Mount Kailash: A Walk on Sacred Ground

Although it is little known in the western world, Mount Kailash is one of the most sacred spots on earth, and is a holy pilgrimage site for people of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Bon faiths.

Mount Kailash stupa

Pilgrims and tourists alike perform a seriously challenging kora – a walk circling a sacred site – around the base of Mount Kailash. This is no walk in the park – the Kailash kora is a 32 mile (52 km) trek that starts at 15,000ft (4600m) and includes an 18,372ft (5600m) pass!

2020 Travel Advisory: Due to the current health crisis, Tibet is temporarily closed to all foreign travelers, likely at least through the end of July 2020. However, travelers who pre-book Tibet tours by the end of June 2020 will get a rare opportunity for special discounts. (You can use the booking any time up to April 2022.) At the same time, you will support local Tibetan-owned businesses at a time when they are struggling to survive. To learn more, ask us for an introduction to a reliable Tibetan travel agency here.

To travel to Mt. Kailash, you will need to commit significant time and resources for the journey to what Tibetans call Kang Rinpoche — roughly meaning Precious Jewel of Snows — usually two or more weeks for an overland trip out of Lhasa. And you may want to do it sooner than later, since the Chinese government is actively working on tourist development plans for the area that will very likely change the traditional experience forever. (See an article by Tibetan writer Woser: Please Stop the ‘Development’ of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar for Profit.)

Since no independent travel is allowed to Tibet and you must work with a travel agency, you want to be sure to choose a Tibetan-owned agency, which hires Tibetan guides only. The simplest way to do this is ask us to connect you to a reliable Tibetan-owned travel agent to plan a great trip for you that also supports the local Tibetan economy and culture. (Note to our Indian friends: Sorry, our agents cannot assist Indian nationals.)

The Kailash Area

Mount Kailash is remote, deep in Ngari, the Westernmost part of the Tibetan plateau. The nearest largish town is Ali, which is the Chinese-built administrative center for Ngari prefecture. But there are a number of nearby destinations of major interest which you can include on your trip: especially Lakes Manasarovar and Rakshastal and the Guge ruins, but also Tirthapuri Gompa, Purang (near Nepal border) and Panggong Tso (Bangong He).

Geographically, the Mount Kailash area is massively significant, with four major rivers of Asia having their sources in this area, as you see in the image below. It is a common misperception among Tibetans and Indians alike that Lake Manasarovar is the actual mother of these four rivers:

  • Yarlung Tsanpo – Brahmaputra River
  • Mapcha Tsangpo – Karnali/Ganges River
  • Langchen Tsangpo – Sutlej River
  • Senge Tsangpo – Indus River.

Actually, though, only the Langchen Tsangpo, the Sutlej River, flows from Lake Manasarovar, although all four rivers do begin in the close vicinity.

Mount Kailash and major Asian river sources on a map of the Tibetan plateau.
Mount Kailash and major Asian river sources on a map of the Tibetan plateau. From www.meltdownintibet.com.

Getting to Mount Kailash: the Major Routes

Darchen, the village at the southern foot of Mt. Kailash, is the starting point for a pilgrimage, and there are a number of ways to get there, but here are a few common routes:

  • Southern Route from Lhasa:   Lhasa — Shigatse — Lhatse — Saga — Paryang — Darchen
  • From Kathmandu, Nepal:   Kathmandu – Dram – Nyalam – Saga – Paryang – Darchen (*Since the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, the Dram border crossing has been closed, so this route has changed. We’ll try to provide more information soon on alternatives.)

You can get a rough idea of the routes here:

Main routes to Kailash.
Main routes to Kailash.
  • Northern route from Lhasa: Alternatively, some Kailash tours will take you on a Northern route to the Kailash area from Lhasa, and on to the Nepal border, like this 22-day  Kailash Circuit tour from a Lhasa travel agency:

Day 1-3: Lhasa sightseeing.

Day 4: Visit Shigatse.

Day 5-9: Travel via north road to Ngari.

Day 10-13: Visit Tsaparang and Tholing.

Day 14: Arrive Darchen.

Day 15-17: Mt Kailash trek (3 days)

Day 18: Visit Lake Manasaravor.

Day 19-21: To Kyirong at Nepal border

Day 22: Cross border to Nepal. End of your Tibet trip.

Once You are There: The Mount Kailash Pilgrimage

If you have a look at the excellent diagram from Mapping the Tibetan World below, you can start to trace the pilgrimage route. Find Darchen (15338ft / 4675m) down near the bottom and for the first day’s journey, you will work your way up via Chaktsal Gang to Drirapuk Gompa (17093ft / 5210m). (Disclosure: we get a small commission from Amazon if you buy Mapping the Tibetan World at the link above.) The summit of Mount Kailash itself is 22,027ft (6714m), but it has never been climbed, due to its sacred status.

Mount Kailash Tour >>

Some Tibetans will make the whole 32 mile (52 km) circuit in a single long day (like 14 hours), but it is common for visitors to take three days, with this basic itinerary:

  • Day 1: Darchen – Drirapuk Gompa
  • Day 2: Drirapuk Gompa – Zutrulpuk Gompa (Also Dzutrulpuk)
  • Day 3: Zutrulpuk Gompa – Darchen

Many tourists and pilgrims will come and complete a single circuit, though some Tibetans make 3, 13 or even 108 circuits. Some perform full-body prostrations as they go around, which can take weeks for one circuit.

Day two will be the hardest day, as you will have to cross the Dolma la pass, at 18,471ft (5630m). This pass is blocked by snow until April.

In general, the best time to visit will be May to October, but know that the peak of Kailash is frequently obscured by clouds between mid-June and mid-September, and that nights will be freezing, even in the height of summer.

Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus walk in a clockwise direction, while those of the Bon faith walk counter-clockwise.

Here’s a satellite image of the Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar area, including Darchen, Drirapuk and Zutrulpuk:

Mount Kailash pilgrimage route by satellite
Mount Kailash pilgrimage route by satellite. Image by www.mountainsoftravelphotos.com

Do You Dream of Making Your Own Journey?

Since no independent travel is allowed to Tibet and you must work with a travel agency, you want to be sure to choose a Tibetan-owned agency, which hires Tibetan guides only. The simplest way to do this is ask us to connect you to a reliable Tibetan-owned travel agent to plan a life-changing trip for you that also supports the local Tibetan economy and culture. (Note: Unfortunately the agents we work with cannot help Indian nationals in groups less than 50.)

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Updated on May 12, 2020. First published on September 21, 2012.

Your Tibet travel advisors, Lobsang and Yolanda

Most people who want to go to Tibet don't know how to get there or who to trust for help. We’re Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, and we help make Tibet travel more simple, safe and ethical so you can feel peace of mind about your trip. Learn more about us and YoWangdu here.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Jonathan says

    Hello!
    Do you think it is possible to make that pilgrimage around Mt Kailash like a true pilgrim? 1 step-1prayer-1 step-1 prayer 🙂

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Jonathan. Are you asking if you can take longer to do it? If so, yes, though the kora is at extreme high altitude, so it would be very, very hard on a non-Tibetan body to be at that altitude for long. Our best to you.

    • S. Babu says

      Not unless you are in FBULOUSLY GREAT shape. I did it when I was 57, we went as a group of 25 people and we were fully cared for by Sherpas on a 1 to 1 basis. It is an EXTREMELY difficult undertaking. I ran 7 marathons, was in great shape and I almost didn’t make it. You may die there (as many have) so write your will and be ready to be cremated there (which is not such a bad thing, if you are a Hindu!).

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Siva,

      It really depends on your personal susceptibility to altitude sickness. Actually, physical fitness is not a risk factor of whether you will get altitude sickness. You need to be moderately fit, as well, as you must trek for 3 days and cross the Dolma La pass. We believe there is an age limit imposed by the Chinese government, particularly on Indian travelers. Best to talk to your doctor, and to look carefully at altitude sickness prevention. (See our information here: https://www.yowangdu.com/tibet-travel/altitude-sickness-prevention.html) Our best to you.

  2. Zelly Restorick says

    Hello Yowangdu,
    Is there anything we can do to stop the Chinese government from developing the site? It would be a tragedy. I don’t know what the current situation is. I will check out the link on your website.
    Would a woman alone be safe to walk the pilgrimage?
    Or is it best to go with other people?
    Many thanks.
    And thank you for all the information here.
    Zelly

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Zelly, Stopping the development is of course a huge challenge. Please do see the link. You must be with a guide to walk the pilgrimage which we feel would be quite safe, though other people might think it best to go with a group. All the very best to you!

  3. Indu says

    Does one have to do the kora or circuit around Mt.Kailash or Manasorovar?
    I don’t think I am fit enough to do that. So I did rather visit, offe my prayers and turn around. Is this possible. Thank you!

    • Hae Won Kwon says

      In the warmer months when there’s no snow on the ground, locals rent horses for the kora. But only if there’s no snow. Horses can easily break their legs on snow, that’s why. Also you can hire sherpas to carry your bags, if you can walk but not with added weight. We hired a car for the kora around lake Manasorovar, it was great.

  4. vish says

    Hi,

    Thinking of visiting Mount Kailash toward the end of October this year. Wondering about the temperatures during the day ( daytime high) and at night (night time low) ?

    thank you,
    vish

  5. Ola says

    Tashi Deleck,

    i thought Darpoche and Darchen is same place but the map shows differently. Can you please tell me how far is Darpoche from Darchen and how many hour/min will it take to get to Darpoche from Darchen by walk???

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Ola,
      We got an answer for you from one of our Tibetan-owned agents. They said:

      “Darchen and Darboche is different places, Darchen is the little town located right in front of the Mt.Kailash, it is the town where people stay to prepare for the yaks and porters.

      Darboche is little open area south of Darchen, where the big prayer flag pole located and during the Saga Dawa this area is the main place where most of the ritual ceremony hold and renew the flag pole once in a year.

      From Darchen it is about 4km south to Darboche and by walk it may takes around 2hrs in the clockwise”

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Shady,

      “Day two will be the hardest day, as you will have to cross the Dolma la pass, at 18,471ft (5630m). This pass is blocked by snow until April.

      In general, the best time to visit will be May to October, but know that the peak of Kailash is frequently obscured by clouds between mid-June and mid-September, and that nights will be freezing, even in the height of summer.”

  6. Lingaraju D S says

    Hi,yowangdu, you have given an expert comment about kailas parikrama.There are so many problems which we cannot take care. We should accept the reality as it is. Be bold and go. I had visited manasa sarovar and Kailas in June 2013. It was a memorable experience. One could see GOD every where . As I had visited almost religious places in India but Kailas is one place which cannot be compared. Now I have made my mind not to visit any holy places.
    Lingaraju D S
    Bangalore.

  7. sasha says

    In the late 90’s there was a summer trek led by an Indian army General from Delhi, retired…a yatra for a group of Indian pilgrims…on foot, 16 days each way over the Himalayas and only 2 days there at Kailash….Otherwise it was not possible to go alone on foot…it is a military zone you are not allowed to cross….I don’t know if that trek is still happening today

  8. siva prasanna krishnan says

    Aum Nama Shivaya

    I am arriving in Kathmandu on the 29th of August to make this pilgrimage to Mt Kailash. I am not sure how prepared I am, after reading about altitude sickness and tiredness. I still have three weeks to do something. I do not do yoga but at sea level I can walk for a few miles without getting tired. I have my faith. Please advise me, what I should do from now till then.

    Thank you

    prasanna

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Prasanna,
      We are not experts about this, but you need to see your doctor to ask his or her advice about this. In general you need to be in the best possible physical shape when you arrive, and also, very importantly, you need to rest at least a few days to acclimatize in Tibet before starting strenuous activity. The Mt. Kailash kora is very high and strenuous. At least you should walk as much as possible now. But please do not consider this medical advice. You need to consult a doctor. All the very best to you and may you have a great pilgrimage.

    • Antonio says

      Hi Siva,
      Can I get in touch with you? I would like to know some first hand experience from someone who has done this pilgrimage as I think it will be my next adventure. Thank you.
      Antonio.

  9. Mabel Morodomi says

    I will be in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan in September 2013. We will be lucky to be in the area during the Bhutan Festival. What is that festival about?

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Mabel,

      Hope you have a great trip. Sorry but we don’t actually know what the Bhutan festival is about. Maybe you can learn and let us know.

      All the best,

  10. uma says

    hi there,
    I am from Malaysia and I am amazed by the stories and pictures of pilgrims making the sacred trip to this holy place. It will be a dream come true for me if I could lay my footsteps at this awesome place and would like to ask how can I go about planning from now on to get there next year.

    I am very certain to travel alone hence need your advise to guide me closely here.

    Thank you.

  11. Ollfine says

    Hi I’ll be traveling there around July till aug any inside of what should I bring or prepare? N what’s the weather like there? Thanks ss

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Ollfine,
      Check out our post on the weather in Tibet: https://www.yowangdu.com/tibet-travel/tibet-weather.html. We don’t have anything right now on what to bring or how to prepare, so suggest you try the blog called The Land of Snows. We think Losang over there has the info you need. We’ll put this topic on our list to write posts on in the future. All the best to you on your trip. Let us know how your trip goes!

  12. Josephine Chin says

    Tashi delek,

    I am firm on my traveling to mt Kailash lhasa. However, I am travelling alone from Singapore. I have checked with numerous Tibet agencies and the chances are very slim for my permits approval and single traveler.

    How can I make it materialized? Is there an agency has a record of successfully case for single traveler. My travel plan is departure after 22Apr and before May. Duration is flexible. This is a spiritual calling trip that I need to fulfill. How would you help and advise on the possibility.

    I sincerely appreciate and express my gratitude to you. Thank you very much.

    With metta,
    Josephine Chin

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Josephine,

      We surely hope that you are able to fulfill this wish to go to Kailash. We don’t know exactly a travel agent that can be successful with one traveler, but we advise you to:

      1. Contact ALL the agencies at this link, which is our recommended agents, and see if one of them can help you. https://www.yowangdu.com/tibet-travel/tibetan-travel-agents.html

      2. Go to The Land of Snows page on Facebook and ask the person who runs it your question. He is very good on travel to Tibet matters.

      All the best and let us know how it goes.

  13. Sara says

    Hi,
    I am planning to make a kailash tour in May 2013,as I will be in dharamsala is there a tour directly to tibet from dharamsala (by road) at this moment it is only me planning for the tour. What will be the cost as I am
    not an Indian possport holder.Kindly advise
    Thank You
    Sara

    • yowangdu says

      Thanks for writing, Sara. Sorry, we do not know about tours directly from Dharamsala to Tibet. From India, you must travel to Tibet via Nepal, either a flight to Lhasa from Kathmandu, and then by road to Mount Kailash, or by road via Dram on the “Friendship Highway” between Nepal and Tibet.

      For Indian citizens, there may be another option. We don’t know for sure if this is still active, but there is this account of a government-sponsored yatra from India overland by trekking to Kailash: http://traveller.outlookindia.com/destination.aspx?id=196 It might be a good idea to contact the Tibetan agencies we recommend in the post and see if they have Indian agencies they work with who could help you.

    • yowangdu says

      Hi Lorenza,
      We hope you can achieve your dream. We don’t know directly about routes from India, but if you contact the travel agencies in Tibet listed on the page, we think they can help you figure out a path. They may know agents in India that they work with. Let us know what you find out. Best of luck! [Updated 10.20.12: please see our response to the comment above for more information.]

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