June 2009
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Mansarovar Kailash Yatra in Tibet – A religious challenge

Quick Facts:

* Location: Western Region Of Tibet, Tibetan Himalayas
* Duration: 11-18 Days
* Highest Altitude: 6,714m
* Best Time To Visit: June To September
* Temperature: June to September 15-20 degree Celsius. Morning and evening can be chilly between minus 2 to 0 degree Celsius.

A huge number of people would have heard of Mt. Kailash, but a very small fraction of them would have visited the place. So, what is this place ? Isolated for centuries behind the Himalayas in Tibet is a mysterious and mythical mountain. Mount Kailash is 6714m (22,028ft) high. It is a mountain that captures the imagination and breathes sheer excitement into the soul. Kailash has for more than a thousand years been a central pilgrimage site for some of the world’s major religions. It is sacred to 4 religions – Hindus, Buddhists, Bonpo and Jains from India.

Map of Mount Kailash and Mansarovar lake in Tibet

For Hinduism, Mount Kailash is one of the most sacred spots of world. Shiva devotees have been going to the Kailsah Mansarovar Yatra since times unknown. Shiva Bhakts go to the holy yatra for attaining bliss, for being at peace with themselves. Devotees here seek harmony in and around themselves. The holy shrines bestows the pilgrims with harmony, peace, heath and wealth. People who return from the pilgrimage are known to feel good with themselves. Tibetans leave any kind of relic here to leave back their egos and pretences.
The mountain name in Tibetan is, “Gang Rinpoche” which is translated to mean, “Supreme Mountain.” Traditional Buddhist cosmology connects Mt. Kailash with Mt. Meru, the great mythological mountain that forms the axis of this world system. The power of this strange, domed peak has gripped the imagination of the people of Nepal, India and Tibet for thousands of years, as well as the imagination of people from all over the world are willing to see it in reality. It is one of the centers of spirituality, and the tough journey only adds to the romance of the place.
Geographic information: The four great rivers of the Indian sub-continent: Karnali (which feeds into the Ganges), Indus, Sutlej and Brahmaputra all originate from Mount Kailash, and thus the region is very important ecologically. The average altitude of the region is 4,700 meters above sea level. To the west of Mount Kailash is the Karakorum range, to the north is the Kunlun range, to the east is Magyal Pomra range and to the south is the Himalayan range.
There have been no recorded attempts to climb Mount Kailash for the past many hundred years; it is considered off limits to climbers in deference to Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. It is the most significant peak in the world that has not seen any known climbing attempts. There is a belief that the First Guru of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, climbed the peak way back in history, apparently to have discussions with yogis over there.
Every year, thousands make a pilgrimage to Kailash, following a tradition going back thousands of years. Pilgrims of several religions believe that circumambulating Mount Kailash on foot is a holy ritual that will bring good fortune, and don’t mind the ardous physical labor that this involved. This circumambulation is made in a clockwise direction by Hindus and Buddhists. Followers of the Jain and Bönpo religions circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction. The path around Mount Kailash is 52 km (32 mi) long and takes more than a day.
The other important place to visit in the region is Lake Mansarovar, also sacred to Hindus. Manasarovar is located at a height of 4580m. The circumference of Mansarovar is 88-km, its depth is 90m and total area is 320-sq-kms. The lake freezes in the winters and melts only in spring. It looks unbelievably fascinating on moonlit nights when an ethereal ambience pervades the atmosphere.
The circumference of Rakshas Tal, also known as “Ravan Kund”, is 122-km. A 6-km long natural channel – “Gangachhu” – connects Manas with Rakshas Tal. Where ritual bath will deliver a pilgrim to Brahma’s paradise is believed to bring about salvation (Moksha) and drink of its water relinquishes the sins of a hundred lifetimes.

Getting there from India:
Kailash Mansarovar is connected to almost all the major passes of Uttrakhand. Indians were not allowed to visit Kailash Mansarovar for nearly two decades because of the Indo-chinese border dispute from 1959 to 1980. However, since 1981, tours have been happening on a regular basis. Even though only a limited number of people are allowed to visit yet every Shiva devotee wants to go for a holy pilgrimage of Kailash.
Most of the visitors take a dip in the Mansarovar lake. The Mansarovar lake is 18 miles from the Mount Kailash. Taking a dip or soaking the head in the holy water provides spiritual benefits; however only the brave could take a dip in the icy water.

Visa and Documentation: All foreign nationals including Indians require a VISA to enter Tibet. One must be in possession of a passport valid for another six months to obtain Chinese VISA.

Accommodation: The shrine is in the most distant part of world. You need to assume that facilities are limited, with the tour operator making tent based arrangements to stay.

Clothing: Tibet is a dry cold country where weather may change unexpectedly at any time. Plan your clothing in a way that you can wear layers of clothes. Depending upon the season, the pilgrims should bring their wardrobe.

Now, the journey has become more comfortable, as more options are available to doing the trip in relative comfort in Japanese 4-wheel drive Land cruisers. This enables devout who were not physically fit to do the Yatra as it required (and still does) peak physical conditioning. But on the regulars 11- to 16- days tour by overland and on 7 days tour by helicopter, trekking need has reduced, with being required only during the 3 day Kailash parikrama when one has to cross the 19,500 ft high Dolma Pass.
However yaks can be hired locally on this parikrama and pilgrims need not trek the entire distance. One should also be prepared to walk through landslide zones in Nepal on the first and last day (specially during the June-Sept trips).

By Overland: Traveling by overland from Kathmandu in Nepal to Mt. Kailash, which lies in the Southwestern part of Tibet, is an incredible 13-day journey, an epic pilgrimage that is expeditionary in nature. This is for those who want to experience the majestic beauty of Kailash but is limited by time. The trip begins by drive from Kathmandu to the Tibetan border at Zhangmu. After the stay in Zhangmu, drive is done to the Lake Manasarovar across widely spread open spaces of the Tibetan Plateau known as ‘roof of the world’. It is undoubtedly the toughest and most rewarding of all such journeys known to man. Rivers and streams are crossed and re-crossed, treacherous passes are climbed and conquered. The numbing cold at night, the fierce sun during the day, the bitter winds, the looming solitude and the everlasting dust are constant companions.

By Helicopter: The trip begins by airways from Kathmandu to Nepalganj and continues to Simikot. After Simikot, charter helicopter flight to Hilsa and drive to the Lake Manasarovar across widely spread open spaces of the Tibetan Plateau. Then the most attractive part of the trip to Mt. Kailash and follow the pathway across huge dry plains for Nepalese border lies to the south. Finally, we take the trip back to Kathmandu. This is truly the trip of a lifetime with stunning scenery and cultural highlights.

External articles:
1. Dave’s landslide blog, with a potential landslide description (link)

This year the pilgrimage is going to have an additional challenge. I posted back in February about the Chautuldhar landslide in northern India, which was causing major problems in the close area of Tawaghat in Dharchula. The landslide is not quite where I thought it was back then – it now looks as if it is on the section of slope shown on the Google Earth perspective view below

2. Tours to Mt. Kailash from Tibet (link)

Mt. Kailash (6714 m) – also known as Tise, Kailasa or Kang Rinpoche (Jewel of the Snows) has since time immemorial been celebrated in many eastern cosmologies as Mt. Meru, the axis-mundi. As the center of the physical and metaphysical universe, Mt. Meru (Kailash) is sacred to the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Jains, and the Bonpos. For the Hindus, the mountain represents the seat of Shiva. For the Buddhists, a terrestrial projection of the cosmic mandala of the Dyani Buddhas and Boddhisatvas .… The Wheel of Life.

3. Forum post on LonelyPlant (link)

The Kailash kora, which crosses an astonishing pass linking two beautiful river valleys, and passes three fine small gonpas, each sited with scenic views. Lake Manasarovar is well worth a drive around, with stays at Purang down on the Nepal border – the road passes beneath Ghurla Mandata, a couple of football fields short of 8,000m. Chui and Truro gonpas are otherworldly. Depending on time/money, most visit the Guge, on which I cannot comment, except to say I do want to see the high road down there with a sweeping view of the western Himal.

4. Niravana travel deals (link)

Passport is must if you want to be the part of the most holy Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.
16 Days Yatra by Land Cruiser
11 Days Yatra by Helicopter

5. Post on askblogster.com (link)

This holy mountain is situated in remote place of Tibetan Himalayas. As Chinese army entered into Tibet in 1950 and created political and border disturbance, pilgrims stopped going there from 1959 to 1980. After that very limited Indian pilgrims were given permission to go there and obviously under supervision of Chinese army and Indian government. But nowadays many people are going there. It’s a very expensive tour. And many travel agencies provide lucrative travel package for Kailash.

6. Yatra to Kailash Mansarovar (link)

For the Hindus Mount Kailash is the earthly manifestation of Mt. Meru, their spiritual centre of the universe, described as a fanatastic world pillar 84,000 miles high, around which all else revolves, its roots in the lowest hell and its summit kissing the heavens. On the top lives their most revered God, Shiva, and his consort Parvati.

7. Trip to Mount Kaliash, showing it can be tough (link)

I indoors at Mt Kalish at dusk, which in summertime comes about 10pm; Mt Kailash was bathed in crimson-red hues, a spectacular site, however one shortly obscured by drizzly shower clouds. Exhausted, I curved in for the night at an adjacent yurt on the grassy banks of Damding Donkhang and presently after I set my leader on the filthy pillows, I floor asleep.
I’d been cautioned by several experienced pilgrims that the moment half of the Mt Kailash kora was the most fractious. And, trusty enough, as shortly as I agreed Dirapuk monastery and crossed the Lha-Chu tributary the following morning, the direction became increasingly treacherous. The steep means eventually weak out – as did the air – and then disappeared all together among the large boulders spread about the Drolma-Chu valley.

8. Description of journey to Mt. Kailash over 18 days including the itinerary (link)

The trip begins in Nepal’s capital city-Kathmandu where we obtain China/Tibet visa and also take chance to visit its medieval temples, palaces and monasteries. We will set out overland by 4 WD jeeps with well supplied Nepali crews. In most places, we will be camping, meals being cooked by our Nepali crews. After 4 days circuit trek, retrace drive to Kathmandu or extend to visit Lhasa.

9. 11 day trek to Mt. Kailash (link)
10. Kailash Parvat (link)

The very fact one thought of proceeding to Kailash and Manasarovar is a call from within. Thousands of Sages, ordinary mortals, philosophers and even the Gods had submerged in blissful trance at the very Bight of this divine grandeur. It is the MERU, SUMERU, SUSHUMNA, HEMADRI (golden mountain), RATNASANU (jewel peak), KARNIKACHALA (lotus mount), AMARADRI, DEVA PARVATHA (summit of gods), GANA PARVATHA, RAJATADRI (silver mountain). It was the SWAYAMBU – the self-created one. Kailasa and Manasarovar are as old as the creation. Everything emanates from there are finally return there. It is the centre of creation and the Universe.

11. Circling Kailash and Mansarovar (link)

Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar are the only two places in the whole of Tibet that were visited by Lord Buddha, accompanied by five hundred Arhats. During the turning of the Three Wheels of the Dharma, Buddha Shakyamuni extensively explained the merits of building images. So Indra (the king of gods) offered precious articles of the gods, Ananda (the king of Serpents or Nagas) offered precious articles of the Nagas and Bimbisara (the king of Magadh) offered gold and silver, etc. to the Buddha and requested him to have three images of the Buddha made, as a means of generating merit for the sentient beings in the future.

12. Various tour packages (link)
13. Details of journey at shivam.org (link)

The parikrama (Circumambulation) continued a few meters away from the brim of Manasarovar. There is a Tibeten monastery on the bank, to which the guide took around. The sight of the Holy lake was quite impressing. had there been no clouds the shade of the mountains, including the great Kailash would be seen on this dark green water. From the monastery the parikrama again continued towards a hot spring called chiu gompa. On the way to the left was another huge lake called raaxastal. This is the lake created by rAvaNa after his failed misadventure to lift up the Holy Mount Kailash. While people (Hindus and Tibeten Budhdhists) consider the Manasarovar as holy, the adjacent raxastal is not considered good. Before getting to the Holy water of Manasarovar, we wanted to wash away many days’ dirt from our body. The hot sulphur spring on the high grounds near the lake, served that purpose.

14. 16-20 day package for Mt. Kailash (link)
15. Preparing for the Yatra as part of one of the packages (link). This includes information for documentation and visas, clothes, medicines, equipment, health precaution
16. Photos and blog of trip to Lake Mansarovar (link)

Photos and photo gallery:
1. Chiu Gompa and Gang Rinpoche, Mt. Kailash, Tibet (link)
2. Photo on the journey (link)
3. Beautiful photo of Mount Kailash (link)
4. The holy Kailash in Tibet (link)
5. Photo on the travelchinaguide (link)
6. Photos of Mount Kailash at Photographers Direct (link)
7. Beautiful pictures of the journey and Mt. Kailash (link)
8. The Saga Dawa festival at Mt Kailash (link)
9. Pictures of the peak of Mt. Kailash (link)
10. Panorama photo of Mt. Kailash (link)
11. Beautiful photo of Lake Mansarovar (link)
12. Photos at tibettrip (link)
13. Blue water of Lake Mansarovar (link)
14. Slideshow of photos of Lake Mansarovar (link)

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