Mt. Kailash, one of the holiest places in Tibet, is the location of one of the most demanding and challenging treks in the region. Situated in the far west of the Tibet Autonomous Region, in Ngari Prefecture, the mountain plays host to thousands of tourists and pilgrims who come to trek around its base, in what is known as a kora.
Altitude of Mount Kailash Outer Kora
Although it is not the highest mountain in Tibet - that honor belongs to Everest – the Kailash Kora Trek is high enough to cause severe altitude sickness if you are not properly acclimatized before reaching the area.
Altitude Change of Mount Kailash Outer Kora
The starting point, Darchen, is already 4,600 meters above sea level, and the trek takes a route that takes you up to more than 5,600 meters above sea level. The majority of the trek is a climb up to the Dolma La Pass, at 5,630 meters, passing the Drirapuk Monastery at 5,210 meters and continuing on up to the pass the following morning.
Mount Kailash Outer Kora Altitude Change Chart
From there, the trek starts to descend, reaching the Dzultripuk Monastery at the end of the second day at an elevation of just 4,790 meters. The descent continues on the final day of the trek to take you back to Darchen. Covering 52 kilometers around the mountain, the trek takes three days for tourists, although Tibetans are known to complete one circuit in just 14 hours.
3-day Kora Route
Day 1: Darchen (4,560m) - Drirapuk Monastery (5,210m)
The route starts at Darchen, and heads to Sarshung village, below the south face of the mountain. From Sarshung, the route heads first west, before turning north into the Lha-chu valley. The flagpole at Tarboche can be seen clearly as you walk, at an elevation of 4,750 meters and standing some 80 feet in the air.
The trek continues up the valley, to the first of the monasteries in the kora. Chuku monastery, at 4,875 meters, is of particular interest to visitors and houses three objects of legend. The legend tells of how an invading army tried to steal three objects from the temple. They were stopped by the gods, and the army left without the statue, conch shell, and teapot they had tried to steal.
One will pass Drirapuk Monastery during the 3-day Mount Kailash kora.
After Chuku, you head on towards the monastery at Drirapuk, another three hours up the valley. Located on the bank of the Lha-chu River, it sits at 5,060 meters, and is one of the five monasteries around the mountain. This is the first place from which you will see the sheer north face of Mt. Kailash.
If you have time, from Drirapuk it is just a 2 hour round trip to the tongue of the Kangkyam glacier, set at the foot of the mountain’s north face. One of the few moving glaciers left in the world today, this huge expanse of constantly moving ice is a breathtaking sight to behold.
Day 2: Drirapuk Monastery (5,210m) - Dzultripuk Monastery (4,790m)
From Drirapuk, on the second day, you cross the small bridge onto the trail that leads to Shiwachal, a rocky field strewn with small cairns draped with clothing. The trail leads up to the highest point of the kora; Dolma-la Pass. At an elevation of 5,630 meters, it is the highest pass in the world, and the hardest climb of the kora. The pass is the focal point of the Kailash kora, and many pilgrims leave tokens of coins or longda here, or attach prayer flags.
The trail then descends steeply to Gaurikund Lake, also known as Tuje Chempo Dzingbu. The valley here is lush with green grass and plants, as you descend to the Lham-chu valley. The route follows the river as it flows down to your next stop, Dzultripuk monastery, at 4,790 meters. The monastery houses the site of the cave where the eleventh-century Buddhist philosopher, Milarepa, spent many years of his life.
Day 3: Dzultripuk Monastery (4,790m) - Darchen (4,560m)
The last day starts with an easy stroll down the Dzong-chu valley, which narrows into a gorge with prayer flags hanging above the river. The last part of the trek from here to Darchen is a little rough, but easily passable, and after less than four hours after leaving Dzultripuk monastery, you will walk back into Darchen, the end of your Holy Kailash kora.
Altitude of Mount Kailash Inner Kora
After the grueling trek around the outer kora, there is also a chance to complete the inner kora, which focuses on Mt. Yinjietuo. This shorter kora is usually less busy, as Tibetan Buddhists are required to complete 13 rounds of the outer kora in order to qualify for the inner route. This inner kora is only a 30 kilometer route, and can be completed easily in one day, and you will not need to do the 13 rounds of the outer kora first. Starting from Darchen, the route treks north to Selung monastery (5,020m) and along the western foot of Mt. Yinjietuo to a place where you can see the cracks that make up the naturally-formed “ice swastika” in the south face of Mt. Kailash.
The route continues to Gyangdrak Monastery (5,860m), past the 13 Golden Chortens where the relics of the ancient Gyangdrak administrators are enshrined. After a visit to Gyangdrak, you continue down from the east face of Mt. Yinjietuo, and back towards Darchen. At Selung Temple, the route veers off to pass the Jiangzha Temple (5,060m), before heading due south to meet the main trails back to Darchen.
While this inner kora is much shorter, it is a harder route than the outer kora, with more cliffs and passes to get over.
Altitude from Lhasa to Mount Kailash
From Lhasa, it is a three-day drive to reach Darchen, at the foot of Mount Kailash. While Lhasa lies at an altitude of 3,656 meters above sea level, Darchen is almost 1,000 meters higher, at 4,575 meters. A vast distance of 1,297 kilometers from Lhasa to Darchen, this long drive is one of the longest in Tibet, as well as being one of the most scenic. Passing through several different areas of Tibet, you get to see the changes in the landscapes as you head into the barren outlands of western Ngari.
Lhasa to Mount Kailash Altitude Change Chart
Lhasa to Mount Kailash Overland Route
Day 1: Lhasa (3,656m) – Lhatse (4,012m)
After departing from Lhasa, the route takes you southwest to Lake Yamdrok, passing over the Gampala Pass at 4,790 meters, where you get the first view of the sacred lake. Then it is on to Gyantse (4,000m) and Shigatse (3,800m), where you rejoin the Friendship Highway. From there, it is a straight run along the G318 to Lhatse, at 4,012 meters on the banks of the Yarlung Tsangpo River.
Taking a stop at Lake Yamdrok while driving from Lhasa to Mount Kailash.
Day 2: Lhatse (4,012m) - Saga (4,487m)
Departing Lhatse in the morning, the route leaves the Friendship Highway to head northwest along the G219 National Road, towards Saga. Passing through the mountains to Angrenjin Co, a small lake in Ngamring, the road then enters a wide valley that follows the course of the Dogxung Zangbo River, to reach Saga, at 4,478 meters above sea level, on the northern banks of the Yarlung Tsangpo River.
Day 3: Saga (4,487m) - Darchen (4,575 m)
As you leave Saga, you get to see the amazing view of the Saga Valley, which lies between the Gangdise and Himalaya ranges, and the road continues northwest through stunning grasslands and small villages. Shortly before reaching the edge of Lake Manasarovar, the road passes over the high Myomla Pass at 5,112 meters, before dropping down to pass by the northern shores of Lake Manasarovar and Lake Rakshastal to reach Darchen (4,575m) at the foot of Mount Kailash.
How to Avoid Altitude Sickness during Mount Kailash Kora
Before Your Mount Kailash Tour
Before you even head for Tibet, it is a good idea to assess your physical fitness, and do a little training, as the trek around Kailash is rough and arduous. Swimming, cycling, and running are great exercises for preparing for a high-altitude trek, as they help train your lungs to work more efficiently. You should also get a full physical exam before you depart for Lhasa.
Make sure your body is healthy before your Mount Kailash tour
Once in Lhasa, it is essential that you acclimatize properly to the high altitude of the Tibetan capital, before you head out on the long road to Darchen. One of the main ways to acclimatize is to rest and avoid strenuous activity, and you have two full days in Lhasa to allow your body to adjust. You should also try to avoid alcohol, strong coffee, and smoking, and make sure you remain hydrated.
During the Mount Kailash Kora
While you are trekking around the Kailash Kora route, it is essential that you know what the symptoms of altitude sickness are and how to recognize them. The main symptoms of altitude sickness are: headaches, nausea, dizziness, dehydration, and a general feeling of malaise or weakness. Most of the symptoms are somewhat similar to a hangover, and can be treated with rest and simple medications to treat headaches, nausea, etc.
You should avoid smoking and drinking while on the trek, as they cause dehydrations and can increase the risk of altitude sickness. It is also essential to remain hydrated, so drink lots of water while trekking. Resting often along the route can help the body to adjust along the way as you get higher, and you should always sleep lower than the highest altitude you reached during the day.
Your professional trekking guide is an essential aid in helping to recognize and manage altitude sickness, and all our guides are professionally trained in the treatment of individual symptoms. If you do feel any of the effects of altitude sickness, you should inform your guide immediately, and if the symptoms become more severe, he will recommend you move to a lower altitude immediately.
The Mount Kailash Kora is renowned as the hardest and most arduous trek in Tibet, and reaches altitudes above 5,600 meters, so altitude sickness is a real risk. However, this is also the most scenic trek on the plateau, and has some of the most outstanding views in all Tibet, especially from the crest of the Dolma La Pass, which gives views over the rest of the Gangdise range. You can even see clear to the mountain of the Bonpo, Mount Bonri, on a clear day. One of the most spectacular trekking experiences in the world, you will love this amazing trip to the world’s most sacred mountain.