their ponies. The rider is given a pair of ribbons to handle the pony. After the hair-raising yak experience the relatively docile ponies are a cakewalk. In absence of rain or snow, our ponies trudge onto almost half a kilometer below the pass, which is too steep for riding. Gasping for breath in the rarified atmosphere and with pumping hearts we labor across into India. About four hours behind the scheduled rendezvous at the pass, we are greeted with almost embarrassing religious fervor by the next batch of yatris. The pony men and porters who had earlier attended to us, greet us like old friends. There is hand shaking and back slapping all around even between strangers in the exaltation of the homecoming. The once-in-a-lifetime experience (perhaps) of personally viewing of the grandeur of Kailash and Manasarovar notwithstanding, it feels great to be home again.