Saturday, August 31, 2013

Divine Journeys


Himachal Himalaya known for its natural magnificence gets its character from its culture, people and their lifestyle. Hindu, religious texts confirm that Himalaya has been regarded as abode of Gods. Our important epic, like Mahabharata & Maha Shiv Puran, narrates the glory of these divine mountain lands. Along the walls of temples are stories from mythology, Kinnaur is the land of Kinners, the celestial musicians, divine dwarfs and fairies stood carved in the panels, all witnessing this beautiful land.  


According to Hindu mythology, Shravan maas (Monsoon months of July and August), is considered to be the ideal time for pilgrimage. And since ages this tradition has been prevalent in Himalaya, where people take up tough journeys to the sacred religious places. Since unknown times, the annual Hindu calendar was designed considering all aspects of nature. Our ancestors learnt every minute thing from nature and its elements.

Topographically very difficult to imagine, however, the northern district of Himachal Pradesh, exemplifies the true meaning of life.  

The inhabitants of Kinnaur have a fair complexion and are well-built, tough and muscular. The extended family system is still prevalent in the Kinnaur region. Polyandry prevails in the villages but is rapidly losing ground to monogamy. They practice fraternal polyandry and the patriarchal system of inheritance. All the brothers of the bridegroom are considered automatically the husbands of the bride. Polyandry has helped the people of Kinnaur to perpetuate the name of their family and safeguard the family property from fragmentation. The polyandrous tribes of the Himalayas can be compared with the Pandavas of the ancient Indian epic of Mahabharata, who are believed to have had a polygamous system. However, such marriages are on the decline.


The women of Kinnaur are famous for their beauty and there are many references to it in books of olden times. According to the old scriptures, the Kinner Kanyas (girls) were famous for their beauty.
‘Divine journeys’, is our recent travelogue to Kinner Kailash which showcase the deep religious belief of people into the celestial mountains.     

Sensing the virtuous invitation and to celebrate our Independence Day, loosing no time, before the dawn broke, we started from Shimla to Kinnaur.

Loaded with apple orchards, the lush green valley welcomed us as the natives were busy picking apples and transporting to market. The drive from Narkanda plunged into Sutlej valley and at the bottom lies ancient Sun temple at Nireth. There are only two temples dedicated to Sun in India and the second one is the famous Sun temple of Konark, in Odisa.

Built in Nagara style the temple is dedicated to Lord Surya Narayan. As we entered the complex, just a minute walk, below the National Highway – 22, one could appreciate the typical North Indian Shikara tops, in the main shrine, a lion projecting out from each of the four sides. 


Carved wooden pillars and cornices decorate parts of the temple. Motifs of flowers and flower buds are beautifully carved on wood. Aedicule in walls have deities that are stone-like but really of red sandstone blackened by years of worship and offering. A four-armed deity with an elaborate head-dress stands over a cow. The sculptures and carvings lack refinement. They are simple and animistic, pointing to some tribal tradition.

It is difficult to date this temple without the aid of guides or books. One of the caretakers of the temple ventured to give his explanation. He dates it to at least 4000 years old. His logic is that Mahabharata itself is 3100BC years old and this temple is from the time of Parashurama, who came long before the great epic.

Getting blessed from the shrine we continued along voluminous Sutlej, to the village Tangling. En-route we also bought some travel necessities soups, biscuits, candles, etc. as we were going to be away from habitations for next three nights.


Finally, our car bumped right next to the village Tangling, at the base of Kailash. It was truly an enchanting site, with lush green scenery, every tree stood loaded with wide varieties of fruits. Apples, apricots, almonds, grapes, chilgoza nut and many more all were mouthwatering!


With a warm welcome from the village committee on our arrival, we were being escorted, through the beautiful village, to the ancient temple of Prakash Shankerus. Here, noting our personal information, we were being advised to establish an advance camp right above the village. This two hours demanding walk took us amidst Chilgoza Pine grooves which was to be our Camp I.

Since there is very limited water on entire route, so one has to choose the campsite close to water source and we did the same by camping close to the River.

Reaching the campsite, everyone got busy, fixing tents, collecting wood for bonfire and preparing mountain delicacies. Soon, the entire valley got shrouded with darkness of night and I felt once again back home. While, Mahinder and Amit, took charge of food, myself and Sanjeev made the campsite ready. Post dinner, concluding the day we went to our tent.


At five in the morning, melodious notes of birds were the wake-up call. Fetching water from the river and enjoying the bubbling hot tea under cool breeze of Chilgoza pine forest, we packed up the camp. By seven, we continued our uphill task and could easily judge our advancement with the depth of Sutlej valley. The forest clearing were offering stunning views of colossal glacier on Jorkanden 6,473mt. However, stopping by and admiring the views was best practice because on the narrow steep trail, one wrong step could prove fatal.


In these climbs, one has to maintain a steady pace on the slopes at an angle ranging between 60 -80 degrees. The load in our rucksack aided us with firm steps negotiating the vertical steps of rocks and roots. As our steps set off into rhythmic motion, within three hours, we were on the verge of tree line with alpine zone.

Here, the scorching morning Sun and our sweat drenched bodies compelled us for a well deserved break. On one side was looming Jorkanden ornamented with a veil of white while the opposite valley displayed the ancient village ‘Chini’ (Kalpa) and Reckong Peo, the district headquarter of Kinnaur.


This was a tea break too, and Mahinder served us hot tea, captivated with the enthralling panorama, now we could feel the cool mountain breeze. The walk ahead carpeted a symposium of a rare Himalayan flora, like jewels on the divine land!


Refreshed with the break, our steps gained the rhythm once again and we gently progressed up admiring the Himalayan vista. Now we could make out the tents for the pilgrims far off on a flat patch. And this was next to the melting avalanche, gushing down from Kailash. 

Every year, for pilgrims, adjoining villages offered feast and shelter. Also, a big cave above the campsite provides ample space for nearly thirty people at night.
Within, thirty minutes, after crossing the partially frozen stream, we were received with a warm welcome by the organizers. Settling down, they served us tea and rice puddings which revitalized us once again.

When asked about the night stay, we disclosed our plans to establish an advance base camp close to Kailash and sleep there for the night. We were recommended to carry sufficient water for the night, doing the same, we continued past the cave up on the steep meadow. The entire team was briefed to collect small twigs or any piece of wood so as to cook the food.

In Himalaya, those who pursue the supreme laws of nature viz. ‘Survival of the fittest’ and ‘proper use of available resources’, are best adapted and others will struggle to survive.

The steep narrow trail was visible initially; however, sudden gush of strong winds and fog enveloped the entire valley. Everything got eloped into thick fog, keeping busy looking for small shrubs, I lost my team. Ascending gradually, now I could make out a rucksack resting on the edge of massive rock, Sanjeev was waiting for me.


With deep breath on almost vertical slope, fragrance of the unique Himalayan flora was constantly invigorating my senses. The most appealing out of them was ‘Bhramkamal’. Piercing the thick cover of fog, my eyes could make out numerous bulbs protruding through the rocks, ah! This was the rare ‘Bhramakamal’, a flowering plant native to the Himalayas, found at an altitude of around 4500 m and extending up to 5000m. Saussurea obvallata is a perennial growing to 0.3 m (1 ft). The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.

In Hindu mythology, acclaimed as the flower which Bramha (the creator), is holding in one of his four hands, a white flower resembling Saussurea obvallata is Bramha Kamal.

The plant is considered as a herb in Tibetan medicine. Its name is ཤཟའ བདྭད མཤ དཤྭ (Sah-du Goh-ghoo). It has a bitter taste. The entire plant is used. It is endangered because people are cutting it down for their own use. It is also used to cure uro-genital disorders.                


Admiring this magical flora, we now entered a massive boulder zone and within five minutes we reached Mahinder & Amit and decided to camp on a huge flat rock.

Stumbling over and underneath these gigantic rocks, we discovered an opening and after clearing, it was an ideal to cook and shelter from strong winds and rain.


Getting dark and heavy downpour, we quickly pitched the tent and dinner was ready. The time was to relish the fruit of our hard work for the day. The dinner comprised soups, freshly cooked soya-beans, home baked breads and we enjoyed our dinner. It was not all, post dinner, a hot cup of tea with a mild drizzle made our day.

Not, while cooking however in the tent at dinner, we heard a blast which left us curious. Sanjeev cleared our doubts that it is a rock fall, just below Kailash, opposite side away from us. Throughout night, the sound of rock fall kept on breaking the silence of the place at regular intervals.
As the dawn broke behind the mountains, the light illuminated our tent. Wrapping up for the final ascent we gathered our stuff and leaving our tent we hopped over the boulders for a holy dip in the frozen waters of Gauri Kund. It was a semi-frozen small pond, identified by few flags and offering prayers, we left for Kailash.


Assuming, the route ahead of the pond proved a critical folly to us. It was sheer rock climbing over the enormous boulders and deep crackling reverberations of rock fall from the close by glaciers. Mahinder and Amit advanced up on to an unknown top and realized there that it was not the destination.
They yelled down to us into strong wind laden valley about the situation, however, they were not audible to us. By the time we crept up cautiously on the loose rocks, looking down, we saw both of them below us. It was totally chaotic situation, but looking to our left we could now see the divine Kailash.


Sipping morning dew from tiny alpine plants, we continued up carrying our fatigued bodies. The ringing of bell and voluminous ‘Jai Mahadev’ confirmed the top. Yes, we were at our destination, at the mighty Kailash. It took a while to imbibe this heavenly aura, mountains, clouds, everything seemed beneath us.
Trying to recognize the mountain ranges our vision fled in every direction and gradually everything got engulfed in thick fog. Sitting cross-legged, I closed my eyes and paid my homage to this heavenly abode.    


Judging the thick overcast, we decided to descend, though it was an intricate job than ascending, as it was a new route. Route! Just piles of mammoth boulders were resting as may fall by touch. This rigorous rock descending session ended for an hour and we were at our campsite.


Longing for many hours, we enjoyed a hot cup of tea, dried and packed our stuff in the sun. Bidding goodbye to the divine kingdom, we continued down to the pilgrim campsite. Feeling starved we decided to prepare hot soup. The drizzle compelled us to take shelter under a huge rock clinging to steep cliff. Amazingly, just three candles did the job and within minutes delicious mushroom soup was ready.


Arriving campsite, we were served early dinner, pitched tent and enjoyed a sound sleep under a night full of stars. In the morning we got ready for the final descend, packed our tents and had a hot cup of goodbye tea with our local friends.


In the night only, we decided our job for next day and it was garbage collection. On the entire trail every bit of plastic was removed till Tangling village.   


Soon we were back on the same trail, narrow, scary but still adorable with plenty of flowers smiling at us. Walking for a while we met some locals who joined us, felt happy as we clicked their photos.
At the transition zone of coniferous forest with the alpine meadows, our local friends halted to cook breakfast.


They invited us too and we could not deny their humble invitation. With a limited stock of water, a culinary contest was organized and two teams from Shimla and Kinnaur respectively. Within ten minutes hot Maggi was ready and we all enjoyed it.
The steep slope plunged into a gushing glacial stream, had water and retraced our expedition through tiny hamlets. Orchards loaded with delicious apples, grapes and range of stone fruits.

Reaching Sharkaus Mahadev temple, we handed over the piles of garbage to the temple committee and our group paid homage at the shrine. For a while, my eyes struck back into those heavenly mountains of Gods, separation was hard this time too.


Getting to road, yet again, life was bustling and we have to drive back to Shimla. However, destiny had signed one more night, in this valley of Gods to us. The villagers requested us to drop them to their village nearby and took us to their home.


It was absolute ‘wow’ feeling, the entire family met us and we thoroughly enjoyed this Kinnauri, hospitality. In morning, wrapping up loads of cheerful, lifetime memories and smiling faces, our car roared back through silent valleys to Shimla.

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