Hundreds of Indian pilgrims undertaking the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra have been left stranded due to heavy rains and bad weather in Nepal since the weekend.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs on Tuesday put their number at over 1,500 – 525 pilgrims were stranded in Simikot, 550 in Hilsa, and another 500 in Tibet, it said.
Nearly 250 of them had been evacuated to safer places by Wednesday afternoon, including 104 pilgrims who were moved from Hilsa to Nepalganj on Tuesday.
As the authorities continue their efforts to bring the stranded pilgrims to safety, let us take a look at what it is that makes the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra so special.
The Geography Of The Kailash Mansarovar Region
Mount Kailash, standing at a height of 22,000 feet, is the legendary abode of Lord Shiva, one of the most important Hindu deities, making it a sacred place in Hindu theology.
Lake Mansarovar is the highest freshwater lake in the world, at a height of 4,500 metres. It stands at the foot of Mount Kailash.
Located in Tibet, the lake is considered to be one of the holiest in all of Asia. It is also believed that this lake changes colours, from being clear blue near the shore to emerald green towards the centre.
The Annual Kailash Mansarovar Yatra
Due to the high altitude and difficult terrain, only a few thousand pilgrims are able to take up the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra every year.
The pilgrimage has two aspects— the first, where the pilgrims circle around Mount Kailash, and the second, where they take a holy dip in the Mansarovar Lake. Doing this is believed to relieve the pilgrims of sins and bring them salvation.
There are two possible routes to this yatra. The first route is through Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand, which usually carries 18 batches of 60 pilgrims each. The second route is through the Nathu La Pass, in Sikkim, which is a more motorable route.
Individuals who wish to go on the Mansarovar Yatra are required to submit applications to the Ministry of External Affairs. Eligibility criteria include citizenship of India, possession of an Indian passport, and a Body Mass Index of below 25, in addition to basic physical and medical fitness.
Yatris are selected from among applicants using a computer-generated draw of lots.
Religious Significance Of The Kailash Mountain
The Kailash Mountain holds mythological significance not only for Hindus, but for other religious communities as well. As per the Hindu belief, Lord Shiva, along with his wife Parvati, resides at the peak of Mount Kailash in a state of meditation.
According to Jains, Kailash is the place where the first Jain Tirthankara attained Nirvana. In Buddhism, the belief goes that Kailash Parvat is where the Buddha, representing supreme bliss, resides.
The Bon, followers of an indigenous Tibetan religion, believe that the region is the seat of all spiritual power.