All energy seems to have left my body over night. Maybe I should have avoided the additional evening climb yesterday? Too late. Today is the second day of our three days Kailash circumambulation and we are facing the toughest part of the entire trek: Dolma La Pass on the North Eastern side of Kailash at an elevation of 5630m / 19500ft (Mount Kailash: 6638m / 21778ft).
We leave the monastery Dirapuk Gompa early in the morning. It is dark outside. Cold and damp. I feel very different to yesterday. Unfortunately worse, not better. I can hardly move, breathe, let alone think. Overnight I totally tensed up. Why? And how to release the tension?
I barely make it to the first teahouse. And before departing from there, my body goes on total strike. I begin walking but have to stop. Tears well up. I don‘t know why I am crying, I just notice that I feel a bit better after that wave of tears subsides. I can breathe properly and gain some strength to continue. But then again, disabling heaviness within, which does not allow me to walk any further. And so it goes on. Walking a few steps, stopping, crying, breathing, moving on. Contracting, stopping, crying, moving on.
Chotu, my porter, looks at me and offers to take my rucksack. Thank god. It is hard enough to carry my self today. With non stop teary eyes and a snotty nose, my state has changed 180 degrees in comparison to the previous day. I just nod my head to signal Yes.
This trek is really tough. The path is steep and rocky, the air is thin. And my body has lost all its muscle power. I have no idea how to keep today’s schedule. All I know is that there is no turning back. The real challenge is how my inner world gets churned. Where the heck is all this emotional pain and sadness coming from?! Walking a few steps, stopping, crying, breathing, moving on. Contracting, stopping, crying, moving on.
Chotu keeps checking regularly if I am fine. I’m not. I try all my most powerful processing tools, mantras and breathing techniques, nothing helps. I get no grip on what’s going on inside of me. At some point I take my mp3 player and listen to some upbeat bass-heavy dance music. The energy boost I get from this is short lived however.
Tensing up, stopping, crying, walking. My lungs and chest feel tight, I am coughing and crying. I sense suffocation, separation, sadness, emprisonment on Earth. Past and present relationships loop in my mind, for reasons I can not cognise clearly. There is a whole load of diffuse emotional pain – I’m dealing with some serious weight, recent as well as ancient, and from what I can figure out, mine as well as from the collective.
All these emotions and energies that I’m purging get squeezed out of every atom of my beingness – out of my mind archives, cellular memory, heart, even from my bones. Probably even from the planet on which I’m walking. And it is as painful as being under some sort of open heart surgery. Not that I ever had one. Several times during the trek I turn my face towards Kailash, away from the path and people, to wheep. Wheeping just happens. All I can do in those hours is surrender and let it flow through me.
With the onset of sleet (snow-rain), my face gets cooled down by icy water. It intensifies my sense of woundedness further though. An image of mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner climbing the high altitude Himalayas comes to my mind – at least I don’t run risk to get an icicles beard like him!
Today there are significantly more people around than yesterday. And in contrast to the porters who move with an overall ease and cheerfulness (at times also in a group and chatting), the actual pilgrims are walking in solitude, in a rather quiet and serious mode. Focusing on the path, and inwards. As far as my co-travellers are concerned, I have lost orientation for who is where. Several times, when I think no one is near, I meet one. But we do not waste energy on greeting and talking. We nod, and continue. Each one on their own.
My inner struggle is now reflected in the windy weather with sharp gusts of rain and snow. The higher up I trek, the more piercing the wind gets. Grateful for my last minute buy in Kathmandu: water resistent, warm gloves. Although too big for my hands as smaller sizes were not available, they do a perfect job. And their bright orange colour is kind of asserting vitality and victory. I feel ruffled and raw. The weather and terrain are raw as well, and wild. I am exhausted in every way. Photography? Forget it!
In terms of equipment, not much is needed for the Kailash Parikrama. Of course, given the rough terrain and unpredictable weather, you want good shoes, a warm hat, gloves as well as a windbreaker jacket. Much more important however, is your alignment of body, mind, heart and spirit. This becomes experientially clear to me in these hours.
Travelling in a small group of eleven individuals from different countries, we all do the entire Kora in three days by foot, without horses.
Ideally, a pony should be called for only in case of emergency. Unfortunately some foreign gurus and travel agencies bring hordes of people to this sacred hub in Tibet, of which many are older, overweight and unfit to trek (let alone in high altitudes), and so they take horses for the Kailash circuit, and cause damage to the environment, the local animals and people.
Originally, the horses were there to help rescuing people if needed and carry the rather petite local nomads who know how to move their body in harmony with the animal (while food tends to be carried by yaks). Ponies are not comfortable anyway if you don‘t know how to horse ride. The ponies struggle to climb the uneven, slippery and rocky ground already without a person sitting on their back, imagine the challenge while carrying a clumsy, overweight man or corpulent woman – it damages the animals‘ bodies.
Just before I reach the top of Dolma La Pass, I’m worn out. And I totally understand how emotional upheaval can restrict physical functioning. I have reached my limit. What now? In my mind I hear: „Wait!“. And I wait, and breathe, slowly and deeply. All the while facing Kailash, my back towards the trek, and tears streaming. I hear again, „Wait!“. I do.
Suddenly my thoughts shift. My focus snaps more deeply inwards and I hear the sentence „Re-member your heart.“ I breathe. And in that moment my state shifts. I feel better! The sentence gets repeated in my mind over and over again. „Re-member your heart.“
I’m walking and I speak it out loud like a mantra, hoping to figure out what EXACTLY is meant. It does not make much sense to me as I indeed feel already connected to my heart, but chanting it has a calming effect, and makes my thoughts shift fully to my relationship with myself, instead of distracting thoughts about my relationships with others, that were circling my mind like airplanes above Heathrow on a Friday night.
Upon finally reaching the top of Dolma La Pass, our guide greets me. He waits there for each one of us. He welcomes me and makes sure I’m ok. Yes, now, finally, I’m ok. Well, ok-ish. Om Namah Shivaya!!!
I scan and track my mantra-like sentence in all directions. It appears simple but it is actually quite deep and multi layered: One aspect is related to the emptiness I had just experienced while crossing the mountain pass. It was an emptying and reset process. Dissolution. And what needed to be re-membered, rewired and brought back first after this clearance, was the heart. The mediator between Heaven and Earth, between the upper and lower chakras, as well as access point to the spiritual self and the beyond. And re-membering one’s heart means to re-member and honour to be a true, integrated human.
So a story of Shiva and Parvati comes to mind:
Determined to draw Shiva out of his cave and make him her consort, every day, Goddess Parvati (also known by the name of Aparna) crossed the cold mountain valleys and went into his cave with gifts of fruits and flowers, hoping to win his love. But how would she win his heart if he never looked her way? Parvati invoked Priti (the goddess of love and longing) and Rati (the mistress of erotica), to rouse Shiva out of his meditation. They entered Shiva’s desolate cave and transformed it into a pleasure garden of fragrant flowers, spring breezes, dancing nymphs, buzzing bees and singing mynahs. Kama, the God of Lust and Desire also joined in with his consort Rati, and with his sugarcane bow sent love-darts and arrows dripping with desire into Shiva’s heart.
Shiva was rather furious than amused. In his anger, he opened his third eye and with a flame of fury engulfed Kama’s beautiful body and reduced it to ashes. With desire so brutally crushed, the cosmic sage resumed his meditation.
“What have you done?” cried Rati, Kama’s beloved Consort. “Without desire, the bull will forsake the cow, the horse, the mare and the bees, the flowers. There will be no homes, no families, as men and women will not love each other. Society will collapse and life will be devoid of its very essence. Desire may be the cause of suffering; but it is also the reason for joy. What is life without it? An existence without flavor.” Shiva is moved. He saw the wisdom in her words. He realized that complete rejection of the world made little sense. Living had its price – suffering; it also had its reward – joy. One came with the other. Together they gave a reason for surviving.
Parvati said: “I shall find another way to win Shiva’s heart. When Shiva becomes my consort, Kama will be re-born.
She went into the forest and performed rigorous Tapas. Parvati focused her mind on Shiva. She thought of nothing but him. She ate nothing, drank nothing, she only chanted his name. The Sages were impressed by the determination of the mountain princess to endure such an endless fast for so long a time. They gathered around her and blessed her. “She is Aparna, the girl who refuses to eat even a leaf,” they said.
Aparna matched Shiva in her capacity to cut herself from the world and completely master her physical needs. The power of her Tapas shook Shiva out of his meditation. Her persistence was amazing. Shiva was impressed. He stepped out of his cave and accepted Parvati as his wife. He married her in the presence of the Gods with sacred rites before the holy fire. The cosmos rejoiced.
Parvati melted Shiva’s stern heart with her affection. Together they played dice on Mount Kailasa and sported on the banks of Lake Mansarovar, discovering the joys of married life. The Goddess also awakened Shiva’s concern for the world by questioning him on various issues about nature, society, life and marriage. As he spoke, he revealed the secrets of the Tantras, the mysteries of the Vedas and the splendors of the Shastras that he had gathered in eons of meditation. Thus his great wisdom was revealed for the good of the cosmos. Parvati was the perfect student, Shiva the perfect teacher. The world was enriched by these sacred discourses.
Parvati and Shiva complemented each other perfectly. She was gentle and graceful; he was wild and forceful. She domesticated Shiva and turned him into a householder, much to the satisfaction of the Gods. She softened the stern hermit with sweet words; her smile stirred love in his austere heart. When she embraced Shiva and the two became one in a sacred union, Kama – the Lord of Desire – the catalyst of all creative forces – was re-born. The twang of the Love-God’s Bow and the fragrance of spring filled the air. The cosmos and the Gods cheered this divine union.
– compiled by Aparna Chatterjee, poet and writer
From Parvati Lake onwards my state improves. And with every descending step from Dolma La pass, I begin to feel lighter. The trek is still challenging (steep and slippery), but almost a Sunday walk compared to the ascend. I feel endless gratitude for having been able to make it this far.
Further down the path, a teahouse tent – halleluja! Upon entering I collapse onto a bench. My head, my hands, my brain, my cells are tingling and buzzing. Am I drained, or am I high? Maybe both. Fact is, I can‘t even open my rucksack to get out some food. No energy left in my limbs. And my heart is still aching.
Four of my six Russian co travellers arrived earlier and surround me. Sergei and his friend, Natalia and Xenia. Nice. I ask if someone has an apple. No, nobody. (Yesterday I had an apple but now it is in the second rucksack with Chotu, who is outside.). Sergei gets up, pulls out a peach from his bag and hands it over to me. Heaven. The best peach ever.
The others depart while I stay, sit and rest. And just breathe. Maybe half an hour went by, when I leave the teahouse, without Chotu. The trek is surprisingly easy. What happened during the first half of the day seems a timeline or lifetime away. The sky lightens up. The sun helps me recharging. I keep walking.
But my mood changes quickly, and drastically. There are hardly any people around now, and walking alone in this rather tight valley surrounded by steep tall mountains, I begin to feel isolated and trapped. Observing the discomfort and disconnect, I get angry as well. Just what was missing until now: rage! Have I not churned enough of painful data and emotional debris?!
Ok, I remember that I offered my body system to ‘shift stuff’ yesterday, but please, not like this, and not again! My resistance in that moment feels as large as the entire Tibetan Plateau. I just want the kora to be over. Why didn’t I book an easy beach holiday?! I cannot even resonate with nature anymore. Basta. Enough of the processing and transformation work!
But no. I get boiled a little longer. Interestingly enough, I can not link the emotions that are flooding my system with my life or background. The emotional pain is not familiar at all and does not have any limiting effect on my body either. In fact, it is mindblowing how well my body performs again. So I probably have tapped into a ‘public pool’ of suffering, in order to swirl and release its pressure (at least some of it).
I reach the monastery, where we are going to stay overnight. It is small and built around Milarepa cave. Milarepa is Tibet’s most famous mystic, yogi and poet. The atmosphere of the Gompa is lovely. It feels cosy and familiar. Exactly what I need after my harsh trekking experience. But I‘m not yet ready to visit the sacred and much revered cave, and decide to do so the following morning. The four Russian women of my group and I share a spacious pretty ten bed room. We rest on our beds, chat and have tea before we go to the restaurant for dinner.
That evening I have two meals (!), followed by a very good night sleep.
Yes, this second day of the Kailash Parikrama was physically and emotionally extremely tough. But it is over. I made it.
Kailasha Shakti Shiva
Shankara Ki Jaya Jaya
Yamna Ki Jaya Jaya
Ganga Ki Jaya Jaya
Om Namah Shivaya,
– Kirtan / Mantra in praise of oneness of Shiva and Shakti
Appendix: Milarepa (1040–1123) was a revered Tibetan singer-poet, mystic, teacher and saint (whose name means ‘cotton-clad’ as he is usually shown clothed in thin white cotton and cupping a hand to his ear, a gesture typical of singers in India and the Himalayas, to enhance his hearing while blocking out extraneous noise). In this thangka, Milarepa sits in a cave on Mount Kailash. In front of him, Lake Manasarovar (Marpam) flows by in wavy blue and green bands. Milarepa is flanked by his disciples. His teacher, Marpa, appears in a medal-lion above him. The dazzling snow-covered peaks frame each of the central figures, and below them multicolored foothills appear as prismatic spikes refracting the sun’s rays like jewels. Along the perimeter of the thangka, the five sisters of long life ride their mounts, accompanying Milarepa wherever he preaches his doctrine. The sacred peaks and lakes of the Himalayas have inspired numerous works of art. Milarepa, for example, wrote hundred thousand songs about them. (source: Art Institute of Chicago)
All photos © Marina
Except the Reinhold Messner portrait: by Udo Bernhart