I had been traveling on a bus across Tibet for the past three days. We were supposed to fly, but the Chinese military closed the airport. A bus was the only option. I sat in silence for most of the journey staring out the window. What else could I do?
If this were a few years ago, I would have done anything to find a faster way to get to Mount Kailash. Instead, I did my best to accept the situation for what it was. After all, I was on a pilgrimage to one of the most sacred mountains in the world.
Not really knowing what to expect, I sensed we were getting closer. Eventually, the bus snaked its way down a windy road that took us to Lake Manasarovar. We exited the bus and walked towards the water. Sadhguru was already there.
What happened next was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Something unexplainable shifted inside and I fell to the ground. Closing my eyes, I could taste my tears as they reached my lips. Something so powerful overtook me that in an instant, I became nothing.
The Rudra ‘Roar’
When the longing to transform a life is so great then the universe opens up in ways one can never imagine. I welcomed its guidance and all of a sudden found myself on a pilgrimage to a mountain that many consider to be the spiritual center of the universe.
Pilgrims of the past say with just one visit, years of bad karma would be wiped away. With a dip in the magical waters of the nearby Lake Manasarovar, purification at one’s deepest layers was possible.
I asked myself, how did this happen? A few years ago, the only pilgrimage I was interested in was the quickest path from my Manhattan office to happy hour. One thing certain about life is its uncertainty and knowing that anything can change at any moment. My life did.
Change brings both fear and hope. Hope is the stronger force and is what carried me through as I left behind a lifestyle that was no longer working for me. Hope is also what brought me to Mount Kailash.
A person’s deep desire always wins in the end. My desire from youth to merge with the Himalayas has now become reality. Blessed beyond words, not only was I in the Himalayas, but also I was here with Sadhguru, yogi, mystic, and founder of Isha Foundation.
When I first learned about Mount Kailash and the possibility to go with Isha Sacred Walks, a longing deep inside came to life. I will never forget the moment when I looked at Sadhguru’s picture at his ashram in Tennessee and said with conviction, “I will go to Kailash with you.”
At that second, my connection to the mountain was secured. Less than a year later I was on an airplane to a city I fantasized about for years – Kathmandu, Nepal.
The Start of a Pilgrimage
After 30+ hours of travel, I finally landed. Kathmandu was familiar, as if I had been here before. At 5am, I found myself circumambulating the stupa in Boudhanath, completely comfortable, happy, and anxiously awaiting the first satsang with Sadhguru.
We learned a little about the plan for the next 2½ weeks, but for the most part, not much was explained. We would spend a few days in Kathmandu, then start our hike in Nepal before making our way to Tibet. The journey would culminate at Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash.
Sadhguru was quite intense when he spoke about how to approach Kailash – that we must behold the mountain. I listened attentively and attempted to create some steps in my mind so I would be ready to behold whatever I needed to. Silly me.
Kailash is not just any mountain. It holds sanctity, an abode to Shiva, a storehouse of information. Sadhguru told us that by the time we get there what we think of ourselves must be worn down. Only then could we be in a certain way to be open to receive all of Kailash – its energy, possibility, and overwhelming presence.
Three weeks of preparation to break me down, to put aside my likes and dislikes, to make me so uncomfortable that by the time I reached Kailash my only option would be complete surrender.
I was told that only by becoming nothing would I be open to receive. I was not sure what this meant, but the conditions were doing a great job to test my patience and willingness to adapt to cold weather, rain, upset stomach, no toilets, rough road conditions, lack of sleep, and on and on.
At times I felt so challenged that I questioned why was I here. It was during these times that I would turn the corner and see before my eyes a magnificent waterfall surrounded by lush green mountains and a raging river below. I became small again, my complaints floated away.
As the days passed on, I became more and more comfortable with packing and unpacking, making three bags into one, leaving behind clothes I did not need, using toilets with a mountain view, and accepting that whatever was cooked was what I would eat. I began to notice that less and less bothered me. Something within started to loosen up.
“A pilgrimage is not an achievement but an opportunity to subdue the sense of who you are and an access to the beyond.” Sadhguru
Journey Across Tibet
After a beautiful time in Nepal with hiking, satsangs under the moonlight with Sadhguru, and new friends, we made our way to Lhasa, Tibet. From Lhasa we started the 1200 km (800 mile) bus journey to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar.
Did you ever say that you would do anything, even go to ‘the ends of the earth’ to figure out how to be happy and at peace with yourself? I did. Well, here I was, at the end of the earth on a bus traveling across Tibet at the enforced speed limit of 30 km (18 mph). My patience was being tested.
Up and down mountain roads, curves, twists and turns, sitting and staring out the window. Every hour or so, we stopped, either for a bathroom break or a Chinese security checkpoint. Both were equally bad and at times I was not entirely in a pilgrimage state of mind.
Wait. I was supposed to subdue the sense of who I am. This meant stop complaining. In the past, the only way to reach Kailash was by foot and people walked with pure devotion from South India. Many people never returned home and here I was sitting on a bus and complaining about it.
I silenced myself, put on headphones, and listened to my favorite chant – ‘Shambo’. Each utterance of the sound relaxed my mind and brought me back to be with the beauty outside my window. Shambo means the auspicious one. The most auspicious thing that can happen in a lifetime is to self-actualize or to reach the highest within oneself. I longed for this. This is why I was here.
The Arrival of a Lifetime
The bus I called home for the past three days continued to make its way up and down the mountainous roads. We stopped for yet another bathroom break, but this time it was different. Sadhguru informed us we were approaching Lake Manasarovar.
We were to remain in silence and softly chant to keep a deep sense of awareness. Alternating between chanting and sukha kriya (a form of breathing that balances the body), I entered into a state of extreme peace. But on the other hand, I could hardly contain my excitement. I felt like a child on Christmas Eve waiting for morning to come to see what Santa Claus left under the tree.
I continued to chant with my eyes closed, but something called me to open them.
As I opened my eyes, the bus turned and proceeded downhill. All I could see in front of me was a magnificent lake with colors as vibrant as a proud peacock glistening in the sunshine. It held intensity like no other lake and captured me as I looked in awe. I had chills throughout my body and deep down I wondered – is this Manasarovar? It was.
We arrived and I slowly exited the bus. Sadhguru was chanting ‘Shiva Shambo’. I came to the front of the group, kneeled down and stared at the lake. I felt a peace of finally arriving. Mystical, magical, and mysterious, I was mesmerized by the lakes beauty and the depths of its being. The moment was surreal as if the lake did not really exist. Was I looking at a painting?
My glance alternated between Manasarovar and Sadhguru. The look on his face was one I have never seen before; he was in his element. I closed my eyes, continued to chant and felt the warmth of the sun on my face. In an instant, something so powerful forced my head to turn to the right.
I followed the force, turned my head and opened my eyes. I could see in the distance a massive, black mountain peaking through the clouds. The force that pulled me is the reason for being here and the reason why my life will never again be the same. It was Kailash.
My heart beat faster and my chest was pounding. A waterfall of tears flowed down my face as I sank to the ground and fell forward. My entire being opened up and something shifted inside. Kailash’s power was so immense that it completely overpowered me. I felt as if all my past worries and fears had been wiped away. All this happened with one glance, what would happen once I reached the base of Kailash?
Sadhguru continued to chant. He opened his arms and we created a circle around him to form a hug. Many of us were quite emotional and overwhelmed. As the group let go, people fell to his feet. I hugged him from the back and placed my cheek on his right shoulder and kissed him. I did not want to let go.
Morning soon was upon us as we assembled at Lake Manasarovar. I walked to the water’s edge and slowly bent down. With my hands in prayer pose, I felt an intense devotion to the water and started to cry.
Slowly, I placed my hands on the water’s surface, lowered them through chunks of ice, and touched the soft bottom of the lake. Tears flowed and became one with the sacred waters of Lake Manasarovar.
Despite the frigid water temperature of about 5 to 10 Celsius (about 45 Fahrenheit), I walked into the blue green emerald waters. Boldly taking large, pronounced steps as if I was close to catching something I had been chasing my entire life. With each step my feet and ankles sank into the muddy ground of the lake. Not knowing what was beneath or if I would step in a sinking hole, I was not afraid.
The mountains surrounding the lake seemed to be merging with the water. I was merging with the water. I could have been hypothermic, but I did not notice. My physical body was no longer important. Devotion took over. There was warmth inside my body, a fire, burning through whatever needed to die.
Behold the Mountain
How does one behold a mountain? I sense you approach it with your entire being, and leave your complaints at the door. I was not really sure, but the time was now to find out. Sadhguru had been preparing us since the first day of our journey two weeks ago. I felt that everything up to this point in my life had been preparing me for this day.
We assembled at the entry point and there were porters and ponies available to help us reach the north face of Kailash. To experience just an ounce of the struggles that pilgrims encountered in the past, I decided to carry my own backpack. By this point my bags had become less and less, I had become less and less; especially after a few humbling experiences on the bus journey across Tibet.
I really did not know how this would work, so I quit trying to understand. Besides, I had other things to worry about. The weather was cold, rainy, and windy. Kailash was hiding behind the clouds and my legs were already sore from the prior days.
I was mostly silent and subdued. There was a fear inside, a respect for what I was about to do. How would you feel if Shiva invited you to his home and you were approaching his front door? I felt small, as if I was nothing. I surrendered.
I walked. Sadhguru led the way. I was not in a rush so did not try to keep up with the front of the group. I fell back a little; walked slowly, and in silence. The mountains, the chant, and me. At an altitude of about 5,200 meters or 17,000 feet my backpack felt like a ton of bricks, my legs were even heavier. I took the focus off my pain and chanted as I took each step – Shiva, step, Shiva, step, Shiva, step. It helped.
I came around the bend as I approached the western face and noticed a group of pilgrims in full prostration, lying on the ground. They pushed themselves up and raised their hands to the infinite sky. With pure devotion, they did another prostration. Their efforts would take up to three weeks to complete the Khora, the 32-mile radius around the base of the mountain. I bowed down to them and found strength to continue to walk.
The rain and wind continued to blow and my face felt the elements of the weather. What was the wind trying to tell me? Just as a dog lifts its head and sniffs the air to sense what is happening, I stopped walking, closed my eyes, and let the wind penetrate my being. I fell to my knees, faced Kailash, and out of nowhere began to chant ‘Karpuragauram Karunavtaaram’ with intensity like never before.
The clouds were abundant. Kailash was mostly hidden except for a few small pieces of black stone that peeked through the clouds. In between chanting and crying, I asked the mountain, “Please take the clouds away, say hello, and introduce yourself. I came all this way to see you. Reveal yourself to me.” Here I was, on my knees bowing down, freezing cold, singing away and talking to a mountain as if it could hear me. Had I lost my mind?
Actually, I had lost my mind and it was a good thing. The mind when approaching Kailash won’t do you any good. What’s happening was beyond what can be explained using the five senses or the logical mind. With each step, I continued to utter the word, Shiva.
I’m not an expert on Shiva, and it means many things to many people. For me, the word means that which is not. Everything that is, is what I can touch, taste, see, hear, and smell. Everything that is not, is outside of my normal perception, connected to another dimension of existence, and requires believing in a little magic. It is in this space where life begins and where I long to be.
Most of the group was ahead of me. But there were many of us stragglers falling behind. We supported each other. I offered water to others. We shared no words, only silence and awe as we took small steps and rested. The slow pace was allowing me to fully absorb not only my fellow trekkers, but also the vastness that surrounded me.
It felt as if I was nothing compared to the mountains, rivers, waterfalls, ravines, and the vastness of the sky above. It was in this nothingness where I lost myself. It was in this nothingness where I would remain until I reached the north face.
I could not go anymore. The pack was heavy and I was so cold. By the end, I was not sure how my legs and feet were moving, but an energy seemed to carry me up. I finally reached the campsite at the north face. Most of the others were already there, drinking warm tea. I staggered into the lodge, removed my pack and burst into tears.
The heaviness of the backpack was gone, the heaviness of many parts of my life were gone. I was in pain, my eyes were burning, but yet I felt free. I arrived. The clouds started to move away. The peak of Kailash greeted me and said, “Welcome home. I’ve been waiting for you.” Tears flowed uncontrollably. Is this what it feels like to behold a mountain?
“If you can really be with Kailash even for a few moments, life will never again be the same for you. It is a phenomenon beyond all human imagination.” Sadhguru
The Secret Behind the Clouds
There was a lot of excitement in the air. We checked in to our rooms, well, not like you would check in at the Ritz or something. I’m talking icy, metal sort of tents with beds and blankets. Comparatively speaking, quite luxurious. Not warm, but it did not matter. I was not planning to remove any clothes. Bedtime came, I put on all the clothes I had, and pulled the blankets over my face. Being at the feet of Kailash, I could hardly sleep.
The morning of August 21, our day at Kailash with Sadhguru, soon arrived. I woke up very early, since I could not wait to see if the clouds moved away. After all, I politely asked Mount Kailash to come out and greet us. I jumped out of bed, put on my boots, left the room and slipped on some ice as I turned the corner. Catching my balance, I continued to quickly walk.
In awe, as if seeing your dream come true, there, in front of my eyes, was Kailash. In all its glory, not a cloud in the sky, stars as far as I could see, the snowy, black, granite peak against the black sky, illuminated by stars and the moon. Regardless of how cold I was, I could not stop staring. My eyes were glued to Kailash so I walked closer. I bowed down and started to cry.
This trip has turned into a crying festival for me. Since I arrived at Lake Manasarovar, I could not stop crying. It was not sadness or joy; it was that I was so overwhelmed by something beyond words, beyond feeling. It had to come out somewhere so the only thing I could do was cry.
Our day with Sadhguru was unexplainable. It could only be experienced. During our satsang, he talked about using Kailash to break the mold. He referred to our endless thoughts and emotions that continue to bring us down. He asked us to open the door, cross the line, and live in the creator’s creation and not our own. One thing was certain; spending the past weeks in the Himalayas had brought me down from my high horse. Over and over I realized how insignificant my drama really was.
Touched by Kailash
What goes up must come down and that means me too. Unfortunately, we had to start the descent. The group started to walk, but I did not want to leave. I felt as if I had finally been reunited with a long lost love.
The sun was shining, the wind was calm, and I was completely overwhelmed by this whole experience. Nothing else mattered. I was not hungry, so did not eat lunch, not tired, not cold. I felt as if I dissolved into the ground I was walking on as a true devotee.
The backpack was once again attached to me and I started the walk down. I walked slowly, alternating between chanting, silence, and guess what else? Crying. I could not stop looking at Kailash. My heart had been captured forever.
We stopped at a river with water that flowed from Kailash. I rested, took off my shoes, and put my feet in the ice, cold water. This helped to alleviate the terrible pain in my left foot. Reluctantly, I got up and continued to walk.
As I approached the western face, I heard a drum beat. I was in my own world, Kailash and me, as I walked past a large group of people resting. It was Sadhguru and the others. I caught up to the front of the group.
I continued to walk past the group and stepped to the side where there was space and a perfect view of Kailash. Sadhguru stood up and many funneled behind him. I was not in a rush so I waited. As Sadhguru passed me, he gently touched my right forearm. I touched his. Connecting for few seconds before we slipped away. He knew something. I knew something.
The person who walked up the mountain was not the same person walking down. The rest of the descent was in silence as I was completely at a loss for words. As I approached the base where the others gathered, I stopped one last time to lovingly stare at Kailash, kneeled, and chanted ‘Karpuragauram Karunavtaaram’.
At a stupa with prayer flags, I offered my deep, deep gratitude for being here. I bowed down and rested my forehead on the ground beneath me. The strong winds carried my prayers. The winds also carried a response, “You are free, you are free, you are free.”
“How many years must a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea? How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? How many times must a man look up before he can really see the sky? …The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” – Bob Dylan
The Continuation of a Pilgrimage
Mount Kailash is not a destination to go to, take some pictures and leave. It is a power that is always present. Its imprint will forever be a part of you. There are places on this earth that make your soul sing. It’s in these places where you lose parts of yourself. Losing to then be able to uncover a part of yourself that you never knew existed. It’s a subtle process. Nothing will happen right before your eyes, but the impacts will appear later on.
Nine months later, walking in the woods, I chant ‘Shiva Shambo’. Kailash is alive within me. Connecting to Kailash, I squat down to pick up an acorn. It reminds me of the immense possibility within myself, within all of us. The acorn has all it needs to become a mighty oak tree. It just needs the right conditions to grow.
The seed was planted the moment I met Sadhguru. Kailash purified the soil and grounded the roots. Harsh weather conditions may come, but the seedling knows that sunshine is also part of the picture. It’s flourishing. Not impacted by conditions on the outside, the seedling is at peace with its purpose.
With roots firmly secured into the earth, a beautiful flower blossoms. There are moments in life we never forget. These moments take our breath away. For me it was the moment I saw Kailash for the first time. I now know what it feels like to behold a mountain.
It is to open its door, cross the line, and to place it in my heart, to close my eyes and to feel its presence. To surrender to the creator and to know that whatever I do in life, Kailash will always be a part of me. For it is known that we always become what we behold.
“If you are aspiring and working towards something higher, then your life is a pilgrimage.”—Sadhguru