Mount Kailash—‘The Center of the Universe’

mount kailash tibetIt is the center of the world, according to ancient texts. Four of the world’s mightiest rivers, Indus (also known as Sindhu in India), Sutlej, Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsang-po in Tibetan), and Karnali (the Ganges’ largest tributary) all originate within a 30-mile radius around this site located in far-western Tibet. Mount Kailash—a gigantic black rock over 22,000 feet high—is the site we are talking about. It has tremendous religious significance. Hindus believe it to be the abode of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. It is called Astapada (eight-stepped mountain) by followers of Jainism who believe that the first of the 24 Tirthankaras (enlightened beings), Rishaba, achieved enlightenment here. Followers of the Bon religion call it Tise and they believe it to be the seat of the Sky Goddess. Tibetan Buddhists call it Kang Rimpoche (Precious One of Glacial Snow) and consider it to be the abode of Demchok, the angry manifestation of the Sakyamuni Buddha, and his partner Dorje Phagmo.

kailash tibetMount Kailash is also a representation of the mythical Mount Meru, which many religions consider to be the cosmic mountain located at the exact center of the universe. On reaching there, all pilgrims make a circumambulation (kora or parikarma) of the mountain (53 km), which usually takes about three days to complete. Enlightenment is guaranteed to those brave souls who complete 108 journeys around it. At the foot of this immense mountain lies Mansarovar (‘Lake of Consciousness and Enlightenment’: 14,954 ft), a beautiful cobalt blue lake. A plunge into its icy waters is mandatory for most pilgrims to the site. You will also find another lake nearby, the Rakshas Tal, (Lake of Demons).

Indeed, Mount Kailash is one of the world’s greatest (and one of the most challenging) pilgrimage sites for people of many beliefs. You can reach Mount Kailash through different routes. One route is through Xigatse via Saga to Manasarovar. Of course, tours into this region have to be highly organized ones. One such tour will take you to Tibet from Kathmandu from where you head west to Manasarovar’s eastern shore, a four-day journey. You will get down at a small settlement called Darchen located at 14,000 ft. This is where the Kailash Parikrama begins traditionally.

mansarovar tibetYou can also travel on a 6-day drive from Xigatse to Ali and onwards to Darchen, or from Kashgar via Ali, or from Nepal’s Simikot via Purang. The last mentioned route from Simikot (situated in the country’s far northwestern district of Humla) goes to Hilsa (the western border) and from there, goes into Tibet, and then to Taklakot in the Purang Valley, thus eventually reaching Manasarovar. To reach Simikot, you need to get to Nepalgunj in western Nepal first (by air or by road) from where flights are available to Simikot. From here, the trekking trail follows the rumbling Karnali River right up to Tibet’s border. Next, you cross the Nara-la pass from where the trail drops sharply down to the border town of Hilsa in Tibet. You can now take a ride on a four-wheeler to Purang through the Dolma-La pass (18,417 ft) on the way, and reach Mount Kailash and Mansarovar.

Another itinerary could be as follows:

Kathmandu–Nyalam (150 km): Drive on the Arniko Highway to the Nepal-China border. From here, go on to Zhangmu and Nyalam.

Nyalam–Saga (232 km): Drive through the Labug-La pass (16,568 ft) and cross the Brahmaputra river to reach Saga (15,091 ft).

Saga– Paryang (185 km): Drive on to Paryang.

Paryang–Mansarovar (277 km): The first views of Mount Kailash and Mansarovar will be available during the drive.

Mansarovar–Darchen (40 km): Take a holy dip and a Mansarovar Parikrama, and continue the drive towards Darchen.

Darchen–Tarboche (13 km)–Dirapuk (7 km trek): Drive to Tarboche from where you can start the Kailash Parikrama.

Dirapuk–Zuthulpuk (18 km trek): Trek on uphill to Dolma-la from where the descent is gradual leading to Zuthulpuk (15,617 ft).

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