20th September 2016
We had wonderful weather during the kora of Mount Kailash. We were very lucky not to have to worry about cold and precipitation as well as the difficulty of the walking and how our bodies had acclimatised to the altitude. In high season there can be many, many pilgrims on the age-old 53 km trail. Apart from the local Tibetan and Hindus trekking clockwise there would be Bon (the pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion of the 8/9th centuries) walking anticlockwise. I felt we had just the right amount of fellow walkers to appreciate the spiritual nature of the place.
I think we only saw a couple of Bon and they were prostrating all the way around the mountain. Tashi, our guide, informed us that it would usually take about 20 days to prostrate the 53 km. The pilgrims were wearing protective shields on their shins, forearms and hands. We also passed about 30 Buddhists doing the same in the clockwise direction. He even mentioned that a handful of people set out from Lhasa to prostrate all the way to the mountain every year – a trip which would likely take at least 10 months.
The walkers there were a great mix of ages; the eldest bent double pushing forward each small step on their wooden sticks; with the youngest being carried or encouraged to walk short distances of the path. At our final overnight stop we met the Bon gentleman who had completed over 800 koras. In fact our past sins should now be absolved after only completing 1 kora but we would need to do 12 more to erase the sins of a lifetime.
The circumnavigation itself consists of a steady walk in and out from Darchen at 4600m, which is punctuated by a pretty difficult climb up to the Drolma pass at 5660m. Our itinerary from Lhasa, which had been rather tough to begin with, now left us already well acclimatised by the time we started the kora. There are teahouses on the way at regular intervals for refreshing green tea, coke or beer. Also some traffic on the track, mainly the odd motorbike delivering supplies, which was a little surprising but didn't really disturb the walk in any way. These areas in fact seem very clean considering the total amount of pilgrims who do the kora with the intermittent bright blue bins continually emptied.
The toughest challenge by far is the pass with its multiple horizons. It may be rather dirtier here but it's really the myriad of prayer flags that catch your eye. It feels a special place. And the clear and well-defined path meant we could spread out, walk at our own natural pace and enjoy the good karma our efforts were being rewarded with.
Max wrote this blog tour leading the Lhasa to Kashgar via Mt Kailash tour.