The traveler reflects on the farewells given to men who travel, a little like the farewell one gives to those one will never see again. The ‘Goodbye, and good luck’, that the country girl or the tavern woman or the mule driver gives, is farewell forever, a lifelong farewell, a farewell laden with unrecognized sorrow. Their souls and all their five senses go into that ‘Goodbye and good luck’.
- Camilo Jose’ Cela : Journey into Alcarria.
There is an aquarium in the non-vegetarian refreshment room at the Kottayam Railway Station. 3 ft by 1 ft, it is a small fish tank. A solitary fish about 11/2 ft in length swims in it. Slim, silvery, with a lopsided mouth above which a pair of horn-like appendage flicker, it moves from right to left in two strokes. Twisting, it turns- then left to right, two strokes– on and on and on… Perhaps in the vast sea with whales and sharks and other huge fish, it might be so insignificant- yet, you wish this fish were in the deep and vast ocean, swimming as its graceful tail swishes, looking hither and thither, moving in freedom…
Alone, beside the
In one’s past travels and those in future, there are three factors one cherishes most. Movement, freedom and solitude. In moving, one exults in the sense of freedom; and freedom in its purest form is felt only in solitude. The mind can be let loose and brought to stillness. Whether in a crowded bar or alone on a snowy peak, one feels absolutely in control, fine-tuned.
Movement is about freedom in solitude. Raise your left leg; there is nobody to question you why. Instead of the left, change at the last moment to the right leg; ditto. Freedom is to be free to choose one’s life. It may not last forever, but what is forever? You are like a blind ant balancing on a stretched thin thread; no turning back. The child holding the thread can anytime break it, throw it away or shoot you phut! with his forefinger. But, at the moment you raise your left or right foot, you are there, with the memories of the way you came and the dreams of the way you will go.
For the traveler, a particular journey begins in dreams. Pouring over the newspaper cuttings or photographs of earlier travels to
Kailas and Manasarovar lies far away in
One can visit
One can choose the way one wants to go to
Journeys, though of your own choice, need not turn out to be exactly as you wish. Your ship may heave anchor in a calm sea, but how can you prevent the storms? One is disturbed – the pujas, mantras and the saffron-clad people – the string of Rudraksha, the saffron head band and book of Shiva purana offered to you – the incessant bhajans played inside the bus from Delhi to Dharchula near Nepal – people are confining themselves, covering themselves in a shroud. One yearns to shout to them – look, look! Look at the passing landscape, the passers-by, the mountain ranges, the lakes, the rivers! The drone of an electronic instrument that repeatedly plays ‘
The bus flings aside the wheat fields, tractors, trucks, roadside dhabas, and multitudes of humans, covering them in exhaust fumes and dust. As the bus slows down, I notice an old beggar squatting among the filth, gazing at the bus. Our eyes lock. Who am I to him? In the next moment, the bus surges ahead. I feel panicky. Are you telling me that there is no connection between the beggar and me? Between the pilgrims and I? Between the cigarettewallah who wishes
After three days of suffocation in the bus, I am in the open with my haversack at Tawaghat. Bang in front is the first hill to climb. Gasping breath (I wished I never smoked!), straining muscles, slipping feet – yet, beyond the hill, I know, snow-capped mountains would have gathered to welcome me. My
From the humid Dharcula, the pilgrims traverse a cross-sectional path across
A bird skips up the path. I know which. I am smug in my petty knowledge of birds. A furry dog sits in front of a house and smiles at me. I remember mine back home, and ask him, ‘Entheda, sukhamano?’ This tree has peculiar leaves. I wish Parvati were here to casually tell me its botanical name. Far away, I see a waterfall and remember how I had to pull away my little boy from the forest streams back home. I am not really alone.
Within a couple of days into the trek, the body gets adjusted quickly. There is a rhythm to the walking. Breathing is regular, despite the strain. Muscles move like well-oiled pistons. One is looking and listening all the time; all the senses are so sharp. There are several distractions- the pilgrims’ litter, the shouting and singing Gujaratis, nagging, complaining women from Mumbai, the filth and stink of the Himalayan villages – yet, gradually I cease to be irritated by all that- all I see are the mountains; all I know is that beyond the narrow, dangerous path, I will see Kailas.
Yet I am shaken at Malpa, where two years ago in 1998, Protima Bedi and nearly 300 others lost their lives. Rakesh shows me the group photo of the ill-fated pilgrims who perished – his parents were among them. I look closely at the photographs – that bearded trekker could have been me. Those girls in their twenties are very attractive. Their bodies still lay beneath the massive rocks that lie on our path. Death constantly shadows us. Beyond every curve, he lies in wait; I can see his benign smile… every step taken, every day spent, I am nearing, nearing him. I stand on a precipitous ledge and look down at
Somewhere on the steep climb to Budhi, I rest. I am struck by the absurdity of my life and my choices. ‘Fifty thousand rupees! You are nuts!’, said a colleague. Another huddled close and asked very confidentially: “Tell me, Balan, what exactly is your problem? Are you having any family troubles? Are you trying to get away from it all?” He is skeptical when I say that I am not escaping from anything, it is just one more travel to the
“Well, my dear chap,” says the liaison officer, ex-army IAS from
Every day the trek starts at around 0600. Makhan Singh, my porter walks beside me. He is from a village en route. He gamely tries to answer my incessant questions about his land and life. He shares his Ganja with me. I don’t smoke much because of the strenuous walk; anyway, I am on a different high. Most of the yatris ride ponies. Clinging to their animals, they look terrified at the chasms below the narrow ledge.
One has to be aware of oneself and the mountains all the time. As you walk up, you notice every brook, every rock and every patch of snow. You listen to the wind, the birds, the mountains and your breath. Every snowflake that falls on your shoulder or cling onto your beard is a gift of nature. These sensory perceptions grow inside you and gradually you become an element in the environment, like the Japanese painter who walks into Van Gogh’s paintings in Kurasowa’s ‘Dreams’. In such sharp awareness, you become that. They are, at the same time, within and without you. You become both the viewer and the viewed. In such moments that only the
Passing hamlets and forests, we walk along the gorge of
We pass through
In Taklakot, high on a hill, silhouetted against the sky stands the ruins of a monastery. A few decades ago, there were more than 500 Buddhist monks there. The Chinese government destroyed everything during the Cultural Revolution. One cannot imagine the anguish of the Tibetan. At home, we destroy our forests, wetlands, backwaters and sacred groves. What do I lose along with them? What is exactly my relation to all these? I remember the burnt forests near Sairandhri in
The Barkha plains are enchanting. I am among the lucky few to see a herd of Tibetan wild ass. The Plains stretch away to the horizon. Lone telegraphic poles stand like strayed travelers. En route Manasarovar, we stop at the banks of Rakshas Tal. Leave alone the myths, but one cannot help notice the absence of bird life around the Rakshas Tal. We see
Listening to the wind beating out its perennial drums on the prayer flags at Zaidi on the banks of Manasarovar overlooking the waters that touch the horizon, I ruminate over the ecstasies and the agonies I have experienced. I am so attached to life. Over my head, flocks of Barheaded Geese fly and land in the lake. Brahminy ducks feed contently nearby. Nose quivering, a gray rabbit looks at me apprehensively. Quails or partridges tumble over a mound. Far away, across the expanse of water, the snows of
The trek around
Look at the photographs of
Taklakot. Everyone is busy picking up cheap Chinese souvenirs. Our return journey begins next day.
I look at myself in the mirror. Other than the beard that have grown, the lips that have cracked and the sunburnt, peeling skin, what changes have occurred to me? I have lost a few kilos; I walk lighter. What, in the beginning of my dream journey, the years of yearning, the painstaking planning and preparation and the excitement of the yatra, what had I really wanted? I am not a devotee. I didn’t want any moksha. I didn’t want to be rid of my sins. I had suffered but I persisted through all that suffering and realized a dream. Perhaps dreams should remain as dreams. Perhaps one shouldn’t have any achievements. It is a letdown.
On the way back, down, down the hills of
Within our hearts we know that we are only trying to stretch the memories of a shared experience, which will soon fade away. Within our hearts we know we will never see some of the others again. Yet, like Cela1 wrote, our souls go into those goodbyes and good lucks. And we know that amidst the cacophony of our mundane life, among the debits and credits, among the anguish and strife, the images of
As Kerala Express slows down and comes to a halt at
Six years and many Himalayan yatras later, I, Balachandran V, male, 49, 5’9” 85kg, type out these words sitting alone in my 8x8 room in Kottayam.
1. Jose Camilo Cela – Journey into Alcarria.
NOTE: This is the second article that I had to write about the yatra that I undertook 6 years ago (The first one will appear in a book soon to be published). I had to skip much of the details here to avoid repetition. And like the dimming photographs in the album, memories also are fading. For those genuinely interested, there are several books which are exhaustive. Below is a list of a few:
1. Himagiriviharam (Malayalam) / Wanderings in the Himalayas ( English translation) : Swami Tapovanam.
2. Kailas – Manasarovar : Swami Pranavananda
3. The Way of the White Clouds : Lama Anagarikara Govinda
4. Kailasa yatra (Malayalam): Swami Chitbhavananda
5. Himalayathinte Mukalthattil (Malayalam) :K V Surendranath.
6. Trekking in Nepal, West Tibet and Bhutan : Hugh Swift.
7. Uttarakhadiloode –Kailas Manasarovar Yatra (Malayalam)–M.K Ramachandran
8. Kailash Manasarovar- A Sacred Journey : Veena Sharma
Those who liked this may also have a look at this: http://mytravelsmylife.blogspot.com/2008/02/journeys-from-within-and-without-kailas.html