Legendary Mount Kailash

04/12/2019 15:40

Mount Kailash is considered sacred in the Buddhist, Hindu, Bon, and Jain religions.

Samdrup, our young driver, slowed the car and lowered the windows. He pointed and slowly said: “We’re about to go round this bend. Please take a farewell look at Mount Kailash!”

We all silently turned to the majestic snow-covered mountain receding behind us, reflecting upon our memories of this land, which had threatened to knock us down in the snow just three days before. To reach Mount Kailash, we had driven beneath beautiful blue sky and golden sun, along windy roads and mountain passes, past crystal blue lakes and white expanses of floating white clouds.

Pilgrims resemble dots as they pray and walk

Situated over 1,000km west of Lhasa, Mount Kailash is not the highest mountain of the Himalayas. At roughly 6,700m, it's quite humble compared to the world’s highest mountains that stand over 8,000m. However, Mount Kailash is considered sacred by Buddhists, Hindus, Bon-pos, and Jains. Devout monks and nuns regard the pilgrimage to Kailash as an opportunity to practice mindfulness and prayer. They also view the Kailash Kora - or pilgrimage - as a way to cultivate their souls.

The pilgrimage around the holy mountain of Kailash usually lasts for three days and two nights. This involves 20km of trekking for the first two days and about 10km on the last day at a constant height of 5,000m. The journey to Dolma-la Pass (roughly 5,600m) on the second day was the most challenging. Although the distance was not so great, the trek was tiring due to the extreme weather. It took six hours a day when we went fast and over 10 hours when we slowed down. When night fell, we stayed in shabby guest houses on the mountain. The landscape was amazing in daylight. There were high mountains, deep abysses, and snow-covered peaks. The plants and animals weren't exotic but diverse enough to impress us. At night, Mount Kailash served us with starry skies and cold wind that crept into our rooms, making those who were not warmly dressed toss and turn all night. We also met groups of Tibetan pilgrims, who prayed as they walked. For every three steps they took, they prostrated their bodies flat against the ground to honor Buddha. Looking at them inching up the holy mountain in the wind and snow, we could not help but admire them greatly. Our tour guide told us that these Tibetan pilgrims spend months ascetically traveling to Mount Kailash. They overcome physical exhaustion, work on their mental well-being, and nurture their religious beliefs in such an impressive manner!

Displaying Vietnam’s flag before the sacred mountain

Tibetan pilgrims perform ascetic prayers as they climb

All members of our group were fortunate to complete this journey. Previously, many had given up on the very first day due to the difficult conditions. Before the trip, our tour guide made us sign a document stating our trek was voluntary! The snow was thick outside. Dolma-la Pass is steep like a gate to heaven. We zipped up our coats, tightened our boots, lowered our heads, and crept through it. No one dared look back as the wind was roaring, the snow was rattling, and our cameras were out of order due to the low temperature.

At the top of Dolma-la Pass, we hung a Lungta flag among the myriad “wind horse” flags tied here before. It is believed that whenever the wind blows, a mantra is carried on the wind to spread goodwill to the world. On Barkha Plain, the icy road was slippery. All of the inns were closed as they only open in summer. Therefore, groups of travelers had no place to stay. They were exhausted and sometimes nestled against a cliff for a short while. But for the encouragement and assistance of our young and strong Tibetan porters, we would not have finished our Kora pilgrimage. I greatly admire and cherish their persistence and sincerity. Regardless of circumstances, they always managed to be optimistic, strong, kindhearted, and supportive. After three days of trekking on Mount Kailash, I finally realized that the Mountain chooses its people.

The Tibetan believe that prayers printed on Lungta flags will be chanted whenever the wind passes by

Words are not enough to describe the holy peak. For the first two days, Mount Kailash concealed itself behind snow and clouds, before opening up to us on the last day in farewell. In the morning light, the mountain stood proud and solemn. It could be seen at the point of our departure yet we hadn’t paid attention! From far away, we said to ourselves: Goodbye holy Mount Kailash, goodbye lovely and memorable moments that we had during our pilgrimage. Thank you, Mountain, and our great companions, the people chosen by Mount Kailash. Thanks to them, the Kora is possible on this sacred mountain.

Minh Yilka 

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