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Mind Over Matter, at Drilbu-Ri yatra | Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh

If you saw the video in my previous blog post, you’d have noticed that I was sometimes trailing behind and gasping for breath during that little 2-hour trek. After 3 weeks of only sitting around – first in lectures at Ahmedabad and then at my work-desk in Delhi; I had reached Keylong with what I’d consider my lowest levels of stamina in a very long time. I came back from the short trek to Kardang Gompa feeling extremely drained... hungry to the extent of fainting... and with my head throbbing not just with splitting pain, but also annoyance at feeling the way I did in that moment. Weak.

And then... A week ahead of me was the `Drilbu-Ri kora.

Drilbu = prayer bell ; Ri = Mountain ; Kora = Circumambulation ('Skora' in Ladakhi, but 'kora' in Gaahari & Tibetan)

This is a day-long trek of the magical Drilbu-Ri, the peak of which is at 15,000 feet above mean sea level and which has been described as the centre of the holy Karzha-Khandroling mandala by Widorn & Kinberger (2009). This yatra is not something that I planned my entire trip around, but it was a happy coincidence that the timing of my visit to Lahaul coincided with the 5-day leg of the international Homage of the Dragons pilgrimage in Lahaul. Even before knowing any details about the festival, the idea of participating in it with 300-odd people, including locals and international visitors, definitely seemed interesting. However, after assessing myself on the day of the Kardang Gompa trek, I was quite convinced that I was not to take part in it. I definitely did not want to be one of those people who had to be brought back down midway on stretchers, the kinds that I had heard about from last year. “Nishita, adventure is one thing, your health and physical capacity is another”.

We demotivate ourselves so easily and so quickly in the name of some idea of safety.

As the days went by and we got closer to the day of the Drilbu-ri yatra, the tussle between the heart and the brain grew stronger. Over time, I have taught myself that it’s okay to let go of opportunities if the timing or circumstances is not right. I reasoned with myself in favour of letting this one go as well. “Nishita, there’s many other things that you can do during the day instead of going for the trek – read, catch up on your projects, what not.”

We try to convince ourselves to not trust our own instincts.

But my heart and brain were not on the same side this time round. While I kept telling myself, and others, that I was not going, it just did not feel right to be uttering those words out of my mouth. Some people told me that it’s okay to sit this one out if I do not feel comfortable, while others stepped in to motivate. “Don’t try to run up, go slowly. Stop after every two steps if required. Then there’s no problem at all”

We must believe in the positivity that comes our way in bits and pieces.

I began to imagine myself munching on a turnip, the super-source of energy in the mountains, as I walked up the steep slopes of Drilbu-ri. I imagined a slow and steady pace, possibly being left behind at the back of the group and being okay with that. I imagined resting after every ten steps, if not two, and the wonderful feeling of letting my heartbeat slow down and catching up on my breath again. I imagined the joy I’d potentially feel after reaching the peak, after having overcome my own physical weaknesses. And the mental ones too.

We first need to cross the hurdle that’s inside our minds.

On the night before the trek, everyone had gathered at the Tupchilling camp, where His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa addressed the yatris for the next day. I was possibly the only person in the gathering with no religious motivation at all. But over the last few days, I had witnessed the magic of His Eminence’s speech and the beauty with which he communicated the ideas. (The fact that he spoke in English was an added benefit for me, as it was the first time I could do without translations). He spoke the way all good teachers speak – with simplicity and clarity. That night, he started by advising the people above 60 years of age to consider their health very deeply. “Human life is very precious – there is so much good that we all can do every single day. Don’t risk it for this yatra if you are unwell.” He also said that he would not want to create the wrong impression that this is an easy walk up. It’s not. “I just want to remind you to find your motivation to climb.”

We all need to find our unique, honest motivation to keep going.

The struggle to convince myself to reach the starting point of the trek was a much bigger one than the trek itself. Self-convincing took me 7 days, whereas the trek was done in 1 day. During the actual 6-hour climb, there was more positive energy, food and rest all along the route than I could have ever imagined. In-spite of all that, given the difficulty of the trek, I still remember feeling extremely tired as we got closer to the top and taking a whole lot of breaks when I was just 100 steps away from the peak. At that altitude, I could feel my heart thump loudly in my throat. At the same time, I could also feel the energy of being at the centre of the holy mandala, far above and away from all the mundane thoughts that plague us on an everyday basis. The Karzha (Lahaul) valley around us - a real 360 degree experience.

We will all, eventually, make it.

At the highest point of the Drilbu-ri Kora © Nishita Mohta


Widorn, V & Kinberger, M, 2009, 'Mapping the sacred landscape of Lahaul - The Karzha-Khandroling mandala', eds. Cartwright, W, Gartner, G, Lehn, A, Cartography & Art, Springer, ISBN: 978-3-540-68567-8

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