Friday, October 30, 2009

Violence - A Virulent Cancer in our Society

Many blogs have waxed eloquent during the Domestic Violence Awareness month. These posts have been written with a lot of feeling and treat this serious problem with a lot of sensitivity and objectivity.

Instances of domestic violence can be gory and one can empathise with the victims living through hell every day of their life.

Activism and retaliation is widely advocated as a means of regaining some sanity in life and a means to lead, hopefully, a normal life. The moot question here is how many would actually take the desperate step of moving out. It may seem so very logical for a distant bystander but does this hold true for the victim and thereby hangs a tale of all silent sufferers.

This phenomenon that has assumed gigantic proportions in our modern day society (not just Indian but I can say for many countries around the world). Psychological counselling is touted as one possible solution but in reality and unfortunately this has very negative connotations here. Further, this sort of help is not easily accessible and it does not come cheap either.

Domestic violence should not be seen only in a physical dimension. It can be mental torture and emotional violence too. Many a time a sense of terror pervades the atmosphere along with physical violence. Unfortunately, violence finds an outlet only against our near-n-dear ones and those weaker than us.

If we look around carefully, there is plenty of repressed violence in us. We seem to be "Highly Inflammable" and ignite at the slightest provocation. Just a small divert - Have you seen the road rage that boils over in the event of a minor collision or the savagery displayed following some minor altercation in a Mumbai local train. Those who give in to such outbursts are not always the "poor" or "lower strata" as we pompously would like to say. They seem economically prosperous, well educated and seemingly very normal. Many others would just bottle up and bang the person who opens the door in the evening.

This build-up in us is the result of so many frustrations that we face in daily life, the stress that we generate and absorb, the struggle to be successful, the battle to survive, the violence that we absorb from sources "stronger" than us sometime for long years of our life and in many cases from childhood, the problems of addictions and its negative impact on family relationships.

This may seem over-simplified (believe me this is not a justification) but the fact is we keep on accumulating garbage over the years till an outlet is found. Usually, this outlet is in the form of violence and abuse in the safe confines of our own homes.

So, what is the solution and how do we go about spreading it on? Is there a standardised answer? Will public shame or punishment help or only aggravate? ........there are so many questions and I am afraid not many have a straight answer.

This is just looking at the perpetrator of violence. It is scary to think about the victims. The unending mystery is why do these victims continue to absorb their daily dose of abuse? I shudder as I try to imagine their life but just cannot fathom their compulsions.

I always believe that our education has only made us literates and never has it taught us about life and how to handle its many ups and downs. We have low EQs and are emotionally and spiritually bankrupt.

Till we are at peace within ourselves, no amount of external help or social activism can help. Social activism may stop one type of incidents but give rise to far more dangerous alternatives. Anything that is achieved out of compulsion or fear could ricochet back with deadly effect.

So what do we do????.....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back on Track

What began as a casual approach to writing a travelogue (for the first time) eventually turned out to be a twenty eight post magnum opus spread over almost two months. (I keep discovering myself).

Once I started writing, I felt the need to share many details and it just kept increasing. I never this series would extend so long. I must acknowledge the encouragement and appreciation shown by my blogger friends through this series.

In the meantime, the world has continued its relentless march onwards and I am trying to get back on track of regular and routine life. This period has seen its usual share of bomb blasts, audacious attacks, inane debates, foreign policy gaffes, border intrusions and tit-for-tat war of words, controversies on the Games-2010, floods and destruction, festivals and holidays galore and ofcourse elections.

Such a lot to write on or comment on other blogs. It is time to put thinking caps on, shake of the writers block (especially after a long series) and come back on track. I did make time to write a guest post on "India Retold" discussing the political situation in Maharashtra. Now let me ponder over what should I write on.....(Suggestions welcome).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra - Tips for the Wanderers II

Going forward........

Preparations: Physical fitness is always welcome and more so at those heights. It would be preferable if you can work out and build stamina for atleast six months before the yatra. Long walks with packed backpacks will help give you some idea of the effort. I used to walk for an hour or so but discontinued after monsoons commenced in Mumbai. Other than this, I had not undertaken anything special. I confess this left me out of sorts on the trip would have welcomed some more physical strength.

There is nothing one can do to counter high altitude problems. The body has to get used to high altitudes and it will take a couple of days. Taking medicines and following common sense precautions should do the trick. One has to have patience and a positive attitude as the body acclimatises.

Packing: This is the classic dilemma. What to pack and what not. Most websites give a low down on what items to pack.

The Nepali agency gives each yatri a down jacket. This is perfectly adequate. One can carry fleece jackets, a couple of sweaters, head caps that will adequately cover the ears, muffler for the neck should be adequate. Thermal inners may replace a t-shirt but you tend to sweat in the afternoons and that may make it a little uncomfortable. Socks and plenty of inner wear makes sense. We tend to err on the side of caution and overpack. One realises that most of the stuff has to be let behind at the parikrama point as you are permitted to carry just one backpack then.

It is important that our entire stuff is carried in two medium sized duffel bags. It is advisable not t carry your stuff in a suitcase. At the commencement, each yatri is given a huge dufffel bag. One can just dump in these smaller bags in the bigger duffel bag. You will not be permitted to dump your suitcase in the larger duffel bag.

You may want to pack a few sweets-chocolates, dry fruits and "namkeen" snacks and carry with you.

Time to visit: May and June will be cold but yatris can experience snow. July is dry but it is also peak season and could get crowded. August is peaceful with fewer groups crossing over but one may get rains. There are groups crossing over till September but I understand the major Indian invasion is in June and July and this tapers down later.

Communication: Mobile connectivity is available at all the halting spots, except during the three day parikrama. It can be horribly expensive if you use Indian sim cards. I used my Vodafone connection and was slammed with a Rs. 9000/- bill. Will make a lot of sense to buy a local sim card or use local telephones to call India. Puts an automatic brake on long conversations and daily updates.

Electricity: Generator power is available from 9.00 pm to mid-night at the smaller spots. At Nyalam and Saga one has supply through the day. You could buy a cheap local multi plug point connector and the entire group can charge their mobiles and camera batteries. We do not need adaptors in China.

Camera: A very valuable addition to our baggage. I carried a Panasonic - Lumix FZ28 with three memory cards 1X8GB and 2X2GB. A digicam with spare memory cards and a spare battery is more than adequate. One may carry a separate video camera but it can become heavy and can become a burden during the parikrama.

Caveat: After the crossover, except at Saga Hotel, one will face problems with toilets. At certain spots like Mansarovar, Darchen and Zulthulpuk, the great outdoors may be a good option. Not a place or time to be squeamish. One has to learn to adjust to the available facilities and like true yatris take these inconveniences in one's stride. There is no other choice.

I end this series on my trip to Kailash Mansarovar. I thank all of you who have read these posts and seen photographs uploaded. I thank you for your encouraging comments and suggestions to convert this series into a book. I hope all this and more comes true. It is my hope that many of you who hav been with me through this blog journey may want to undertake a yatra themselves. I would encourage them to plan and go ahead with their dream journey and see for themselves the wonder that God has created for us.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra - Tips for the Wanderer

Safely back at sea level, I look back at the yatra and feel that whole thing was a fantastic dream. Today, it seems so unreal as I wrote all those posts sharing my experience with you all.

I am not sure what my reaction would be if my friends were to plan a trip again next year. However, one thing is certain and I would be much better prepared. Probably, would also try and customise the route to some extent and be a bit more adventurous.

Let me go over some of the points that need to be kept in mind whilst you plan your trip.

Tour Agency: Very important. The agency needs to be up on all aspects of the tour and should have adequate sherpa staff to accompany the group. All Indian agents eventually tie up with Nepali agencies. Our Nepali tour agent was Richa Tours (

Visa: Various Indian agents get enquiries for Kailash Mansarovar tours. They just collect the details and forward them to Nepali agents. These Nepali agents then apply for an entry permit with the Tibetan Tourist Authority for each group of yatris. The TTA then directly communicates with their embassies in New Delhi or Kathmandu as the case may be.

Indian yatris have to apply for the entry visa at the Chinese embassy at New Delhi. will issue a group visa on a separate sheet of paper. Nothing is stamped on our passports. (This has nothing to do with recent controversies).

The Chinese embassy will start processing visas only after the entry permit has been received from TTA. This can be nerve racking at times. We were to depart on Thursday 30th July night (a day late) and the entry permit was received only on 27th July and visas issued on 29th July. Too close for comfort.

Those travelling from other countries will have to pick their visa at Kathmandu and it is advisable to reach a few days prior to the scheduled date.

Cost: The tour cost is around Indian Rs. 75,000 or thereabouts. This may increase next year. These charges are Kathmandu - Tibet - Kathmandu. One has to add travel costs from your place of residence to Kathmandu and back.

Foreign Currency: Indian rupee is also the currency for trade and commerce in Nepal and the exchange rate is fixed at INR 1 = NR 1.60. Please keep in mind Rs.500/- and Rs.1,000/- notes are not accepted in Nepal for the fear of fake notes.

Chinese Yuan...We bought CY in Mumbai. Rates are better in India. You can change INR for CY at Kathmandu or at Kodari, the border town. Rates will be higher and there will be no choice to shop around.

How much CY to carry? One does not need to spend on food or any other item on the tour. One may keep buying bottled water or an occasional soft drink. The main expenses are for the pony, porter and tips. Pony costs CY 1000 for three days of the parikrama and a porter CY550. Those who are fit may skip the pony but it makes sense to hire a porter for your backpack. You can then be free with just the camera on you. Being light helps walk comfortably. The pony that I had to hire just for the climb up Dolma La cost me CY300.

I guess it makes sense taking about CY2000 to take care of all contingencies. This does not include shopping. I recommend that shopping may be avoided.

The remaining part, and the last of this series appears tomorrow.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Photo Corner: Dolma La Pass and Onwards

These photographs were taken by Mr. Raju Joshi from Mumbai. He completed the yatra about a month before us. I did not have my camera during the climb.

A side view of the Kailash Northern face.

A steep climb with boulders liberally strewn across.

A gentle slope after that steep climb.

Another angle. The valley is known as Kukker Valley.

A long long trudge straight and then up we go.

Another long climb up after we turned the corner.

Sheer rock and snow up there.

Now nearing the top - just a vey sharp climb up.

One more view of the task at hand.

What it looks like from the top....dizzying to say the least.

The final hump before the Dolma La pass.

A small piece of flat land at the top before we begin our descent to the top. Ponies are available upto this point. We have to climb down the sharp descent.

Gauri Kund - Goddess Parvati's private space and also said to be Lord Ganesha's place of birth.

Overcast sky....a complete whiteout.

A view of the descent route.

Frozen river.....a small glacier.

The long descent.

Yatris on their way down. Those you see with hats on are Bons who do the parikrama walking anti-clockwise.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Return Journey...back to Kathmandu

The return journey had to retrace our steps all the 800 kms back spread over four days. We had to take the same Base Camp - Paryang - Saga - Nyalam - Kodari - Kathmandu route.

It was a test of patience as these four days back to Kathmandu seemed almost like eternity. There was a sense of satisfaction as we drove back. The cold and high altitude stopped bothering us and we moved around like locals. There was a deep sense of satisfaction at having achieved what was said to be the remotest location and an arduous trip.

We were very relaxed and our sherpas dished out some amazing goodies at meal times. Our appetite returned and every one of us had more than our fill. I guess some of the kilos shed were regained before we touched Kathmandu.

We stopped at different spots and relaxed. Lunch was at some picturesque spot and we took ages to complete it. One day it was near a small brook with plenty of fish. These fishes shared a part of our lunch. They probably got their year's feed that afternoon.

It was a wonderful experience and now stays on as a special memory.

I would like to end this rather long series with a last post with tips on prior preparations, packing and costs.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Photo Corner:Zulthulpuk and Back to Base

That is our kitchen tent. Two smaller tents pitched by our Tibetan support staff.

Five tents in a row accomodated us.

Mountains that ringed us with pleasant meadows at ground level.

Mother Nature's fine carvings on each mountain face.

Our tents against the backdrop of another mountain.

Yaks grazing beyond the river.

Our kitchen busy churning out stuff for hungry tummies.

Busy with a dice game.


A cute little tent with attentive fans following the game within.

Gods celebrating.....a rainbow on the hill opposite our tent.

The return walk.

Orange moss.....has anyone seen this before??

A not-so-amused yak.

As our path gained height, the river gained width.

That's me at one of the spots.

This Tibetan couple did their parikrama by doing the "shashtang namaskar" along the entire route.

Another picture

Full prostration on the ground.

Our jeeps waiting to pick us up in the distance.

Our entire group successfully completed the parikrama.

Our invaluable Sherpa team.

A small puja and a prayer before we retraced our final steps.

The "welcome gate" at Hor chu" which we missed whilst coming.

Sonam and Pujhu our constant companions.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Parikrama - Zulthulphuk and Back to Base

All of us reached our tent camp by about 4 pm. As is normal at this hour, the sun was blazing down but it was comfortable sitting out as there was a cool and comforting breeze blowing. It was a relaxing hot chai that went down my throat. There was a quiet sense of achievement and relief. We were thankful that the toughest part of the parikrama was behind us and we had all completed it without any injury or ill-health.

Tough yes, but certainly not impossible.

This spot was a picturesque meadow with a river flowing nearby. After a while we got into our tents and checked out our sleeping bags. I was sharing this tent with my Mumbai co-yatris. It was hot inside the tents and we dozed off for a while. About half an hour or so later, I got up grabbed my camera and went for a short walk around. Our Tibetan porters and support staff had pitched their own tents and they were playing a dice game. Another group was playing Mahjong.

Further ahead was the river and many yak grazing on the other side. There was not a sound except the excited shouts from the tents where games were on. I walked to the other side and sat silent on a rock doing nothing and thinking nothing. Soon the weather began to change. There was a perceptible change in the temperature and from nowhere dark clouds gathered. There was a rumble and it began to drizzle. I rushed to my tent waiting for the rain to end. It was not to be. The drizzle gave way to a heavy downpour that seemed to last forever and accompanied by thunder and lightning. This seemed like a tropical storm that normally lashes Mumbai.

Suddenly someone shouted "rainbow" and here it was a perfect rainbow on the hills opposite us. It seemed like the Gods were celebrating the completion of the main part of our parikrama.

After the rain halted, we went to the river and had a face wash. Dipped our tired feet in the icy cold waters and generally did nothing till it was time for dinner. It was our last dinner in the wild open so to say and we all crashed out soon after.

The next day we began the last leg of the parikrama. About 12 -13 kms walk on almost level ground by the river was the task and it did not stretch us. Infact, some from the pony team decided to walk till the end.

Nearing the end of the parikrama, we came across a Tibetan couple which had undertaken to span this entire journey by prostrating on the ground - one body length at a time. This gruelling journey takes about fifteen days and surely is an act of extreme faith.

We were soon back at the spot where our jeeps waited for us and as ususal I brought up the rear. Well, through sheer will power, I had finished the parikrama and in fine shape. I actually felt lighter and fitter.

We had a round of congratulatory hugs and shaking of hands and expressing our delight at having achieved our dreams. This was followed by a short puja and prayer to the Gods that be expressing our gratefullness.

It was time to return and it is said that you do not get darshan of Kailash while returning. We did'nt get it till the last turn after which we could not see both Kailash and Mansarovar.

Reality was now replaced by memory, a vivid one though.

Our jeeps and the supplies truck hit the dusty track to get back to Paryang. We could not believe that it was all over.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Parikrama: Dolma La Pass and Onwards

Temperatures were appreciably lower at Diraphuk and I felt the cold seep in as the evening faded into twilight and the dark. Thank God for my "Down Jacket", I was reasonably comfortable inspite of an occasional shiver than ran through me like an electric current.

Gale type winds blew through as we tried to sleep on cold mattresses in our rooms. With the almost full moon shining brightly through a cloudless sky, the Northern Face looked dark, forbidding and majestic. The ice crown at the very top reflected the cool moon light and it looked like a jewel of the Gods.

We had to leave early the next day, well before dawn. After a simple breakfast, we set out at seven and it was dark. Had to walk a kilometre or so before we came across a small rickety bridge over a stream. Just some wooden logs nailed together...some village engineer made this possible.

The climb to Dolma La pass begins soon after this. It is a stiff climb a 1000 metre climb spread over a distance of four - five kilometres. The pony team started of and we brave souls started our long trudge to the top. This was no ordinary climb as the path was full of boulders and the walking strip meandered between them. Up we went step by step and every twenty steps we needed to stop for a break. The Russians were superbly fit and they scampered up as if they were walking in a park. The Brit not to be left behind set his own pace. That left three stragglers who were bringing up the rear and falling behind...(hahaha).

Somewhere after three hundred metres our climb was getting shorter and rest periods were getting longer. It was a constant battle in my mind...listen to my body and opt for a pony to climb upto the peak (some seven hundred metres) or stick to my stand of walking (my ego, I guess). The three of us finally opted for the pony to get us to the peak. That was a welcome change as I gaped in awe at the terrain ahead. It was very steep, full of huge boulders and very uneven. It was indeed very arduous. The nomads who manage these horses were used to all this and would climb without a break.

I confess that, somewhere deep within, I was a trifle disappointed but had to acknowledge that my body was not fit enough for this. I had not practised for this back home.

We reached the Dolma La pass at above 19,000 feeti in just about forty five minutes. That is where the pony drops us and off it goes back. The sky was overcast and it was very cold. This is considered a holy spot and all Tibetans would prostrate at this spot and pray. They also have a curious custom of leaving behind something that is valuable to them. People had left behind clothes, prayer flags, prayer rosaries, a lock of hair, some jewellery and other personal belongings. This signified their detachment from material things.

The guides requested us not to spend much time at the top. The cold and altitude are fickle and can turn dangerous at any moment. We set out from there in about ten minutes, now on foot till the end. The descent was sharp, almost vertical at places and large boulders were intricately laid out like steps.

We passed Gauri Kund on the way. A small pond in a valley about 500 metres below our path, was supposed to be Goddess Parvati's bathing spot and many believe that this is the spot where Ganpati was born.

Further ahead was a rock formation on top of a mountain that resembled an axe. This is known as the "Axe of Karma" or "Lekyi Ta ra".

The descent was more hopping on these boulders than walking. After hopping down literally 1000 metres, we reached the valley floor. There were a few tents and it was time to open our dry lunch packs. After a longish rest, it was time to set off to Zulthulpuk, our spot for overnight stay. The terrain was level with a river flowing in the valley. We kept to the right of the river. Though level, we had a few boulders to jump over, many small streams to cross, trudge through grasslands, a few small hills to climb. It took me about three hours or so to cross those ten + kms to our tenting spot.

We had pitched tents a few kilometres before Zulthulpuk. Spotting those blue tents from a distance was a great relief and as I reached, my first act was to gulp down an entire bottle of water. Suitably rehydrated, it was time for some hot "chai and nashta".

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Photo Corner: Parikrama upto Diraphuk

Tarboche...the starting point of our Parikrama.

Kailash - the western face

Seen from a distance...

Holy spot where Tibetan flags flutter wildly..

Yama Dwar...where we take our blessings before embarking on our parikrama

Next to Yama Dwar after taking blessings from Yamaraj.

Another view of Dwar and Kailash.

Raised platform with stone tablets

Tablets with inscriptions on them. The left lower side tablet shows the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum

The path ahead between two parallel mountain ridges.

High stone walls next to Kailash formed by years of wind and water effect

View seen from a close-up position.

Yaks being loaded for the trip.

All those jackets and mufflers came off as the sun rose high and roasted us.

Further ahead, a pleasant walk with a small stream by the side.

This sheer rock is the Northern face of Kailash or the rear side of this holy mountain.

Viewed from our guest house... a superb view of the Northern face.