But unscrupulous tour agents were also at work. They just want the money. The people who sign up don't know how hard it will be. Kailas is holy to Lord Shiva, and many pilgrims are Shaivites from the south, from lowland cities such as Bangalore and Mumbai. They've never climbed anything except their own stairs.
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I saw these pilgrims later, deeper into Tibet. They occupied crude hostels, multiple families crammed into small rooms, at the mercy of Chinese officials. Yet they had the preoccupied, exalted look of those on pilgrimage. For they were on their way to Kailas, on whose summit the god Shiva sits in eternal meditation, his goddess beside him. To circle the mountain would lighten their karma, lifting them toward moksha , the Hindu nirvana. They did not yet know the harshness of the four-day climb that awaited them. My first sight of Kailas was from the 4,m Thalladong pass in the foothills to its south.
This is a sight of planetary strangeness. At my feet stretched the haunted Rakshas Tal — the Lake of Demons, home of vicious water spirits — curving out of sight in a crescent of peacock blue.tourforall.com.mx/media/cuseryde/373.php
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Beyond it floated the snowlit cone of Kailas. Its abrupt solitude, suspended 50 miles away above the brilliance of the lake, lent it the feel of something self-created. It was easy to imagine it holy to any people, at any age.
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Nothing — not a tree or a dwelling — showed around the lake. Its small monastery had been levelled into the rocks during the Cultural Revolution and never rebuilt. But a little beyond it shone Lake Manasarovar, its sacred counterpart. An ancient holiness has freed these waters from intrusion. No one may fish here, and no one hunts its shores. As you descend to it you find its waterline thick with birds so tame they barely budge as you arrive. Black-headed gulls and redshanks pace along the sands; sandpipers wade the shallows, and Brahminy ducks float in pairs among the raft-like nests of crested grebes.
On these quiet shores I camped with a party of British trekkers who had come, like me, without faith, to a land sanctified by others. The nights around the lake are filled with portents for those who lie awake. The shooting stars are Hindu sky gods descending to bathe in the waters.
An Indian pilgrim told me her night was disrupted by strange cries and flashing lights. Hindus and Buddhists see different countries here. Tibetans believe that the Buddha's mother bathed in the lake before his birth, and its shores are still the haunt of hermits. But to Hindus, Manasarovar holds an intense, redemptive holiness. At dawn, I glimpsed a distant pilgrim knee-high in its purifying stillness.
When I reached the headland where he had bathed, he was gone. Only a tiny packet of votive prayer-leaves floated in the shallows. Hindu lore is filled with the magic wrought by these waters. To bathe in them is to wash away the sins of all past lives; to drink them redeems the sins of a hundred others. In the watery rite of tarpan , the souls of pilgrims' ancestors are eased into eternity. Two days later, as we reached the base of the mountain, my sherpa, cook and I stripped away our baggage to a single tent. The highest pass ahead was over 5,m.
As we went, the worlds of Tibetan Buddhist and Indian Hindu began to pull apart. The Tibetans set off cheerfully round the mountain as if it were a plateau. They twirled prayer-wheels and murmured mantras. Some carried babies on their backs, others shepherded little children. Their faith was practical and sensuous. Every rock formation was a god to them, or commemorated some mythic action.
The earth itself was holy: At the four little monasteries that staked out the cardinal points of the mountain, they offered incense or barley to a pantheon of deities. They prayed for better fortune — a son, another yak — and perhaps whispered to the fiercer mountain gods to expel the Chinese invaders. Hindus and westerners may take four days to complete the circuit.
A Tibetan can do it in less than 36 hours. But on our first day around the mountain, I was bemused to see scarcely any Tibetans. The day before, in a nearby valley, they had gathered in their hundreds round the sacred pole which is raised every year in the Buddhist holy month.
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But now, as we tramped in early morning along the Lha Chu, the River of Spirits, we saw the valley unfold in a m-high corridor where the Buddhist devotees had all but vanished. Neither my sherpa nor I could understand it. Ritual requires that worshippers circle the mountain clockwise, but almost the only people in sight were a few German and Austrian trekkers, and a trickle of dark-faced pilgrims descending the other way. At first I thought these pilgrims must be Bon, adherents of Tibet's pre-Buddhist faith, who worship the mountain walking anticlockwise.
Then I realised that they were Hindus, returning the way they had come. They looked utterly spent, ashen-faced and unspeaking. Many were riding ponies led by local nomads, and were so swathed against the cold that their faces disappeared in coils of scarves. Some of them cradled little canisters of oxygen, which they discarded empty among the rocks. A lone Indian woman stopped beside me, tightening her balaclava against the wind.
According to his story, they died of old age a year later! Roerich believed in the existence of a mystical kingdom called Shambala in the vicinity of Mount Kailash. Some Hindu sects refer to Shambala as Kapapa, and believe that perfect people reside there. His team comprised of experts in geology, physics and history. The team met several Tibetan lamas and spent several months around the foot of the sacred mountain.
He claimed that it was surrounded by many smaller pyramids and could be the centre of all paranormal activities. Mohan Bhatt, a Sanskrit scholar based in Mumbai, says the Ramayana also refers to the sacred mountain as a pyramid.
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There are also references to the moutain in the vedas he adds. Muldashev believes that the pyramids were built by ancient and advanced people who knew about the laws of subtle energy. He wrote that the mountain is the most important part of a system of ancient monumental structures and is directly connected with the main pyramids of the earth such as the pyramids of Giza and Teotihuacan. Onwards to the Past , a Russian-English bilingual website explores this theory in great details.