According to Hindu mythology, Mt. Kailash is the physical manifestation of Mount Meru, which is the center of the universe, and the Kailash Mansarovar Lake has been created by Brahma, the creator of the Universe himself. The oldest manuscripts decreed that a parikrama of the mountain (a journey of one full circle) will free you from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. As such, the lake finds itself the center of a pilgrimage by many local believers.
There are two ways to reach Kailash Mansarovar: you can drive down and trek from Tibet or from India. Since I was on a travel tour in India, I drove down from New Delhi (Capital of India) to Tawa Ghat, which is situated at the confluence of Kali and Darma Rivers, at an altitude of 2,998ft. This was the starting point of the trek and I took some time to acclimatize and relax as much as possible because the trek ahead can vary from difficult to strenuous and will take anywhere from 15 to 25 days.
A guide is a must and most often than not, trekkers opt for a Mount Kailash tour package. It is considered as the best option because the concerned travel agency will take care of all your requirements including camping, food, and also porters. For my part, I chose to go along the old pilgrimage route from India with a friend who has been to Kailash Mansarovar at least 4 times. I was definitely in safe hands.
It took us 7 days and 6 nights of trekking to reach the India-Tibet (China) border, right after the Lipu Lekh Pass. Along the way from Tawa Ghat, we camped at various points during the night, the last one being Navidhang, the last point before we officially passed out of the jurisdiction of India. The views were simply breathtaking – all I could see for miles were snow capped mountains, along with the subtle sound of the chilly winds. Sometimes you can hear the sound of the creaking glaciers, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to witness one.
During the trek, we were often joined by other people on a pilgrimage to the Kailash Mansarovar. As they trekked along on their religious journey, chants of “Om Namah Shivaya” can be heard reverberating gently through the mountains around us and the valley below. This was a spiritual experience of a different kind, one that even non-Hindus can enjoy and take part in.
As we trekked onwards, we readied ourselves to cross the Lipu Lekh Pass, one of the toughest segments in the entire journey. The whole pass has to be crossed before 9 in the morning, as the weather conditions turn bad extremely quickly in the high-altitude. Just in the middle of the pass, our Indian porters bid farewell and the Tibetan porters took over from there. Finally, at the end of the pass, a vehicle arranged by our travel operator picked us up for a 22km drive towards Taklakot, where we were able to rest, relax and stock-up on rations for the final leg ahead.
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About the Author. Parthajit. Parthajit is a nature & landscape photographer and trekker with travel experience in the Indian Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh), Western Ghats (India), Thailand, New Zealand, and Japan.
I don’t like to quote Wikipedia too often, but on this occasion it’s really quite apt – “‘Tibet’ names and definitions are linguistically and politically loaded language.” In context of this discussion, the Tibet we refer to is the official Tibet Autonomous Region. It is a natural geographic wonders, the world’s longest and highest plateau full of gorgeous scenery that has been dubbed ‘the roof of the world.’ While the country is filled with unique historical sites, natural phenomenon, and brilliant experiences, here are just a few ideas to get your next Tibet adventure started.
Capital Culture in Lhasa
Lhasa is Tibet’s capital and cultural center. The city has a long history dating back to the 7th century; some of the post popular sights to see today include –
Potala Palace. Photo credit - reurinkjan.
Potala Palace – this massive, earthquake-proof building is the largest collection of Tibetan relics. Inside are jewelry, murals, and priceless antiques. The palace is 14 stories tall so it’s a strenuous tour that will take the better part of a half day at least.
Bakhor Street. Photo credit - vwsluk.
Bakhor Street – Bakhor (or Baghor) is the oldest street in Lhasa, and today is a virtual open air market with each side of the old lane filled with shops and storefronts. You can pick up everything here, from a tacky souvenir to household goods to food and drink. The street is always quite crowded because it is one of the “circumambulation circuits,” a route that goes around the temple and is a method of showing devotion.
Jokhang Temple. Photo credit - Matthew Winterburn.
Jokhang Temple – the Jokhang monastery was originally built in 647AD and was expanded several times to reach the size you see today. Inside is a statue of Jowo Sakyamuni Buddha which is considered one of the most highly regarded religious in the country.
Get out of the cities and you’ll find yourself with some of Asia’s most dramatic natural sights. Beyond the fame and glory of scaling Mount Everest, at Tibet’s border with Nepal, you’ll also find these show stopping stops –
Yarlung Zangbo. Photo credit - notemper.
Yarlung Zangbo – this is a canyon waterway on the Parlung Zangbo River which packs in a number of great viewpoints along the crystal-clear waters. Ra’og Lake is beautiful and takes a different persona during each season – it has been called “Switzerland in Tibet.” There are also a number of glaciers that can be reached with some effort, such as the Midui glacier whose icy façade appears to just hang down the side of the cliff face.
Yamdrok Lake. Photo credit - Jake Ji.
Yamdrok Lake – one of the three largest sacred lakes in Tibek, Yamdrok is also the source for Tibet’s largest hydroelectric power station. Local legend says that if Yamdrok dries up, Tibet will no longer be habitable. Surrounding the lake is a series of sharp mountain peaks and several small villages. The lake has nine islands – one is large enough to be home to the Samding Monastery.
Mount Kailash. Photo credit - reurinkjan.
Mount Kailash – spending three days walking around a mountain may not strike your fancy, but to do so around Mount Kailash is a pilgrimage, this one of the most sacred mountains in all of Tibet. It is the far west, and the mountain’s iconic rounded cap is almost always snow-covered and very inspirational even for non-Buddhists.
If You Go
All tourists require a permit of some sort to visit Tibet, and sometimes the rules change, so you’re best to check with a travel agent regarding the latest information before you travel. At a minimum you’ll need a Tibet Tourism Bureau permit. Some areas (which change frequently) require an Aliens’ Travel Permit (ATP) which is issued by branches of the Public Security Bureau in most larger Tibetan cities. And if you choose to go to some of the most remote areas, you’ll also need a military permit, only available in Lhasa. Typically permits are inexpensive when coupled with a tour package; otherwise you’ll be faced with a high markup.
If it all sounds confusing, it is. But it’s always better to double-check your paperwork than to be faced with disappointment. Also keep in mind the extreme altitude which can exert extreme stress on the body. Give yourself some time to acclimatize – in other words, don’t go trying to see all 14 stories of Portala Palace on your first day or walk around Mount Kailash in only 24 hours.
About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.
Beth Whitman’s own wanderlust started years ago with a trip to India. While she’d seen plenty of the U.S. at that point, her only trip abroad had been a few weeks in England. But after three months in India, Nepal and Thailand, Beth was hooked.
Since that first trip, Beth has made a career out of traveling — especially to India and the surrounding countries. Not only has she written about the area, but Beth also leads tours to India and Bhutan. Beth says, “I… wanted to share what India has to offer with others. India can be a challenging country in which to travel and by starting out with a tour, it provides a person with a safety net until they get used to the people, the culture and environment. It’s my hope that I can help people feel more comfortable and provide them with enough confidence and perspective to then travel on their own.”
India. Photo credit - Stuck in Customs.
Looking at the itinerary for Beth’s latest tour group as they head to Bhutan, you quickly realize that Beth is interested in heading off the path that the typical tourist might follow. Part of this approach is due to the fact that (ed: unfortunately for me) many of Beth’s tours are for women only, allowing her to lead groups to see nunneries in the heart of Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Beth also wrote a guidebook for women visiting India on their own, Wanderlust and Lipstick: For Women Traveling to India.
India. Photo credit - jpereira_net.
Beth says that it’s hard to pick just one thing to recommend seeing or doing in a country as large as India — though she says that if she had to narrow it done to just doing one thing, she’d eat!
“Where a person visits really depends on that person’s interest. Someone who’s interested in Buddhism may want to travel in the north and go to Dharamsala. Another person may want to head to the beaches in the south, Goa or Kerala, for example. A first time visitor probably has an idea as to what intrigues them most about the country and they should pursue that interest before simply wandering or arriving without a plan.”
Bhutan. Photo credit - Marina & Enrique.
Prayer flags in Bhutan. Photo credit - jmhullot.
Making that plan is a crucial part of Beth’s suggestions to travelers planning to head to India or any of the nearby countries. “Research. Research. Research. Read guidebooks, talk to people who have traveled there previously, and read travel stories about other people’s experience. While researching can’t completely prepare you for any journey, it will definitely help take some of the culture shock out of the experience.”
Beth adds, “And, no trip actually goes “smoothly” in India! The sooner you learn that, the more you can appreciate the country and people for what they have to offer. It’s a matter of just accepting what comes your way and embracing it. (Kinda like life in general!)”
You can find more about Beth Whitman, along with her travels, tours and books, at Wanderlust and Lipstick.
This is a guest post by Thursday Bram, from Working Your Way Around The World.com, a site with top-notch advices on building up a writing business that can have you.. working around the world! The site grew out from Thursday’s upcoming book of the same name, coming out later this year through Duffie Books. Congrats Thursday!