Centuries of pilgrim path across Asia have converged on a remote corner of South West Tibet, where a compellingly symmetrical peak rises from the bare plains. Its name is “Mount Kailash”. The power of this strange, domed peak has gripped the imaginations of the Himdus, Jains, Buddhists and Bonpos since time immemorial. This 6714 meter rock pyramid is the abode of the Gods and earthly manifestation of the “Pillar of the Universe”, the Mythical Mount Meru.
Striking in the way it rises high above the surrounding range and always remains snow capped, thus Mount Kailash known as “Kang Rinpoche” which means ‘Precious Snow Jewel’. Traditional Buddhist cosmology describes Mount Kailash as “ Mount Meru”, the great mythological mountain that forms axis of the World system.
In Hinduism, it is traditionally recognized as the abode of Lord Shiva, who resided there along with his consort goddess Parvati and their children, lord Ganesh and lord Kartikeya.
According to Charles Allen, one description in the Vishnu Purana of the mountain states that its four faces are made of crystal, ruby, gold, and lapis lazuli. It is a pillar of the world and is located at the heart of six mountain ranges symbolizing a lotus.
According to Jain scriptures, Ashtapada, the mountain next to Mt. Kailash, is the site where the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabhadeva attained moksha (liberation). In Jain tradition, it is believed that after Rishabhdeva attained nirvana, his son emperor Bharata Chakravartin had constructed three stupas and twenty-four shrines of the 24 tirthankaras over there with their idols studded with precious stones and named it Sinhnishdha.
In Jain tradition the 24th and last Tirthankara, Vardhamana Mahavira was taken to the summit of Meru by Indra shortly after his birth, after putting his mother Queen Trishala into deep slumber. There he was bathed and anointed with precious unction.
Mount Kailash (Kailasa) is known as Mount Meru in Buddhist texts. It is central to its cosmology, and a major pilgrimage site for some Buddhist traditions.
Vajrayana Buddhists believe that Mount Kailash is the home of the buddha Cakrasaṃvara (also known as Demchok), who represents supreme bliss.
There are numerous sites in the region associated with Padmasambhava, whose tantric practices in holy sites around Tibet are credited with finally establishing Buddhism as the main religion of the country in the 7th–8th century AD.
It is said that Milarepa (c. 1052 – c. 1135), champion of Vajrayana, arrived in Tibet to challenge Naro Bönchung, champion of the Bön religion of Tibet. The two magicians engaged in a terrifying sorcerers’ battle, but neither was able to gain a decisive advantage. Finally, it was agreed that whoever could reach the summit of Kailash most rapidly would be the victor. While Naro Bönchung sat on magic drum and soared up the slope, Milarepa’s followers were dumbfounded to see him sitting still and meditating. Yet when Naro Bönchung was nearly at the top, Milarepa suddenly moved into action and overtook him by riding on sunlight, thus winning the contest. He did, however, fling a handful of snow on to the top of a nearby mountain, since known as Bönri, bequeathing it to the Bönpo and thereby ensuring continued Bönpo connections with the region.
Bön, a religion native to Tibet, maintain that the entire mystical region and Kailash, which they call the “nine-story Swastika Mountain”, is the axis mundi, Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring
Every year, thousands make a pilgrimage to Kailash, following a tradition going back thousands of years. Pilgrims of several religions believe that circumambulating Mount Kailash on foot is a holy ritual that will bring good fortune. The peregrination is made in a clockwise direction by Hindus and Buddhists, while Jains and Bönpos circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction.
The path around Mount Kailash is 52 km (32 mi) long. Some pilgrims believe that the entire walk around Kailash should be made in a single day, which is not considered an easy task. A person in good shape walking fast would take perhaps 15 hours to complete the entire trek. Some of the devout do accomplish this feat, little daunted by the uneven terrain, altitude sickness and harsh conditions faced in the process. Indeed, other pilgrims venture a much more demanding regimen, performing body-length prostrations over the entire length of the circumambulation: The pilgrim bends down, kneels, prostrates full-length, makes a mark with his fingers, rises to his knees, prays, and then crawls forward on hands and knees to the mark made by his/her fingers before repeating the process. It requires at least four weeks of physical endurance to perform the circumambulation while following this regimen. The mountain is located in a particularly remote and inhospitable area of the Tibetan Himalayas. A few modern amenities, such as benches, resting places, and refreshment kiosks, exist to aid the pilgrims in their devotion. According to all religions that revere the mountain, setting foot on its slopes is a dire sin. It is a popular belief that the stairways on Mount Kailash lead to heaven.
Because of the Sino-Indian border dispute, pilgrimage to the legendary abode of Shiva was stopped from 1954 to 1978. Thereafter, a limited number of Indian pilgrims have been allowed to visit the place, under the supervision of the Chinese and Indian governments either by a lengthy and hazardous trek over the Himalayan terrain, travel by land from Kathmandu or from Lhasa where flights from Kathmandu are available to Lhasa and thereafter travel over the great Tibetan plateau by car. The journey takes four night stops, finally arriving at Darchen at an elevation of 4,600 m (15,100 ft), a small outpost that swells with pilgrims at certain times of the year. Despite its minimal infrastructure, modest guest houses are available for foreign pilgrims, whereas Tibetan pilgrims generally sleep in their own tents. A small regional medical center serving far-western Tibet and funded by the Swiss Ngari Korsum Foundation was built here in 1997.
Walking around the mountain—a part of its official park—has to be done on foot, pony or domestic yak, and takes some three days of trekking starting from a height of around 15,000 ft (4,600 m) past the Tarboche (flagpole) to cross the Drölma pass 18,200 ft (5,500 m), and encamping for two nights en route. First, near the meadow of Dirapuk gompa, some 2 to 3 km (1.2 to 1.9 mi) before the pass and second, after crossing the pass and going downhill as far as possible (viewing Gauri Kund in the distance).
Due to its religious significance, Kailash remains an unclimbed mountain.
In 1926, Hugh Rutledge studied the north face, which he estimated was 6,000 feet (1,800 m) high and “utterly unclimbable” and thought about an ascent of the northeast ridge, but he ran out of time. Ruttledge had been exploring the area with Colonel R. C. Wilson, who was on the other side of the mountain with his Sherpa named Tseten. According to Wilson, Tseten told Wilson, “‘Sahib, we can climb that!’ … as he too saw that this [the SE ridge] represented a feasible route to the summit.” Further excerpts from Wilson’s article in the Alpine Journal (vol. 40, 1928) show that he was serious about climbing Kailash, but Colonel Wilson, “Just when I discovered an easy walk to the summit of the mountain, heavy snow began to fall, making the ascent impossible.”. Herbert Tichy was in the area in 1936, attempting to climb Gurla Mandhata. When he asked one of the Garpons of Ngari whether Kailash was climbable, the Garpon replied, “Only a man entirely free of sin could climb Kailash. And he wouldn’t have to actually scale the sheer walls of ice to do it – he’d just turn himself into a bird and fly to the summit.” Reinhold Messner was given the opportunity by the Chinese government to climb in the mid-1980s but he declined.
In 2001, reports emerged that the Chinese had given permission for a Spanish team to climb the peak, which caused an international backlash. Chinese authorities disputed the reports, and stated that any climbing activities on Mt Kailash were strictly prohibited. Reinhold Messner, who condemned the reported Spanish plans, said:
|“||If we conquer this mountain, then we conquer something in people’s souls. I would suggest they go and climb something a little harder. Kailas is not so high and not so hard.||”|
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