“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Ballad of the Bulleteer

(This is for the fellow riders of Silver-Bullets, Trivandrum)

If you listen carefully,
You might hear Africa.
You would think
You are in the Congos
Or Bongos
And will go bonkers -
That’s how we thump our Bulls.

Wolfpack* roar like lions
Old Bulls honk like elephants
Electras spat like leopards
Thunderbirds soar like eagles-
In the roads of the jungle
The Bulls are the wildest of all.

The toys look better, they ride faster
They have the gizmos
They have the gloss
Like the floozies that flock the streets.

The Bull may look like hulks
‘coz Hogans rule the roads.
They may leak
They may cough
They may choke
But the Bull gets you where you want to be.

Respect, dignity, self-assurance
The Bull is the bike for men.
You have to have it
Between your legs
To know what makes you a man.
* 500 cc Royal Enfield Bullet M/cycle
Balan, Trivandrum 15-12-2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I, the pawn

Like a sullen orb of mercury
He sprawls across the chessboard
Surrendered, to be shaped
As destiny wills him to be.

Earth trembles,
The board shakes;
Sluggish, he slithers
From one square to another.

Wind blasts,
The board shivers;
He slides from PQ2 to PQ4.

Fire spreads,
The board burns;
He waits, untouched,
Watching the curling
Chessboard of life.

********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 23-12-2008

The Endgame

Pawns become queens;
Queens run all over the board
Bishops slash
Knights kick
Rooks ram …
What do I, the king do,
Helpless, bound,
At the mercy of the rest?

Alone in the crumbling castle,
I rue…
I never wanted to be the king…

*********** Balachandran, Trivandrum,23-12-2008

Friday, December 19, 2008


All this talk of love, love lost
Joys and sorrows -
Of inexplicable thoughts
Of death; worse, fear of death –
Its fine for a solitary afternoon
Or a late night when you have
The freedom to brood…
All you have to do is to regurgitate
The stale memories.
Though the utter pointlessness of the exercise
Hits one like a blast of cold air
And one shudders as the blizzard
Of loneliness shrouds the self.
********** Balachandran, Trivandrum 19-12-2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cannot Delete: Access Denied

Once in a while you have to clean your system.
Empty the Recycle Bin,
Clean up and defrag the disks.
Files accumulated over the past
Move crumpled into the bin
And then to oblivion.

It would be nice
To have a hard disk instead of a brain
Where fungus-ridden memories grow maggots
Eating into my soul.
Balachandran, Trivandrum 18.12.2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Spaces that are empty of you

(For Mark Strand)

It is difficult to recollect
Scenes in sequence
As images blur, shiver, jerk
Jump or scatter into a thousand pixels
Like my old DVD player does.

If they have Panama 20s there
Light up one and listen to me, father.
I can see you, running your fingers
Over that bottlebrush moustache
And picking tobacco flakes
Off your lips.

I hold it against you,
The only thing against you
That you left me when I was just thirteen.
That you never gave me the watch
You promised, for passing high school.
There are the places where we would've gone
Like the forests and streams we once wallowed through.
Rollicking in your Jeep
World War II condemned
With the Sambar deers running ahead
In the flickering headlights
Or that tusker standing its ground
And we running for our lives
As the Jeep got stuck in the mud.

Nobody now, father, to buy me
An Enid Blyton
Or sneak in a Classics Illustrated
Or a Chase, while I should be
Chasing a ball or burying my head in studies.
Dammit, you left too soon!

You bought me my first bicycle, though.
And the Readers’ Digest Young People’s Annual!
Remember that stamp you bought for me
Man on the Moon, in ‘sixty-nine?

What comes most vivid
Are images of food we ate
Masal Dosas and Rose Milks
At the Indian Coffee House
Jelly Custard at Simla Parlour
Biriyani Tea at Liberty.

Images come, hesitant, hazy -
You on your back with froth on your lips
Of mother crying, sisters looking stunned
Of walking, cold, through empty streets
Carrying you on a Mumbai morning
The few passers-by bowing
And somebody muttering
Ram Nam Satya Hai.

It took me a long time
To accept you were dead.
I remember distinctly
That I couldn’t cry and panicked why.
It took me a long time
Because I didn’t want you to die.

We hadn’t had much time together, did we?
You had all my thirteen years
And I –
I had all these years
To think of you; I do, you know.
At fifty-one, I am near the age you died.
And all I have –
These spaces that are empty of you.

I just feel sad, not angry, that you left.
If you could, I know, you wouldn’t have.
I just want to tell you this-
You left me rudderless – ever since.
I wish you were here
With me on the road
Hills and valleys, ups and downs
As I plod through the paths of life.

Are you there?
Are you there, hiding behind my dogs
Are you sitting by my son?
Is it you there on the snow-clad top
Or lying
There on the grass by the side of the stream?

**************** Balachandran V, 21-11-2008, Trivandrum

Sunday, November 16, 2008

As I cross the River of Life

The riverbank itself is portentous
Of the path ahead.
The squelchy, soggy soil
Sucks in my feet like a cavernous mouth
Of a carnivorous creature.
I am half – willing to be sucked in.

It can hardly be called a river.

Meandering listlessly through this barren land
It is more like a space between two high banks
Flat, with few mounds of debris and sand
Forlorn, looking woebegone
Like refugees weary, resting their limbs.

Ribbons of water run through this space
Shallow, scarcely to wet your toes.
I look around for signs of life –
At the farther side, I spot a bird.

Life! Life! Another one!
I find meaning for mine.

Gingerly, I test the water with my toes.
Lukewarm, indifferent,
It hardly cares who I am.
Beneath the fluid, I detect stones,
Slimy, slippery, smiling wryly.
I am careful.
Stepping on each, scrubbing the slime
Gripping, putting weight onto the foot,
I lift the other to step on the next.

The current is stronger now.
The potholes are deeper now.
I stumble, I sway, I stagger
Panicky, frantic, I look around wildly -
Whirlpools swirl,
Waters rise –
The vulture is nearer now-
He looks up at me with a benign smile
Feeding on the carcass of a man.

Beyond, the eyes of the riverbank glitter
In the cruel, shade-less sun.

***************** Balachandran, Trivandrum 16-11-2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Is every grain of sand
Different from the other?
I do not know.
Is every drop of water
Different from the other?
I do not know.
But I do know
That every snowflake
Is different from the other
Just as every man differs from the other.

How like snowflakes are we!
Both appear from nowhere
But from somewhere the same
Falling, falling we come down
Lying on a rock or in a glacier
Or on the riverbank here
Clinging on to a blade of grass
Or like this one, on my beard.

Clinging on, clutching to
For a brief while
And then melting away into nothingness.
Balachandran, 13.11.2008, Trivandrum

Monday, October 20, 2008


To bite into a chicken’s fried leg

And tear it with a twist of the head

Lick the morsel stuck on the cheek

With the gravy dribbling down the chin…

To light and draw deep on a cigarette

And watch the plume rising

Or the rings reluctantly vanishing

Gazing at the clouds rolling by…

To fondle a glass of whisk y

And listen to the ice clinking

The nip in the air fading

As the cool breeze waltzes by…

To stretch back on the park bench

And ruminate on nothing

Content, still, fulfilled

And admire a young girl passing by…


Your woman glares –

For the cholesterol is rising

Your doctor preaches –

For Hypertension is bounding

Your friend patronizes –

A prognosis of Cirrhosis

And your mind – please don’t!

Playing tricks of geriatrics…

Why do simple pleasures come

Gilt in guilt?

************** Balachandran, 20-10-2008, Trivandrum

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Way We Came

The other day I was reminded of my mother’s vagina

By the driver of a car.

He shouted, “where the fuck you looking at,

You mother-fucker!”

I had to slow down,

Sidle up on to the left embankment

Switch off and light a butt.

I was struck, not by the common obscenity

The one we men believe to be the ultimate sin

But by the banality of it.

It rolls so easily out of our mouths

Fornicating one’s mother

Which is the standard insult

The first one, they say

To leap, frothing, from the mouths

Of our friendly, neighbourhood policemen.

I was in fact, struck by the realization

That whether we ever thought of the way we came.

As my mother lay as she would have

Relieving herself of the baggage that was me

Knees raised and hip thrust forward

As the midwife urged, “Push! Push!”

Heaving, panting, groaning, moaning

She now lies like a cockroach, propped belly up.

I saw the way I came

Cleaning her privates, as she lay paralyzed

And oblivious, thankfully, to my presence

For she could not remember the past

Or be in the present any more.

It didn’t make me sad

But it saddened me when I wondered

If she knew.

If she did, she would have seethed with anger

At the utter helplessness, the abject humiliation of it.

I do not know;

Perhaps she would have loved me more, if she could.

I am a son; I never delivered a baby.

I do not know;

I am a man.

I do not know

Whether bringing a child to life

Is merely a biological function

Or the sublimation of life.

I do not know;

I am a father.

I am bereft of an umbilical cord

That I envy my wife for.

In the newspaper, article on hapless mothers

Left in old age homes to rot like dying trees.

On the streets old trees sawed off to make way for cars.

We are forgetting the ways we came

The shade they gave

The care they gave

The fruits of love they bore for us.

**************** Balachandran 12-10-2008, Trivandrum

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Late in the night, there is a time

When silence is total, for sometime.

Traffic stops then; tramps slump

Dogs stop barking, cats stop yowling,

Breaths are bated; leaves are frozen stiff.

Later, in the stillness of the night

When I must have slipped deeper

Into a slumber that is akin to death –

My old dog let out a howl.

There is an explosion deep in the heart

Shaken up from a dreamless sleep

A sense of regret, having to return –

I shush him, snuggle deeper into the sheets.

Slowly I must have wafted back

Into the swirls of sleep once again –

This time the howl was louder and longer

For the younger one now joined his father.

My head was being blown apart –

Jerking up, I shout, “SHADDAUP YOU DOPES!!”

Dropped back like a stiff nudged down

Struggling to remember my shattered dreams.

Why should there be a third time always?

The best of three or the worst of three

Why on your mark one two three

Why in myths, boons are always three?

I just sat up, blinking my eyes, feeling numb.

Scratched my groin,

Groped for a butt,

The beginning of yet another sleepless night.

The howl did have a beauty to it.

It began on a low key, skipped a couple

Went up piercing the moonlit night

Like a shaft of sorrow splitting my heart.

It was a ghoulish, mournful howl

It went ow ow o wow as if in pain –

As if death was on its daily prowl.

Beyond the gate, under the lamp

That streetwalker bitch was hanging about

Her eyes glinted in the light of my torch –

My old dog turns, looks at me -

Humble, gentle and apologetic.

“Don’t you know, master,

That I need my bitch

Just as you do yours?

Look at my boy, he needs one

To sow his seeds, as you did.

Let me out, let me be free

For a night to run with her.

To roam the streets, rumble with the boys

Let me be me just for a night.

Early in the morn

As you very well know,

I will be home wagging my tail

Your friend and servant, faithful and true.”

The stone must have hit

Right on her teats

For she let out a yelp

And ran into the night.

“Go to sleep”, I tell my dogs.

Tails are wagged politely

Doors are barred

Windows are shut –

Silence returns

Though sleep doesn’t, to my lonesome side.

************* Balachandran, Trivandrum 12-10-2008
(Apologies to Allen Ginsberg )

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dead-end Dreams

There is a twilight

Where dreams end

And realities begin.

To some, it is dawn,

Wake-up time;

Dusk it is, to others.

To those who slept through



Is the time

To light candles

In Wake.

************** Balachandran, Strike Day II, 25-09.2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bathroom Babel

My bathroom is a secure place

With a little window to the world.

A two-way window, to look out

And to look within.

Water runs, chuckling,

Washing away dirt; sins too.

The resident spider sprints

With a cockroach in its mouth.

A gecko peers, scrambling

As I sprinkle a little water at him.

A stage

To enact my fantasies

To practice a speech

To sing a song

To talk to my love

Or imagine making love.

Outside, a spider squats in its web

A cocoon hangs from a leaf

A Koel sings, a Kingfisher shrugs

A crow cleans its beak

And a squirrel hops up the tree.

Farther, the world waits –

Sharpening its claws

Cracking its knuckles

Gnashing its teeth –

The world waits for me.

I hide in my bathroom

Comforted by its damp coziness

Peering out at the world

Bracing to be eaten alive.

A buffer zone, a barrier

Between banalities and bitter realities

The bathroom determines

What I am, what I like to be;

And what I do not want to be.

**************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 04.09.2008

Monday, August 25, 2008


"It was all nothing, and a man was nothing, too...Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was nada y pues nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee..."

If this silence lengthens

To weeks, months – why, even years

You might not learn it when I die.

If we are never to meet again,

You will never see the lines

That ravage my face.

If we are never to talk again

You will never know

That you were there

Always in my thoughts.

You shrug, says ‘so what?’

‘What if you died –

Everyone does, don’t they?

What if you got old –

Everyone does, don’t they?

What if

I don’t care whether you think of me or not?’

Nothing matters, really.

Or doesn't it?

Does ‘nothing’ – that is, having nothing, matter?

Or is it that ‘nothing’ – no thing, matter?

I say, what really matters is – nothing, the vacuum.

All that matters to you is you

And all that doesn’t relate to you, doesn’t.

Take you out of you,

Nothing remains

The way I now take me out of I …

Which is to say, the world ceases to exist when you do.

It reaffirms my belief that everything is actually

Nada, nada, nada, nada.

**************** Balachandran V, 25.08.2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Its spine broken and torn

Leaves left devoured by silverfish,

Corners crumbling with age -

My hands tremble as I open the book.

Carefully, tenderly, I turn the frontispiece -

Shabby, tattered yet holding up together

With a dignity that only books can have -

I shake out the dust and faecal matter.

The book is still silent, slightly embarrassed

But not showing any -

Like my mother, paralysed

As I clean her with wet cotton blobs.

In the left corner of the first page

The book said -

‘With all good wishes to my son’

Signed, my father, forty years ago.

I run my fingers over the lines

Lift up the book to smell it deep

Rest my palm where he would have -

I am in touch with my father.

For my child, what do I leave

Would he care

Would he gratify me -

With immortality?

Would he

Standing alone in the mountains high

Would he

When snowflakes fall, kissing his face?

Would he

When winds roar past his face

Would he

When the hills fall silent?

*********** Balachandran, Trivandrum 20-08-2008

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Good Evening

There is kindness in the air today.

Sunlight bright, yet soft;

Wind strong, yet breezy;

Earth alive, yet sleepy.

There is grace in the air today.

In the shade and light

Trees sparkle and dance

Crows muse, sitting on the posts.

There is music in the air today.

The chorus of the leaves

As the wind blows through them

In rhythmic waves of love.

Through the window, across the trees

Over the high rise, the sky is blue

In unseen strings suspended,

Kites hover; swift fly past Swifts.

On the cool floor of the room,

The dogs are asleep deep

In full trust, faith and love.

I move gently; I stroke their heads.

There is gentleness in the evening today

Awaiting twilight to come

Knowing darkness would follow soon

Knowing, accepting, calmly, the end.


Balachandran, 1530 hrs, 03-08-2008, Trivandrum

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Bamboo Grove

Cut it right below at the stem

Where it bursts out of the soil

Seeking light and rain and air

The soil softened with the fallen yellowed leaves.

In the grove,

Warblers might be twittering

Pheasants would be muttering

Doves would be cooing

Lizards would be basking

In the sun.

The lone old cobra would be huddling,

Its last skin too, shed.

Above, the green slender long leaves

Would be chattering in the breeze

The poles, a-yellowed, a- green

Would be listening and smiling.

Cut it – in one swing

Let it not split

Do not – listen to the muted groans

The pain of parting.

Lay them side by side

Like soldiers fallen at the cavalry charge.

Forget the snake

Forget the Warbler

Forget the breeze

Forget the creaking song

The bamboo had sang together

Swaying in the gentle wind-

Ra Ra Ra Ra Ra Ra

Ra Ra Ra Ra Ra Ra

Ra Ra Ra Ra Ra Ra .

When the murmur finally stops

Walk away – but -

Do not turn and look around

Lest your eyes fall on

The severed hearts of the Bamboo - Or

Your heart you left behind, bleeding.

***************** Balachandran,30.07.2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Moving, Still - reflections on Kailas Yatra

The traveler reflects on the farewells given to men who travel, a little like the farewell one gives to those one will never see again. The ‘Goodbye, and good luck’, that the country girl or the tavern woman or the mule driver gives, is farewell forever, a lifelong farewell, a farewell laden with unrecognized sorrow. Their souls and all their five senses go into that ‘Goodbye and good luck’.

- Camilo Jose’ Cela : Journey into Alcarria.


There is an aquarium in the non-vegetarian refreshment room at the Kottayam Railway Station. 3 ft by 1 ft, it is a small fish tank. A solitary fish about 11/2 ft in length swims in it. Slim, silvery, with a lopsided mouth above which a pair of horn-like appendage flicker, it moves from right to left in two strokes. Twisting, it turns- then left to right, two strokes– on and on and on… Perhaps in the vast sea with whales and sharks and other huge fish, it might be so insignificant- yet, you wish this fish were in the deep and vast ocean, swimming as its graceful tail swishes, looking hither and thither, moving in freedom…

Alone, beside the Meenachil River at Thazahathangadi. Evening- the water sparkles in the slanting sunlight. The river moves, gently towards the sea…

In one’s past travels and those in future, there are three factors one cherishes most. Movement, freedom and solitude. In moving, one exults in the sense of freedom; and freedom in its purest form is felt only in solitude. The mind can be let loose and brought to stillness. Whether in a crowded bar or alone on a snowy peak, one feels absolutely in control, fine-tuned.

Movement is about freedom in solitude. Raise your left leg; there is nobody to question you why. Instead of the left, change at the last moment to the right leg; ditto. Freedom is to be free to choose one’s life. It may not last forever, but what is forever? You are like a blind ant balancing on a stretched thin thread; no turning back. The child holding the thread can anytime break it, throw it away or shoot you phut! with his forefinger. But, at the moment you raise your left or right foot, you are there, with the memories of the way you came and the dreams of the way you will go.

For the traveler, a particular journey begins in dreams. Pouring over the newspaper cuttings or photographs of earlier travels to Kailas, or the books of Swami Tapovanam or Swami Pranavananda or Asan (The late K V Surendranath), the dream take wings. To dream for 13 years is a long time. Its realization is just the physical experience of the dream.


Kailas and Manasarovar lies far away in Tibet or China. Geographic and political nomenclatures are absurd. In his perpetual sense of insecurity, man gives names and say that you or I belong to a piece of land. Yet, like the aborigines of Australia who identify their sacred land through songlines, Kailas and Manasarovar are a part of the Indian subconscious – to stand before the mountain and to submerge in the lake is to look deep within ourselves and recognize what we are…

One can visit Kailas for many reasons. Religious, as the mythical abode of Shiva and Parvati; adventurous, for to reach Kailas by foot, one has to trek through altitudes of nearly 20,000 ft in biting cold; spiritual, as Kailas and its surroundings have an uncanny atmosphere that reverberates to some unidentifiable yearnings of one’s self. It can also be for the sheer love for nature. But, please, don’t go there as a tourist.

One can choose the way one wants to go to Kailas. Either the arduous, traditional pilgrim route traversing across Himalayas on foot or in the comfort of Toyota Landcruiser via Katmandu. But the difference in the sense of achievement is enormous.


Journeys, though of your own choice, need not turn out to be exactly as you wish. Your ship may heave anchor in a calm sea, but how can you prevent the storms? One is disturbed – the pujas, mantras and the saffron-clad people – the string of Rudraksha, the saffron head band and book of Shiva purana offered to you – the incessant bhajans played inside the bus from Delhi to Dharchula near Nepal – people are confining themselves, covering themselves in a shroud. One yearns to shout to them – look, look! Look at the passing landscape, the passers-by, the mountain ranges, the lakes, the rivers! The drone of an electronic instrument that repeatedly plays ‘Om namasivayh’, kills the reflective mood. I had to pick up an uncharacteristic argument to kill the instrument.

The bus flings aside the wheat fields, tractors, trucks, roadside dhabas, and multitudes of humans, covering them in exhaust fumes and dust. As the bus slows down, I notice an old beggar squatting among the filth, gazing at the bus. Our eyes lock. Who am I to him? In the next moment, the bus surges ahead. I feel panicky. Are you telling me that there is no connection between the beggar and me? Between the pilgrims and I? Between the cigarettewallah who wishes Kailas yatra saphal ho and I who nods at him? Why do I have to say goodbye to all these people? Why can’t I be with them? I wish I could remember each and every being that I have seen and see them again and say hello. Are you saying I can’t do it? Should journeys mean to go away into the unknown? It should be about coming back – to my family, to my friends and to the familiar. One more day’s travel further is one more day closer to home. Then – am I really going anywhere?

After three days of suffocation in the bus, I am in the open with my haversack at Tawaghat. Bang in front is the first hill to climb. Gasping breath (I wished I never smoked!), straining muscles, slipping feet – yet, beyond the hill, I know, snow-capped mountains would have gathered to welcome me. My Himalayas. Mine. Mine.

From the humid Dharcula, the pilgrims traverse a cross-sectional path across Himalayas. The changing landscape is fascinating to watch. From tropical through temperate and alpine forests we climb to the dry, barren high altitudes.

A bird skips up the path. I know which. I am smug in my petty knowledge of birds. A furry dog sits in front of a house and smiles at me. I remember mine back home, and ask him, ‘Entheda, sukhamano?’ This tree has peculiar leaves. I wish Parvati were here to casually tell me its botanical name. Far away, I see a waterfall and remember how I had to pull away my little boy from the forest streams back home. I am not really alone.

Within a couple of days into the trek, the body gets adjusted quickly. There is a rhythm to the walking. Breathing is regular, despite the strain. Muscles move like well-oiled pistons. One is looking and listening all the time; all the senses are so sharp. There are several distractions- the pilgrims’ litter, the shouting and singing Gujaratis, nagging, complaining women from Mumbai, the filth and stink of the Himalayan villages – yet, gradually I cease to be irritated by all that- all I see are the mountains; all I know is that beyond the narrow, dangerous path, I will see Kailas.

Yet I am shaken at Malpa, where two years ago in 1998, Protima Bedi and nearly 300 others lost their lives. Rakesh shows me the group photo of the ill-fated pilgrims who perished – his parents were among them. I look closely at the photographs – that bearded trekker could have been me. Those girls in their twenties are very attractive. Their bodies still lay beneath the massive rocks that lie on our path. Death constantly shadows us. Beyond every curve, he lies in wait; I can see his benign smile… every step taken, every day spent, I am nearing, nearing him. I stand on a precipitous ledge and look down at Kali River. All I have to do is to lift one leg and let the other follow. I tempt fate by lifting one leg.

Somewhere on the steep climb to Budhi, I rest. I am struck by the absurdity of my life and my choices. ‘Fifty thousand rupees! You are nuts!’, said a colleague. Another huddled close and asked very confidentially: “Tell me, Balan, what exactly is your problem? Are you having any family troubles? Are you trying to get away from it all?” He is skeptical when I say that I am not escaping from anything, it is just one more travel to the Himalayas I always wanted to do. He shakes his head and says: “You were always a freak.” What is the purpose? Why is it so important to see this mountain? Do I make-believe such purposes so that I could forget the truth of the purposelessness? What difference would it make to me once I see Kailas and take a dip in the Sarovar? What am I after, some images I can retain in my memory to chew on at leisure back home? What difference is there between the flotsam in the river that runs to the sea and I? Above my head I hear a chirp. A little bird flits among the leaves and then hops on to the top of the bush and starts singing. Far away a snow-clad peaks glitter like gold in the evening sun.

“Well, my dear chap,” says the liaison officer, ex-army IAS from Delhi, “ I say, what the heck, why don’t you people drive up to Tibet in a vehicle and go wherever you want? You get a better view of Kailas from a helicopter”. Do we really believe that suffering ennobles us? I decide that I have to hone my mind more. I will sharpen it to the fineness of a rapier.

Every day the trek starts at around 0600. Makhan Singh, my porter walks beside me. He is from a village en route. He gamely tries to answer my incessant questions about his land and life. He shares his Ganja with me. I don’t smoke much because of the strenuous walk; anyway, I am on a different high. Most of the yatris ride ponies. Clinging to their animals, they look terrified at the chasms below the narrow ledge.

One has to be aware of oneself and the mountains all the time. As you walk up, you notice every brook, every rock and every patch of snow. You listen to the wind, the birds, the mountains and your breath. Every snowflake that falls on your shoulder or cling onto your beard is a gift of nature. These sensory perceptions grow inside you and gradually you become an element in the environment, like the Japanese painter who walks into Van Gogh’s paintings in Kurasowa’s ‘Dreams’. In such sharp awareness, you become that. They are, at the same time, within and without you. You become both the viewer and the viewed. In such moments that only the Himalayas can give, you realize who you are and your place in the whole system.

Passing hamlets and forests, we walk along the gorge of Kali River. Waterfalls cascade over our heads. The narrow path hardly 3 feet wide tantalizes me to the rushing river. We pass through Kharbeyang to Gunji, the ITBP (Indo-Tibet Border Police) camp where we have to face a fitness test that will determine whether we can cross over to Tibet or not. Beyond Kalapani we reach Nabhithang, the last post of ITBP. The Om Parbat, which has an Om shaped glacier, sends the pilgrims to ecstasy. “We are indeed blessed by the Lord. Very few have seen the Om Parbat with such clarity”, they say gleefully.

We pass through Lipu Lekh Pass at 17000 ft to reach over to Tibet.


In Taklakot, high on a hill, silhouetted against the sky stands the ruins of a monastery. A few decades ago, there were more than 500 Buddhist monks there. The Chinese government destroyed everything during the Cultural Revolution. One cannot imagine the anguish of the Tibetan. At home, we destroy our forests, wetlands, backwaters and sacred groves. What do I lose along with them? What is exactly my relation to all these? I remember the burnt forests near Sairandhri in Silent Valley where gallons of fuel were poured by the Electricity Board to show that there were no forests in the Hydel project area. In Kottayam, I watch the Puncha paddy fields being filled up rapidly by the flesh carved from the hills. Why do I feel this terrible pain, this tearing of my heart?

The Barkha plains are enchanting. I am among the lucky few to see a herd of Tibetan wild ass. The Plains stretch away to the horizon. Lone telegraphic poles stand like strayed travelers. En route Manasarovar, we stop at the banks of Rakshas Tal. Leave alone the myths, but one cannot help notice the absence of bird life around the Rakshas Tal. We see Mount Kailas for the first time and the pilgrims shout Kailaspathi ki jai ho or chant Om Namasivayh.

Listening to the wind beating out its perennial drums on the prayer flags at Zaidi on the banks of Manasarovar overlooking the waters that touch the horizon, I ruminate over the ecstasies and the agonies I have experienced. I am so attached to life. Over my head, flocks of Barheaded Geese fly and land in the lake. Brahminy ducks feed contently nearby. Nose quivering, a gray rabbit looks at me apprehensively. Quails or partridges tumble over a mound. Far away, across the expanse of water, the snows of Kailas glitter. I wade into the lake. Somebody from the banks shouts at me, “Is it cold?” Waist deep in the icy water, I dip my head and breathe out, watching the bubbles rising in Manasarovar. As Manasarovar embraces me gently, I am at peace. The feeling of oneness with nature – this is what I always wanted; this is what life has always gifted me. I close my eyes and remember the lush green forests back home and the rolling grasslands of Eravikulam, where I hope to breath my last. The waves of Manasarovar bring over a dead fish to my feet.

The trek around Kailas begins at Darchen. We walk westward. Sree, my friend from Trivandrum and other two friends from Tamil Nadu keep me company. There isn’t much conversation. Occasionally we sit down to rest. The altitude and the rarified atmosphere begin to tell on the trekkers. Most others lumber up on shaggy Yaks. I am slightly preoccupied by stomach upset. One has to drink a lot of fluids in such places; I am losing it faster than I should. By late afternoon we reach Deraphuk, our halt for the day. The sky is crystal clear and the north face of Kailas looms before us. Each pilgrim is awed in his/her own way by the sight of the north face. Some do pujas; some read from sacred texts. Some walk away alone. Sree and I, old friends, hug each other.

Look at the photographs of Himalayan Mountains. Unless you know the distinguishing shape of say, Everest or Nandadevi, you cannot recognize them. But Kailas! Like Shiva in Pradoshanrittam mural, Kailas stands out, with its black conical peak, unshakable and bestowing radiance on all. Past Dolma pass (19800 ft), past Zongzerbu, the second night halt, we reach back in Darchen. Our forward yatra is complete. Some go up to Ashtapad for a closer view of the south face of Kailas. We rest, waiting for the other set of yatris who have gone for the Manasarovar parikrama.

Taklakot. Everyone is busy picking up cheap Chinese souvenirs. Our return journey begins next day.

I look at myself in the mirror. Other than the beard that have grown, the lips that have cracked and the sunburnt, peeling skin, what changes have occurred to me? I have lost a few kilos; I walk lighter. What, in the beginning of my dream journey, the years of yearning, the painstaking planning and preparation and the excitement of the yatra, what had I really wanted? I am not a devotee. I didn’t want any moksha. I didn’t want to be rid of my sins. I had suffered but I persisted through all that suffering and realized a dream. Perhaps dreams should remain as dreams. Perhaps one shouldn’t have any achievements. It is a letdown.

On the way back, down, down the hills of Himalayas, I meet a group of pilgrims going to Chhota Kailas on the Indo-Tibetan border. An old man climbs up supporting himself with a stick. His eyes burn with determination. He touches my feet. “They touched Kailas”, he says. I am embarrassed. “I had applied for the yatra, but they rejected me. I am 75, but I will apply again next year. Do you think I can make it?”

In New Delhi, we say goodbye to each other and exchange addresses.
Within our hearts we know that we are only trying to stretch the memories of a shared experience, which will soon fade away. Within our hearts we know we will never see some of the others again. Yet, like Cela
1 wrote, our souls go into those goodbyes and good lucks. And we know that amidst the cacophony of our mundane life, among the debits and credits, among the anguish and strife, the images of Kailas and Manasarovar will remain sharp in our hearts. Again and again, we will go back to them, like the peacock’s feather we kept inside our schoolbook.

As Kerala Express slows down and comes to a halt at Trivandrum railway station, Parvati runs up to my compartment. Admiration, love and happiness shine in her eyes. At home, my dogs climb all over me and howl and bark and tug at my shirt. I had been away for more than a month. It is only 1530. I go to the bus stop where my 8-year old boy would get down from his school bus. The bus arrives. I move a little away. He gets down and looks around for Parvati. I am waiting. I am waiting for my son to see me.



Six years and many Himalayan yatras later, I, Balachandran V, male, 49, 5’9” 85kg, type out these words sitting alone in my 8x8 room in Kottayam. Kailas looks down at me from the two photographs pasted on the walls above the computer. I remember – and deeply bow in gratitude for the memories.


1. Jose Camilo Cela – Journey into Alcarria.

NOTE: This is the second article that I had to write about the yatra that I undertook 6 years ago (The first one will appear in a book soon to be published). I had to skip much of the details here to avoid repetition. And like the dimming photographs in the album, memories also are fading. For those genuinely interested, there are several books which are exhaustive. Below is a list of a few:

1. Himagiriviharam (Malayalam) / Wanderings in the Himalayas ( English translation) : Swami Tapovanam.

2. Kailas – Manasarovar : Swami Pranavananda

3. The Way of the White Clouds : Lama Anagarikara Govinda

4. Kailasa yatra (Malayalam): Swami Chitbhavananda

5. Himalayathinte Mukalthattil (Malayalam) :K V Surendranath.

6. Trekking in Nepal, West Tibet and Bhutan : Hugh Swift.

7. Uttarakhadiloode –Kailas Manasarovar Yatra (Malayalam)–M.K Ramachandran

8. Kailash Manasarovar- A Sacred Journey : Veena Sharma

Those who liked this may also have a look at this: http://mytravelsmylife.blogspot.com/2008/02/journeys-from-within-and-without-kailas.html