13. Mt Kailash and the Kora.

Mt Kailash

Mt Kailash and the Kora.

Crossing to Tibet was an extremely surreal experience, and was about as far from what I expected as possible.

The border crossing provides a stark contrast to the peaceful people of the Limi Valley. Chinese soldiers stand guard at the border, turning away anyone without a special Tibet pass. The Chinese have placed such strict regulations upon Tibet that foreigners are unable to travel there without both a guide and Chinese state endorsed driver. A Chinese soldier accompanies you in your car for the first hour of your venture into Tibet, checking for any signs of trouble. I would not advise carrying anything with writings or images of His Holiness on. Remember: you are not visiting Tibet to cause trouble or to make a point. You are travelling for a pilgrimage and to find peace.

After a night in the run down military check point town of Purang we drove the remaining leg of the journey towards Demon Lake, having a dip, then onto Lake Mansoravar, a lake so sacred to Hindus that they say three dips in its waters washes away the karma of 500 lifetimes. I can see why- mountain lakes 5000m above sea level are about as cold as it gets, and Lake Mansoravar is no exception. It was bone judderingly freezing, but simultaneously exhilarating, with one of the most intense energies of any place that I have ever known.

Lake Mansarovar

The following day saw us travel to a cave famed for housing Guru Rinpoche on his journey through Tibet over a thousand years ago. We then made out way to Mt Kailash.

Guru Rinpoche's Cave

Mt Kailash was closed by the Chinese to any pilgrims up until very recently, but since its reopening it has had a steady trickle of devout Buddhists, Jains, Bonpos and Hindus. Buddhists and Hindus perform the Kora clockwise, Jains and Bonpos counter-clockwise. Nearly a millennia ago, so the story goes, Milarepa, the renowned Tibetan yogi engaged in a terrifying sorcerer’s battle with the Bonpo champion Naro Bon-Chung. They were so equal in their powers that they set a final challenge: the first to reach the summit of Mt Kailash would be become spiritual protector of Tibet. Naro Bon-Chung began to fly up to the summit on a magic drum, but, just before reaching the top, was beaten by a patient Milarepa, who simply teleported himself there. Hindus believe that it is the home to Lord Shiva the destroyer, whilst Tibetan Buddhists believe that it is the place of attainment of Guru Rinpoche and Bonpos believe it is the centre of world spirituality. It is also the place of attainment of the founder of Jain, Tirthankara. The mountain has never been summated (aside from Milarepa).

It is extremely humbling to see the most devout Tibetan locals prostrating the entire way around the mountain, 52km in length, in rain, snow and sleet.

Prostrating Pilgrim

We intended to perform three circuits of the Kora, like the locals. Pilgrims tend to do a Kora in three to five days, locals in one to two. We decided that, since we were doing three Kora’s we would do the first in 2two days, then go down to a single day per additional Kora.

Yaks at Mt Kailash

The first day was smooth sailing. It was about 25km but through a valley, only ascending about 300m to 5000m. We passed a camp where a very famous Indian Sadhu was giving teachings, surrounded by Tibetan and Chinese security that denied us entry. We spent the night in a monastery at 5000m, with the most incredible view of the North Face of Mt Kailash, before waking early to start the ascent to the 5700 m pass. This was intensely hard work. Pilgrims were few and far between but we did pass the occasional Indian, some of whom were extremely overweight and enjoying the Kammic purification of the Kora without having to put in any of the hard work, instead passing the grueling task of the climb to unamused local mules, who were led by weathered Tibetan guides. Some pioneering Indians even bypassed this inconvenience, choosing instead to do the ‘helicopter’ Kora, in which the pious pilgrim circles the sacred mountain as a passenger in a helicopter. The Indians who did chose to perform the Kora, or Jatra to Hindus, would wear Oxygen masks towards the top, something which made me extremely envious towards the top as walking and breathing became increasingly difficult.

Mt Kailash

As we neared the summit, due to an amalgamation of exhaustion and altitude, I got my first bout of altitude sickness of the entire trip. My whole face was spasiming and there were moment when I took breaths that I genuinely believed would prove to be my last. In spite of this, the experience was incredible in so many ways and the energy was the most pure I have ever felt. I checked in on my body: it was vibrating all the way through at an uncontrollable and extraordinary level. On the way down I nearly threw up, and Charlie looked pretty exhausted, but we pressed on for a further 36km before finally reaching Darchen, the start and finishing point of the Kora.

Mt Kailash Outer Kora Pass

We decided on doing one instead of two more circumnavigations, but again changed out minds when our guide recommended a Stupa on the inner Kora where we could go to meditate with extraordinary views of the holy mountain. We arrived at the Stupa, meditated for a couple of hours, and returned to Darchen, from whence we began the five day journey across the Tibetan Plateau and onwards to the Capital, Lhasa.

Mt Kailash Meditating

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