Go by the way of the Swans

G Kameshwar

As I write this series about Kailasa Yatra, quite a few people have got in touch with questions… “How was it? How tough is it? How does one prepare? What about the effect of low oxygen?” etc etc… Net-net, from many, the message seemed to be, “I would love to do it.. But not sure… Perhaps, had I been younger… But still….”. Recognize the tune?

Well, as a response, let me share a mail that came to me a few days ago… From a gentleman named KS Ramakrishnan, and this was our first communication…

He wrote:

Dear Kameshwar,

My son in law forwarded your Kailash yatra blog to me.  Very interesting to read the same.  I did the yatra in 2011.  I was 81 years old then.  It was tough especially the parikrama.  We had combined this with a tour of Tibet commencing from Lhasa.  The wilderness of Tibet is breath taking and one can but think of Kailasanath only all the time.  I had also written a travelogue after this trip.  If you are interested, I shall send it to you.  God bless you and yr efforts to propagate our culture and heritage.

Ab bolo!

Eighty one years old!

I got back in touch with him pronto. I gratefully accepting his offer of the travelogue of his trip to Mt Kailasa, which I read with much interest…  A humbling, inspiring, educating account…And with his permission, I am sharing it here.

Here’s the link… Kailash Yatra 2011 – Mr KS Ramakrishnan

Continuing now, from my previous post…

Let’s look at a couple of other ancient routes to Manasarovar, from Garhwal region of Uttarakhand…

The first one we check out is the one from Badrinath – via Mana Pass.

Swami Tapovanam, who took this route in 1929, tells us – “The Puranas say that Lord Krishna and the Pandavas, as well as several great Rshis, used this pass… There are innumerable traditions and statements in the Puranas suggesting that it was a common custom for the great Rshis of ancient India to visit Kailas along this route…

Here’s a bird’s eye view of the route, shown in red.


As you can see in the map, one needs to proceed north from Badrinath along Saraswathi river, cross Mana Pass, reach Tholingamutt in Tibet, and then turn eastwards, to proceed to Mount Kailasa. This was one of the traditional trade routes between India and Tibet. The path was closed down by the Chinese in 1951, but reopened for native pilgrims and traders in 1954.  Guess it is impossible to cross except for a few months in the year… And even during that period, no guarantees.

A slightly more detailed map is given below.

The route marked in Red is the one via Mana Pass, taken by Swami Tapovanam in July 1929….


The journey described by Swami Tapovanam is like this…Mana village is near Badrinath… Near Mana village is the sacred Vyasa Gufa … River Saraswati is nearby.

Swamiji and a group of around seventeen Sadhu-s went from Badrinath to Keshav Prayag, the confluence of Saraswati and Alakananda, which is not far from Vyasa Gufa. They then proceeded northward along the route of Saraswati river. There is no marked road or path… They made their way across “boulders of rock and heaps of snow, with only Saraswati river for a guide”…Crossed streams/tributaries that come in the way (not easy). The progress was very difficult, labored… At times one could hardly cross a mile in one hour.. Neela Parvat, the deep blue mountain, came into view. This beautiful mountain is the mythological abode of Kakabhusunda.

Swamiji’s group took seven days to go from Badrinath (which is close to 10,000 feet) to somewhere near the Mana Pass (which is around 18,000 feet). Altitude sickness struck most people… Some horses perished on the way.. One man too… A few kms short of the top of the pass, they reached Devasaras (also known as Deotal), a beautiful lake, that was frozen blue . Swamiji writes – “At a height of 18,000 feet on the shore of a celestial lake, I entered into deep Samadhi induced by Nature, forgetting Kailas, forgetting the pilgrimage, forgetting the world and the body”.

They were forced to spend the night there, entrusting themselves to the care of the deity of the Pass. A storm,  and chances of survival would have been bleak. Next morning, they ascended again… After a couple of miles, they came to a pile of stones that represented the deity of the pass. In gratitude, they made offerings to the deity and accepted them back as Prasada. Walking on, reaching the top, they crossed over into Tibet.  Descending the pass, they reached the plains by late afternoon that day.

Next day they walked ahead in the great Tibetan highland plains. On the way, they saw a place which, as per local belief, had the hoof-marks of the horses that Rama and Lakshmana had used when they came here. Walking on in the open country, they came across wild horses, deer, and even a tiger. Fourth day after crossing the pass, they reached Tholingamatam (Tholing), which lies in the region of the river Sutlej, as it flows from the vicinity of Manasarovar to the Indian sub-continent. Badrinath to Tholing, a distance of around 80 miles (130 kms or so), took them 13 days.

This same route is described by the Yogi “M” as well, in his book, “Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master – A Yogi’s biography”. He too had a significant spiritual experience at Deotal, on the way. “M” and his group took 21 days to make the same journey – from Badrinath to Thholingamutt. He describes the trek as very tough, and mentions that one faced terrible headaches and nausea due to the lack of oxygen…

More about Tholing Mutt later…

From Tholing, for Mt Kailas, one proceeds east, south of Sutlej river and north of the Himalaya… Swami Tapovanam walked twenty miles to Daba, and fifty plus miles more to Gyanima… Mt Kailas was another 40 miles north-east of Gyanima… The route from Tholing to Daba, and then on to Gyanima and  Kailas, was one frequented by highway robbers at that time… Through such perilous paths did the group of Swami-s tread in their holy pilgrimage…

The total distance from Tholing to Mt Kailasa would be around 180 or 190 Kms.

By this route, the pilgrim arrives first at Kailasa. By the other route from Almora (Kumaon), one arrives first at Manasarovar. However, this Mana route, a total of around 320 kms or so from Badrinath to Kailasa, is a longer and tougher route, which has been used since ancient times…

Swami Tapovanam talks of Mana Pass route in connection with the kayva (lyric poem) Meghaduta, composed by the great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa. In that poem, the lover, a Yakhsa who has been exiled from Kailasa to the middle of India, sends a message to his beloved who is in Kailasa. He entrusts that message to clouds that are going north, making them his messenger. Narrating the route that the cloud need to take to Kailasa, the Yaksha, speaking of the way ahead after reaching Himalaya, asks the cloud to rise in the Himalaya and cross by way of “Krouncha-Randhra (Krauncha Pass… A pass in the mountain Krauncha… Krauncha also means the bird Curlew… And the Crane – see footnote below )… Go by the way of the Swans (Hamsa-dvara), and soaring beyond, reach the mountain of Kailasa….” Hamsa, the word for swan, also denotes Ascetics…

Swami Tapovanam says : “Some scholars hold that the Crouncha Randhra described in ancient poems as the route used by Royal Swans of Lake Manasa, is the Mana Pass…”…

There are some others who say that the Meghaduta reference is to another Himalayan pass – another route to Manasarover – which we shall talk of in the next post…

Signing of this post with a short video from youtube, of cranes migrating to India in winter, crossing the Himalaya mountains… Meghaduta comes alive here, with the clouds rising in the Himalaya and confronting the flight of the birds, making them turn back… The cranes return the next day, rise above the world so high, and cross over.

My good friend and co-yatri, Shankar, was the one who pointed me to the youtube video of the cranes. After reading this post, he also sent me wikipedia info on Demoiselle crane which says: “The Demoiselle Crane is known as the Koonj (कूंज, کونج, ਕੂੰਜ) in the languages of North India and Pakistan…. The name koonj is derived from the Sanskrit word kraunch, which is a cognate Indo-European term for crane itself.”

Food for thought, regarding Krauncha-randhra….

To be continued…

(The author is a Traveler, Writer, Story Teller, Software Engineer)

The Sadhaka’s challenge

Watch out for these nine obstacles to your Yoga saadhana

By Sri Arun Prakash

Many advanced skills involving the body as one of the an instruments, depend on saadhana – the rigorous, extended practice and training sessions that create a solid base for progression and innovation, and excellence in ability and consistent delivery.

Yoga recognises that saadhana is not easy. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has identified nine obstacles that arise on the sadhaka’s journey, and the consequences of letting one or more of them hold sway over your practice (Sutras 1.30 to 1.32).

The shastras talk about three kinds of people in this context. The Adhama, Madhyama, and the Uthama. The adhamas get intimidated by the obstacles and don’t even make the attempt — they don’t even get start. The madhyama are like a lot of us — they give up in the face of obstacles, sometimes at the very first hurdle. Not so the uthama sadhakas. They persist. They overcome.

But the first step is to identify the obstacles. The first one that Patanjali lists is Vyadhi, disease, illness of the body. It is worth repeating Kalidasa’s maxim — Sharira Madhyam Kaludarma Sadhanam – the body is the means by which we do all dharma, indeed all action, in this world. To prevent or cure vyaadhi, a person has to adopt a good healthy lifestyle, moderate diet, moderate sleep, and practice asana, kritya, pranayama and Ayurveda.

The second is Styana, which is related to the mind. Styana is mental laziness, inefficiency and dullness. Here one cannot understate the importance of food. You are what you eat after all, and this applies to mind and body. Saatvic food is to be preferred for a sadhaka. Styana can be more dangerous than physical illness.

Just as the right food intake is important, the right company, or satsanga, is critical. Always choose and be in the right company, for the wrong people can become a very negative influence. This is so especially in the early stages, before you know the difference between sat and asat.

Then comes Samshaya, which refers to doubt and uncertainty. We have to be careful here. Our tradition of enquiry and exposition is built on questioning, not just accepting whatever is told to us. So you have to explore, question, analyse. But after that, if you feel the truth of it, don’t keep doubting. Some answers come to you only with experience.

Next comes Pramada, which is carelessness or negligence. A sadhaka should take his saadhana very seriously, every minute you must apply your mind, and give it the proper, one-pointed, attention.

Alasya is laziness, sloth or languor. This is like Styana, but physical as well as mental. The solution is again the same. Moderate diet, sleep and lifestyle, along with yoga.

Avirati is the failure to regulate worldly desires. The key here is not abstention, but regulation. Enjoy, but do not indulge. As you progress on your journey of a sadhaka, many energies are created. Some of these can divert you from your saadhana and your goals, and there are instances where people have spoiled promising careers because of this. Practice pratyahara, withdrawal from the senses which are becoming a hurdle.

Branthi darshana, false perception and analysis or confusion of philosophy, is the sixth obstacle that Patanjali lists in the Yoga Sutras (1.30 to 1.32). Questioning is good, so is experimentation and exploration with, say, alternate forms, multiple methods of practice, different views and analyses, different models and so on. But you should not lose your core. To ensure against this, you should develop knowledge, gyana yoga. Where there is light, darkness cannot exist. Along with your practice, crave for knowledge. Don’t be half-baked. Be strong in your own school.

Then Patanjali mentions Alabdha Bhumikatva, failing to attain firm ground. This obstacle and the next one are closely related. As you practice, you should make progress, reach different stages. Some people learn easily, others don’t progress. Some blame the guru, blame the instrument, etc. So look for inspiration. Take firm ground, keep trying, don’t give up easily.

Anavasthitha, means no stability, slipping down, and lack of focus. Excuses are not appreciated in saadhana, so keep going. Learn to consolidate what you have learnt, before progressing to the next stage. Learn, get the basics right, and establish firm ground at each stage.

Chitta Vikshepa is distractions and diversions of the mind.  Chitta, consciousness or the “mind field”, is traditionally defined as mano-buddhi-ahamkara. Manas is the thought-filled mind, while buddhi is the Intelligence within all of us. Ahamkara is I-ness, the sense of being an individual, the ego. Loosely, ahamkara is used for arrogance, but what it refers to is the sense of the ‘I.’ Aham means ‘I’ in Sanskrit. The main property of the mind is delusion. But buddhi is intelligence. Cultivate and operate through the buddhi.

From these nine obstacles, says Patanjali, consequences arise, of mental or physical affliction. There is dukha or grief, daurmanasya or depression, anga ejasyatva or shakiness of the limbs, and irregular breath. Breath is the foundation. Lose the breath, and lose everything.

Real yoga is to operate in the present. Dwelling in the past creates depression. Dwelling in the future creates anxiety. Don’t turn the potential-filled present into the “unpotential” past.

Be stronger than your problems. Manage expectations carefully. Keep at your saadhana, but don’t chase the illusion of mastery. True mastery is a divine gift, it comes from surrender, and is something that is reached at an advanced stage. Mastery can become an illusion and is not permanent. What is “permanent” is you, your knowledge, and your saadhana.

So every time one of the obstacles affects your practice, introspect, go back, and repair yourself. Come back stronger

In yogic practice, extraordinary powers and energies can sometimes be created. We consider even these to be obstacles and distractions, derailing us from the real goal, which is self-realisation.

In the same way, even fame and money can become an obstacle. The higher you go, the greater is your responsibility, and the farther you can fall. We have to see fame and money as incidental benefits at best, and obstacles at worst. Today we are seeing instances where people chase the obstacles instead of the ultimate goal!

(Sri Arun Prakash is a Yogaacharya, Vedic scholar. This article first appeared in the classical music magazine Saamagaana the First Melody)

Yoga as an entry point to Indian spirituality

Sitting by the window overlooking the tea gardens of his home in the Niligiris, Raghu Ananathanarayanan reminisces to his student Gayatri Iyer on his years of intense study and teaching yoga with Yogaachaarya T.Krishnamacarya and his son, Sri Desikachar. While his life was spent in understanding the Indian mind and ways to be the best that one can be, we ask him about his experience with teaching many foreigners who come to India to learn yoga. What is it that they are seeking? Why India?

Gayatri Iyer: During your teaching experience, tell us how you perceived foreign students who came to India to study?

Raghu A: My experience started in the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram(KYM) where I observed and taught many foreigners. There are three sets of people who come to learn yoga-:

  1. The serious practitioners who have a deep philosophical enquiry into the idea of the self and duHkha of mankind. They have a critique of the West and are looking for newer frameworks like yoga or Buddhist meditation. Many of them have a background in psychology and philosophy that makes their questions and dialoguing capability very deep and interesting. These encounters were personally is very enriching for me. To illustrate, one of the students had understood that the idea of individuality and identity that is central to Western thought is a source of many problems that we face and they wanted to understand how yoga can help reflect on the idea of self that each of us holds?
  2. Next are people who have a strange romanticized idea of India, which is often distorted. For example, I had a student wanting to learn how can she can meet the “beings without body”? She was willing to pay me any amount to teach her that and was particularly interested in Asana/praNAyAma. There were many such cases, but mostly I feel that such people are running away from their own context where they feel out of place and want to find this paradise where you would be on a high all day.
  3. The last kinds are people who are looking for an alternative way of life or trying to deepen their teaching knowledge. I had a student from the US who was working in a meatpacking factory where they would insert some red liquid in the meat to make it look nice and juicy. He discovered that the liquid used was toxic! He was repelled by the extreme idea of consumerism that plagued the society and so he quit. He considered India to be less spoilt by the typical consumerist ideas. He came here to learn about yoga, ayurveda, organic farming practices and alternative ways of living. The freedom with which he could experiment with alternate sustainable lifestyles made India attractive. Thus, it was possible to steer him into deeper and more reflective paths of enquiry.

Gayatri: Reflecting on your second point, the number of hoardings advertising exotic schools of yoga with men and women in contorted postures or wearing orange robes in a place like Rishikesh makes me wonder why are they so popular?

Raghu: I guess the more exotic you dress up and fill the room with aromas the more number of people you will attract. Let me give you an example of how the “spin doctors” turn a concept of tapas into something very extreme and esoteric. I have seen documentaries and read papers where tapas is shown exclusively in the ways of aghori’s or the avadhoots or nanga babas. Yogis walking on a bed of fiery wood, naked people covered with ash or some out of body concept. Whereas the Yoga Sutra and Bhagwad Gita clearly mentions that tapas is a process of ripening oneself through right living and right contemplation. These are tantric practices or the remnants of the ajivika practices (a sect that believed in extreme self mortification) that have always been on the fringe. These are presented as iconic images of India and a distorted image is created.

Gayatri: What is the Western concept of the sense of self versus the Indian?

Raghu: In the western psychology the self is seen as a separate fragmented part of the world, and in yoga the idea of the self is not seen separate from the outside world. If I continue to hold on to a rigid aspect of the self, as a separate entity, it is called avidya and it is the cause all duHkha and, the whole practice of yoga is to be able to understand the dynamic relationship between me and the world at a very subtle deep level. The way to end duHkha is to dissolve the self. Western psychology has many strands and some of them like behaviorism are silent on the idea of self. William James who was influenced by Swami Vivekananda enquires into it but gives up at one point. The attachment to a measurable and tangible validation of a concept, the non acceptance of subjective experience as a validation and the debates about Consciousness are at variance with the essential ideas of yoga.”

Gayatri: Is it more difficult for foreigners who are deeply interested in these philosophies to understand the concepts mentioned in Sankhya or Yoga Sutra as compared to us Indians?

Raghu runs his hands through his beard and answers “I am not in full agreement with this observation because in India there are many people who call themselves Yoga teachers without spending enough time with good teachers like Sri Krishnamacharya and go for a 3 month yoga course to Thailand or Bali and open a studio. Many of us are educated in institutions modeled on Western Universities. Most of us use western frames of thought i.e., we are mind colonized! A few of us have had the good fortune to spend decades studying the Indian texts like Yoga Sutra, Sankhya and Gita with teachers who had a very deep understanding. This helped us to de-colonize our minds, drop Western frames of thinking and internalize the Indian ways of looking at self and the world.”

Gayatri: Don’t we have to bridge the gap between the West and East so that we can be contemporary?

Raghu: Yes, that’s important today. The issue is that we have great traditionalists who are well versed in Indian texts but may not be able to help bridge the gap between the current context and tradition. Unless we accept a new form of guru-shishya parampara along with an institutional anchorage say like a Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram(KYM), Ritambhara or Yoga Vahini people whether Indian or foreigners may not be able to appreciate our texts and the deeper meanings. Indians may have an advantage because we still are brought up with some traditional concepts. Many of us do have an inner struggle to reconcile the Western frames and our own ways. But, having said that many Indians display a lot of self hate, and want to desperately scrub off their Indian-ness! These people are the tougher to deal with than the westerners who come here.

Gayatri: How can existing schools like, KYM, Yoga Vahini or Ritambhara help in creating a pool of teachers or help people find ways to solve todays’ problems or improve their lives?

Raghu: I think the schools you mentioned and more like Sri Sri Ravishankar or Sadguru are already doing this. Current day teachers need to move beyond the common idea of yoga equal to Asana. It is very important to introduce people Western and Indian to true spirituality. Yoga offers a way, a sAdhana to end duHkha and live a life that is ecofriendly.  It is a solution to today’s problems.’

Gayatri: What are the challenges and roadblocks in creating such environments for teaching and learning?

Raghu: Right after independence our education system has been Westernized and the emphasis has been on the Western scientific enquiry rather than the indigenous ways. Whatever little learning of indigenous knowledge happened is because of the curiosity and persistence of a few who sought out the true holders of this great knowledge. 10-20 years back, you may have found great Sanskrit or nyaya scholars but they were living in great poverty, so their own children were not keen  to learn or be custodians of this knowledge. While a few seekers like us found some extremely good teachers but it is very sad there are only a few left. I feel that is critical for people who have a deep understanding of the current context to meet with and have dialogues with traditionalist in a way that will bring traditional concepts to bear on modern problems. Like, we are now seeing computer scientist learning Sanskrit, particularly the nuances of Paninian grammar to advance in their field.  Some western researchers talk about the benefits of learning Sanskrit to cure speech disorders, and enhance memory. Dr. Anand Paranjpe is working in the field of psychology to help bridge Western and Indian psychology.

Desikachar and Krishnamacharya

So, institutions like Sadhguru’s Isha foundation, KYM, Shri Shri Ravishankar’s Ashram, Ritambhara or Yoga Vahini are in their own ways an institutionalized middle ground for people.’

What we need for people whether from India or the West  to question the colonizing mindset of extraction and use and the idea that Western worldview and knowledge is universal, or in any case superior and valid.  If we look at what the outcome of this mind is we can see that is destroying our planet. The colonizing mind set is responsible for genocides and blatant plunder of resources. It is inherently incapable of respecting the other which it sees only as some thing to exploit or kill. Yoga offers a great way to examine these views and look for alternatives because it insists on self reflexivity and taking responsibility for one’s thought feeling and action.”

Gayatri: You seem to be very clear and hopeful that a lot of people would sooner or later get on to this path?

Raghu smilingly says, “You know there is something beautiful about India…I truly believe that this land has and will produce great Gurus who will show us the way. As long as you are serious about your personal transformation and growth, this country will offer immense opportunities.”

Mt Kailash – the most enchanting of mountains

CSP brings to you a series on the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra by travel storywriter G Kameshwar

Salutations to Siva, the Lord of the Southern Land,
Salutations to Him, who is the Lord of the those of every country,
Salutations to Him, who resides in Kailasa Mountain!

– (tiruvAcakam of mAnikka vAcakar)

परम रम्य गिरिवर कैलासू, सदा जहाँ शिव उमा निवासू।।
रचि महेस निज मानस राखा। पाइ सुसमउ सिवा सन भाषा।।

Supremely enchanting is the best of Mountains, Kailasa! Eternally, where, reside Siva and Uma!
Siva composed (Ramacharita-maanasa) and kept in his Maanasa;
And when the auspicious time came, he conveyed it to his consort, Sivaa (Parvati)!

– (Goswami Tulasidas in Ramacaritamaanasa)

“You are crazy!” was the unspoken reaction of some of the folks when they heard that I was setting out on Kailasa-Manasarovar Yatra. The floods and the terrible tragedy of Uttarakhand  had just happened, and anyone who wanted to go at that time to anywhere in the Himalaya, and that too for a Teerth-Yatra was justly considered “crazy”.  But the call to visit the most holy abode of Siva had come a month back, before all floods of Uttarakhand… And although the route from there to Kailasa – Manasarovar was blocked, the Nepal route (which we were taking) was open…. So, the way was there, it was but a question of will… A friend wrote in saying – “Wow! I have heard that Kailash yatra is not an easy task even for the ones who are in top physical shape. I think you already know this, and would have taken the necessary steps… Take care..my prayers are always with you.jai pashupati nath!”… Some others gently warned of the altitude problems (watch out for fluid in the lungs… If that happens you are done for, unless you get back to lower altitude pronto … etc)… And so it went….

But the heart felt call… The call of Siva, who the great Tamil Saiva saint Sundarar had addressed as “Pittha – The Crazy One”, and so all this craziness was a family affair, and the yatra was on…

Father, here I come…

Shall we begin our journey with the lines of Sundarar…

piththA piRai sUdI perumAnE aruLALA
eththAn maRavAdhE ~ninaikkindREn manaththu unnai
vaiththAy peNNaith thenbAl veNNey ~nallUr aruL thuRaiyuL
aththA unakku ALAy ini allEn enal AmE.

“O Crazy One!
Adorned with the crescent moon!

O the great one
Who bestows Grace-Blessings-Compassion!

You have chosen to reside in my mind,
I contemplate you constantly,
Without any forgetfulness!

O, the one who Graces
From (the temple of) Thiruvennai-Nalloor
That is to the south of river Pennai!

O, my Father!

Knowing who you are,
Can I ever say,
That I am not your slave!”

Oh yes, it is His grace, His call, His compassion, that takes one to Kailasa!

Quite a few people ask me – ‘how does one prepare for the yatra… What stuff does one take for the trip?’ Etc

Well, for one thing, try and get to do lots of walk… And do some climbing (stairs is a nice place to start). As regards items to carry, tour organizers give you a list of stuff.. So get that…

My experience is, “Keep it simple. Keep it minimum…”

Absolute must are:

  • A good pair of trekking shoes, which you need to get used to, well before the yatra… Your regular walking shoes won’t do. You need to get good hiking shoes that hold your foot above your ankle…
  • Some good socks… Sounds trivial… But its not…
  • A pair of good quality Sun goggles… At high altitudes, you need protection from UV rays… There is risk of sun burn and there is a lot of glare out there, reflected by the snow and ice… Also get some good quality sunscreen cream for your face….And do not forget to take lip balm…
  • At least one rain-proof trekking trousers.
  • Inner thermals… Take at least two pairs of uppers and lowers… Layers matter when it comes to dressing for the cold…
  • A good (North Face type) thin warm jersey
  • A down jacket (you can also hire this from the tour organizers)
  • Warm gloves, muffler, woolen cap… A summer cap as well…
  • A poncho raincoat (with hood)
  • A nose mask or two (even the local folks, the porters and guides, cover their nose when they walk in the cold)
  • A trekking pole
  • Torch
  • Some ready eats (dry fruits, kismis)…. More about food later….
  • A little bottle of sandal oil (useful fragrance when you are fighting mountain sickness)
  • Your regular medicines and first aid stuff…

This is but an indicative list. Tour organizers give you an exhaustive list… much of this stuff can be bought later on.. In Nepal or even in Tibet… And it may be less expensive too… So if you forget something, no sweat… You can pick it up later… Our tour organizers also gave us a duffel bag, a backpack and a woolen cap… So just take minimum must-haves from where you start….

Well, lets come back to the yatra…

Our trip was via Nepal. So here I was in Delhi, a few days ahead of flying out to Kathmandu…

I was out walking with my friend Roy, who told me that his mother had that look “He must be crazy” when he told her of  the yatra that I was setting out on… So there we were… Late evening time in Vasant Kunj… Walking near the Biodiversity park (wildlife reserve)…


Gently came the dark. It was a full moon night… Roy took me around a quiet area in Vasant Kunj, and we came upon two Peepal trees. People had lit lamps around one of them, and the scene was enchanting.. Roy is a Pranic healer, and he has insights into energy… He told me that the tree was special, and that he would invoke some special connection with the energy-consciousness of the tree for me and for the success of the yatra. Standing near that tree, full moon night, oil lamps flickering around, and a healer logging on to nature.. It was magic…

After that he took me to a quiet temple of Siva… A nice large hall with paintings of scenes from epics led to the sanctum sanctorum, where there was a Siva Linga in the centre, and other idols around… Two priests were sitting in silence… There was no one else in the temple… Water for abhisheka was kept nearby. I poured that on the Siva Linga… Prostrated… Came out to the courtyard… And on an impulse, chanted Sri Rudram, the great Stotra of Siva, from the Yajur Veda… Felt blessed… A good start to the Yatra… The “crazy one” would grant me more opportunities to chant his hymn during the yatra…

Next day, went to Kamakshi temple at RK Puram, where the priest broke a coconut for Ganesha – for the success of the yatra. One also went to Sringeri temple in Vasant Vihar…. Prayed to Chandramouleeswara and Sarada Devi…

Ready now for Kathmandu…

Let’s check out some of the routes to Kailash-Maanasarovar for pilgrims going from India.


As you can see in the picture above….

Route via Nepal: The route is marked in Dark-brown-arrows above…From Kathmandu, cross over to Tibet-China to Nyalam… Go via Saga and Parayang to Manasarovar. Kathmandu to Manasarovar is around 870 Kms…. And takes four days by road. We took this route… If Day-1 you arrive in Kathmandu, you will be back on Day 13…

Route via Lhasa: Route marked in Green till Saga.. From where route is same as above… Total tour will be around 18 days.

And then there is the India route….


This is the route taken by the Indian Government organized tour, via Kumaon region of Uttarakhand.

This year due to the floods in Uttarakhand, the route has been closed down recently… This is said to be a very picturesque route… But takes longer… The tour takes around 24 days from Delhi. And there is lot more trekking to do (Indian side)… But from India border to Kailasa, this is the shortest route… From Navidhang (near the beautiful Om Parvat) to Manasarovar is just little over 120 Kms or so…

It is this route that was taken by Swami Tapovanam (Swami Chinmayananda’s guru) during his return from Maanasa-Kailasa in 1925 (see his book Kailas Yatra)… Swamiji, a Keralite who became a hermit of the Himalaya, has described graphically his whole tour – starting from Kathmandu in April 1925  and reaching Maanasarover and Kailasa in July. Leaving Kailasa in end of July, and walking back to Takkalkot, crossing the Lipu Ghats (Lipulekh pass, which is at 17,500 feet) facing enormous difficulty.,..Reaching Kalapani, considered the starting point of Kali Ganga, tributary of Sarayu…Walking a hundred miles along the banks of Kali river… Reaching a village called Garvyang, where he stayed during Krishna Janmashtami… Then walking on and reaching Dharchula, which is a hundred miles from Almora… Walking on, going past Ram Ganga river…Finally reaching Almora… His walk from Takkalkot to Almora took almost a month… Whole of September he stayed on in Almora… And finally left for the plains and reached Hardwar-Rishikesh in end of October 1925… What an epic Yatra… From April to Oct 1925… A Sadhu with just a kamandulu and a stick, no money or provisions, with one younger Sadhu for company, walking for months, often on the edge of life and death, in total surrender to the care of Lord Siva, basking in the bliss of the beauty of the Himalaya that he had become “One” with…

Here is another map of that route.


As you can see in the map above, there are two routes from Almora to Dharchula. The way up (way to Kailash, marked in red) is via Baijnath… Baijnath one of the very sacred Kshetra-s of Siva. The other route (marked in blue) is via Pithoragarh and Jageshwar. Jageshwar is another ancient temple town which is also believed to be another Jyotirlinga kshetra.

Traditional Indian pilgrimage to Kailasa were via these routes. There is an interesting mythological account associated with the Siva temple of Baijnath (Vaidyanath). Ravana, the King of Lanka, a great devotee of Siva, had been to Kailasa. Readers would know of the tale of how Ravana, proud of his strength, tried to uproot Mount Kailasa… Siva pushed Kailasa back down with his toe, and crushing Ravana’s hands.. His pride humbled, Ravana atoned… He sang the praise of Siva, and played the Veena… He then performed severe penance at Kailasa. Pleased, Siva offered him a boon. Ravana asked for an Atma Linga from Siva to take it to Lanka for his personal worship. Lord Siva gave him one, and told him to take care not to keep it on the ground on the way, as the Linga would get fixed to the first spot where it was put down. When Ravana came to Baijnath, he was tricked by the Gods to put it down… And the Linga came to be here forever… So it is that the place has an ancient linkage to Kailasa! And the route too has been around since the most ancient of times.

Here is a picture of the Baijnath temple of Kumaon…



Other than the Kumaon (Almora) route, there is a route from Garhwal region of Uttarakhand as well… From Badrinath… A much tougher route… Said to have been taken by Krishna, Pandavas, and Rama… And by Swami Tapovanam in his second Yatra to Kailasa in 1929…More on that route, in the next post…

Signing off this post with a verse of the great Tamil Saiva sage, Appar (Thirunavukkarasar)… This is the final verse of his thirukkayilai pathigam in praise of the Lord of Kailasa… (Appar’s journey to Kailasa is a tale of supreme penance… Appar is also believed to be incarnation of Saint Vageesar, who was with Siva in Kailasa… It is he who interceded with Siva to spare Ravana when Siva’s toe pushed Kailasa and crushed Ravana…)…

Praise be to you (O Siva), who exist without food or sleep;
Praise be to you, who know the Veda without learning them;
Praise be to you, who crushed the King of Lanka when he
with scant respect, attempted to uproot Kailasa;
Praise be to you, who then heard with joy the song of praise reverentially offered (by Ravana);
Praise be to you, who entered into my heart before itself;
Praise be to you, who (eternally) exist as the Protective Eye of the World;
To you, the dweller of Kailasa Mountain, Praise! Praise!

To be continued…

(The author is a Traveler, Writer, Story Teller, Software Engineer)

£ 10 million India-UK collaboration to beat Cancer

Cancer Research UK is partnering with the Department of Biotechnology of India for a 10 million pound research 5- year initiative focussed on finding affordable approaches to cancer. India has been a pioneer in finding low cost medicines facilitating access to medicines which were earlier critical but beyond the reach of the common man. This innovative initiative is believed to build on the scientific strengths of India and the UK, according to the Cancer Research UK website: https://affordable-approaches-to-cancer.indiaalliance.org/
The bilateral Advisory Panel has set seven research challenges under the theme of affordable approaches to cancer. These include identifying and quantifying cancer risk factors to better understand regional variations in incidence, enabling new approaches to cancer prevention, devising affordable screening tools to improve early detection of cancer, identifying affordable approaches to improve early diagnosis of symptomatic cancers, developing computational approaches that can reduce the cost of cancer care delivery, identifying novel, affordable treatment approaches for hard to treat cancers using small molecules, improving the affordability of effective cancer treatments and developing approaches to improve long-term quality of life in children and young people with cancer.

The bilateral Advisory Panel has set seven research challenges under the theme of affordable approaches to cancer. These include identifying and quantifying cancer risk factors to better understand regional variations in incidence, enabling new approaches to cancer prevention, devising affordable screening tools to improve early detection of cancer, identifying affordable approaches to improve early diagnosis of symptomatic cancers, developing computational approaches that can reduce the cost of cancer care delivery, identifying novel, affordable treatment approaches for hard to treat cancers using small molecules, improving the affordability of effective cancer treatments and developing approaches to improve long-term quality of life in children and young people with cancer.

Indians involved in the research include Professor CS Pramesh, Director of Tata Memorial Hospital, Professor Raj Chopra, Head of division of Cancer therapeutics and director Cancer Research UK Therapeutics Unit, Dr Geetha Manjunath CEO of Non-invasive Risk Assessment and Machine Intelligence, Prof Partha Majumdar, Director of TCJ-ISI Center for Population Genomics, Professor Arnie Purushotam, Director of King’s Health Partners Cancer Centre, Chair of Breast Cancer at King’s College London and Consultant Surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust, Professor G K Rath, Head of National Cancer Institute and Chief and Professor of Radiation Oncology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Dr Rengaswamy Sankarnarayanan, Senior Visiting Scientist WHO-IARC, Sunil Shah, Founder of 02H Ventures, Dr Anjali Shiras, Scientific Officer, National Center for Cell Science and Vivek Tomar, advocate for Lung Cancer, Clinical Research and timely access to Latest Treatment.

Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary of DBT, speaking about the collaboration has said, “Cancer is a global epidemic that requires radical new approaches through inter-disciplinary and multi-national efforts. The Affordable Approaches to Cancer initiative will provide a catalysing platform for scientists and researchers in the UK and India to co-create solutions for affordable cancer care that improve cancer outcomes around the globe. At DBT our priority is to apply science to solving complex challenges that benefit all humanity and we are glad to be partnering with CRUK to support research across all stages of cancer from prevention to cure to address the formidable challenge of cancer.”

For more information please visit: https://affordable-approaches-to-cancer.indiaalliance.org/

Balancing energies in Sacred Spaces

The deeper we probe into Vedic knowledge and its iconography, we realize how a deliberate attempt was made to knit the ‘phenomenon and principals of well-being’ with a layman’s life by personifying energies and by creating rituals to establish the connect with natural elements. Seen from this perspective, it is amazing to find how folklore, crafts, art, daily practices and festivals were used as ‘devices and opportunities’ to introduce a common man to the principles of universe- in a very dynamic and artistic manner, writes Architect and Building Biologist Raman Vig.                                                       

Just like all the inanimate world is made out of elements of the periodic table, at the most fundamental level, all living forms on earth are created from five elements. The balance of these five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether determines the well being of a living creature at both gross and subtle level.                                                     

The intent of Bioenergetic Architecture is to create spaces that facilitate ‘health happiness and harmony’ in the lives of people who inhabit such spaces. Therefore, knowledge of the five elements (also known as Panch tatva or Panch mahabhoot), and their application in space design as well as integration with our lifestyle becomes integral to this subject.

Five elements and ‘health, happiness, harmony’

The five elements and their properties have been extensively explained in various Vedic literature (especially Taittiriya Upaniṣhad ). An element (mahabhoota) is the substance (dravya) which has an associated property called ‘guna’ ( qualitative aspect).

Humans perceive this ‘element-property’ (or dravya-guna) relationship through the five senses and this is how connect of our ‘body-mind-energy’ with five elements happens – incessantly from the time we are born till we leave our body.

In many ancient cultures around the world, there seems to be a clear understanding of how closely the well being of human beings is related to the natural elements. Therefore many ancient cultures integrated the five elements with daily rituals in some or the other manner.

This seems especially evident in Indian culture. What seems ritualistic at face of it, is interestingly a very systematic way formulated by sages (read scientists!) to bring back balance ( or resonance) of ‘panch-mahabhootas’ (or the five basic elements) in our body.

The deeper we probe into the vedic knowledge and it’s iconography, more we realize how a deliberate attempt was made to knit the ‘phenomenon and principles of well-being’ in a layman’s life by personifying energies and by creating rituals to establish the connect with natural elements. Seen from this perspective, it is amazing to find how folklore, crafts, art, daily practices and festivals were used as ‘devices and opportunities’ to introduce a common man to ‘Universal Principles’ in a very dynamic and artistic manner.

How Indian Temples facilitate balancing of Five elements

Temples of ancient India were definitely more than religious centers.  Their socio-economic relevance has already been well studied. However, the subtle mechanism of an Indian temple to re-connect a common man with the five elements – whose balance in our subtle and gross bodies holds the secret of wellbeing- has not been widely understood.

It helps to perceive this subject better if we look at the five elements not only for their physical or gross qualitative aspects but also for their subtle and energetic characteristics. The balancing of the elemental frequencies happens at the ‘subtle’ (quantum realm) through resonance. Hence the qualitative aspects of ‘the five elements’  becomes more critical phenomenon than their quantitative effects.

As we enter a temple complex, all five senses are systemically yet subtly engaged in following manner:

  1. Earth element (as we take off shoes) :  While reverence and hygiene are prime reasons for a common man to take off the shoes before entering any temple; however besides these the moment we take off our shoes to enter the temple premises, spontaneous grounding ( earthing) happens . This bringing numerous physical, physiological and bioenergetic benefits in a matter of just minutes, ranging from impact on blood viscosity resulting in improved circulation and oxygenation and stabilization of blood glucose and more (Watch the movies: “The Grounded” and “Heal for free’ to understand the science behind grounding). Later ( after or during the puja), receiving ‘prasadam’( all food is earth element) and consuming same, is a way of imbibing the earth element ( that has been charged through the chants and energized field of sanctum sanctorum). Also, the kum-kum and ‘bhasm/ vibhooti’ that is received is put on ‘ajna’ chakra       (third eye or forehead) and some put it on ‘vishudhi’ chakra ( throat) too – to resonate these with the energy of earth element.
  2. Water element during cleansing and as ‘panch-amrit’:  Before proceeding towards the inner chambers of a temple, when we cleanse our hands, face and feet ( and often face and top of head- the sahasrara chakra too) with water, our body temperature equalizes and a wave of ‘freshness and alertness’ engulfs our whole being.

Later (after or during the puja) receiving ‘charan-amrit’ or ‘ panch-amrit’ and consuming same, is a way of imbibing the positive vibrations generated through chants that water absorbs in it’s molecular memory! Water has memory and it works as a carrier of information and this fact was known to our sages who made water integral to all rituals (refer to the work of Dr. Emoto Masuru for more on the subject)

  • Fire element (flame of ‘aarti’/earthen lamps):  Most apparent manifestation of fire is through the flame or ‘jyoti’ that is swung around the deity and one takes it’s warmth/ energy (with both hands) as the priest offers it to every one- and bring it to our face and head. In the evening, the light of ‘deepams’ or the ‘earthen-lamps’ enlightens the environment.
  • Air element (fragrance of flowers, incense etc ):  A visit to an Indian temple is like having aromatherapy! Our olfactory senses get a dose of delightful fragrances – during the rituals, through the flowers we offer and through burning of camphor / cow ‘ghee’ etc. All fragrances flow through to the subtle element of air.
  • Sound element (ringing of the gong/bell and mantra chanting): Most temples have a bell at the entrance or there is bell ringing during ‘aarati’ or ‘puja’ of the deity. The Sanskrit ‘shlokas’ recited in correct manner simulate specific sound frequencies. Each sound has impact on us and our cellular being starts to resonate with it’s vibrational frequency. The sound element is representative of the space element – the subtlest of all ‘panchtatvas’. Many of us may also be able to relate to the ‘singing bowls and bells’ from Tibetan culture where similar techniques are used to resonate with the space element.

Through appropriate instrumentation it is possible to demonstrate how aforementioned ‘resonance’ of ‘panch-tatvas’ impacts us on subtle and gross levels. However, the proof of the pudding is in eating it. All it takes to get an experience of aforementioned is by visiting some ancient temple (preferably with an open heart and mind!) and observe how the play of five elements resonates at all levels.

(The author is a researcher and a space designers working with principles , protocols and  procedures  of  Bio-energetic Architecture.

For more information, visit  www. bioenergeticarchitecture.com or reach out via e- mail ramanvig@hotmail.com)   

(Featured Photograph by Jai Shankar)