Sunday, November 15, 2009

Circumambulating Mt. Kailash

After our time at Manasarovar we drove to Dachen, got two rooms in a rather dirty jerry-built hotel and made preparations for doing the parikarma the next morning. I had trouble sleeping, not because of my blocked nose and my headache but because of the elation of finally being able to do something I had dreamed of doing since I read Lama Govinda’s Way of the White Cloud nearly 40 years ago. Cittalaya had been lethargic for at least three or four days, a condition he and I attributed to tiredness. In his enthusiasm, he had climbed up to the to the fort at Gyantze, scuttled up the hill above Sera and Sakya and was, we assumed, paying the price for overexerting himself. In the morning he looked terrible. I happened to notice that his fingernails were purple and I immediately knew that he was suffering from altitude sickness. Reluctantly he decided to stay in the hotel while we did the parikarma and we made arrangements for him to be fed and looked after until we returned. That done we left. I had my staff, my pack and my Singapore Armed Forces boots and a horse and two porters carried some of Jason’s and Hoai’s gear. I had decided to do the parikama as mindfully as possible and very soon I fell into a state of being completely focused on the movement of my feet. This didn’t just keep me focused, it allowed me to ignore the the physical strain of the march. After several hours we got to Chorten Kanayi, the stupa that marks the official start of the parikarma. The steep walls of the valley are really is impressive here and you can see the summit the holy mountain above it. A few kilometers before Dirapuk Gompa it started to snow, first lightly but then quite heavily, although at least it was blowing from behind us. By the time we got to the monastery, our rest for the night, I at least, was freezing cold and utterly exhausted. The thought of the next day’s march, the most arduous of the parikarma, was starting to fill me with foreboding. After several cups of tea and a cup of instant noodles I went to bed and fell asleep almost immediately. When we awoke the next morning we found that it had been snowing all night. An icy wind was blowing, the yaks were covered with snow and visibility was reduced to a few hundred yards. The view for Mt. Kailash from Dirapuk Gompa is the mast spectacular on the whole of the parikarma but we could see nothing, not even the cliffs behind the monastery or on the other side of the valley. Our whole visual world was white. During breakfast (two cups of butter tea and a boiled egg) we discussed with our guide and other pilgrims the possibilities of continuing. If it stopped snowing soon it would probably be possible to keep going, even more grueling than it would be otherwise, but still possible. If we continued and it kept snowing we could be snowed under or even end up in serious trouble. We agreed that we had to turn back. With the wind and snow blowing in our faces, the plummeting temperature and all our energy sapped by the previous day’s march, the return journey strained my physical endurance almost to breaking point. By the time we reached Chorten Kanayi I was finished. The physical exhaustion was compounded by disappointment of not having been able to complete the parikarma. After a days rest at Darchen we left for Toling and Tsaparang with the intention of trying to do the parikarma again on out our return. When we did return the sun was bright, the sky was cloudless but because it had been snowing all the time we were away, the snow was also deep – neck deep on the path around the mountain locals said. I was not as disappointed as I thought I might be. I resigned myself to not circumambulating the sacred mountain this time. Perhaps next time.

10 comments:

Soe am i said...

Bhante, I'll join you next time!

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Good. I'll need someone to carry the bags.

Branko said...

Great Bhante, if you solved the problem of the bags carrier, than I could join you too ;))

Shravasti Dhammika said...

good, you can look after the yaks

may said...

Vernerable Sir, I was wondering why you have mentioned the mountain as sacred? I have been wondering if Mount Meru mentioned in the texts exists physically?

Branko said...

It fine with me. As log as I don't have to carry them ;))

Soe am i said...

I better go work out then

Ken and Visakha said...

Dear Bhante,

Couldn't help wondering how many times over the eons you have wanted to circumambulate Mt. Kailash, been thwarted, and resigned yourself to next time?!

In the Dhamma,

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear May,
Mt. Kailash is sacred in the sense that many people believe it to have a spiritual significance. Some of this spirituality may be attributed to it, some might be due to the mountains awe-inspiring features and surroundings. Many historians believe that Mt. Kailash corresponds with the ‘mythical’ Mt. Meru, and my own study and researches confirm this belief.

may said...

Thank you for your reply, Vernerable Sir. It is merely out of fasination that I'm interested to know how are Mt Meru and Mt Kailash similar based on your observations or research.