This time around, the 70 km trek from Simikot to Hilsa was blessed with the best of weather, unlike last year, where the copious rain left the land slushy and slippery, making the nights very cold. This is a tough trek, but the group stuck together in great spirit and were rewarded with respite from the last days of very hard and steep terrain, thanks to the roads being laid in this region. This pristine terrain that our legs suffered and we enjoyed to our hearts content, this valley that is in constant roar of the rivers in a rush, will henceforth also be filled with the roar of internal combustion engines. This is a story of pain and pleasure so generously and evenly mixed, making it an exotic mix – leaving one in the throes of life and death. Or as I said earlier: heaven for the heart, hell for the legs.
The drive to Hilsa is one of the most treacherous drives upon the planet, and I was driving a Chinese jeep that seemed to be held together with only oil and dust. As I drove through ruts and rocks, the steering wheel was doing its best to leap out of my hands. I was truly wrestling with it with all I had to keep it on the narrow track, avoiding the drop of a few thousand feet into the valley. In gear one, I had to stand on the brake pedal – to slow down, mind you, not stop. As we rattled and bounced up and down this incredible strip of rubble, of the three passengers that I had in the rear seat, one was all admiration of the beauty of the terrain and driving skills, another was frozen in silent prayer, yet another was happily sleeping – talk about trust.
This being the Year of the Horse in the Chinese calendar – no insult to donkeys – is supposed to be the birth year of Gautama the Buddha. In expectation of heavy overflow of pilgrims, the administration tightened up on everything, making it an organisational nightmare. Our groups were stuck at various entry points with visa and road travel permit problems. All of this was settled months ahead, but was put to question at the last moment, causing much discomfort and distress to all. Of the group who trekked to Hilsa, only those of us who held Indian passports were allowed entry. The remaining 18 of 8 different nationalities had to be airlifted by helicopter to another entry post and the whole process took over 6 days. They barely made it to Manasarovar.
Kailash is such a fulfilling experience that all these trials and tribulations are forgotten, and only the grand image and the powerful reverberations remain.
Here I am in the comfort of a hotel room in Kathmandu, a few hours away for the flight back to Coimbatore.
May all know the Grandeur of Kailash.