For a person of faith, there is no journey as life-changing and important as a spiritual one.
For thousands of years, people of nearly all faiths, whether Christian, Jew, Buddhist or Hindu, have been making pilgrimages to corners of the world deemed sacred by their religions.
Muthurman Meiyappan — known to his local friends as Dr. Mei — and his wife Mala have lived in Grand Falls-Windsor for the past number of years, where he works as a pediatrician.
Originally from India, they have spent much of their life travelling the world for Dr Mei’s work.
Mala and Dr. Mei have lived in India, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, they have family and friends, including three sons, living in all corners of the globe. However one recent trip the couple embarked on would prove to be one of most important in their lives.
Both practicing Hindus, Dr. Mei and Mala were aware of the idea and legend behind making a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash, a mountain in Tibet said to be the home of Lord Shiva, a popular Hindu god.
It wasn’t until 2012 they decided to finally make the trip in the summer of 2013.
“Like Jerusalem for Christians, Mount Kailash for Hindus is a very sacred place. It is located in Tibet, and it’s a hard journey,” Dr. Mei told the Advertiser in interview recently. “It’s a very holy trip and a lifetime journey. For more than 1,000 years people have been travelling to this holy place.”
Dr. Mei said Mount Kailash is considered a holy place not only for Hindus, but also for those that practice the Bön religion and Buddhism and Jainism, although for different reasons.
Mount Kailash is a peak located in the Kailas Range in Tibet that sits at just over 6,600 metres above sea level.
Dr. Mei and his wife travelled there at the end of July, this past summer, with 17 others from Canada and the United states. It was a guided trek that took several weeks to complete.
Because of the strenuous nature of the trek, Dr. Mei said he and his wife prepared in the months leading up to their departure by walking 5-7 kilomteres each day, and eating a strict vegetarian diet.
The couple flew out of Gander July 27 to Toronto, and from there to New Delhi, India and Katmandu, Nepal.
The group stayed in Katmandu for a couple of days to meet up with other members of the tour, as well as local travel guides that would be helping them along their journey. Then the group travelled by road to cross the border into Tibet, China.
Once in Tibet, Dr. Mei said the group had to make several overnight stops in villages along the way to become acclimatized to the elevation. The ages of the travellers in the group ranged from 20 to 70, so the atmospheric conditions were harder on some than others.
“I think all of us felt a little out of breath,” he said, adding the journey is so challenging that for years and years people would do it in their later years, after finishing their life duties, because it was a trek that was much harder in those days and they were uncertain they would survive it.
One of the final stops before reaching their ultimate destination of Mount Kailash ended up being an unforgettable spiritual experience in itself, Dr. Mei said.
A glacial lake surrounded by Buddhist monasteries, Lake Manasarovar sits at about 4,500 metres above sea level, and is said to have spiritual properties.
“It is a serene, amazing, blue glacial lake, when we got the first glimpse everyone was so excited,” he said. “It is considered to be very holy, because one drop of water or one holy dip in Manasarovar is considered to absolve sins of several births, and some people say one dip in Lake Manasarovar takes away sins of over 100 births.”
Dr. Mei said he and his wife, as well as other members of the travel party, took a dip in this holy lake, and all prayed together for world peace.
In Tibet, Dr. Mei purchased about 130 sets of rudraksha prayer beads made from the seeds of a sacred tree to give as gifts to friends and family. He brought them along to dip in the sacred water, and collected some water to bring home to the Hindu temple in St. John’s.
“They say in Manasarovar in the early morning there are a lot of divine experiences happening. What they say is celestial lights come from heaven and float on the glacial lake, they say divine souls come to have a holy dip there.
“So we all came out between two and four o’clock in the morning to see the beautiful divine experience of celestial lights.
“There’s a Buddhist monastery there,” he added, “and around four (o’clock) in the morning there was a drum going, but it was otherwise total silence, pitch darkness, and then we saw the lights. It was like a globe that’s floating, it was amazing.”
After their stay in Manasarova they pushed on to Mount Kailash. They arrived at the base camp in the evening, and early the next morning embarked on their three-day, 52-kilometre trek around Mount Kailash.
This trek, known as circumambulation, is considered sacred.
Dr. Mei said Hindus and Buddhists go clockwise, while those that practice the Jainism and the Bön religion go counterclockwise.
Because of the effects of elevation, some members of the group, including Dr. Mei’s wife, elected to ride horseback. Dr. Mei walked. He said he wanted to make sure to get the best photos possible with the camera he brought along.
“As soon as we saw the first glimpse of holy Mount Kailash we were all excited. People say you’re not supposed to talk you just have to absorb. We were advised to just sit in front of Mount Kailash and gaze at the mountain for about a half hour to one hour.
“We just sat there and prayed for the world peace, and didn’t move.”
The following morning, Dr. Mei arose early so he could witness what he called the “glowing Lord Shiva.”
“The following morning we were able to see the glowing mountain...the vision was only there for approximately 10 minutes; after 10 minutes the effect of sun changes so you can no longer see the golden hue there,” he said. “Lord Shiva is considered to be in the form of Mount Kailash, and we had all the holy prayers on that day. It was amazing, it was wonderful.”
After finishing their trek around Mount Kailash, the travelers made their way back to Katmandu, retracing their route.
Most of the group boarded flights back to their homes. However, Dr. Mei and his wife made one more stop on their journey, a short trip to a place called Lumbini, Nepal, around 300 kilometres away from Katmandu.
It is the place where, around 600 B.C., Queen Mayadevi gave birth to a prince named Siddhartha Gautama, more commonly known as the Buddha. It is now preserved as a UNESCO world heritage site.
“I couldn’t believe I was in front of the place where Lord Buddha was born,” he said. “We stayed for one night, and no doubt was an abode of peace. As soon as we entered the border of Lumbini we felt a peace come and settling in our mind, and our sleep it was so sound that we didn’t even know that we had slept; such a feeling I don’t know where it came from.”
Dr. Mei and his wife returned to their home in Grand Falls-Windsor filled with a feeling of holiness and calmness.
Dr. Mei said he believes that when spiritual individuals visit holy places, they leave behind positive vibrations that can be felt by all future visitors.
It is why he said he and his wife would love to travel to Jerusalem one day, even though they are not Christian.
“It was something very unique, for thousands of years (holy) people go there, and you get the vibration automatically,” he said. “It made us more spiritual, and it gave our minds peace.”
Since his return, Dr. Mei has shared his holy experience with many people through sharing his beautiful photos, giving prayer beads as gifts, and telling stories of their travel.
“It was hard, but it was absolutely worth it, it was such a great experience we had. We felt it was a lifetime journey.
“I strongly recommend it, not only for religious people but for everyone else well,” he said. “If you have a faith, you can make it a holy holiday; if you don’t you can make it a very interesting holiday.”