It’s been five months since we got back fr om Tibet, but it seems as if we were there just yesterday. Still fresh in my memory are the mighty Kailas, Tibetan scenery, clean mountain air, friendly Tibetans with braided hair and turquoise earrings and pilgrims with prayer wheels in their hands.
Expedition to Tibet became our second trip with the oum.ru yoga club. Last March we already visited India with them. Apparently, the “ascetic practices” we had to go through in India had left their mark and allowed us to earn some good karma points to get to Tibet without any problems :)
And here we are in Lhasa – the capital of Tibet, the city surrounded by the ridge of the majestic Himalayas, “the place of the gods”, where almost immediately upon my arrival there came the incredible state of calm and peace that hasn’t left me for the duration of almost our entire trip.
Buddhist Monasteries and Caves, Lake Manasarovar
During our pilgrimage we visited many Buddhist monasteries and small Tibetan settlements. Despite the changes made to the structure, atmosphere, and often the board of monasteries by the Chinese Cultural Revolution, I was still able to feel special atmosphere in some of them.
Very memorable were the morning service at the Samye monastery, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, and a visit to the Chimpu caves at the altitude of 14,436 feet, where Padmasambhava and his disciples Trisong Detsen, Yeshe Tsogyal and Vairochana practiced. Everyone in our group was able to take the time to do their practice in the caves and feel the energy permeating in these ancient places.
In the Jokhang monastery in Lhasa we were struck by the Sakyamuni Buddha “Jovi” statue made during his lifetime. The statue is believed to have been blessed by the Buddha Sakyamuni himself. The Sera monastery surprised us with traditional philosophical monk debates accompanied by their unusual clapping gestures. In Drepung, by happy coincidence, we got to attend the “Shoton” yogurt festival and saw the largest in Tibet tankha of Buddha Sakyamuni, which only once a year is carried out fr om the monastery and hung high up on the mountain.
At the residence of the Panchen Lama – Tashilhunpo monastery we were able to see the 85-foot-tall statue of Buddha Maitreya, the construction of which took 615 lbs. of gold and nearly as much silver.
Lake Manasarovar amazed us by its spectacular views of the snow-capped Kailas peaks. A short meditation practice in the Chiu cave monastery near the lake, where Padmasambhava practiced during his last days, gave us the opportunity to feel the power of the place.
But perhaps, the most memorable for me was our visit to the capital of the ancient kingdom of Guge – a cave city of Tsaparang, “paradise in the desert” built in the 9th century AD at the altitude of 12,667 feet above sea level. Taking a walk along the steep paths of the city with stunning views to the canyons in the Garuda valley and looking at the temple murals, which miraculously survived the Cultural Revolution, I wondered what an enormous effort it took to build this used to be majestic city in the desert. Some believe in Guge there existed the mythical kingdom of Shambala wh ere the enlightened sages lived. Who knows, maybe, but this place really impressed us by its especially favorable ambience.
After a two-week trip to Tibet and adaptation to high altitude, we proceeded to perform kora (a sacred walk circling Kailas), a bit worried, in anticipation of something unknown. After a group cheer, we tread our first steps of kora.
Our way lies along the winding road with the stunning landscape. At every turn I want to stop to absorb the energy and remarkable landscapes. Pictures can only partially convey that atmosphere.
Most of the journey goes smoothly, without any complications, but closer to the guest house it suddenly becomes impossible to walk and I get an urge to quickly reach the nearest stone to sit down even if for a second. After a short break, I continue to go forward, looking straight ahead. And suddenly – the murmur of the river, glance up, and here it is – the North Face of Kailas! For a moment, I stand there in silence, staring at it, unable to look away!
The first day of kora is completed. At the guesthouse a group of people willing to go to the foot of the North Face, among which is my husband, is gathering around, getting ready to leave. I give my husband my blessing for this courageous act and fall into a deep sleep, unable to follow him. After a short rest I decide to go for a walk with one of the participants of the tour in the direction of the North Face. After a couple of hours of “strolling”, we receive a “sign “ – my husband’s hat forgotten by him on one of the stones — thus, we are moving in the right direction :) Soon, without even noticing it, we face the glacier at the foot of the North Face. Awe, delight, admiration, feeling of absorbing the strongest energy. Strength and power emanating from this sacred mountain cannot be described in words!
It seems as if you reach out, you can touch this shrine! But the foot of the mountain is still very far. After a short break, we continue to climb the sand mound of the glacier, periodically slipping down the slope. Suddenly, high up on the opposite side of the glacier we see two of our guys who are already coming back from the North Face.
After talking to them, we realize we won’t be able to get to the very foot of the mountain and come back to the guesthouse before dark. Yes, this time we were not able to physically touch Kailas, but in our minds we have already done so. Maybe one day we’ll come back here again… Overflown with gratitude for the opportunity to get so close, without really planning this, we go back to the base.
On the second day of kora we get up before dawn and begin to proceed to the Drolma La Pass at the altitude of 18,537 feet. The time it takes to overcome the pass varies. Everyone has their own physical, mental and psychological constraints and ways to overcome them. Some experience physical discomfort, for others – internal struggle with their fears of what they can or cannot do is the most challenging. In such moments, releasing the accumulated emotions through tears can be helpful. For many pilgrims, chanting and mental prayer can become the life-saving anchor that keeps them on the way to Kailas. But perhaps, it is most importantly to remember the motivation for performing kora, whom and what for this austerity is done to begin with. Interestingly, the day before commencing kora at the guesthouse in Darchen we started to talk about how easy it becomes to practice or fulfill something if you do it for others, not for yourself. For many of us this motivation became the main support for finishing kora.
Motivating ourselves like this in near darkness we begin to slowly move forward. Using the “get-up-and-go” technique, we move step by step, at first without even thinking about wh ere and how much longer we need to hike. Suddenly, I become aware that it is not “me” who is walking, but my exhausted body. For some time I’m simply observing this process with realization that if it weren’t for my restricting mind believing the idea it is hard to walk, I would have already been resting with a cup of tea on the other side of the pass.
After mentally thanking for this “spiritual experience”. I continue on my route, catch up with one of the yoga instructors Alexander Efimovsky and climb the Drolma La pass in his company. I will remember for a long time the minutes spent on top of the pass. Absolute silence, almost not a soul around, not a single thought, but a sense of harmony and gratitude, a short meditation, heightened sensation of the energy at the pass, euphoria and that’s it – it’s time to go down – staying at such altitude for a long time is not recommended. I hope the saying that overcoming the pass gives a “new birth” and burns all accumulated karma is true, though I don’t think it overrides continuing to work on yourself :)
During the descent, on a spur of the moment, I find myself completely alone, with no other pilgrims around, in complete silence, surrounded by the mountains around, I feel as if I were at some heavenly planet! Kailas is believed to have a harsh energy, but for me at that moment it was the most gentle, loving and caring.
Kailas is not just a “mountain,” but another completely different reality, incomprehensible and indescribable in words. I mentally thank it for this moment, and, finally, go down to the bottom.
After a short rest in one of the tent cafes, I reunite with the remaining members of the group and proceed with them through the easiest part of the trail to the next guesthouse.
Almost everyone in our group noticed that time on Kailas gets somehow compressed. Given our fatigue after passing the Drolma La and frequent stops on the way there, we were able to finish walking an 8-mile section of kora in just a couple of hours! Tibetans walk the entire 33-mile kora in just one day. In fact, even those of us who were doing kora for the first time could finish it in 2 days. Some participants of the tour did just that, but we decided to spend one more day near Kailas, so after the second section we stopped for the night at the Zatul-Puk monastery.
On the third day we pass the last part of kora by walking along the beautiful road in the Barkha valley, surrounded by river flows and rocks. Finally – the end point of kora, the last prostration before Kailas, a short bus ride to Darchen – kora is over! 3 days of life, new experiences, new realizations, new awareness, incredible feelings and a lot of things that are still not fully understood and comprehended.
In many traditions, kora around the sacred mountain has a profound sacred meaning, changing the people who walk it for the better. The strength of Kailas is considered to be so great that even a single kora around it clears karma and gets rid of all sins which give rise to the birth in the lower realms. It is probably too early to judge, and is it even necessary to do it? The most important thing is for the knowledge and experience which were passed by the Sacred Kailas to benefit not only those who have finished kora, but also all those who are connected with them.
Thank you, Kailas, for such a warm welcome! Thank you, all the Teachers for your knowledge and support on the way to Kailas! Thank you, the tour organizers Ekaterina Androsova and Andrey Verba and all oum.ru instructors for your help, guidance, lectures and practices of hatha yoga and meditation. May all the acquired knowledge be used for the benefit of all living beings!