Homage to a mystical mountain
26th April 2003


For years, I had romanced the Tibetan legend of Shambhala about a vast mountain shaped like a four sided pyramid, so as to resemble a three dimensional mandala- a description which perfectly fit Mt. Kailash. The land around this mountain was inhabited by a society, which was so enlightened that it had vanished from human sight and it had moved to a parallel spiritual plane. Although hidden openings to the Shambhala are said to exist, only the pure heart can enter this hidden paradise.
So here I was! Drawn here by the mystical call of this mountain into its spiritual realm. Mt. Kailash has long been the object of worship for the Hindus as domain of Lord Shiva. The Buddhists, Jains and Bonpo also revere this holy mountain. Sixteen of us begin our three-day Parikrama of about 42 km in the Lham-chu valley, at Chuku Gompa, which is strung all over with prayer flags. Our camping equipment and bags were bundled onto yaks and soon, with sunscreen slathered, sunglasses, hats and backpacks on, we began our Parikrama with a group cry of “Om Namah Shivaya”.
As I began walking through the rocky valley floor; I looked up in amazement at the towering cliffs, lining both sides, sculpted into a gallery of fantastic forms- gigantic natural shrines made divine by the devotion of the pilgrims and this faith was astonishing to see. Hordes of Tibetans are undertaking their Parikrama by prostration and the guide told me, “Each circuit takes them thirteen days. One circuit of the mountain erases their sins for a lifetime, 108 ensure Nirvana.” Actions such as mantra, prayers and prostration combined with walking to bring the pilgrim into contact with the divine.
This first day’s walk was fairly easy, if you did it in a relaxed manner. However, the weather was whimsical sunny and windy, when we began, changing to snow and sleet later and it is a relief to get to our lodge for the night, just below the Dera Phuk Gompa.
From Dera Phuk, the pilgrim trail ascends to the 18,600 ft Drolma Pass. This climb was a test of faith and determination and more than a few pilgrims die here, when a blizzard strikes almost without warning, or due to high altitude sickness. It was very cold and I could see the steep snowy hillsides rising in front, dotted with hundreds of pilgrims inching along. The climb was tough, which in this altitude of rarefied air made everyone walk in slow motion. I pause frequently to rest, catch my breadth and ease the frantic thumping of my heart.
Finally, after what seemed like eons, I heard the cry “Laso-so-so!” and looked up to see a splash of colours- red, green and gold prayer flags fluttered vibrantly in the snow. Drolma-la! Spiritually, its passage symbolizes the transition from life to a new one, for atop the pass, the pilgrim is reborn, all sins forgiven through the mercy of Drolma-la. Pilgrims revere it with devotion, circumambulating it, bowing before it, stringing prayer flags from the top and making offerings.
We regrouped here and celebrated, wearily and feebly, with roti rolls, dry fruits, chocolate, water and a few photographs. The weather changed dramatically, clouds descend with snowfall, the wind was fierce and chilly, the path treacherous, icy and slippery. As I slipped and slided downhill, I now saw, the emerald green Gauri Kund or Tukjee Chenpo Tso, the lake of great mercy, nestled into the fluted ice cliffs. Hindu legend has it that Parvati created Ganesha, while she bathed in Gauri Kund. “I have to take a photograph” I thought and almost got blown off the cliff while attempting it. Finally after, “The worst ordeal of my whole life”, as my husband put it, we sighted our camp on the floor of the Lham Chhu valley, stumbled there and collapsed into our tents.
A white sheet of snow surrounded our tents as we woke to the morning. Yesterday’s tough trek had completely exhausted us. We wearily commenced our trek to our lunch stop, at Zutrul Phuk ‘magical power’ Gompa; built over a cave said to be of the tantaric, Milarepa. Late afternoon, we walked through ‘Red and Gold Cliffs’, a fantastic canyon splashed with explosions of mineral colour- orange, maroon and gold boulders strewn across purple, black and blue slopes! We turned a corner to find that we had reached the end of our Parikrama. On the right, Kailash was veiled by the hills and clouds, an unseen but strongly felt presence.
The Kailash Parikrama is very tough, but anyone with enough determination and faith can do it. There were moments of grace when time stopped and the sheer beauty of the surroundings overwhelmed me- suddenly, eternity and infinity seemed within reach.
  • Plan your itinerary through a reliable travel agency, who will organize everything for you- from Chinese visas and permits, airline tickets, vehicles, lodging and camping. Our trip was organized by Eco Adventures. E-mail:ecoadventures@mantraonline.com
  • Spring, early summer (April-July) and late autumn (September – October) is the best times to be in Tibet.
  • You must be cleared to travel and trek in Tibet by your doctor. Take your personal medical supplies with you. Our group was put on a course of Diamox (250 mg), to prevent altitude sickness.