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Mount Kailash Trekking

Mount Kailash kora trekking is one of the most well-known pilgrim routes in the world. Even before the Buddhism spread here, this mountain had been a sacred religious site in Tibet. A trekking around Mount Kailash marvelously integrates the very unique spiritual, physical and cultural experiences that can never attain from other Tibetan regions, and this explains why it becomes more and more appealing recently even though it's far away hidden into the Himalayas. Encountering devoted local and international pilgrims from different cultural backgrounds is the most tempting reason to go.

Quick Facts

Duration: 2 nights/ 3 days
Distance: 52 km
Highest Point: 5648 meters
Start & End: Darchen Town

Interesting Knowledge:

  1. Most of people walk clockwise, those walk anti-clockwise are the followers of Bon religion that is a local region in Tibet with a history longer than the Buddhism in Tibet.
  2. Local Tibetan pilgrims can finish the trekking within one day by starting around 5AM and ending around 10PM. Those pilgrims doing the kora by prostrating their full body have to spend 3 weeks to finish.
  3. At certain points on the way, discarded clothes can be seen. Those are from the dead, the clothes were brought here by their family, which symbolizes the death of their past life and awaits a rebirth free of past sins.
  4. Besides the regular kora most of people do, there is also an inner kora which is shorter but more difficult to do. And most importantly, only those who firstly finish 12 times of kora are qualified to do the inner kora. And foreigner tourists are not allowed to do this.

Now let's go into this awesome trekking day by day after have some basic understandings.

DAY 1 Darchen - Diraphuk Monastery (19 km/ 7-8 hours on foot)

Leave early around 8 AM; better eat your fill before departing as today you have to cover 19 kms. The trekking trail begins at the northern edge of Darchen Town with a small check-point checking your entrance tickets. From there, walk northwestwards along the dusty trail, the view is broad on your left hand with some of the highest snowy peaks on the China-Nepal border, but Mount Kailash is obscured by the ridge with many gullies on your right hand. After 4 kms steady rising (normally 1.5-2 hours), the trail reaches its first pilgrimage site marked by large piles of Mani stones with prayer flags. From here, the trekking trail turns north into the desolate but amazing canyon of Lha Chu which means “Deity River”, from here to the Dira-puk Monastery, the narrow Lha Chu can provide clean and stable water supply to people camp along the way. Soon from here, the first sight of the Mount Kailash comes into eyes with its snowy pyramid-like peak peeping up the canyon walls. It takes another hour gentle descending to Tarboche where the annual Saga Dawa Festival is held on the full moon day which is generally in May or June. Tarbocen is theoretically the starting point of the kora, so many Indian pilgrims would like to take bus from Darchen to here and start the trekking.

 

The trail leads to a wide-open area with imposing ghost-like smooth and magnificent walls of the canyon looming overhead. Another half an hour walk, clinging on the canyon wall on the west bank of Lha Chu, you could see Chuku Monastery of Kagyu-pa sect which was founded in the 13th century. Climbing up there is not advised if you are not experienced with high altitude travel before. From here, there are two trails to Dira-pu Monastery from the east and west bank of Lha Chu River, most of tourists choose traditional east bank trail which undulates gently on. On the open ground in between the canyon walls, a few small steams cascade down from crags, with the sun illuminating the valley, this stretch looks fabulous. The trail continues to be easy underfoot, another 2.5-3 hours walk from Tarboche, you will reach the second pilgrimage site just under the west face of the Mount Kailash. Given clear skies, you should enjoy truly spectacular views of Mount Kailash west face, soaring high above with its dark striated horizontal layers clearly displayed. Just 700 meters ahead of the pilgrimage site are the temporarily pitched teahouse tents which stay here from end of April to end of October, in which pilgrims and tourists can get some simple food like instant noodles as well as some hot tea.

West face of Mount Kailash is lost in view as the trail steadily carries up, and the canyon walls retreat and become less hostile after the tent teahouse, but this up-stretch becomes harder and takes more effort even after a rest in the teahouse. The kora trail follows the main valley and become broader where it swings to the northeast, the walk often cross the soft meadow, which is a delight along the banks of the river. From here, it only takes 1.5 – 2 hours to reach the Dira-pu Monastery; the mighty and mystical north face of Mount Kailash can be seen from the log bridge over a river that is only 200 meters away from the guesthouse opposite of the monastery. The guesthouse is just under the foot of the north face of Mount Kailash. The first day's 19 kms trek ends here with a time around 8-9 hours. Rest well for the rest of day and enjoy the magnificent sunset at around 8PM.

DAY 2 Diraphuk - Dolmala Pass - Zutruphuk Monastery (20 km/ 9-10 hours on foot)

Today's trek is the hardest because it has about 20km to cover with the highest point of Drolma-la Pass at 5648 meter high, so tourists have to wake up very early, try to finish the upward part and Drolma-la Pass before temperature gets really hot. Wake up at around 6AM, eat the breakfast to fill, depart the guesthouse before 7AM. The kora trail starts ascending steeply eastward after passing a log bridge near the guesthouse, the challenge of sharp ascending at the first hill at about 5200m indicates that it's not any easy day today. After passing the first hill, luckily, the route levels out and climbs steadily for about another 2 kms before the second hill, during this stretch, the majestic north face range of Mount Kailash can be admired all the way with a little edge of seldom seen mysterious east face.

 

After conquering the second rocky steep hill, the trail continues up gently till a stream (often frozen) at the foot of Drolma-la Pass. This place serves as an important rest place for trekkers to take sustenance for their final push towards the pass, have some glucose, food of high energy before moving is advised. The final ascent from here to the pass is sharp, tough and energy-sapping. The trail traverses rocky terrain with some large boulders covered in deep snow at this altitude, especially in April, May, June, Sep and Oct, in some parts, the trail is slippery with ice, watch out that.

 

About one hour later, the pass can be seen over a less severe slope. Countless prayer flags festoon the summit and these almost completely obscure the actual Drolma-la stone boulders itself. The wind could be the biggest problem on this pass, but the air can sometimes be still, sparkling and crystal clear. The 5648 meters high Drolma-la Pass is the “hill of salvation”, legend says that pilgrims passing here can get their lives renewed and get all their previous sins cleaned. So, you will see no matter pilgrims or tourists would like to leave prayer flags here to wish for good lucks, and some special religious rituals would be practiced here also by pilgrims.

 

The descent after the Drolma-la Pass is steep, rocky and immediate underfoot, so watch out the road and better not walk when you take photos or relish the views. Several minutes after the pass, you will note on your right hand below is the lake of compassion--Tukje Chenpotso, turquoise when not frozen. The route ahead further down after the lake is an open place surrounded by the black rocky mountains, this open area is often covered with snow, wind is also strong, so this part of route underfoot might be treacherous. It takes around 1 hour to slip till the lip of the ridge where snow disappears.

 

From the ridge lip to the valley, you will encounter very sharp downhill cliff, the downhill trail on the cliff is steep with loose breaking rocks on the way, and this could be the most dangerous part of the trail considering the challenge to your knees.

 

After finish the last downhill ridge of this trekking, unfold of us is quite an open and gentle valley with grassy spots and silvery streams, you can have a short break in the teahouse just at the foot of the ridge, here you can have your lunch with some instant noodles and other simple snacks. From here to today's final destination—Zutual-Puk Monastery, the walk is quite easy and pleasant. Zutual-Puk Monastery was built on the site of Milarepa Cave, the legend of Milarepa is said to be a poet, saint and hermit of the Tibetan Buddhism, and he once fought against Bon deity Naro Bonchung here to defend Mount Kailash. The guesthouse is just opposite of the monastery, like the previous day, the condition is also very simple here. Take rest early after an exhausting day.

DAY 3 Zutruphuk Monastery - Darchen (12 km/ 4-5 hours on foot)

On the last day of the trekking, from the Zutual-Puk Monastery the trail snakes down steadily on the right bank of the river with few small rises. You have to watch out when the narrow trail slopes off slightly towards the deep gorge below, especially watch out the packing yaks passing besides you, make a way for them. If you scared them, those stubborn animals may hit you into the valleys.

 

The trail makes one more attempt to drain the weary pilgrims here, as it climbs to a rocky knoll. Then all sense of exhaustion evaporates, as your climb reveals the morning splendor of the valley and the Nepal Himalayan ranges to the south. A very short descent brings you to the last prostration point with many mani stone. Not far from here is a checkpoint for the entrance ticket and two or three stone-built teahouses. The last sector of the trekking needs about 1.5 hours by passing an open grassland with Darchen visible not far ahead. And then the Kora will be completed after crossing a river out of Darchen near the police station.

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