view from Dolma La pass at 18,500 ft

Stairway to Heaven

Locally known as Gangs Rin-po-che, Mt. Kailash is located in Western Tibet and can popularly be accessed from Nepal and from India side.  It is holy not only for the Hindus but equally so for the Buddhists, Tibetans and Bon religion (which predates Buddhism in Tibet).  Standing not so tall at 6,714 meters, Mt Kailash is still unconquered – a mute testimony of the incapability of the mortal human to overcome the Almighty.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, the Tibet Govt. has now stopped giving permissions for its climbing.

doubleLeft: Lone bird flying over the holy Mt.Kailash. Right: The roads were just mind-boggling.our tiny convoy in front of the mighty glaciers from Nyalam to SagaOur tiny convoy in front of the mighty glaciers from Nyalam to Saga.light and shade on the wayLight and shade on the way.tsunami of cloudsTsunami of clouds.the mudhut hotel on the banks of Mansarovar lakeThe mud-hut hotel on the banks of Mansarovar lake.

I visited Kailash from the Nepal side where it is a 3 day journey by 4WD SUVs via the Kodari border to Nyalam then to Saga and to Mansarovar Lake.  The first day itself we moved from 4600 ft (Kathmandu) to 12,500 ft (Nyalam) causing some discomfort as it takes the body some time to adjust to the lower oxygen levels.  We stayed for 2 days for acclimatisation which is absolutely essential.

is it a road or a runwayIs it a road or a runway.moonkissed Kailash on a full moon nightMoon-kissed Kailash on a full moon night.roads to nowhere - after Mayum La passRoads to nowhere – after Mayum La pass.view from Dolma La pass at 18,500 ftView from Dolma La pass at 18,500 ft.

After that the journey through the Tibetan plateau is absolutely dreamlike with beautiful metalled roads and breathtaking landscape.  We passed through many passes and plains and arrived at Mansarovar Lake after staying at Saga.  The first sighting of Mt Kailash was a redeeming moment for us.  Suddenly, all the dreariness of the journey, all the difficulties en route were forgotten as we devoured the sheer majesticity and the grandeur of the revered mountain with folded hands. Kailash has four faces with distinct characteristics and mood and this was the popular Southern face with step like design on it – Stairway to Heaven, it is always fully covered with snow and reflects majesty and splendour.  At 15,000 ft the Mansarovar Lake is like an ocean with its perimeter at 88km, depth 90m and a surface area of 320 sq.km.

yak horns are considered auspiciousYak horns are considered auspicious here. before taking the dip in the vast Mansarovar at 15000 feetBefore taking a dip in the vast Mansarovar at 15000 feet.the amazing rainbow at Darchhen at a touching distanceThe amazing rainbow at Darchhen at a touching distance.serenade of setting sun and the rising of full moon at Mansarovar banksSerenade of setting sun and the rising of full moon at Mansarovar banks.

After staying on the banks of Mansarovar in mudhuts for a night we moved to Darchen which acts like a base camp for the 3 day 46 km treacherous round trip of Mt Kailash.   The second day was most difficult as we had to cover 22km including crossing the Dolma La (pass) at 18,500 ft.  Only 7 out of the 40 odd people in our group (including me) dared to walk and the rest took ponies.  Just beyond the Dolma La there is Gaurikund where the Hindu God Ganesha was fabled to have been born.

double2Left: The treacherous journey with Kailash in the backdrop. Right: Tibetans on way to Mansarovar.the local folks at the Chiu Gompa in MansarovarThe local folks at the Chiu Gompa in Mansarovar.schoolchildren at border town of Kodari in NepalSchoolchildren at border town of Kodari in Nepal.inspite of all hardships this tibetan smiling from his heartIn spite of his hardships this tibetan is smiling from his heart.a fellow traveller pondering after completing the parikramaA fellow traveller pondering after completing the parikrama.the Friendship bridge between Nepal and China - picture taken on the sly as photography is strictly prohibitedThe Friendship bridge between Nepal and China – picture taken on the sly as photography is strictly prohibited.

We returned to Mansarovar via Darchen when I dared to take a dip in the icy waters of the lake.  The return journey seemed short as we basked in the glory of the wonderful memories of the trip.  In retrospect, I still remember what my tour agent had told me before making the trip : ‘you need a right mix of faith, spiritualism and adventurism to enjoy and successfully do this trip’ – how true she was!

Amitabha Bose is a compulsive traveller and a photographer who writes about what he sees and feels.  Presently in the self confessed wrong profession of being an Executive Director, he lives with his family in Delhi.