Every year, faith inspires thousands of Indians to undertake the grueling trek to Mount Kailash in Tibet. Those who choose the 24-day pilgrimage organized by the External Affairs Ministry enter Tibet either through the Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand or the Nathu La Pass in Sikkim.
At the snow-covered Lipulekh Pass on a chilly August morning, we watched one of the 18 batches of yatris (pilgrims) cross over to India after completing the pilgrimage. At the same time, the next batch entered Tibet. On a rainy afternoon, we spoke to some of the yatris (pilgrims)— a young baba, an officer from the armed forces, a doctor, a homemaker, and many retired men and women — at Yama Dwar, the gateway to the abode of Shiva. This is where the parikrama, or circumambulation, of Mount Kailash, begins. It is believed that the virtues and sins of all those who cross this territory are evaluated by Lord Shiva.
On another day, we found pilgrims resting near the north face of Mount Kailash. The wispy clouds covering the mountain had floated away as soon as we reached the spot, giving us a spectacular view of the sacred peak. We also sat with the yatris on the banks of the azure blue Manasarovar lake as they performed a havan.
The External Affairs Ministry’s yatra package, for those aged between 18 and 70, began on June 8 and ends on September 8. Private tour operators also organize the yatra. The pilgrimage involves trekking in inhospitable conditions at very high altitudes. “But it is worth it,” said a 70-year-old yatri (pilgrim) from Bengaluru.
(Images & Text: Radhika Santhanam)