why a preface to a blog?

i guess it makes it look more serious and professional.. as a publication.

this blog was triggered by some requests from friends who wanted some narratives with the pictures i had shared from our trip to Kailas and mansarovar.

though these tours usually cover mansarovar first, for some reason, they are called Kailas mansarovar.

the next few posts are essentially a personal account – on the lighter and amused side – of the yatra.

based on your interest and time available – and of course patience, you can read

a. a twitter version:

>> amazing mind altering experience during the Kailas mansarovar yatra.

b. a Facebook version:

>> got back from a 2 week trip to Kailas and mansarovar via Kathmandu with family and friends. good to be completely cut off from Facebook – but good to be back. wish you were also there. if you like this, please also share with your friends circle, so that everyone can get the blessings of lord Shiva etc etc etc

c. the more elaborate version:

>> read all the posts that follow this!


whatever version you read – note that the experience is extremely personal and though we went as a group, each person experienced it uniquely.

what i am sharing may not be the same for others. some aspects may be similar, but if you need to experience it, this blog is not a proxy!

the beginnings

it was a casual - or may be not all that casual - call from a friend asking if i would be interested in visiting mansarovar and Kailas.

in a moment of excitement, i said SURE, and .. in sotto voce, let me think about it.

when my wife, sister-in-law and her husband were also interested, the decision was made, not still realizing what it would be or mean in terms of preparations.

one added incentive was that we could get the early bird offer, if we paid up in the next few days.

with the subsidy from the Karnataka government, it made a very good proposition.

this was sometime in October 2011.

and then, slowly, I realized that many persons among known circles had either visited or knew others who had visited Kailas and mansarovar in the past.

and almost all of them had fairly discouraging stories to tell.

discouraging in terms of the hardship, facilities etc.

and then, there were these blogs.

and some books - including one that out family doctor gave to read.

all of them mentioned the challenges, the difficulties - but were silent about the actual parikrama.

reading about the government route, made the trip more exciting - and knowing that the private tour is not as long [14 days compared to 30] and strenuous [mostly trekking   versus just a few days of trekking, mostly carry your own food and make do with tents along the way to sherpas worrying about good, timely food and staying in mud houses or semi-permanent tents in most places] made it appear less daunting.

but then, a couple of aspects that were needed anyway : physical and mental fitness.

physical fitness including ability to cope with the high altitude aspects of low oxygen levels and mental fitness, to stay calm under not so convenient surroundings.

though there was no specific requirement or regime for physical training, we were advised that regular walking of a few kilometers every day should be fine.

however, regular pranayama was a must - to have greater control and stability over one's breathing.

but then, there were different techniques - breathing slowly, quick breathing, retaining the breath longer and slow exhalation etc.

anyway, having decided to take the trip, talking to others only added to the anxiety - particularly to other members of the group - as one would always end up with the feeling that one is very under-prepared.  the same feeling you get talking to your classmates before an exam - that you have taken somewhat lightly [don't ask me which subject i did not take lightly!].

it does not matter what they said - whether they were doing a lot of things - including organizing a personal trainer, or walking up chamundi hills in Mysore regularly - or that they have not yet bought their shoes and have not started any routines -- one felt that the former group is overdoing and the latter is underplaying, while they probably have been doing something, surely more than oneself!

the children were also very excited - that they get to stay home alone for two weeks! not realizing what they were getting into..

day 1 – Kathmandu


that day started very early, since we were taking the morning flight to Delhi and connect to Kathmandu.

with the usual anxiety of whether the cab would turn up on time – as i had booked with an agency that was no longer an approved airport taxi!

the driver called a few minutes before the planned departure time – to check the address and directions.

he managed to reach home in time, but with the luggage to be loaded – 4 packed duffel bags with a lot of eats! – it took us a few minutes and we left home about 10 minutes late.

as we drove to the airport, i realized that there was an easier way to practice pranayama, thanks to the cab driver.

even though the roads were empty, the way he drove at times, one had to hold the breath – particularly for me, since i was sitting in the front.

at Delhi, there was some logistics of collecting the passports. as per an earlier plan, they were to have been delivered at Kathmandu – since we needed only a voter ID to enter Nepal. with confusion in communication on the specific person to be met and also the location, the group that had travelled together – about a dozen of us on the same flight – split.

naturally, that increased the stress levels for some of us – particularly those that could not check their luggage in directly to Kathmandu. [see also the tips section to ensure that you have the entire itinerary on one PNR]

landing at Kathmandu – we just walked through the immigration – without any stamping on the passport. yes, we were able to collect the passports and also, since i had done a tele check in for the DEL-KTM flight, could get on board, while some others were bumped due to overbooking and had to take a later flight.

that was our first meeting with Karma, the Sherpa.

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At the hotel,


the representative from the tour logistics company – shrestha treks – briefed us that there would be a slight delay in our program, as the visas for the group has been delayed by a day.

so, he suggested that instead of ‘wasting time on a waste [read rest] day’, we can take an optional tour to a place called mankamna the next day.

earlier in the evening, as we had some time to kill – with the planned tour to pasupathinath temple being uncertain, we decided to take a walk in the neighborhood.

as we got out of the hotel and asked the security guard at the main gate – he asked ‘Tamil?’.

wow, i thought – someone recognizing us as Tamil speaking and maybe he knew Tamil.

just as i started to talk to him in Tamil – and saw his blank expression – saw a sign board that had a shop address as ‘Thamel’.

Thamel was the neighbourhood with a lot of shops. narrow streets and many shops.



after a lot of window shopping and some shopping – with IC – Indian Currency – we returned to the hotel to get an update on the rest of our itinerary.

Kathmandu streets have so many overhead wires WP_000215 and even for a slight rain, people are comfortable just waiting by the side till it stops..WP_000219

one interesting point that i noted was that at the evening briefing, we could see some affinity groups emerging! more on these possibly later..

day 2 - Mankamna


taking the advice of the tour operator, we took the optional trip [read extra money], we took the day trip to Mankamna temple.

though the distance was about 100 KM from Kathmandu, the narrow and very average road made the journey appear very long as it took about 4 hours.

we also saw a few accidents on that toad – mostly trucks veering off the main road into the side ditch. that made the motorable [!] road narrower!

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the ‘high point’ of this temple visit was also a cable car ride to reach the temple.

as the lonely planet calls it – “ an Austrian-engineered cable car soars up an almost impossibly steep hillside“.

the base of the cable car is on the banks of river Thrishul.

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Since the car goes over multiple hills, it is difficult to guess how long the ride will be. looking from below, it appeared as if it was a small hill, but then, once you cross that, there were more..

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on the way down, we saw the ‘babes of thrishul’ [waves of thrishul], pronounced the local way.

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The temple is very old and till the cable car was set up, one had to walk about 3-4 hours to reach the temple – though just about 3 KM as the cable car travels!

the main temple is built the pagoda style.

Sivapix 032 it had been drizzling and the place appeared messy.

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one more interesting aspect i noticed was that the temple still had live sacrifice practice.

i saw a cock being sacrificed

Sivapix 039and a goat waiting for its turn.Sivapix 041 a more graphic picture not included in this post – in order not to hurt the readers’ feelings.

this was happening on the side – in a secluded area – and it seemed to be quite matter of fact for most of the pilgrims / visitors.

along the road noticed the three-door style of buildings, which seemed characteristic of the region.

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it was also nice to see children getting back from school in a playful mood – maybe they did not have any homework for the evening.

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on the way back, the bus driver’s assistant was responding to requests from some passengers to have a bio break, saying that when he buys a bus, a TATA bus, he would have a restroom and a smoking room also set up!

The first experience of the famed Kathmandu traffic jams [or slowdowns] in the evening added to the anxiety of some, due to which the driver was forced to make a brief stop at a public toilet.

little did we know about the [non] availability of such facilities during the rest of our travel..

day 3 – Tatopani


after a long day to Mankamna, we were all set to start at 6 AM DSCN0704, with a packed breakfast – as we needed to cover the swayambhu temple complex, with its central stupa

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we also visited the Guhyeswari temple, an old temple and a heritage site – where no photos are allowed.

through a connecting path that took us through more archaeological heritage locations, we reached the pasupathinath temple


the cremation area adjacent to the temple was not crowded, but very dirty.WP_000227

we then set out for another long ride on a narrow road Sivapix 081  which was in a pretty bad shape – btw, i thought that this road [as with many others in this region could have been the reason the metric system had to be invented.

you needed a smaller measure than an ‘inch’ to make roads that were just wide enough for two vehicles that needed a lot of patience and skill to manoeuvre slowly to make progress!

after the initial apprehensions in the group related to whether the trip will go as per plan, most of the members were now feeling more comfortable – to the extent that there were discussions of being ‘one large family’ and about how adjustments will be needed to make sure that all of us complete the tour happily!

Tatopani – meaning hot water – is just before the border town of kodari, where we needed to cross over to China.

to beat the rush at the immigration line and be there early morning, our plan was to halt at tatopani – on the banks of the Kosi river Sivapix 089– overnight, at a guest house overlooking a school on the banks of the river DSCN0735have a refreshing hot spa bath in the morning before crossing the border.

that, we were told, could be our good refreshing bath for the next few days – possibly till we got back!

the leisurely stroll along the road in the evening DSCN0738 and the parroting girls Sivapix 092, who seemed to be amused at the term ‘saappadu’ that they kept repeating that loudly as they did other phrases that they could hear, were some other diversions and gave us the ‘local’ experience of tatopani.

day 4 – nyalam


after a refreshing morning hot spring bath and breakfast, we reached the border and the ‘friendship bridge’ Sivapix 099.Sivapix 100

after a wait for a couple of hours, completed immigration. while we waited, we saw that all our bags and other materials for our trip were being carried by porters on their backs – young and old, men and women – including one with 2 kids, one in a pouch on the front and another sitting on her head – across the customs counters.

our land cruisers were waiting on the other side and groups of four were allocated to each vehicle.

our driver – Shi Lin - DSCN0831 opened the doors for us and went missing.

as we saw most other vehicles leave, suddenly one person who was bare chested came running, and started the vehicle and started driving.

when I tried to tell him that our driver was different – he just said lunch!

we reached a Chinese restaurant in Zhangmu – a couple of kilometers from the border – and had Indian food! till then, i have only had Chinese food @ Indian restaurants!

by the time we got back from lunch, Shi Lin was back, taking us through the narrow, crowded street of Zhangmu. also noticed an improvised cart as a trailer of a motorcycle.

and a volksYagen!

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Shi Lin seemed to be the most popular person in town, as he stopped or was stopped every few feet to talk to someone or exchanges some stuff – such as keys..

later we realized that Shi Lin was a kind of the leader of the convoy – always impatient if he is not the first.. and others giving him way, whenever he tried to overtake..

and he would first go to the police check posts to get the paperwork completed.

Nyalam was a few hours and a climb of about 8000 feet from Tatopani – at about 12,000 feet.

our first high altitude stop.

breathing was normal – but deep breathing, which i thought would make it easier, took effort – and made me gasp at times.

on a leisurely walk on the streets of nyalam, noticed that there was an internet phone – @ 3 Yuan per minute to call India, compared to 100 Yuan per minute to receive and 150 Yuan to make calls on a roaming India SIM!

other things we saw included some (Yak) dung pellets, local ‘bakery’ food items and also a cow on the road!

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After what appeared to be restful sleep, it was just 2 hours into the night.

incessant barking of dogs for almost 2 hours kept me awake.

The place we stayed at had dormitory – read small rooms packed with as many beds as possible [ours had 4, with barely any room for our duffel bags and moving around!] – and a common toilet.

fortunately, that had water [stored in drums]. since they were few in number, decided that contra times would help and decided to finish all toilet work by 2 AM local time [2.5 hours ahead of IST].

we stayed at Nyalam for 2 nights, being also an acclimatization location.

the morning was surprisingly cool, much less cold than what i had anticipated.

i prepared myself to go for the intro trek after breakfast. I was told by one of the fellow travellers that this would be an activity where all of us would be observed and an informal assessment of which ones would be able to complete the parikrama comfortably and who would have difficulty – and those that should not even attempt!

earlier in the morning, came to know that one of the group members had some breathing trouble during the night and needed to be administered oxygen. not sure if she would be asked to return or not proceed to higher altitudes.

we did approx. 2.2 KM with a rise of about 200 m in about an hour and thirty minutes.

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my head started aching slightly and at a few spots felt as if it would be better to return. but seeing the youngsters – about 9 and 12 as well as some senior members of the group make it easily, decided to keep pushing myself.

the view from the top and the snacks brought by many made the climb worth it!

i noticed many small flat stones piled up – like in the game of lagori.

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i piled some as well – when i was told that it is a Tibetan custom to please our ancestors.

then the tension about getting down started.. my fear of heights was starting to play up. luckily, the descent was a different path that was not so treacherous. Oh what a feeling to reach back the main road!


a quick check by many of us with the sherpa and also our group leader – with great anticipation – whether we passed the test – gave us all smiles, as we were all told that we should be able to do the parikrama.

Another heavy lunch, with cut [Kathmandu] mangoes and hot soup in the evening..

had a quick pranayama class, conducted by one of the group members who is a trained teacher.

during a post dinner walk, we saw 3 girls playing a different game of skipping. 2 girls standing on 2 sides with strings tied to their legs, slowly rising. the third girl jumps, rather dances between the strips, avoiding the strips from touching her legs. if it touches, that girl has to go to one side and the other girl comes to the middle.

tomorrow is expected to be a long drive – to paryang, that will help us get to mansarovar the next day earlier. this was one more change to the original plan.