Top Things to Do and Experience around Mount Kailash
Mount Kailash, in the far west of Tibet, is one of the most holy sites in Tibetan Buddhism, and the destination for thousands of pilgrims every year who come to walk the kora, or holy trek route, around the mountain. This trek is one of the most challenging in Tibet, and is the most popular tour for visiting foreign tourists. But this region of Tibet is not just limited to the kora around Mt. Kailash. There are a host of other things you can see and do while you are here.
Mt. Kailash Kora
The kora is something that it would be amiss to miss out on. Although the trek is arduous and demanding, it can be intensely satisfying once you have completed it. And there are sights you would not want to miss on the way around the mountain. Starting from Darchen, village, the kora follows the pilgrim’s tracks towards Mt. Kailash to the north. The trek moves first west, around the south-west spur, before turning north in the direction of Chuku Monastery. There are several monasteries to see on the route around the mountain, and the first stop for western trekkers is normally the Drirapuk monastery, 3-4 hours trek further north. After staying the night in the tent guest house the second leg runs on to the Dzultripuk monastery, roughly 7-8 hours trek. The second night is also spent in a tent guest house, before completing the circumambulation on day three. The trek can take around 14 hours to complete, and many locals do it in one day. However, you will see some pilgrims prostrating themselves under the gaze of the holy mountain. They do this every so often on their pilgrimage, and it can take some weeks for them to complete one circuit.
On the way around the Mt. Kailash kora, there is an opportunity to visit a real, moving . Kangkyam Glacier descends from the north face of Mt. Kailash, and is around two hour round-trip from Drirapuk monastery. At the tongue of the glacier, you can get spectacular views of the sheer north face of Mt. Kailash.
The Five Monasteries
Other great sights on this route are the monasteries around the kora. The first is Choku, or Nyari, Monastery, on the outer kora. The monastery contains three objects that are always interesting to visitors; the Choku statue, the Conch Shell and the Teapot. Legend has it that when an invading army tried to steal the objects from the monastery, the gods used their power to stop them. The statue became so heavy the army abandoned it, while the conch shell flew back to the monastery and the teapot boiled with blood instead of tea.
The next monastery is Drirapuk, where visiting trekkers spend their first night. The monastery was ruined before, but is slowly being restored since 1986. The monastery holds many statues and relics of Tibetan Buddhism, and has many rows of white stupas in front. Zutrulpuk Monastery, another 8 hours further around the kora, is the second stop for trekkers, and is located on the west bank of the Zhong Chu River. The monastery was built around sacred stone formations that are believed to have been formed by Milarepa. The monastery also contains Milarepa’s Cave, where he spent many years of his life. The cave is topped by a stone slab that is said to have the hand and foot prints of Milarepa from when he pressed the slab into place.
Selung Monastery and Gyangzha Monastery are both on the inner kora. Selung was built as a spot for the monk’s meditation, and is the first monastery on the inner circuit. On the route from Selung, past Mt. Yinjietuo, the “natural swastika” formation of ice-cracks can be clearly seen in the south face of Mt. Kailash. Gyangzha is the first monastery built in the region around Mt. Kailash and is the most important monastery in western Tibet.
Travel Tips: Only outer kora of Mt.Kailash tour is available for international tourists.
Located to the northwest of Mt. Kailash are the Tirthapura monastery and its hot springs. Sited on the banks of the Sutlej River, it is a popular place for pilgrims to come after they have completed the kora. They bathe in the hot springs to ease the body, and then go to the monastery to view the stone footprints of Guru Rinpoche that are enshrined in the assembly hall.
Mansarovar and Rakshastal
Just to the south of Mt. Kailash are the two lakes, Mansarovar and Rakshastal. The lakes, while lying next to each other, could not be more different. Mansarovar, to the east, is a freshwater lake, with a very rounded shoreline. In contrast, Rakshastal is a saltwater lake, with no aquatic plants of fish. Crescent shaped, like the moon, it contrasts the rounded “sun” shape of Mansarovar so much that Tibetans call them “brightness and darkness”. The lakes are joined by a small river, which allows the fresh water of Mansarovar to leak into the salty Rakshastal. The holy waters of Lake Mansarovar are said to relieve pilgrims of their sins when drank or bathed in.
Lake Mansarovar is also a kora, and many pilgrims complete this as part of their pilgrimage to the Mt. Kailash area. The kora around the lake is around 100 kilometers long, and takes around 4 or 5 days to circumambulate. The lake is considered to be one of the holiest of the Tibetan lakes, and pilgrims have been trekking the kora there for over two thousand years. Navigation around the lake is done in the usual clockwise direction, along the mostly rocky shore. There are plenty of monasteries around the lake to stay in at night, and the views from Chiu and Gossul monasteries are some of the finest on the kora. Or you can stay in the Pilgrim’s Cave situated just below Gossul Monastery. You will also pass a large number of mani walls along the way, and the views of the lake and the mountains are stunning as you trek around.
It is unlikely that you will have much problem with altitude by the time you get to trek around the Mt. Kailash region, other than a little shortness of breath, but still be prepared. You will see a lot of religious icons in the area, and they can be properly respected with a few simple tips; do not sit or climb on the sacred stones, always pass mani stones on the right (in your direction of travel), and always turn prayer wheels in a clockwise direction. And enjoy your trip to Nygari Prefecture.
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