Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kailash Yatra - Pretrip Planning

I believe Kailash yatra is wrapped up in so much mystery that an average person is not able to enjoy the whole trip because they don't have information; so my goal is to make everyone aware of what happens in these trips and how one may plan for such a once in a lifetime (for most people) journey. I am not claiming to know everything about the Kailash yatra, but I can certainly speak from my experience.

Who would have thought I would go for Kailash yatra? I do know where Shiv-Parvati live, but did not know Kailash was in Tibet (China) - yes,  a little ignorant of me! I had never in my wildest dreams thought of going there. But as it turns out one of my father’s friend was going so Papa suggested I also go, it would be good to go with someone you know. I did not think twice about anything and said yes. I had already planned to come to India over the summer of 2012, so what was taking 15-20 days for some pilgrimage.

Thus started the long process of getting all the paperwork done, communicating with the touring agency and with uncle to make sure we were all on the same track. As uncle sent me the program, I forwarded it to my brother and then he decided he could do this too! Great – now I will have a family member on the trip.

So passport scans were sent for getting permits to China, and then it was just waiting and more waiting.

Our program got changed twice as we were planning. (I think that was a sign of what was coming next.) First the travel company got changed from Shrestha to Satyam; then the travel date got changed from June 28 to May 28. I was okay with both changes as I was going more on a faith basis. If Shivji wants us to come, he will make everything okay. I believe pilgrimages are made not by human will but by the blessing of God.

As April came along and there was still no communication from the travel company, we started getting worried. I got our main contact person, Nitesh’s, number from uncle. I started calling him up to ask questions and let him know that I was involved. Not too much later he quit taking my calls. I was not sure why. I called uncle to find out and he said Nitesh was in Nepal. Okay then I got the Nepal number and tracked him down there. After talking to him once he again did not take my call. So then eventually I had to complain to uncle that I needed some information and I had to speak with Nitesh.

When finally I talked to him in May (about two weeks before the trip), I found out that Air India was on strike and that China had a new rule non-Indian passport holders have to travel in at least groups of five. Okay! The Air India strike meant that we had no times for flights to and from Kathmandu to Delhi. So this was all creating issues for Nitesh and so he was under stress, but part of it was his own fault. In any case, my problem was that I needed the travel itinerary and travel dates so I could make other plans. He finally sent us the itinerary for Delhi –Kathmandu and Kathmandu-Delhi. But we were still not sure as to what the program will be when we were in Kathmandu.

At the last minute we knew that we had to be there one day before the Indian group because we were US citizens and we had to be there three days before commencing the journey to get China permits finalized.

All this was not a very pleasant experience. But faith is a big thing. I had to have faith in God and also in uncle. The other big problem (at least for me) was that Nitesh never told me personally the exact amount of money needed for this trip. He had an agreement with uncle and eventually I paid him through uncle.

As the departure date was coming near, I still had more questions but no one to ask. Nitesh kept saying, “everything will be fine,” uncle kept saying, “Call Nitesh.” So really it was all just a big mystery ….. going to Kailash. It was as if no one should know what this trip is all about, one should just experience it on their own.

Three Days in Kathmandu

Sameer and I had to reach Kathmandu on the 27th of May to start the journey on 30th. Our reservation was on Air India flight. We were met by Nitesh at Kathmandu airport. He put us up in Vaishali hotel in the Thamel district. Nice hotel in a nice location. He took us out for lunch, but he still would not tell us anything about the program. We were in Kathmandu for three days out of which two of them were a complete waste of time. One day we rested but the next day we were ready to move around but could not go anywhere as we were waiting for our group to arrive.

(photo by Sameer)

Uncle and the rest of the group arrived that second day and came to see us. He wanted to ask Nitesh about what the program was and Nitesh was equally non committal to him also. We did go out that evening for a few hours but again it was very poorly planned. We should have left earlier in the day to enjoy the sights in both daytime and nighttime. The other problem of traveling in a big group is that one person’s tardiness can delay the entire group!

The third day was spent sightseeing in Kathmandu. In the morning (5 am) we took the Yeti flight to see Mt. Everest and then to Pashupathinath temple, Swayambu temple and a couple other places.

(Pashupatinath temple. Photo by Sapna)

The same evening there was a briefing by Satyam, in Vaishali hotel, on the travel plans starting next day for the 14 day yatra. It was not too informative. We knew we would get duffle bags, we were told we would get two liters of drinking water (which really was not true – there was plenty of drinking water available) etc. What was a little shocking for some of our group members was the increased price of hiring a yak and porter during the parikrama. We were told something else by Nitesh and the Satyam employees were quoting some other price.

Later as we were talking to Uncle privately about Nitesh and his program, it seemed like we had some common problems – one main was lack of communication between Nitesh and us. So Uncle called Nitesh to his room to clear some misunderstandings. But not much got resolved even then. Nitesh kept saying “You have nothing to worry about, I will compensate for whatever losses you incur.” I was losing confidence in Nitesh completely. He had also said he would accompany us during the yatra but that program also got cancelled.

And suddenly Nitesh drops another bomb on us. The entire group was leaving at 6 am but Sameer and I were to leave at 4 am. We were to travel with the foreigners while the Indian passport holders were traveling separately. We were under the assumption that we would meet up with Uncle and group once we were in China. (As we would find out later it was another humungous lack of communication!!!!!)

So in reality we were going on a trip of which we had no set program, we had no set group and we did not know who was going to be our trip leader (as Nitesh was not going with us), we of course had no idea of what the hotels/rooms would be like. It was all a big Mystery!!! Again, I had my faith. What else can one do?

That night we repacked. Our luggage was to be left at the hotel and what we needed was to go in the duffle bag provided. Not a problem. But since we had our future program to also plan there was just too much going on that night and we slept at 12 am only to get up at 3 am!!