Mount Kailash is the world’s most sacred mountain. Kailash and the nearby lakes of Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal are vital pilgrimage sites for Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Bonpo; visited by thousands of pilgrims each year. Kailash stands alone, rising distinctively from the surrounding grasslands and to make a kora (pilgrimage circuit) around the mountain is to cleanse yourself of the sins of a lifetime.
This is a challenging route as the high point, the Dolma-la pass is 5636m. Many Tibetans make their kora in a single, very long, day; setting out at 3 am. Foreigners (Indian pilgrims, Chinese & western tourists) generally take 2½ days for the 52-km circuit, staying overnight at two small monasteries. Regardless of your beliefs it is inspiring to share your path with these pilgrims, often the simplest, most illiterate nomads who have saved up for years to make this journey.
Arrival in Lhasa.
Today is the arrival day and no other activities are planned . Appointed Guide will be receiving you from the airport or train station and assisting them in checking in hotel in Lhasa. Once you are received, guide will do the needful preparation for the meeting and discuss all about the trips, do’s and don’ts etc. **Note: for the comfort and ease of client to choose any port of disembarkation, this year we are not including airport/ train station transfer on day 01. While making bookings please do share with us with confirmed flight or train details
Lhasa sightseeing: Visit Jokhang Temple and Ani Tshamkhung Nunnery
The Jokhang Temple, founded in 642 by Tibet’s first Buddhist king with the help of his Chinese and Nepali wives, is the most sacred in Tibet. It is the centre of the mandala that is the Tibetan landscape and houses the sacred Buddha statue, the Jowo Buddha; hence Jo (Jowo Buddha) khang (chapel). Many Tibetans still use its original name Tsuglakhang, which means ‘House of Sciences’ (religious sciences of astrology, divination and geomancy).
More than 100 Buddhist nuns live in the Ani Tshamkhung. Originally constructed in the C15th on a meditation site of Tibet’s first Buddhist king, Songsten Gampo, it was later enlarged. The nuns make and sell handicrafts and print religious texts in the old traditional fashion, with wooden blocks. They also run an open-air restaurant for pilgrims where you can try thukpa (noodle soup), momo (dumpling) and cha ngarmo (sweet tea).
Lhasa sightseeing: Visit the Potala, Norbulingka Summer Palace and Sera Monastery
A full day exploring Lhasa’s most important sights.
The Potala Palace, seat of the Dalai Lamas for centuries, is the most well-known landmark of Tibet. After climbing its impressive stairway, you will see audience halls and the living quarters of the Dalai Lamas, some exceptional relics, stupas, three dimensional mandalas, numerous statues and the meditation cave of Songtsen Gampo which is part of the original C7th structure.
The summer palace of the Dalai Lamas, Norbulingka (or Treasure Garden) is a quiet and beautiful manor house. It proudly boasts a great display of high-altitude flora and is a popular summer picnic ground.
Sera is a huge and famous monastic university built on the hillside north of the city in the C15th. Pilgrims flock to shrine of the tantric deity Hayagriva, the remover of obstacles.
Drive from Lhasa to Gyantse via Yamdrok Tso lake
Today’s drive is only just over 250kms but will take most of the day as there are numerous spectacular photo stops. This is one of the most scenic routes in Tibet. Passing out of the Lhasa Valley, the road climbs up to the Kamba La pass (4750m) from where you get a stunning view of Yamdrok Tso, the soul lake of Tibet.
Gyantse was a once important trading town between Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet and still retains the charm of old Tibet. Walking around in its backstreets you will soon feel teleported into medieval times.
Visit Pelkhor Choede – drive to Shigatse
This morning visit Gyantse’s central monastery, Pelkhor Choede. The main temple was built 1418-1425 by the prince of Gyantse. It was an eclectic academy with 16 dratsang (colleges) belonging to various Buddhist schools, including Sakya, Butonpa, Geluk and Kagyu.
It is a short (two hour) drive along the valley through farming villages to Shigatse where you will visit the vast, sprawling Tashilumpo Monastery; main seat of the Panchen Lamas, an important reincarnation lineage of the Gelukpa School. Between the 17th and the 20th centuries the Panchen Lama ranked second highest amongst Tibetan Lamas, and he had the right to approve the recognition of reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
Drive from Shigatse to Saga.
Today set out across the vast Changtang Plateau. Depending on the season this may appear as vast grasslands with scattered yak herds, or as fairly dry and barren. At any time, the immensity of the landscape will make you feel quite small. Many guidebooks will describe today and tomorrow as long, arduous drives however the road is now paved and well maintained so timing greatly reduced.
Saga itself is not of particular interest except as a convenient overnight stop. It is situated at the confluence of two rivers which, from this point, are known as the Yarlung Tsangpo or Brahmaputra
Drive via Paryang to Darchen.
Continuing west you will catch your first glimpse of Kailash in the afternoon as it emerges above the horizon.
In recent years Darchen has grown from a straggly village to almost a town. The two-story monastery here, Darchen Gon, belongs to the Drukpa sect. Within the assembly hall are new and old thangka paintings and statues, the main image being Sakyamuni. West of the gompa is the Mani Lhakhang that has a big new Mani prayer wheel. Generally Tibetan pilgrims visit these as part of their pilgrimage.
Prepare for your kora and have an early night
Kailash kora: trek to Drirapuk.
After an early breakfast, you set off to go trekking. You can leave your big bags in Darchen at the guesthouse. You just take with you a small bag with enough warm clothes and a sleeping bag for the next two nights that will be carried by yaks.
The ‘Great Prayer Flagpole’ at Darpoche is taken down and redecorated every year on the full moon day of the 5th Tibetan month. Tibetans follow a lunar calendar so this festival falls on a different day every year, usually in April or May. Hundreds of Tibetans come for this event. It marks the beginning of the pilgrimage season since the Dolma pass is blocked by snow until April. You follow a small footpath with Mount Kailash on your right (west side of Kailash). The trail continues up the valley
Trek to Dolma la , then continue to Zutrulphug camping.
Today is the longest and toughest section of the kora. It is not that far to the Dolma-la, but it is quite an effort as you are at over 5000 metres. Only the last part is steep. Here you will pass a large pile of discarded clothes, personal items, hair and teeth. This is the place of symbolic death, called the Shiwa Tsal charnel ground. Pilgrims discard something here, representing renouncement of attachment to worldly objects and to this life. Climb to a field of big white and black stones, symbolizing the bardo (intermediate state between death and rebirth). Pilgrims here try to squeeze through the rocks or climb under them to experience the anxiety and fear characterizing the bardo. Then there is a steep path up to Dolma la, the pass that symbolizes liberation.
Enjoy the view from the pass, marvel at the large boulder that depicts Tara (Dolma in Tibetan), the goddess of liberation and rest a little before you start the descent. The first section is steep, and your knees are wobbly; take it slowly. Reaching the valley floor there is a tea tent next to the river for a rest and snacks. Now comes the hard part. You feel you are done and expect to see Zutrulphuk around every outcrop so, although the path is fairly flat as it follows the river valley, it seems to go on forever.
Drive to Lake Manasarovar; climb up to Chiu Gompa .
This morning you can explore the caves and the temple that was built around Milarepa’s cave. From Zutrulphuk it only takes 2-3 hours to finish the kora with an easy walk to the road. Meeting your vehicle, drive straight to Lake Manasarovar. The lake is also a sacred site and there is a circumambulation path of just over 100kms. Chiu Gompa, one of the five main gompas around the lake, is perched on a cliff above the lake.
Lake Manasarovar, or the ‘Lake Conceived from the Mind of God’ is one of the highest freshwater lakes in the world. Trout, carp and freshwater dolphins can be found, and it is a favourite stopping place for migrating birds. This is considered the source of the 4 great rivers of Asia (Brahmaputra, Karnali/Ganges, Sutlej and Indus). Only the Sutlej actually originates here, but the other sources are close by. Nearby is Rakshas Tal (5473m) ‘the Lake of the Demon’ which provides balance.
Drive to Saga.
This is a long day of driving back to Saga. Retrace your outward route back to Saga, stopping to admire the high-altitude lakes and marsh areas along the way. From the Mayum La (5150m) you have your last views of Kailash.
Drive to Kyirong – cross border to Nepal and drive to Trishuli
Turn south from Saga across the Paiku Tso grasslands where, in summer, you may see nomads and their herds. Descending to the new border crossing at Lower Kyirong you will see prayer flags on the hill sides, marking many meditation caves and other sites sacred to Milarepa, and the 8013m Shishapangma is visible for much of the route.
Farewell your Tibetan guide and driver. Passing through Chinese immigration is usually fairly quick and hassle-free. Leaving the paved road behind, formalities on the Nepal side can be much slower, but your Nepali guide will be waiting to assist. The road from here to Trishuli follows the Trishuli River for much of the way and has been described as ‘adventurous’, especially if there has been heavy rain.
Trishuli to Kathmandu Transfer.
You will head onto Kathmandu driving along Prithivi Highway. Our Local guide will receive you at the Kyrung border and drop you off at your hotel in Kathmandu. We’ll drive through lush green forest along side Trishuli river on the curvy roads towards Kathmandu.