Mountain worship is widely practiced by human beings all over the world. However, no worship in any one place could reach the supreme level of that in Tibet. Looking around Tibet, every mountain has a god, ranging from the Eight Sacred Mountains which dominate the world to small sacred mountains that take over one area. It is a rich system with a complete and complex range, among which Mount Kailash should be the one with the highest status and most extensive influence. Among the towering and forceful higher mountains, Mount Kailash is particularly different, which could be easily identified even in the snow-covered mountain ranges in winter. The shape of Mount Kailash is unique, like a pyramid with smooth and tender curves. It towers on the plateau, tranquil and calm, taking on the manner of a king.
Mount Kailash in bird-view
The layers upon layers horizontal stratum on the south face of the mountain looks like a ladder leading directly to the heaven. A deep vertical groove in the middle penetrates the mountain. The crown made of ice and snow inlays in the vigorous body, with the colour of black and white fitting each other, and everything laid out well.
South Face of Mount Kailash
There is scarcely any ice and snow on the north side of the mountain. The whole mountain seems like a big round smooth rock mass. When the sunshine and moonlight shine on it, the mountain diffuses soft red light, looking graceful and charming. However, to endow Mount Kailash with the title of “the most sacred mountain” only by its outstanding appearance seems unconvincing.
North Face of Mount Kailash
In terms of location, the sacred mountain with a dense population is supposed to have more extensive worshippers. However, Mount Kailash is hidden in a corner of Tibet. The average altitude of Ali area where Mount Kailash is located is 4600 metres. This area called “the roof of roofs of the world” is one of the areas in Tibet with extremely cold weather and lowest population density. The straight-line distance between Mount Kailash and Lhasa is as long as 1000 kilometres, which equals the distance between Beijing and Shanghai. The well-known Namcha Barwa, Mt. Meili and even Mount Everest are much closer.
Mount Kailash Location
In terms of height, the mountain with a more relative height ought to be more awe-inspiring. The altitude of Mount Kailash is 6656 metres, the altitude at the foot of the mountain is 4500 metres, and the relative height is 2100 metres, which is quite common in Tibet where higher mountains tower in great numbers. Tens of kilometres away from the south side of Mount Kailash lies the west range of Himalayas with continuous and towering mountain ranges. The altitude of the highest peak Gurla Mandhata facing Mount Kailash is 7694 metres, which is 1000 metres higher than the latter. It is the highest peak in Ali area. The shape of Gurla Mandhata is also quite distinctive. The glacier pouring from the valley is far more extensive than that of Mount Kailash. Therefore, why Mount Kailash becomes the most sacred mountain in Tibet? Because things that have happened here transformed Tibet completely, even the whole religious landscape in China.
Mount Namunani & Mount Kailash
In 840 AD, Langdarma, the last Tsenpo of Tubo, issued a decree to ban Buddhism and promote Bon which is the local religion of Tibet. This event is called “Langdarma eliminating Buddhism” in history. Afterwards, the monks of Buddhism fought back and killed Langdarma. The whole country turned into a turmoil. The strongest kingdom in Tibetan history fell apart, and since then the area was caught into tangled warfare among small states for hundreds of years. In troubled times, ten thousand Buddhas were all in silence on Tibetan Plateau where Buddhism once flourished. Monks released the lust and practiced killing in the name of Buddhism, thus blackening Buddhism’s reputation.
At the same time the Bon thrived instead. If things went like this, Buddhism was inevitably to be abandoned by the plateau. The worst thing was that the light of Buddha in both north and south of Tibetan Plateau was fading away. In India which is the original place of Buddhism, most Buddhist temples were changed into Hinduism. The Islam which came from far away gained more momentum. In the 10th century, many ancient countries in Pakistan and North India turned into Islamic states one after another. Most Buddhist countries in Xinjiang China to the north of Tibetan Plateau were conquered by Islamic power. Buddhism was attacked by both internal and external forces from south and north. It was very likely that Buddhism would perish simultaneously in both India and Tibet.
Islam Influence in the 10th Century
If everything went that way, Buddhism on Tibetan Plateau would disappear, nor could Tibetan Buddhism communicate itself on Mongolian Plateau afterwards. The present world religious landscape will experience tremendous transformation. At the moment of the survival of Buddha, could Buddhism reverse the course?
First of all, when Langdarma eradicated Buddhism and the world turned into a turmoil, Mount Kailash located far away became the sanctuary for devout Buddhists. A devout Buddhist, descendant of Tubo royal family named Prince Nyima Gon led thousands of horsemen to Pulan County at the foot of Mount Kailash, and extended to the whole Ali area afterwards, thus establishing the Guge Kingdom which is well-known in Tibetan history.
Guge Kingdom Ruins
The Guge Kingdom strived to revive Buddhism, and monks from Tibet and India came along one after another, among whom Atisha, the abbot of Vikramasila Temple, the centre of Buddhism in India was most prestigious. In order to bring the master to Guge, when Yixiwo, the then King of Guge Kingdom, was captured by Geerluo of Islamic country, and Geerluo asked Yixiwo to convert to Islam or to bring the same amount of gold as his body for exchange of his life, Yixiwo said to the person who brought the ransom for his release, “I am old already, it is better to use the gold to invite Atisha.” Atisha is one of the most influential Indian monks in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, and his appearance enabled the declining Buddhism to revive in the neighborhood of Mount Kailash.
Moreover, the remote Mount Kailash is a holy place of diverse civilizations and religions. In four directions of east, south, west and north around Mount Kailash grew four rivers. They may be the main origins of Yarlung Zangbo River and Indus, or may be one of the origins of the upstream of Indus and Ganges. The civilizations and religions bred by these rivers could all be traced back to Mount Kailash as a source of spirit.
Rivers Originate from Mount Kailash
People named these four rivers with four sacred animals in heaven, namely horse, lion, elephant and peacock. Maquanhe to the east of Mount Kailash is the origin of the Yarlung Zangbo River which is the mother river of Tibet.
Konqi River to the south of Mount Kailash is one of the origins of the upstream of Ganges which is the sacred river of Hinduism. Kailash peak at the end of Konqi River was regarded by ancient Indians as the residence of Shiva who was the most powerful god in Hinduism, the Axis mundi. Jaina, another oldest Indian religion, saw Mount Kailash as the place where its founder Daxiong was enlightened.
Gods Praying Shiva for his Protection
The downstream of Xiangquan River to the west of Mount Kailash is called Sutlei which is the tributary of Indus, the main river in Pakistan. Xiangquan River, the most important mother river in Ali area, has bred Guge Kingdom and the earlier Xiangxiong civilization. Bon, the local religion of Tibet, was founded by Prince Shenrab Miwoche of Xiangxiong. Mount Kailash was regarded as the cradle of Bon, and the residence of 360 gods of Bon as well.
Shiquan River to the north of Mount Kailash is the main origin of Indus. In ancient times, by the upstream of Shiquan River there was a big lake which was located between Mount Kailash and Gurla Mandhata. Later, the water in the lake reduced with climate change, which resulted in its disconnection with Shiquan River and the splitting of the big lake into 2 smaller ones, one of which is Lake Manasarovar with an area of 330 square kilometres and an altitude of 4400 metres, making it one of the freshwater lakes with the highest elevation in the world. The lake originated from the ice and snow of Gangdisê Mountains. The transparence of the lake was 14 metres, making it the most transparent lake in China. Lake Manasarovar, together with Namtso and Yamdrok Lake, was called three sacred lakes of Tibet.
Lake Rakshastal, Lake Manasarovar’s twin sister, is a salt water lake, with a salinity 3 times higher than that of Lake Manasarovar. Its area is 268.5 square kilometres, a little bit smaller than Lake Manasarovar. The colour of the lake is dark blue. There are hardly any plants or flocks and herds along the lake. The lifelessness of the lake made people to call it “Ghost Lake”.
These four rivers breeding different civilizations and religions seemed to illuminate people somehow that Mount Kailash was the origin of all waters and the center of the world, that who in possession of Mount Kailash would own more power of discourse.
Origin of all Waters
In order to fight for the ownership of Mount Kailash, cruel religious conflicts happened many times, which developed into a battle in later circulation. In 1093 AD, Tibetan Buddhism guru Milarepa came to Mount Kailash to practice Buddhism but was stopped by Naro Bonchung, the guru of Bon. Naro Bonchung held that Mount Kailash was the sacred mountain of Bon, thus prohibiting Buddhists to practice Buddhism there. Therefore, these two gurus decided to solve this by battle. The one who reached the top of Mount Kailash first would win the battle. At the beginning of the battle, Naro Bonchung rushed to the top very early while Milarepa was sunk in sound sleep, no hurry at all. When Naro Bonchung was about to reach the top, he found that Milarepa was already sitting upright on the top. Naro Bonchung was so shocked that he slipped down the mountain directly, leaving an evident groove on the south face of Mount Kailash.
After defeating Bon in Bon’s original place, Buddhism regained its dominance on Tibetan Plateau. It was right at that time when the sacred lake Lake Manasarovar got its name, which means “the blue and clear lake that never fails” in Tibetan language.
In order to consolidate its triumph in Mount Kailash, Tibetan Buddhism absorbed the doctrine of world centre in Hinduism, and regarded Mount Kailash as the Mount Meru in Buddhist scriptures. It also took in the “卍” of Bon as an interpretation of the groove on Mount Kailash. Thereafter, monks came to Mount Kailash to practice Buddhism in great numbers.
Finally, the Tibetan Buddhism having taken ground in Mount Kailash, together with Buddhist seeds reserved in the periphery such as Kham and Amdo raised a renaissance movement for Buddhism over the whole Tibet. Since then Buddhism became the dominant religion on Tibetan Plateau, spreading to Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolian Plateau, Gansu and Yunnan, which was called “Phyi dar” in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. On the other side, in 1203 AD, after suffering from Islamic invasion for several times, Indian Vikramasila Temple was completely destroyed, and Buddhism announced its extinction in India.
Reigniting the light of Buddha in the periphery was what Mount Kailash has experienced about the survival of Buddhism. There is no any other sacred mountain in Tibet that could compare with Mount Kailash in terms of historical status. Mount Kailash fully deserves the title of “the most sacred mountain”! Today, different religions which were previously incompatible as fire and water could get along with each other in front of Mount Kailash. People of different nationalities, cultures, races or denominations could worship gods on Mount Kailash. Therefore, Mount Kailash becomes a sacred mountain that embraces interreligious, inter-cultural and interracial practice, which could rarely be seen in the world.
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I want to organize tours to Tibet from Nepal can you sent me cost rate for all tours what you organize with detail itinerary
Dear Mr. Go***,
Greetings from Nancy Chung at Budget Tibet Tour, thanks for visiting our website and sending your inquiry, please kindly let me know your nationality if you will visit Kailash, as we cannot apply Tibet permit to Kailash for Indian passport holders, and also Kailash is not possible to go from late Oct to early April due to the cold weather, and it will closed. If you will just take the tour from Kathmandu to Lhasa via Mt. Everest, which will be no problem to go year around (except every March). If you can provide how many people in your group and when you would like to take this tour, you will get the precise quote within 24 hours. Thanks and best regards to you.
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