Mount Kailash in Tibet
Chinese Name: 冈仁波齐峰
English Name: Mount Kailash
Type: Nature, Hiking, Religion, Pilgrimage
Best Time: April, May, September, October.
Recommended Visiting Hours: 2~4 Days
Opening Hours: Whole Day
Ticket:150 RMB for ticket and 150 RMB for bus
Location: The northern part of Baga Township in Pulan County, western Ali region of Tibet.
Why is Mount Kailash So Special?
Mount Kailash is a peak in the Kailash Range (Gangdisê Mountains), which forms part of the Transhimalaya in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. This awe-inspiring peak stands at a towering height of 6600 meters, yet remains unconquered. It exudes an air of enigma, spiritual significance and cultural richness. Embarking on a trek up Mount Kailash will allow you to immerse yourself in the essence of Tibetan culture and religion, while simultaneously pushing your physical limits to the extreme.
Where is Mount Kailash – Location
Mt. Kailash lies near the source of some of the longest rivers in Asia: the Indus River, Sutlej River, Brahmaputra River, and Karnali River (a tributary of the Ganges River). It is considered a sacred place in four religions: Bön, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. The mountain lies near Lake Manasarovar and Lake Rakshastal
According to Hinduism, Lord Shiva, the god of gods, resides at the summit of a legendary mountain named Kailāsa, where he sits in a state of perpetual meditation along with his wife Pārvatī. He is at once the Lord of Yoga and therefore the ultimate renunciate ascetic, yet he is also the divine master of Tantra.
According to Charles Allen, one description in the Vishnu Purana of the mountain states that its four faces are made of crystal, ruby, gold, and lapis lazuli. It is a pillar of the world and is located at the heart of six mountain ranges symbolizing a lotus.
In Jainism, Kailash is also known as Meru Parvat or Sumeru. Ashtapada, the mountain next to Mt. Kailash, is the site where the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabhadeva, attained Nirvana/moksa (liberation).
Tantric Buddhists believe that Mount Kailash is the home of the Buddha Demchok (also known as Demchog or Chakrasamvara), who represents supreme bliss.
There are numerous sites in the region associated with Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), whose tantric practices in holy sites around Tibet are credited with finally establishing Buddhism as the main religion of the country in the 7th–8th century AD.
It is said that Milarepa (c. 1052 – c. 1135 AD), champion of Tantric Buddhism, arrived in Tibet to challenge Naro Bön-chung, champion of the Bön religion of Tibet. The two magicians engaged in a terrifying sorcerers’ battle, but neither was able to gain a decisive advantage. Finally, it was agreed that whoever could reach the summit of Kailash most rapidly would be the victor. While Naro Bön-chung sat on a magic drum and soared up the slope, Milarepa’s followers were dumbfounded to see him sitting still and meditating. Yet when Naro Bön-chung was nearly at the top, Milarepa suddenly moved into action and overtook him by riding on the rays of the Sun, thus winning the contest. He did, however, fling a handful of snow on to the top of a nearby mountain, since known as Bönri, bequeathing it to the Bönpo and thereby ensuring continued Bönpo connections with the region.
The Bön, a religion native to Tibet, maintain that the entire mystical region and the nine-story Swastika Mountain are the seat of all spiritual power.
The Sanskrit word for circumambulation of a holy site is ‘Parikrama’, and the Tibetan word for the same act is ‘kora’. Both terms are commonly used when describing the practice of circumambulating Mt Kailash. Many pilgrims from different religions believe that walking around Mount Kailash on foot can have spiritual benefits, such as accumulating good karma, purifying one’s consciousness of sins, and bringing good fortune. The circumambulation is made in a clockwise direction by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, while Bönpos circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction.
The Kailash parikrama/kora in Tibet starts and ends at Darchen, which is located at an elevation of 4,670 m. This small outpost becomes crowded with pilgrims during certain times of the year. The path around Mount Kailash is 52 km long and can only be traversed on foot, pony or domestic yak. It takes approximately three days to complete the trek. The highest point on the pilgrimage is the Drölma pass at 5,650m . There are two nights of camping along the way: first near Dirapuk gompa meadow about 2-3 km before reaching the pass; secondly after crossing the pass and descending as far as possible while passing by Gauri Kund lake less than a hundred meters below Drolma La pass. Zutulphuk is often where people spend their second night halt.
Most people who go on the pilgrimage take three days to complete it. However, some individuals from high altitude regions such as Tibetans or Nepali people can finish it in a single day. There are also other pilgrims who follow a very demanding routine by performing body-length prostrations throughout the entire circumambulation process. This involves bending down, kneeling, prostrating full-length, making a mark with their fingers, rising to their knees and praying before crawling forward on hands and knees to repeat the process at the marked spot. With this method of completing the pilgrimage, it takes at least three weeks.
Following the political and border disturbances across the Chinese-Indian boundary, pilgrimage to the legendary abode of Shiva was stopped from 1954 to 1978. Thereafter, a limited number of Indian pilgrims have been allowed to visit the place, under the supervision of the Chinese and Indian governments either by a lengthy and hazardous trek over the Himalayan terrain, travel by land from Kathmandu or from Lhasa where flights from Kathmandu are available to Lhasa and thereafter travel over the great Tibetan plateau by car. The journey takes four night stops, finally arriving at Darchen at elevation of 4,600 m (15,100 ft), small outpost that swells with pilgrims at certain times of year. Despite its minimal infrastructure, modest guest houses are available for foreign pilgrims, whereas Tibetan pilgrims generally sleep in their own tents. A small regional medical center serving far-western Tibet and funded by the Swiss Ngari Korsum Foundation was built here in 1997.
Walking around the mountain—a part of its official park—has to be done on foot, pony or yak, taking some three days of trekking starting from a height of around 15,000 ft (4,600 m) past the Tarboche (flagpole) to cross the Drölma pass 18,200 ft (5,500 m), and encamping for two nights en route. First, near the meadow of Dirapuk gompa, some 2 to 3 km (1.2 to 1.9 mi) before the pass and second, after crossing the pass and going downhill as far as possible (viewing Gauri Kund in the distance).
Herbert Tichy was in the area in 1936, attempting to climb Gurla Mandhata. When he asked one of the Garpons of Ngari whether Kailash was climbable, the Garpon replied: “Only a man entirely free of sin could climb Kailash. And he wouldn’t have to actually scale the sheer walls of ice to do it – he’d just turn himself into a bird and fly to the summit.”
Reinhold Messner was given the opportunity by the Chinese government to climb in the mid-1980s. But he declined, saying “If we conquer this mountain, then we conquer something in people’s souls.”
In 2001, reports emerged that the Chinese government had given permission for a Spanish team to climb the peak, which caused an international backlash. Chinese authorities disputed the reports, and stated that any climbing activities on Mt Kailash were strictly prohibited.
What You Can See at Mount Kailash
If you visit Mount Kailash, please respect the sacredness of this place and the beliefs of those who are there for religious reasons. Do not climb this mountain. There are other beautiful landscapes to enjoy here.
Mansarovar and Rakshas Tal
Two beautiful lakes, namely Mansarovar and Rakshas Tal, are located at the base of Mount Kailash. Of the two, Mansarovar, which lies at an altitude of 14, 950 ft, is considered the highest freshwater body in the world. Lake Manasarovar, regarded as a sacred lake by Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus, is an additional stunning sight that you will witness during your visit to Mount Kailash. This lake is situated at the foot of the mountain and is renowned for its heavenly beauty. It is the highest freshwater lake in the world with pristine waters purified by the alpine landscape. One way to fully appreciate its magnificence is by camping overnight on its shores. The spectacle of the moon rising above the lake is truly invaluable. Mansarovar holds great spiritual importance, but in contrast, Rakshas Tal was created through the rigorous austerities performed by the demon King Ravana to appease Lord Shiva. Due to its association with a demonic entity, Rakshas Tal Lake has salty water and lacks aquatic plant and marine life.
According to tradition, there used to be eight monasteries that followed the circuit around Mount Kailash. However, only five of them remain now and are worth seeing during your hike. I highly recommend taking a break to appreciate these remote and intriguing places.
The Nyari Monastery is the most famous one among them as it houses three sacred items (including a conch shell and a teapot) that hold spiritual significance for pilgrims who travel this route.
Some of these monasteries allow both trekkers and pilgrims to spend the night inside their walls. The Drirarpuk Monastery and Zutulpuk Monastery offer basic amenities along with simple meals. Staying inside these religious buildings provides you with an opportunity to witness Tibetan culture, beliefs, hospitality, and generosity firsthand. Please note that devout pilgrims will be given priority over tourists when space is limited.
Best Time to Go
The optimal time to hike Mount Kailash is either from late April to early June or from September to early October. During these periods, you can expect clear and sunny skies during the day, as well as cool nights that are ideal for camping.
The period of heavy rainfall in Tibet occurs during the summer months from June to August. Although this doesn’t necessarily make it a bad time to visit Mount Kailash, it may not be the optimal time either. Additionally, if you plan on camping outdoors during your trek, I would advise against visiting between November and March due to extremely cold nights and potential snowfall.
How to Get There?
If you are planning to travel to Mount Kailash as part of your Tibet tour this year, your journey will begin in Lhasa. There are two routes available from Lhasa to Mount Kailash – the northern route and the southern route. However, I suggest that travelers take the southern route.
This path traces the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway and presents breathtaking scenery. Due to Mount Kailash’s isolated location, the trip may require approximately two days. It is strongly advised to visit Mount Kailash with a tour guide who will handle your transportation to the destination.
Tours including Mount Kailash
Useful Travel Tips
To hike Mount Kailash, it is necessary to obtain all the required permits. It is recommended to travel to Tibet with a travel agency or tour group.
The entrance fee for Mount Kailash itself is 150 yuan per person. Apart from the entrance fee, there is an additional cost of 150 yuan for taking an eco-bus from Hor Qu to Darchen (the starting point), which cannot be avoided.
Your tour group will most likely provide camping equipment; however, it’s advisable to check beforehand what you may need to bring along.
4. Please Pay Attention
Always show respect towards religious sites along the trail and avoid sitting on or climbing sacred monuments.
The highest point on the trail is Dolma-La Pass at over 5600 meters above sea level.