Kailash and Mansarovar: Trekking, Sleeping, Dipping, and More
- 1 Kailash Mansarovar Travel Guide and Recap
- 2 Arrival at Lake Mansarovar
- 3 Parikrama of Lake Mansarovar
- 4 Trek around Kailash
- 5 Kailash Secrets and Points of Interest
- 6 Final Steps
Kailash Mansarovar Travel Guide and Recap
Have you ever wanted to literally feel on top of the world? That is the feeling at Kailash Mansarovar. The highest point of the trek is over 19,500 feet (6721 meters). The air is rarified – and cold, but the feeling is something so special. In this unconventional travel guide, I will recap my experience.
Read on for my experience of being at Lake Mansarovar and then trekking around Mount Kailash. Kailash Mansarovar mountain and lake (respectively) are considered the most holy spot for four world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Bon. With so many deeply revering it, there is some spiritual power there. I certainly felt it.
Whether visiting Mount Kailash is something you’ve always dreamed of, or you just want to hear the story – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it! So, please grab a cup of tea and pull up a chair – off we go!
Arrival at Lake Mansarovar
First, you arrive at Lake Mansarovar after driving for what seems like hours – for days on end. Tired and dusty, you emerge from the rolling hills up onto the Tibetan plateau. The lush green gives way to a desert mountain landscape. This is where you catch your first glimpse of Mount Kailash and some of the most remote mountains in the world.
This is the breathtaking beauty you emerge into. It is literally breathtaking at over 15,000 feet. In fact, that first night at Lake Mansarovar was the most challenging for me with altitude sickness.
Parikrama of Lake Mansarovar
Traditionally, you can either walk (for days) around Lake Mansarovar or drive in cars to do a circumambulation. This is also called a parikrama. This process of circling is supposed to bring the spiritual blessings. It also has the added advantage of giving you 360-degree views of the area! While you are driving around the lake, be sure to take in the majestic mountains.
And when you find a nice spot looking towards Mount Kailash, take a dip in the surprisingly refreshing waters! The lake is usually shallow, only about 3-4 feet deep. That means the water warm during the day in the intense, high altitude sun. After so long traveling, the dip will feel refreshing.
In the Hindu tradition, a dip in Lake Mansarovar is said to clear sins and gives new life. I love this tradition regardless of how you interpret sin. Wouldn’t we all like a fresh start to make more and better of life? And can’t we make every day that new start?
Sleeping – or not sleeping
The first day spent at Lake Mansarovar were the most physically challenging for me in the process of acclimating to high altitude. My heart was racing, I couldn’t sleep, and sometimes I felt like I was gasping for breath. But mercifully, by the second day I could move around more easily. Walking still made my heart race, but at least I could sleep some and didn’t gasp for air. If this happens to you – talk to the guide and be patient. It will get better.
Trek around Kailash
After two days resting and acclimating, we made the short drive to start the trek around Mount Kailash. At that altitude, every 1-pound feels like 10 pounds, so I’d definitely recommend hiring a porter for a modest sum to carry a (light) backpack for you.
The heavier items will go in a duffle on a hired yak, usually organized by your tour group. But even then, everyone is encouraged to pack minimally. As a chronic over packer, this presented a real challenge. But what if I NEED this?!!
Buddhist, Jains, Hindus, and most tour groups go around Mount Kailash in a clockwise direction, while Bons circumambulate in a counterclockwise direction. You will probably go clockwise. The nice thing about people going in both directions is that you never feel alone. There are people who will literally lie down on the ground in reverence to the mountain, get up, take a step and do it again the whole way around. As you can imagine that takes them many days often stretching into months.
Kailash Parikrama Schedule
Our group did the whole trek in 4 days, because we took an extra day to hike up towards the north face of Mount Kailash. This is a parikrama, circumambulation, of the holy mountain, just like we did for the lake. But this time, it was on foot! Here is the schedule:
- Day 1: Hike into Driraphuk, about 5-6 hours
- Day 2: Hike up to the Kailash North Face – about 4-5 hours
- Day 3: Hike over Dolma La Pass and finish at Zutrulphuk Gompa
- Day 4: Complete Kailash Trek in 2-3 hours of scenic, mostly flat walking
Kailash Secrets and Points of Interest
Throughout the trek, there are many locations of great spiritual interest. The first, you can see on the left side of the south face of Mount Kailash: You will see two ridges of snow that look like eyes. These are always there. They are said to be the Lord Mountain’s eyes.
Next, you arrive in Driraphuk, you can visit Driraphuk monastery, which is said to have been there for over 2000 years. You will feel the peacefulness of the monks, and also have incredible views of Mount Kailash, especially at sunrise and sunset. Be sure to take lots of pictures and videos!
Holy (and Drinkable) Water
The stream that runs in front of Driraphuk Monastery is directly from Mount Kailash and is considered holy water. It is also clean, and can be boiled to drink
Dolma La Pass
When you are crossing Dolma La pass, the tradition is to leave something small that represents something in your past you want to leave behind, and to make a wish for your spiritual growth. Bonus points if it is biodegradable. You will join the many prayer flags and others who have passed through there as a symbolic and spiritual new beginning.
When you arrive at Zutrulphuk Gompa, you will find the monastery of Milarepa, a Tibetan monk who lived there around 1100. You can go and meditate in Milarepa’s cave, or enjoy the afternoon sun in the sunroom off the Ashram.
Dhanvantari Health and Healing Waters
Finally, there are lines in the stone on the last day of the trek, which are said to be ancient healing wisdom written into the stone. You can collect water from there that is said to have the blessings of Dhanvantari, the first physician in the Hindu tradition.
As you reach the completion of your Kailash Yatra (the trek around Kailash), you can soak in the accomplishment of a three-day hike at very high altitude. Celebrate this accomplishment with a cup of tea and a joyful Tibetan or Nepali hiking song, like the one below.
I’d love to hear: have you ever thought of going to Mount Kailash? Does this make you want to go?
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