The Kailash Manasarovar Yatra
Kailash, the abode of Shiva, is a sacred mountain. Beneath the mountain, Mansarovar lake is also considered sacred. Therefore, thousands of devotees make a pilgrimage to the Mansarovar region every year. The pilgrimage is done clockwise by Hindus and Buddhists. The followers of the Jain and Bonpo religions circumambulate the mountain to the left.
Kailash Mansarovar Tour can be started from Kathmandu through Lhasa. A private vehicle can be hired in Lhasa or Kathmandu. The paved road passes through the uneven terrains of Tibet, making it easier to tour the valley.
At 7 o'clock in the morning, the sky is completely clear with a wonderful full moon. When leaving Shegar, we have a very strict check-point. It seems that the road to the Everest Base Camp is very controlled. The road that climbs to the hill of Pang La is impressive.
Our guide tells us that in a few years, the road will reach the foot of the Kailash. We arrive at Pang La (5198 m). We were going to stop only ten minutes because the Everest chain was invisible for several days. We approach the panoramic map and it seems that the horizon is clear and in a matter of seconds, slowly the whole chain appears. The emotion is immense.
Our guide shows us the Cho Oyu to the right of Everest. We can also see on our left the Makalu and the Lhotse. After taking dozens of photos, we take the road again, going down the hill to the north, to go to the EBC. We go through a small town. The color tones of the Tibetan plateau are of great delicacy. We arrive at Rongbuk at 4980 m altitude.
The Rongbuk monastery is the highest in Tibet and in the world. There was a monastic activity for hundreds of years but this monastery was established in 1902. Before the Chinese Cultural Revolution, 500 monks lived here. Now there are some thirty nuns and monks left. Inside are some absolutely wonderful murals.
We leave the backpacks at our hotel and after a hot tea, we take a jeep to travel the five kilometers to the EBC. At the check post we have to show passport and various permits before leaving. Our guide seems to have everything in order. From the barracks, the small hill goes up. It is totally empty since it is not a season of expeditions.
There is a habit among climbers who before leaving leave ephemeral words on the ground. And we, being trekkers, do not have the right to pass the marked limit, that is, to go down the hill, otherwise it would be another permit, that of expeditions!
We have to go back to Rongbuk. The most incredible thing is the photograph of the monastery with Everest in the background and the daily life around the monastery. The restoration of the monastery began in 1983 but as we can see in the photo, today it continues. Known locally as Qomolungma, locals consider Everest a sacred mountain. Before going to dinner and sleeping, my friend has stayed in ecstasy.
We got up after a difficult night, which is not surprising at 5000 m altitude. At 6, Everest is completely in the clouds. When leaving at 8 o'clock, the completely clear mountain is splendid. But we must continue towards the west, towards the Kailash.
But as we are forced to go 50 kilometers an hour, there is not much danger. In Tibet, snow is scarce in winter and the thorny brush that resists the ice allows the herd of yaks to feed. The landscape is amazing. We are again in the Friendship Highway, on a plateau between 4400 and 4700 m of altitude between two mountain ranges with the Himalayas to the south.
We see the Langiang Tsho and Pelkhu Tsho lakes and in the distance, the Shisha Pangma (8013 m). During the ten hours of travel, we have passed several hills. This is the last one before arriving at Saga, our resting point for this day. We dreamed of a shower after days without water, but it was impossible. Saga has electricity only for two hours a day and the water is pumped from the Phreatic layers. Then when arriving very late, the hotel had no water for showers, or light.
We are again waiting for about five hundred kilometers of road between Saga and Darchen, to reach the point so dreamed, the Kailash. Crossing a town, again we are surprised to see so many houses under construction, all on the same model. A few meters from here, there is a very strict police control, before the Mayum La (5280 m) hill.
To the south is the fascinating Gurla Mandata (7728 m) that we will now be able to see from any point during the next few days. We get the first view of the Kailash (6714 m). Our guide during the photo stop, called the office issuing permission for the return of the Kailash in Darchen.
We see the sacred Manasarovar lake, south of the Kailash before arriving at our lodge in Darchen (4680 m). Tomorrow is the long awaited day. We are all mountaineers and we have a tremendous desire to put our backpack on our backs and start walking.
We depart at 8 in the morning. The weather is very cold but splendid. From our lodge, we see the Kailash at 6714 m. The Kailash is claimed as the most sacred mountain in the world by Indians and Tibetans. It is the center of the world in the cosmogony of Asia. The word Kailash or Gang Rinpoche or Gang Ti-se, in Tibetan, means the jewel of the ice peaks.
The majestic peak of the Kailash has never been conquered by a man. Many explorers tried to climb the peak, but eventually could not. Climbing the peak is now prohibited by the Chinese government.
We have to cross the village of Darchen first (4680 m). Darchen, a village 1200 kilometers from Lhasa, is the starting point of the pilgrims around the Kailash. At 4720 m altitude, after walking almost two hours, we reach the end of the track for buses and motorcycles. Our handbags go from a truck to the back of a yak.
Each one makes this pilgrimage according to their beliefs but also according to their physical and financial strength. Tibetans walk or kneel, alone, as a family, with children on their backs, stopping to sleep on the edge of the road when the body asks for it. We meet fellow Indians on horseback going up the hill of Droma La (5660 m).
They arrived directly from Delhi after changing four flights, that is, they started without any acclimatization. Their physical condition is very poor, and they fall on top of the horse as they get dizzy at the edge of the roads. Many of them, when coming down from the pass on the other side have to walk supported by two guides. This turn of the Kailash is all a show.
We continue advancing and rising slowly and see nomads with yaks on the river Lha Chu. We have a small break for our group at 4895 m altitude before arriving at the Dira Puk monastery (5070 m). We will sleep in barracks in front of the monastery with a breathtaking view of the north face of the Kailash. Around the barracks are horses, yaks, and humans.
I wake up at 6 in the morning. Today, each one will rise at their own pace. Our Tibetan guide opens the march ahead, with the fastest while our Nepalese guide is left behind. They rest on the climb, and smile at us. The Tibetans are very nice.
Our Tibetan guide wait for us at the pass of Droma La (5660 m). It is a very emotional moment as we have managed to climb slowly but without problem! There is no photo of the group because the first ones that have arrived have already come down. They will wait for us below. And our guide encourages us to get down as soon as possible.
We see a small lake below the pass. The yaks go down very happy. We arrive at the Zuthul Puk monastery (4850 m). We spend the night in this monastery, also very old but much better than the barracks of yesterday. The temple rises around the grotto where Milarepa, illustrious Tibetan mystic and one of the greatest poets of Asia, meditated for many years.
We go down again to Darchen to close the loop following the river Dzong Chu. In the restaurant, we met two Tibetans, a mother and her daughter. They have made the return in less than two days sleeping on the edge of the road a few hours a night. They, as usual, do not seem to have any problem with the altitude. The mother does not know how to write but she knows how to handle her phone very well. They are both admirable.
Our yak arrives with her pastor. Kailash this morning is completely covered by clouds. We had incredible luck with a cold weather at night but very nice to walk during the day. Now our driver is waiting for us for the last stage of this incredible trip. We have three more days to the west and three days to go all the way back to Lhasa.
We go directly from Darchen to the village of Moincer, passing through the Guru Rinpoche Monastery and the hot springs of Tirthapuri, where pilgrims usually come to bathe after returning to the Kailash. The spring that has a temperature of 40 degrees is the source of the Sutlej River.
We head to the famous Guge Kingdom, going down and up hills by some steep roads, passing the most sophisticated checkpoints. We cross a landscape of exceptional natural beauty that cuts our breath. The mountains around the Sutlej river are formed by a semi-consolidated fluvial clay, by sand and gravel, elements affected by erosion, rain and ice.
We stopped at noon in Zanda where we found a lot of police checks, for a delicious meal based on a fish soup accompanied by other dishes, and visit the Tholing Monastery. It was the most important monastery of Buddhism, comparable to the Vatican, almost totally destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. There emanates a feeling of great sadness and desolation to walk among its ruins.
The old Guge kingdom of Ngari was a province that knew political independence, economic prosperity and religious fervor. The ruins date from the ninth century. The kingdom disappeared just fifty years after the arrival of the first Westerners, Portuguese missionaries, in 1624, first to cross the Himalayas from India. The location of these ruins and the beauty of the surroundings are absolutely amazing, and the place is so little crowded that we feel in the deepest recesses of the world.
We left Zanda to spend the night in Tsaparang very close to Guge. Tonight, we slept in a very nice guest-house with hot water and shower in a luxury and a great pleasure after days with wipes. We are at 3750 m altitude and it is not cold at all. We now have the trip back to Lhasa, with another wonderful stop at the edge of Lake Manasarovar towards south of the Kailash.
From Guge, some ninety kilometers to the east, we have our next stop, at the edge of the famous Lake Manasarovar, at 4700 m altitude, south of the Kailash. According to the tradition, in the four cardinal points of Manasarovar there are four animals hidden in caves. There is an elephant, a lion, a horse, a bull and from their mouths the greatest rivers of Asia sprout like the Indus, Ganges, Sutlej and Brahmaputra (Yarlung Tsangpo).
Lake Rakshastal is located in the vicinity of Lake Mansarovar. To our left is the Kailash. At the edge of the lake, we will spend a night in a very friendly guest-house. The ladies of the house prepare dinner for us and our guide helps them. A nomad comes to drink hot tea and have a little company.
At the edge of the lake and a few meters from our guest house, we see the Chiu Monastery. In these places, there is almost nobody, but only nomads.
At night, a couple of young nomads stop at the guest house to rest a little. The owner proposes them to sleep inside, but they say they are going to sleep outside, near their animals. We are almost two thousand kilometers from Lhasa but a light-years away from the way of life.
We left very early because many kilometers are waiting for us and it has also started to snow. After half an hour of road, our driver stops at a fuel pump. Because of the cold, all diesel fuel distribution systems are blocked. Cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, pile up around us. There is nothing to do but wait like everyone else.
Finally the situation is fixed at 10. We have many kilometers before reaching Saga, but the controls continue to get stricter. At 1 o'clock in the afternoon, we are forced to stop forty minutes at the edge of the road, to respect the schedule. That is to say that we had to do the 195 kilometers from the last checkpoint to Ma Youqiao border, in 4 hours and the driver has gone ahead. Fortunately, the sun has come out again. We pass the next control at 1:40 pm sharp. These are totally surreal situations. After several other checks, we arrived at Saga at 7 in the evening. We have been on the bus for 12 hours.
This morning, it is snowing, especially when we pass the first pass of the day at an altitude of 5000 m. At least, we have seen snow in Tibet because despite what we can imagine of Tibet, it is a region where snow is scarce.
A young pastor asked us for help. His motorcycle did not work and his two yaks were down the hill. After arrival in Shigatse we find the hotel of the way with comfortable rooms, hot showers, hair dryer, wifi in each room and a good vegetable soup. It is a luxury after so many days in primitive living conditions.