A Journey Turned Inward
Sumitra Kannan
WALKING IN CLOUDS: A JOURNEY TO MOUNT KAILASH AND LAKE MANASAROVAR by Kavitha Yaga Buggana HarperCollins, 2018, 186 pp., 350
September 2019, volume 43, No 9

Kavitha Yaga Buggana hears the ‘call of adventure’ and books a trekking trip to Kailash, in Walking In Clouds. There is a journey slumbering in each of us, waiting for the call to come. When it does, there is nothing to do but buckle one’s shoes and go. Life at home is comfortable if a little tame with ‘pink oleander and red hibiscus’ in the garden. Mt. Kailash beckons enticingly, and Kavi and cousin Pallu had dreamed of it since girlhood days. What she does not know yet is that sometimes it is the journey taking the person, not the person the journey.

People tell them that one must be ‘called’ to go on a pilgrimage. Kavi who is professedly atheistic is not impressed. Their third attempt gets them to Kathmandu and they make the acquaintance of the rest of their international team. The interminable delays for the right weather conditions to take the flight to Simikot sharpen Kavi’s eagerness to walk, climb, scale heights. Not long after, she makes the acquaintance of every aching muscle in her body. Trekking is ‘my thing’, insists her mind. Her body has another story to tell. ‘When you walk for hours and hours your body becomes overwhelming, leaving space for nothing else—not the beauty of the place, not the comfort of companionship, nor the thrill of the journey.’

As the trek progresses, Kavi understands the concept of duality, where seemingly opposite things indeed belong together. Rakshas Tal of supposedly poisonous water is in fact a shimmering lake inviting her to meditate. The vibrant young men, talking and laughing are the ‘listless’ Gurkhas she remembers from back home, squatting on stools, guarding malls. The surly Chinese guards in Tibet, who insolently and randomly rummage through her things, are in truth, lonely men away from home, yearning for the familiar. The makeshift shop that offers relief to the tourists is also the reason for shoddy structures that disfigure that town. The outer journey that Kavi takes is also an inner one where she comes face to face with both the darkness and the divine in her. Juxtaposed with her agonized cry, ‘If I do not feel the wonder of this journey, why am I here?’ is the deep joy of ‘I am filled with the silence in all things.’ Mt. Kailash is both impassive and a benevolent grandfather handing gifts all around: dancing blue lights to Kavi, a rudraksha mala to Pallu, and a vision of such enormity to a Jeffa team member that brings him to his knees.

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