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Kailash Mansarovar Yatra

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Posted on: Tuesday , Mar 29, 2011 At 12:20 PM

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra: Comparison Between Govt. And Private Route (part-1)

As all of us are aware, Kailash is the eternal abode of Lord Shiva. Mansarovar Lake is like Kalyani (temple tank) of Kailash, and is next to it. Both these places are now in China occupied Tibet. It is in Himalayan desert.

Mansarovar Lake

It is believed that while taking a holy dip in Mansarovar will cleanse all the sins, trekking the Kailash Parikrama through climbing the Dolma la Pass will be cherished through the lifetime.

People, from time immemorial, have been undertaking Kailash Mansarovar (KMS) Yatra. Even Pandavas did it. So it is nothing new. You and me are neither first nor last to do it. The Yatra usually starts during May-June each year, and lasts till Sep-Oct. During other times, due to inhospitable conditions of the route, Yatra is not allowed. Of course there is an exception during Maha Shivaratri.

Once upon a time, there were more than 16 routes to go to KMS. That was when KMS was part of India. But today it is not in our territory. Hence we don’t have all those 16 routes. Even though there are 4 – 5 routes, the most popular routes are known as Government route and Private route.

There are plenty of travelogues available on KMS Yatra, both in the print, as well as in the Internet. And both, for Government route as well as Private route. But I could not find any reading material, which gives a comparison between these two routes for the Yatra.  In this article, I have tried to compare the Government route with Private route.

Government (Govt.) Route, or MEA Route, or KMVN Route:

What is Govt route? Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in association with Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) conducts this Yatra, and hence the name. The Govt route starts from New Delhi. Then we proceed towards Darchula in Uttarkhand, in a vehicle. And from there to Mangti-Gala-Budhi-Gunji-Kalapani-Nabidang-Lipulek Pass by trek. After this, we enter into China territory and go to Taklakot-Mansarovar-Kailash and come back in the same route.

Private (Pvt.) Route:

And what is Pvt route? Well, private tour operators conduct this Yatra. This route is ex-Kathmandu, the Capital of Nepal. From Katmandu we proceed towards Kodari Border between Nepal and China. From here we go to Nyalam-Saga-Paryang-Mansarovar-Kailash and come back in the same route. This is also known as Katmandu KTM) Route.

Of course, there are 2-3 more options of visiting KMS from KTM. However they are costly, and not done by common people. Hence I have not included those in my comparison.

Some more details on Kailash and the Yatra:

Before I start my comparison, let me tell you a couple of things.

When I thought of doing KMS Yatra in 2007, I was under the impression that there was one-and-only-one Kailash. But then I came to know that the local people of Kumao call it as Bada Kailash; and there is also a Chota Kailash. This is more popularly known as Aadi Kailash. Of course there are three more Kailash peaks at Himachal Pradesh, popularly known as Mani Mahesh Kailash, Kinnar Kailash and Shrikand Kailash.

The Aadi Kailash and Om Parvat (AKOP) make a wonderful trekking circuit. AK & OP are very much in Indian territory. And hence the formalities and expenses required for this Yatra is very minimal compared to Bada Kailash (KMS) Yatra. In fact KMVN conducts AKOP Trekking on a regular basis during the seasons. (One can do this AKOP Yatra on his own and need not depend on KMVN).

Aadi Kailash is a 4-day deviation trek from Gunji, one of the halting places in the KMS Route. The Om Parvat is at Nabidang, which is 8 kms before Lipulek Pass, in the KMS Route. Hence if you do the AKOP Trekking, then it is as good as covered the Indian portion of KMS Yatra. Only Chinese portion of the KMS Yatra will be left out.

Next a few more points. We quite often see people telling that KMS Yatra from Govt route is extremely tough (but extra ordinarily beautiful). So how will you know that you can attempt it or not?

Well, there is an answer. If you are a South-Indian, I would suggest you to do the Kumara Parvata – Pushpagiri Trekking first.

Kumara Parvata Trek

And if you are a North-Indian, you either do AKOP trek or go to Hemkund Sahib trek. If you can comfortably achieve any of these three treks, then you can try (yes, you can TRY), the KMS Yatra from KMVN route. But if you fail in these treks, and conclude that this type of trekking is not your cup-of-tea, then I suggest you do KMS Yatra from KTM Route.

Hemkund Sahib Trek

Alternatively, if you have done Amaranth Yatra by walking, then also you can attempt KMS Yatra through Govt. route.

Amarnath Yatra

The comparison – About Govt route:
Now let me start the actual comparison. First the Govt route.

The Govt route is not a test of physical strength or endurance. It is more of heartfelt devotion, mental resolve and a burning desire to complete the parikrama. If this applies to you, then take this route. Remember it is not just the destination i.e. KMS, but the entire Yatra or journey itself is part of this incredible experience. And if you haven’t left your ego behind before the start of the Yatra, Kailash-pati will make sure that this happens during the Yatra.

The KMS journey is the most arduous pilgrimage ever taken by any devotee of any religion in the world. And are you afraid about it? How can you? Just because a labour pain is most difficult, will ladies stop becoming mothers? Not at all, they love it, and cherish it.

How is the route, landscape wise? How shall I describe it? It is superb, extra ordinary, fantastic, out-of-the-world, beautiful. Sorry, my vocabulary ends here. Is the journey - a poem, or a novel, or a book, or is it a mahakaavya? Oh! It is all.

Advantages of Govt route:

So what are the PLUS points of this route?

As I said earlier, the route itself is a plus point.

Next, the hospitality provided by KMVN staff in the most difficult places is incomparable. I am yet to see any Govt agency that is as efficient as KMVN. And I am sure even any private company cannot give that much of hospitality in such an adverse terrain. Simply hats off to them. Same thing applies to ITBP personnel also. Their devotion to Lord Shiva cannot be compared with their commercial gains.

Trekking in the Kumaon Hills

Then there are some more points. You will be in a group of yatris, whose number could be anywhere up to 60. And this whole group, which represents the entire motherland, is cohesive. You will be together for nearly a month. Together you sit-and-stand-and-walk-and-sleep-and-eat-and-and-and-and.. The whole group listens to bhajans together, and for an entire month in your life, you will become friends with totally unknown people.

And in case if you are a Govt servant, then you will get a paid holiday for this 30 days Yatra, as it is considered as high altitude trekking. (I am not sure who all are eligible for this). And in case of Pvt route, I don’t think you get this benefit.

Disadvantages of Govt route:

Sadly the PLUS points ends here. What about MINUS points? Oh, they are plenty. In fact I can go on and on and on writing about them.

It starts with the moment you decide to do the Yatra.

When and how to apply?

First of all, when and how to apply for the Yatra? MEA says that it publishes the Yatra details in newspapers. But very rarely you might come across it in major editions of major newspapers.

So you have to keep calling MEA (or see internet) for their announcement. Generally the announcement will take place in January, and there will be time till March for applying. And the Yatra period will be May-June to Sep-Oct. There will be 16 batches of 60 yatris totaling 960 people who can undertake the Yatra from KMVN side.

So, some how you came to know about it. And suppose you want to travel along with your life partner. Or say suppose a few friends of you want to do the Yatra together. Is the seat guaranteed for all of you? I am afraid; the answer is in the negative. I bet you cannot. Forget about going together, all of you may not even get the selection-call.

Mangti, the start of KMS Yatra from KMVN Route

After you have decided to apply, you will go thru the application form. It asks the Passport details. Oh, you never knew that you need a passport. Or say you didn’t have a passport yet. So you will apply for KMS Yatra, and meanwhile apply for Passport also. Anyway, there is enough time for both. But is it possible? Get lost, says MEA.

About selection etc:

Let us assume that you have a passport. And having applied, you want to do the preparations for the Yatra. Is your seat guaranteed? They say that it is a computer generated random number selection. Is it true? I have my own doubts. Because you may not get selected even after 3-4 attempts, but there will be people who will be going for more than 2 – 3 times. What kind of selection is it?

Oh!  You thought that this is a SELECTION, is it? No, it is not. It is only a selection for the medical test, and not for the Yatra. More about the medical test later.

And they say that each batch can have up to 60 yatris, but I don’t think any batch will be full. Like in Railways, there is no concept of RAC, Waiting List etc. So on one side many yatris will not get a chance to go, and at the same time the batch is not be full up to the capacity.

Next, when will you come to know about your selection? Just 3-6 weeks before the actual date of the Yatra! Is this time sufficient for the preparation to undertake the Yatra? … My dear friend, that is the way our bureaucracy works. And sometimes the yatris should be ready to pack up just in a week's time after getting the notification.

What will happen to your preparations if you don’t get selected? And what will happen to you if you don’t do the preparations expecting not to get selected, and still got selected. Only Lord can help you.

Read Part - 2 of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra here

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Posted on: Tuesday , Mar 29, 2011 At 11:57 AM

How To Prepare For Kailash Mansarovar Yatra? (part-2)

After you have got a call, what about the items required for the Yatra. Where can you buy it? I have seen many parts of India, and sadly I am yet to come across a place in India where one can buy all of them, and also at a nominal price. I think in India there is no such market available for KMS Yatra items. Not in Delhi and not in Bangalore at least. Because these are not the base camp places for high altitude trekking. So you end up buying wrong things at wrong places at wrong prices.

The holy Om Parvat

Is the 3-6 weeks time sufficient to make preparations to start the journey? Look here. People from all parts of India do this Yatra. They all must come to New Delhi. So in the 3-6 weeks that you have, try to book a train ticket to New Delhi. I bet, you may not even get waiting-list ticket. And try for an Air Ticket. You may have to travel in business class only. And what about return ticket? How can you? It is only a call for selection test. So how can you book the return ticket? So both ways you loose precious money and mental peace over ticket price.

We could see the Om Pravat from here

Let us proceed further. So somehow you will reach Delhi.  Let us see the eligibility process and expenditure involved now.

Are you eligible?

As said earlier, the selection was only to appear for the medical eligibility test. Only if you pass the medical test, then you are allowed to undertake the Yatra. The medical test is conducted by ITBP Doctors at New Delhi. Every one must pass in that test. Remember, even if you are a doctor, or even if you produce any Doctor’s certificate from your hometown, it is of no use. You must pass the ITBP Medical test at New Delhi. And if you fail in the test, then in that year you are not eligible to appear for the test again. Better try next year. So all countrymen must come to the Capital to undergo this test.

Expenses and medical test etc:

You will have to shell out Rs 5000 non-refundable deposit to KMVN. Also shell out another 3100 for medical test. And if further medical test is required (depending on your medical fitness), you have to loose another Rs 2500. And if you fail in the medical test, you loose all this, plus your to-and-fro Delhi ticket charges. What about the leave and preparations that you have already done?

Let me take a different case. Supposing a couple want to do the Yatra. If one of them fails in the medical test, then in general, both will quit. It has happened many a times. So here also you loose a lot.

Starting point of the 1st day of the Kailash Parikarma

I must also mention here one more point. Supposing a handicapped person or a person with medium health condition want to do the Yatra. He may wish to do the Mansarovar parikrama only. He might want to see Kailash from Mansarovar, without doing it’s parikrama. Is it possible? No, never.

So let us proceed with the expenditure, after passing all the hurdles. Now you will have to pay another Rs 22000 to KMVN to look after the Indian part of your journey. You must also pay US$ 700 towards visa and other expenses for the Chinese side of the Yatra.

Expenditure on adequate equipment, clothing, food items on China side, porters, baggage, ponies and other items required for the Yatra are also extra. You might ask me, whether these expenses are not there thru Pvt route? Well, many of the items are not there in Pvt route, or even if it is there, it is very less compared to Govt route.

So the overall cost comes to around Rs 65000 + horse/porter charges, from Delhi to Delhi. These horse, porter charges etc are pretty high compared to Pvt route. Also one must consider the 30-day Yatra period against 15 day Yatra from Pvt route.

Let us start the Yatra:

Now you start the Yatra. How many people can finally get selected and undertake the Yatra? Good and easy question but difficult to answer. Theoretically and practically 944 yatris (60 – 1 Liaison Officer x 16 group = 944) can do the Yatra, but in practice only around 500 – 600 yatris do the Yatra in a year. Rest of the seats goes unclaimed because of the lacunae in the selection process.

What about the number of days of the Yatra? Oh! It is 30 days to be precise. For a working person, or for a businessman, it is extremely difficult to spare 30 days at a stretch. And some businessmen cannot spare time during beginning of the month, some at the end of the month and so on. And many young ladies might have their own difficulties for the 30 days period.

And what about the age? Only 18 to 70 are allowed. Even if you are physically fit, if you do not fall into this age group, you are out.

Liaison Officer:

When you start the Yatra, who will lead you? Well, there will be a liaison Officer taken from any govt department. He will be your leader for the entire duration of the Yatra. Few KMVN and ITBP staff also will accompany you, till the Indo China border. This is not a Minus point, but just for your information.

Full moon days and the rush:

As I said earlier, there will be 16 batches, a batch for every week during the four months of the Yatra period. The KMS looks splendid during full moon day. Many people want to see and enjoy the same. But as there are only four full moon days in a season, only 25% of the yatris can make it.

There is one more point. During full moon day, there will be heavy rush at KMS. And life will be difficult, because of the rush. The ponies, horses, porters etc are difficult to get, and even if you get them, the charges will be against supply-and-demand. So many elderly people want to avoid these days. But if you happen to be in those batches, life becomes miserable. Also generally people avoid no moon (amavasya) days. But unfortunately 25% of the yatris have to under go this phase.

The journey continues:

You have started the Yatra from New Delhi. Once you reach Darchula, you must ensure that all the items required for the Yatra is in place. And many of the items must be in duplicate, I mean, it is not the papers, but the physical items like shoe, cloth, bag etc. There is nothing available once you leave Darchula and start the trek. Hence the need to carry everything in duplicate, or say backup. This increases the baggage, cost and trouble.

The trek from Darchula to Gunji is like Labour-pain. Even though it is tough, it is most welcome and enjoyable. The trail passes through superbly scenic countryside. The trees are changing as the altitude increases.

Gunji, the deviation for Adi Kailash:

But once you reach Gunji, you take a brake again for another medical test, acclimatization etc. There are instances wherein people have failed in this medical test. If so, they have to return empty handed. They will also loose all the money paid to the authorities, including the visa fee. It is sad that at least the visa fee cannot be refunded or adjusted for next year.

I must mention here two more points. We take a deviation at Gunji to go to Adi Kailash. It is a 2+2 day trek from here. And is one of the most wonderful treks I have done so far.

There is an SBI Extension Counter at Gunji. It works only during KMS Yatra period. One must really appreciate the service of the bank in operating in such harsh conditions.

SBI Branch at Gunji

After the formalities at Gunji are over, the trek resumes from Gunji to Lipulek pass, thru Om Parvat. This is one spot, which cannot be missed at all. After that soon you will be in Chinese territory.

Making a phone call:

What about phone connectivity in the Indian side so far? While there are no mobile signals, the satellite phone does not exist in most of the places. And wherever it is there, it is too costly. It is not only costly for the yatris, but also for ITBP/KMVN staff and the localities.

KMVN Camp near Adi Kailash

Over to China:

Now that you have crossed the border, let us see the Chinese territory. Is there any difference between this part of KMS Yatra from Govt route and private route? Terrain and journey wise, there is not much difference. In Govt route you go from Lipulek pass to Mansarovar from west side and there after finish the Yatra. In private route, you go to Mansarovar from east side and finish the Yatra.

But there are lots of other differences. Once you are in Chinese side, the hospitality of KMVN and ITBP ends. So now you have to carry your own groceries. The two Chinese cooks will cook the food for you, but you may have to join with them to help them out. Remember, it is not that easy job to do, in those high altitude terrains. And that too in the cold water and freezing temperatures.

ITBP Personnel helping yatris crossing a stream

Splitting the Group:

At Chinese side, you reach Taklakot, and take a daybreak. Here the group is split into two parts of 30 people each. MEA says that it is done like this, because lodging facilities on the Kailash parikrama can accommodate only 30 people. However more than 250 people from private route organizers do this parikrama in the same route along with Govt yatris, and all of them get enough accommodation.

Tibetans doing the parikarma on their own style

While one group do the Kailash Parikrama by foot/horse, the other group do the Mansarovar Parikrama by bus. And then they do the other parikrama. And because of this splitting of the group, the Chinese side of the KMS Yatra will take 10 days. Even if the entire group size is less than 30, the Yatra takes 10 days. This is as per the original scheduled plan. So the overall time and cost has gone up unnecessarily.

On the return journey, there are not much extra minus points.

Land slides and the time schedule:

However, there can be landslides in Indian side both during onward as well as return journeys. This is in no body’s hand and cannot be predicted. MEA has left few days for this cushion, but in extreme cases, plans can go haywire in spite of cushion days. And that might upset your return journey from New Delhi to your hometown. This has happened during our AKOP trek.

Read Part - 3 of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra here

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Posted on: Tuesday , Mar 29, 2011 At 11:29 AM

The Comparison – About Private Route (part - 3)

Now having finished the PLUS and MINUS points of the government route, let me focus the same on the private route.

As I said earlier, private tour operators organize this KMS Yatra. And the Yatra starts from Katmandu to –Kodari-Nyalam-Saga-Paryang-Mansarovar-Kailash-Mansarovar and back in the same route.

Nyalam Village

Don’t come to a conclusion that whatever the Plus points of Govt route are Minus points in private route and vice versa. There are lots of differences.

Disadvantages of Pvt route:

To start with, first the MINUS points, because they are few, and can be compared with Govt route’s PLUS points.

Compared to the trek through Kumaon hills of Govt. route, the journey through Tibet is somewhat dull. It is not greenery, but arid. You can compare this journey to our Leh/Ladak journeys. The terrain almost looks similar. Even though it is also beautiful, it definitely cannot be equal to KMVN route. However there is a PLUS point in this MINUS point. While you have to trek in the Govt route, you have to travel in a comfortable Toyota Land Cruiser in Pvt route. Just relax and keep traveling. Except the three days of parikrama, you don’t have to trek anywhere.

Vehicles at a military check post

Next as I said earlier, hospitality of KMVN cannot be compared to the private tour operators. But that does not mean that they are money minded. Many of them give such a beautiful service that we want to go with them again and again.

Yatris having lunch en-route to Kailash Mansarovar Yatra

The size of the group varies depending on the bookings and the cost offered. And as we will be traveling in Land Cruisers in a group of 4 each, we hardly develop any close relationship with the rest of the group. This is truer, if the members are from different regions, and each region has sub-group among them selves. Here also there can be PLUS points. While in Govt route the group is picked randomly, in Pvt route, you have a choice. And if you are able to rope in 40 people or so, then it will be an exclusive Yatra for your group only. That is exactly we people are doing this time.

With respect to paid holiday for your KMS Yatra, I don’t think you get this benefit in Pvt route.

Advantages of Pvt route:

Now what are the PLUS points of Private Route?

Now that you have decided to do the KMS Yatra through Pvt route, let us do it with more planning.

Selection, and Eligibility process:

In Govt route, the tour operator (i.e. the Govt) selects the Yatris, and conducts the medical test. Whereas in Private route, it is quite opposite. Here you, the yatri, select the tour operator. There is no medical test, no report, and no tension. You are the master and you decide everything.

Who all can go?

First and foremost is who all can go. Let us see in which category you will fit into.

You might be physically fit, and want to do the entire KMS Yatra. You may not be that much fit, but want to try it out. You know that you cannot do it, but want to go as far as you can. You know that you cannot do the Kailash parikrama, but want to see Mansarovar and want to have the darshan of Kailash. You just want to tour Tibet, the other part of the Himalaya. The list is end less and everybody can go.

Now again let us elaborate on some more points. Who all can go? I think, age wise there is no restriction. As long as you think that you can do it, you are most welcome. And what about health? If you have a decent health, then you can definitely do it. It all depends on mental stamina more than your physical health. The tour operator is not much bothered about your health. After all why should he? It is you who has to decide on your safety and not he. Even if you are a patient and are taking medicines, you can still do it.

The road through the Himalayan Desert

So can you still do the entire Yatra in case of moderate health? No, not necessarily. But if you know that you may not be able to do the parikrama, and if you just want to see Kailash from Mansarovar, you can definitely do that. Remember, almost any body can do parikrama of Mansarovar. Only the 2nd days’ parikrama of Kailash peak is difficult. So you can do only what you can do and want to do. Physical fitness does help a lot, but it is the mental preparation and will power that is really important on the second day.

Only Mansarovar, and no Kailash Parikrama:

There are some tour operators who conduct only the Mansarovar parikrama. They don’t take you for the Kailash Parikrama. If you know that you cannot do the Kailash parikrama, then you may enroll for this Yatra. The Yatra period is 12 days, and the cost is also around Rs 5000 less compared to the 15 days Yatra.

People with cardio vascular problems also come for Yatra. It is a lot more tougher on them, but as long as one is careful and do not take a risk by pushing oneself beyond his body limits, it is safe to do the pilgrimage. But never take a risk and ascend if you have mountain sickness. You are not only putting yourself at risk, but you are compromising the safety of the whole group.

Choosing a tour operator:

First let us decide on the tour operator. There are plenty of private tour operators in your city, who claim they conduct the KMS Yatra. The selection of tour operator is utmost important. Ask him to give a list of previous years participants, and checkup with them for their feedback on his service.

Most important, however big the tour operator may be, choose the one who operates from your city itself. For example, say you are in Bangalore, and a tour operator is head quartered at Chennai, and has a branch office at Bangalore. Then ignore this person, however efficient he may be. Most of these tour operators will have tie-up with some actual tour conductors/organizer from Katmandu. The Katmandu tour operator will be the actual person who takes you to the KMS Yatra, and your local person will be a booking agent only. So the selection of tour operator is utmost important.

Campsite at Mansarovar

What are the other factors that we have to consider while deciding on the tour operator? Well, ask him about all the details. It is important to know the ultimate group size he will be taking to the Yatra. Anything from 20 to 40 is very well. Up to 60 is ok. But if the group size is beyond 60, then avoid that operator.

Keep distance from booking agents:

Also try to avoid the booking agents. Many famous and trusted tour operators in your city might be just booking agents of a larger tour operator from Kathmandu. You can book with them, but be careful to clarify all your doubts in detail before booking.

Also for company, food, ideology, language etc choose a group, which matches with yours, especially if you are just one-or-two persons.

And if you do not want to do the Kailash parikrama, then ask whether the cost will be same or not. Negotiate the price. When other yatris have gone for the Kailash parikrama, ask him to keep you at Mansarovar, instead of Darchen, as Darchen might be boring, during those three days.

Also checkup what is the yatri to sherpa ratio. Ideally it should be 5 or 6. If the sherpas are less, then the service provided by the tour operator will be drastically reduced.

Read Part - 4 of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra here

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