Journey of Nisha to Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar

12 days, 19,500 Feet, and 32 miles later…

I decided to embark on the Mount Kailash/Lake Mansarovar Yatra in  May of 2010 after graduating from law school. I envisioned it being a great release after sitting for the Illinois Bar Exam at the end of July. Yatra means a Hindu pilgrimage to a Holy place associated with Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana. According to Hinduism, Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati reside at the summit of Mt. Kailash. Lake Mansarovar, sitting at almost 15,000 feet above sea level as the highest fresh water lake is a symbol of purity. In the Hindu religion, it is believed that one who drinks from the Lake will go to the bode of Lord Shiva after death and one who baths in the Lake will be cleansed of all his sins committed over a hundred life times. The following is a brief account of my three-day trek around Mt. Kailash.

Nisha sitting in front of Mount Kailash

“Good morning didi! Chai? Coffee? Tea?” The morning began like any other, greeted by our trek leader Prem offering us our choice of breakfast drink. We quickly dressed and packed our bags to begin our three day trek around holy Mt. Kailash. Everyone met at the lobby of the local hotel we were staying at in Darchen, the base camp for Mt. Kailash. Our group was ready to go in their hiking gear after stomaching breakfast at such a high altitude. Despite being sleep deprived and not having a shower in a few days, everyone’s faces were beaming with excitement. We were about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. We loaded into our land cruisers and after traveling for close to an hour, we were dropped off on an open plateau at the foothills of Mt. Kailash where we would begin our pilgrimage.


We excitedly hopped out of our land cruisers and began to prepare our luggage and hiking gear for the trek. Hiking shoes, check! Rain jacket, check! Water bottle, check! Hiking stick, check! Daypack, check! We were all set to go! Our bags were loaded onto the yaks, and those who would be completing the pilgrimage by foot began to hike, while those who would be riding by horseback mounted their horses and followed shortly behind. There was very little chatter as we began our journey. We were soaking up the beauty of the mountains that engulfed us; rocky terrain beneath us, waterfalls and cliffs surrounding us, and clear blue skies with the occasional cloud above us. Everyone anxiously awaited our first view of the great mountain. Holy Kailash! There it was, in all its glory! A breathtaking, snowcapped Mt. Kailash. We were at Lord Shiva’s doorstep.

“Good morning didi! Chai? Coffee? Tea?” After a restless night at a guesthouse located in the middle of the mountains, we awoke before dawn. I turned to roommate and friend Lina groggily asking, “Is it already time to get up?” It’s as if we only went to sleep a couple of hours of ago when in fact we had gotten a full night’s worth of rest. As we both rustled through our huge duffle bags for our flashlights, our breakfast arrived. I had a warm bowl of oatmeal thinking I needed all the energy I could get for the most important day of the climb. Today we would climb to our highest elevation at 19,500 ft. The trek would be treacherous, proving to be the most physically and mentally challenging obstacle I’ve ever been faced with. We began our trek, single filed, lead by our trek leader Prem. Hiking stick in hand, we marched forward as we approached the most spiritual place on our journey thus far, Dolma La Pass at 19,500 ft.

Lina and Lisa

It was no easy feat reaching this elevation. As followed in Lina’s footsteps, we took twenty steps, then rested for a few moments. Twenty more steps, and we rested again. Again and again, until we finally made it! We sang, we shared our inner most thoughts, and we encouraged one another until we reached the top. I felt every emotion from sorrow to exhilaration. I was saddened that I was physically and mentally exhausted and we still had many more miles left to trek today. Exhilaration set in from the thought that I had finally done it. After months of preparation, I had reached the top of the world. What an accomplishment! After stopping for a photo op, we had to begin our trek down almost immediately, as it was not safe being at such a high altitude for an extended period of time. Next stop: Gauri Kund; another important Hindu pilgrimage site where it is believed that Lord Shiva’s wife goddess Parvati used to bathe. 

The  sparkling, emerald green water made it easy to believe that goddess Parvati once bathed here.  As we moved on from Gauri Kund, and trekked further down, the day only became more difficult.  The terrain changed from small stepping stones and rocks to enormous boulders made slippery by the now falling rain and light snow.  There was no time for twenty steps and a few moments rest.  Sundown would be here before we knew it.  We marched on.  At the bottom of the climb down from Dolma La Pass we had a few minutes to rest at a tent.  Here, we met up with the rest of the group, including my parents, who had climbed the mountain by horse.

Happy Moments during the journey
Happy Moments during the journey

I’d never been happier to see my mom and dad’s smiling faces.  They had done it. They had conquered as well.  As we trekked closer and closer to our campground for the night, I felt weak.  I couldn’t imagine the thought of walking one more step.  I needed a miracle from God.  Tears began streaming down my face.  It couldn’t end here for me, in the middle of the mountains. I had loved ones waiting for me at home. My team members,  who had become like family, were counting on me.  My parents were counting on me.  My friends were counting on me.  Lord Shiva had heard my cries on his doorstep.

Finally! I was saved by an un-ridden horse.  I hurriedly mounted on in the pouring rain, pulled my hood over my head, gripped on tightly, and rode through the mountain valley until I reached our campsite.  No longer able to feel my feet, I jumped off the horse as quickly as I had jumped on, to search for our tent. I was one of the first to arrive by horseback.  Someone yelled, “tent #1.”  I unzipped the tent to find six mattresses and blankets lined side by side, in two rows.  I immediately shed my freezing cold, soaking wet clothes and replaced them with equally freezing cold, dry clothes, as my bag had arrived by yak immediately after me.  I waited for the others arrive.  After the others reached and did exactly as I had done, I packed my bag before dark, had a warm dinner, and went to sleep along with my five roommates.

Nisha standing in front of Manasarovar Lake
Nisha standing in front of Manasarovar Lake

Good morning didi! Chai? Coffee? Tea?”  Today’s the day we left leave Lord Shiva’s abode; the last day of our pilgrimage.  We had five miles left to trek today.  It was bitter/sweet.  We were only a few hours away from completing our trek where our land cruisers would be awaiting us.  Everyone was in good spirits today.  We sang, we danced, and we stopped for every possible photo op along the way.  “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but in our case, there are no words to describe what was captured in our photos.  The beauty of the Himalayas and Mt. Kailash will forever be engrained in our minds.

“My Sincere thanks to  the humble staff, guides, and Sherpas of Himalayan Glacier Trekking Company, for a successful Yatra.  Without your guidance, our journey would have been impossible…” Nisha

Nisha A. Patel, Cincinnati, Ohio
Gaam: Surat
Parents: Arvind and Sangita Patel

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