Since time immemorial spiritual seekers are drawn to circumambulate Mount Kailash. As per ancient mythology it resembles the spiritual center of the univsere, the naval of the world. The great Sages of mankind tread this path to Mount Kailash. It is here in the deep Tibetan Himalayas where the secrets of existence are hidden and where the ancient scriptures point us for Truth to be revealed. It is the ultimate destination for a spiritual seeker.
“We do not have porters.” my Sherpa confesses to me in the morning of what is supposed to be our first day of Parikrama around Mount Kailash. Heated discussions between my fellow travellers, Sherpas and official guides begin. It greatly prolongs the start of our journey. Hours pass by. It is almost noon. I know we cannot loose more time. If I don’t start now, the entire Parikrama will not happen. I have witnessed many miracles in this divine land and know the sincere seeker is fully guided. And so I silently confirm to myself with full conviction “I can walk on my own. I will somehow find shelter and food. Nothing will happen to me” I walk up to the group head and proclaim my decision. But I do gulp because I am well aware off what it entails to walk this Pilgrimage with a heavy bagpack; foolishly packed way too heavy in my anticipation that I do not need to carry it. Two years earlier I completed my first Parikrama on foot. Tearful memories of my first Dolma Pass ascent cross my mind. It was the toughest and most outstanding journey I ever embarked on. That 42km Pilgrimage in the Tibetan Himalayas was filled with immeasurable joy yet indescribable high-altitude pain alike. To repeat this walk with a bagpack on top now makes me shiver inside. Yet I know there is only one option: I have to go. The Chinese official looks at me with moments of hesitation. He reads my eyes and knows he has no other choice but to agree. And so I set off to walk through Yama Dwar, the begin of my Parikrama. The sky is clear and rays of sun brighten the path ahead. Mount Kailash stands majestically in the background and accompanies me throughout this day. The first hours of my silent walk feel joyful and light. It is an easy walk over hills, along side a calm river, occasional waterfalls and caves.
Only towards the last few hours when the sun is slowly setting do I feel a drastic change. Bitterly cold wind cunningly goes through each layer of my clothes, invades my body and gives me unbearable shivers. By now due to the high altitude my backpack feels as if I carry heavy iron metals on my shoulders. Completely exhausted I sink down on a stone and loose myself in doubts how I can possible complete this first day. I really don’t know. It is exactly then when a tall Tibetan man walks up to me and hands me a tiny paper, which reads “I am your porter and will carry your bag”. I cannot describe the joy and relief I feel; what a miracle that this man walks up to me at this very moment with this precious sweet little message. I don’t know where he came from nor how he recognized me. I smile with gratitude, hand over my bag and off he sets. He walks fast. Eventually I loose sight of him and see myself walking on my own again. Now it is only a race against the slowly setting sun. I walk with continuous looks back over my shoulder to estimate how many minutes of sunrays are left. The darker it gets the more the unbearable cold and tiredness infiltrates my body. It feels as if I tap into the very last reserves of my physical capabilities. My sight goes only as far ahead as the next stone to sit down on along my path. And so a painful stone to stone journey continues till I reach an accommodation. I walk straight up to the open kitchen fire to warm my cold-bitten body. It pains. Eventually my body calms down and my smile returns. I happily drink a warm chai and contently sink into my bed. I finally fall asleep with a grin and wonder how I was gifted to sleep in an entire huge bedroom on my own while others share their bedroom with eight other people. Shiva’s blessings…as well as his all pervading knowledge that I will have a pain-filled night ahead. Pain wakes me up and literally makes me twist from left to right. I am grateful to sleep alone so that no one can hear my whimpers. Yesterdays walk with bagpack shows its clear signs. I pushed myself far beyond my limits and my body now replies. Slowly an unforgettable painful night passes by and eventually surreal golden early morning sunrays light up Kailash. Yet I have no energy to really acknowledge the divine beauty infront of me at that moment. I am reluctant to move, remain seated on my bed and wonder about my capabilities for todays walk ahead, of what is supposed to be the longest and toughest day of Parikrama, ascending the 19,000 feet of Dolma Pass. It was my deep wish to complete this Parikrama around Shiva’s abode on foot again. To walk meant for me to offer my full surrender to the feet of Shiva, to the Supreme Consciousness. Yet I understand I need to be wise and not let ego fool me. “I can not walk. Please can you arrange a pony.” I ask the Sherpa. “The last pony was just taken, but we can get you a pony on the way, just before the onset of Dolma Pass. “ he replies. I remain silent. I know what lies ahead today and considering my health state it is impossible for me to walk. Yet with the hope to get a pony along the way I somehow hear myself reply “Ok, I will manage to walk till Dolma Pass then”. And so I begin my second day of Parikrama on foot. Only at the end of my journey do I get to know that one person died that night and that of the entire group of 65 people only me and another person walked, five took a horse and all others returned ‘unsuccessfully’ that morning without completing the Parikrama.
Hours of a very slow but content walk pass by. I ask my newly made Sherpa friend “Could I get the pony now please?”. “I can’t find a pony now, but surely later along the way” he tells me with sincerity. “Ok. I will manage to walk till then” I gulp and so our walk continues. It is not that I feel pain at this stage, just utter sheer exhaustion. Finally we reach the 19,000 feet Dolma Pass peak. It is an opposite of experience from my ascent two years earlier, during which I encountered hail storms and tears. This time calmness and sunshine embrace us while we sit down in the ocean of Tibetan prayer flags.
After a few more hours once we descended Dolma Pass, I ask my Sherpa friend again “Could I get a pony now please?” “I can’t find a pony now, but surely at the next Tibetan tent” he replies while he sincerely believes in his own words. Finally I understand and smile. What a brilliant divine play and motivation. I would have never been able to complete this Parikrama if it would have not been for this funny blessed ‘pony-play’. I stop asking and resign with gratitude to Shiva’s wish for me to walk. The ‘Weather Gods’ continue to bless us with a beautiful blue sky and warm sun rays. Completing this second day, the longest day of Parikrama around Mount Kailash, on foot invites euphoric inner feelings in the evening. Perhaps what is most intriguing about each Kailash Pilgrimage, during as well as long after the journey, is the emptiness of ones mind. Kailash evokes an indescribable stillness within. Kailash is actually the Sahasra Chakra in our body, the seat of the center of Supreme Consciousness (Shiva). It is there that Kundalini (Shakti) merges in union. The physical counterpart is Mount Kailash, where the energy of Shiva is centered in material earth. The intensity of outer and inner challenges combined with the natural setting of purity and divinity, greatly impacts the human mind. It transforms the Pilgrims mind back into its natural state of stillness.
The third and last day of this Parikrama is an easy walk. We sometimes pass Tibetan pilgrims, which is a very humbling encounter. The most pious of pilgrims are those who prostrate themselves around Kailash, lying flat on the ground, then rising, walking to the point that their hands touched and repeating the process. It takes them 25 days to complete it. It is a sight of devotion, determination and strength. Just at the end of my Pilgramige mild snowflakes start to fall and cover the landscape in a mystic beautiful white layer. I see a wall of snow clouds behind on our path in the mountain peaks.
Later I get to know that this snow wall held back all pilgrims who started the day after us. They had to cancel their Parikrama journey due to heavy snowstorms on the other side of Mount Kailash. It is then while I sit in the last Tibetan tent, warming my hands over the open kitchen fire and hearing those news that I comprehend the entirety of blessings bestowed on me….I reflect on my impulse to start early on my own on the first day and the return of the rest of my group because of that delay, the miraculous appearance of my Tibetan helper, the motivation play with the pony and the snow wall that ‘sealed the divine doors again’ once I completed my journey. It was an on the day and literally on the hour perfectly timed Pilgrimage around Mount Kailash on Buddha Purnima. All divine grace….only gratitude remains!