Kailash Parikrama: A Trek Around Kailash

Kailash Parikrama: Hiking Around Kailash, Day 11, 12 and 13
Approximate Elevation: 4,560 m (~ 15,000 ft)

The arduous journey across the Tibetan plateau had taken its toll on most of us. While the fabulous vistas and the serene landscape of Manasarovar instantly lifted our spirits, our bodies looked forward to a few days of rest. The toughest part of the tirth yatra (pilgrimage) still lay ahead of us: performing a parikrama of Kailash.

In a temple, Hindus generally perform a pradakshina of the deity by walking around it in a clockwise manner. Mount Kailash is the icy abode of Shiva and Parvati and thus in reverence, we were to perform a parikrama; same as a pradakshina, but walking around the entire mountain. This would take us three days and we had to trek rough terrain, cross streams, climb steep trails, jump from boulder to boulder and traverse a pass high in the mountains at 19,200 ft on the second day – rain, snow or shine. And we would be camping on the mountain side. Coincidentally, the hike over three days was slightly over 42 kms, the same distance as a marathon.

After Manasarovar, we shifted our base to Darchen, a tiny compound of sheds at the base of Kailash. There our tour organizers identified half of our groups as not fit to continue on the Kailash Parikrama. After spending so much money and the long trip I’d have thought these folks would be upset – but not. They were tired and sick, and relieved they could stay back at Manasarovar. Of the rest, 20 were asked to hire and ride horses or yaks around Kailash.

I was one of seven considered fit enough to hike over the three days. I did not feel very confident though. I was still running a fever and having trouble with my breathing (small detail). Here the concept of surrender came to the fore. Yes, we all have to surrender to destiny and move forward. If I had to pass from this world, what better place in the world than on a parikrama of Kailash? And importantly, there was the ego thing: There was no way I was going to return home without doing the parikrama of Kailash.

All of us hired porters to carry our small bag packs which held only essentials for the day. Mine had an extra pair of socks (I hate wet socks), a rain jacket to go over my warm jacket, an extra bottle of water (I carried one bottle on a sling), my secret stash of granola bars, laddoos and other snacks. I carried the camera around my shoulder and bought an inexpensive walking stick locally. The organizers arranged for yaks and porters to carry our tents and kitchen stuff. Several sherpas walked with us carrying emergency medical supplies and oxygen canisters. The folks who did not go on the Parikrama were to camp at Lake Manasarovar with a skeleton crew.

During this tirth yatra, we had to re-acquaint ourselves with the divine. There were none of the material or verbal symbols of divinity here. No temple with stunning gopuras, or exquisitely carved mantapas. No shrines in niches and no priests chanting mantras and performing puja. Many were incredulous and asked: “There is no shrine here? Nothing?” Sorry, you have to engage the mind and see the divine outside the temple, inside your own heart. Realize the nirguna formless, aspect of the divine. Certainly, there was no hundi here to collect donations, either. The divine was all around us and within us.

īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānāṃ hṛddeśe.arjuna tiṣṭhati |
bhrāmayansarvabhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā ~ 18:61 Bhagavad Gītā

Ishvar abides in the heart of all beings Arjun; impelling everyone to act as if they are (puppets) mounted on a machine. ~18:61 Bhagavad Gītā

The Land Cruisers dropped us off at the starting point of the parikrama. Just a barren, inhospitable valley with a pebbley trail. It was grey, raining and cold. Not a good way to start a long, tough trek.

Here Tibetans had assembled a mound of stone tablets. Each was exquisitely inscribed with the Buddha’s mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. These are apparently offerings of devotees from bygone eras. Some of the larger tablets had many rows of etched mantras.
pics of stone tablets inscribed with Om Mani Padme Hum at Kailash by Arun Shanbhag

A closeup of one of the tablets.
pics of stone tablets inscribed with Om Mani Padme Hum at Kailash by Arun Shanbhag

At the start of the parikrama, is a little archway called Yama dvar (Yama’s doorway). This region at the base of Kailash is considered to be the domain of Yama – Hindu God controlling Death. Further having sinned, we were not worthy of performing the parikrama. According to tradition, by passing through Yama’s doorway, we go through death and are reborn: pure of body and ready to perform the parikrama. How cool is that!We got out of our vehicles and huddled in the drizzle. This was a very emotional moment for everyone. Some us would go forward into the cold grey, while others would return to camp. Cameras clicked and flashed; we wished each other well – not certain if we would live to see each other again.

… being reborn? the new brave me!
pics of Yama dear Yama's doorway at Kailash by Arun Shanbhag

Here we have just set off on the parikrama on a grey rainy morning it is expected that each of us would travel at a different pace and be separated from the others. Thus each of us is accompanied by our porter, who also acts like our personal guide. For the next three days, we were stuck together and resigned ourselves to Shiva’s care.
pics of hiking on the Parikrama around Kailash Yatra by Arun Shanbhag

An example of the hulking mountains overlooking our progress on the parikrama, and forming a protective ring of mountains around Kailash.

pics of mountains ringing Kailash by Arun Shanbhag

Talk about devotion. We passed this British lady who was going to perform a namaskar, the entire way around Kailash. She would prostrate for a namaskar, get up, place her feet where her hands were and perform another namaskar, and so on. She wore a heavy leather-like apron on the front to shield here from the rough trail and had wooden flats strapped on her hands. She was accompanied by a couple of sherpas preparing her food and setting up her tents. Our sherpas inquired and found out she was expecting to take 25 days to perform this parikrama.

And here the trail was pretty flat. Later on we would be crossing streams and the next day we had to traverse piles of boulders – up and down – how would she manage? What drives a young woman to such heights of devotion? And a Western woman at that. Such devotion is a grace we should be fortunate to have. Here we Indians were struggling to simply walk around Kailash.
pics of a devotee performing namaskars around Kailash by Arun Shanbhag

Meet my porter – Pema. When they first assigned her to me – I refused and said I needed a stronger guy to help me around the parikrama (and if necessary pull me out of deep crevasses !!). But the Chinese cartel which organizes the assignment of porters turned a deaf ear and reminded me that this was based on a lottery and I was stuck with her for the next three days.She only spoke Tibetan, which I only knew how to nod to. Through one of the sherpas I find she is 14, like fourteen. She was part of the nomadic tribes which come here during the summer to find such employment. And she had already done this parikrama more than 20 times! I rested my case. And I generously shared my stash of laddoos and granola bars with her! I gave her my walking stick too.

Of course, while I labored in the rarefied atmosphere, she would walk briskly ahead and find a boulder to rest on. While I caught up huffing and puffing she’d would smile, get up and walk on refreshed. heh, what about my rest? Despite being relegated to the backwaters of Tibet and growing up in a nomadic settlement, she was a most charming person. If we had a daughter, she’d be her age.
pics of Pema around the Parikrama of Kailash Yatra by Arun Shanbhag

Click link below for Kailash Finally on the Kailash Manasarovar Travelogue:
Kailash Finally

To start at the beginning of the Kaliash Manasarovar Travelogue, click below:
Rendevous with Sagarmatha (Everest)

104 thoughts on “Kailash Parikrama: A Trek Around Kailash

Add yours

  1. Arun,

    What is the highest point in meters.

    I’m going on September 3 😊😊


    BB Govinda Swami

  2. Thank you for nice an informative blog. it is helping peoples to know about this Parikrama. I recently finish my first Parikram for this year. Hope to be there again in August. Otherwise only on 2018.

  3. Dear Arun, I have enjoyed your blog so much and it was the guiding star for me as I prepared for my trip in Sep 2016, which I was able to complete. You are absolutely right that when the calling comes, it will automatically happen. I love your stories of Maya as well, thank you for sharing.

  4. Will any one please explain inner parikrama and outer parikrama, heared since 2013 inner parikrama is closed is it correct.

  5. Mr. Shanbhag
    Thanks a lot for info. I and my wife aged @ 40 r doing it in midst of august. We did valley of flowers last year and we think we shall do kailash. . . v r little concerned about second day trek. How much did u take to cover 22 kms(if I m not wrong) on day-2?
    My condolences to mr. K mohan,

      1. Hi Arun,
        Your article is very informative and helpful.
        If you could provide details on following things it will be useful for us, from where we can get porter and Hiking stick/materials during the route and What are the costing of the same
        Also would like to know, are we allowed to bring mansarovar lake water in a bottle back home,
        Lastly is there any shops for Rudraksh mala on the route

        Om Namah Shivay

        1. Thank you Ratnesh,
          You tour organizer will arrange all the porters etc. Since the prices change frequently, just ask your tour organizer and they have the set contracts with specific groups to provide the services. You could buy your own hiking stick in Mumbai or other places and take with you. That is advisable.
          Yes, you can bring back the Lake Manosarovar water. Our organizers had already taken sturdy plastic bottles for all of us, but it will not hurt if you carry your own bottle.

          There is nothing in Tibet, but you can buy rudrakamala in Nepal before you go to Manasarovar and dip in in the lake and also carry it with you around Kailash.

          Name Shivay.

          1. Thanks Arun for the information.
            As per my tour operator, the cost for pony/porter has raise to 20 to 30 k INR for 3 days.
            I will be reaching Nepalgunj directly.
            As you correctly mentioned,will purchase all the required things from Mumbai.
            I am looking forward for this trip and may lord shiva bless me and everyone in this blog.

      2. Hi Ritesh ji,

        where we can get porter and Hiking stick/materials during the route
        Hiking stick you can purchase from nepal, when u will arrive to Nepal, you will find many shops selling hiking stick any reasonable stick metallic should be ok.
        Poter = through out your yatra all your luggage will be carried by helping staff provide by Tour operator, accept for 3 days treak, were u will be asked to only carry very limited luggage .., porter or ponny you can either book a day before treaking or on same day of treaking.. when u will start yatra you will find few porter or ponny.. or if you want to be safe you can book then in advance, your tour operator will guide you 10000 Rs per horse 1 paid for 3 days roughly. in 2013
        and What are the costing of the same –
        Also would like to know, are we allowed to bring mansarovar lake water in a bottle back home, — Yes, you can carry your own 1 lt cane and fill it, usually toure operator bring water in big tank and then share it.. but u should check with them in advance. however rem. while flying from katmandu you need to be sure how much water you want to take due to baggage constrain, 1-2 lts should be ok,
        Lastly is there any shops for Rudraksh mala on the route — my advice will be to pick then us in Nepal, while tour operator will take you to pashupati nath temple you can find many good shops who see actually rudraksh .. you can find any thing in tibet or china,,

        1. Thank you Akshay ji,
          I will keep these details in mind, it seems cost have increased for the same by now. Since i am reaching nepalgunj by evening, not sure i will get rudrakshmala etc.
          May lord Shiva bless each one of us.

          1. Dear All,

            I completed my yatra and parikrama, Thanks to lord Shiva for blessing me to do the same.
            Its divine feelings and life time accomplishment.
            Wish all the readers and others all the best for their trip and May lord Shiva bless you all


            1. Thanks Arun,
              I just returned after completing my Amarnath ji yatra.
              With blessing of Lord Shiva, this yatra was equally fullfilling and divine.

              I just want to add that for Mt.Kailash ji yatra, pony/horse goes till dolma pass and then one is required to climb down on its own, a strech of around 1-2 km.
              Also one should not push himself if body and mind, resist so, from Derapuk, a vehcle is also arranged to return to yum dwar 350 yuan.
              This information is hidden by tour operators but it is available on request.

              May Lord Shiva bless all the readers and everyone

  6. Hi,
    This is real and useful subject and we are planning to go by may 15th 2016 and your comments and experience is very useful , it is good for us to prepare ourself for this parikrama.

    om namachivaya

  7. Am planning to go to manasarovar …. Is fishtail travels any good?.. I saw their video in YouTube… They have deluxe bus tour without parikrama. since my parents are accompanying im looking for a trip without much of trekking

    1. I went through their website details and it seems pretty straightforward. There is coach service till Kodari and then you transfer to 4-passenger LandCruisers for the rest of the journey. That seems appropriate.
      I suggest going earlier in the season, when it might be colder, but less rains and chances of roads being swept away in the snow melt.

      Namah Shivay,

      1. dear arun, very good feedback and trip experience.
        we are planning to take the trip in june 2016.
        is it difficult to do pony/ horse ride during first day.

        1. Thank you for your kind words.
          The first day is relatively flat and a good time to do the pony or horse ride. The second day is very hilly and in some places you have to get off the horse and then get back on. But it will be a big help.
          Wishing you the best.
          Namah Shivay

    1. Thank, earlier in the season the better; May or June, or even early July.
      It might be colder, but as the summer progresses, the snow melts and the roads get flooded.

  8. I left on a yatra for kailash mansarover on6 July 2014 ,I have never been on any yatra or holy places before it was an out of the blue decision I am 50 years it’s was like lord SHIVA calling me.when we reached nylam which was roughly at altitude of 14500ft I felt great ,then we travelled to Saga this is where people felt sick as we travelled up and down 17500,14500and 15500ft, about 15 people left from saga but I felt great as if there is god in there air i was breathing and there was a lot of oxygen in the air I was breathing,I didn’t feel any effect of the altitude.from saga we wen to darchen and from yam dwar we started our parikrama for three day. On second day we reached dolmala pass it was divine didn’t feel or get tired as if lord shiva was with me .OM NAMAH SIVIA.don’t forget to chant MAHA MRITYUNJAY MANTRA from beginning to the end of the yatra which is very important.it was a very energizing yatra

      1. My brother ,my friend and myself were blessed to do the Mount Kailash parikrama. we left with Guruji Sri Sri Sri Cheluvanarayana sastry with Asian travels from banglore on July14.2014.Had to wait at Katmandu for 4 days to get our permit.Finally we left to be near the Friend ship bridge to sty at Tatapani . A hotspring is there. That’s the last place where we could bathe till the parikrama is over. We reached Nyalam after the tedious immigration procedure ,With no acclamatisation we left towards Manasarovar. Here we forgot the discomforts we went through, to be one with the serene divinity , performed Gangapooja after the comforting cold bath praying to Goddess parvati and lord Shiva. To the north is Mount Kailash. You can’t take your eyes off. Later it was Manasarovar by Night ,clear starlit skies with shooting stars. A divine experience.The day after was the parikrama which started with all anxiety and prayer. Pema was my Sherpa too. A friendly girl who never left my side for 3 days.I do share your feeling of divinity here as you start on the horse back. A special mention here to the Tibetians who were on the parikrama too . After the Dolmala pass climb, getting down the slope seemed impossible to me. Then a father and son said”shall we help” , they just took me by arm and brought me down without expecting anything, which has doubled my devotion and faith.After that parikrama is smooth. Weather being in our favour we came back to Bangalore.Never to get over the yatra so DIVINE!

      1. Hi Neeta,
        In preparation, you need to be able to hike some smaller mountains in your area. I joined a team from Mumbai, and the organizers had arranged some small hikes to get everyone moving. Pranayama helps as there is an oxygen deficit. I do a lot of distance running, so physically I was fine, but was still affected by high altitude sickness.

        You will have a great time.

  9. The write up is very good and inspiring.For those people who feel like undertaking the trip after going through the write up, I would like to present the other side. My daughter aged 28 (a software professional from( Kochi)went on Manasarovar trip in the month of June’12 and her ashes only returned. I was told that She had Breathing Problems at Dolma la pass and fainted. Her last words,’ mujhe chakkar aaraha hai’.I was told that Sherpas administered Oxygen to her, carried her down to some restful place,made her lie down, But she could not be revived and after sometime air bubbles came through her mouth and she is no more.
    While people are at liberty to undertake this kind of hazardous trips, they/their parentshould be prepared to meet any eventualities.

    1. I am very sorry for your loss. I agree the readers should understand that this is a very dangerous pilgrimage, usually performed when a person has completed all their duties in this life. For our trip, the tour guides asked us in advance to prepare our “wills.” It is definitely not a tourist destination.

      Please accept my condolences.

      1. Shanbagji, I share my condolences to Krishna Mohan. But I don’t know why, this Kailash trip has been constantly engaging my mind since long. I am 48 now, reasonably fit and yearn to do this yatra with full Parikrama before I leave this planet. Caught in the midst of a demanding job and other commitments, I don’t hope to make the effort at least before 55. Will I be able to do this at say 55-60 years of age? Really, how difficult is difficult??

        1. I think, sooner the better. But on the flip side, with better facilities and easier travel with better roads, it would not be a bad idea to wait for a few years.
          And I always believe, you will go when you are “called.”
          Namah Shivay.

        2. Hello Mr. Subramaniam ,
          in our group we had 3 senior citizens above 70 and they trekked for 3 days too. I am 62 years and these 3 persons were our motivators

  10. Mr.Shanbagh,
    I am planning to go for Kailash Mansarover yatra alongwith my wife aged about 62 yrs and 56 yrs through Yatra Pilgrimage Toures, Mumbai and also like to go for Parikarma.
    Please give your valuable suggestions and precautions for that.

    1. Congratulations on your Sankalpa to do this Yatra. It will be the best one of your life.

      Throughout this travelogue I have highlighted many of the pitfalls. I recommend that you do some strenuous walking and hiking in the next few months, have comfortable cold wear gear, including good shoes and you will have a great time.

      Also, check all the information that your Travel Group will provide you. That is ALL IMPORTANT. Do not take any chances.
      Wishing you the best

      1. HI,

        Me and my friend did Outer Parikrama in 2012 and are praying that we can do Inner Kora this year. Can you suggest which month(s) would be better for Inner Kora

        1. Not sure which would be the good months for the inner Kora; I think earlier is the better to prevent flooding, but it will be colder.

          Please keep us updated.

  11. hi brother,, u have really posted very essential information about KM. In June, 2014, myself 36yrs & my wife & sister and are planning to go for parikrama. Can u provide us the contact details of Govind Travels,, we have done amarnath yatra by foot 2yrs before, so, plz comment whether the second day parikrama is really very difficult? What special precaution should be taken to prevent altitude sickness

    1. Hi Ashish,
      Wishing you the best for the parikrama. I am not familiar with Govind Travels, we went with Kesari Travels (Mumbai).
      Since you have done the Amarnath yatra, it appears you are fit, so the second day parikrama should not be a problem. But all the travel agencies will have a medical exam and also make you go on a short hike prior to assess your fitness.

      There are medications for altitude sickness that you should take. Please contact your doctor for those. Your travel agency will also give you the details.
      On Namah Shivay,

  12. Look I understand from from travelers prospective you want to book and pay once. From what i understand both of travel’s you suggested (Kesari Travels and Sachin Travels) might end up outsourcing u to some other travels in NEPAL .
    there are 4-5 tavel agencies in nepal who do this and have rite contract in tibet to manage this tour , 10-20 small travel agencies in india who don’t have acess to tour agents in China or tibet ,so they always have to go via nepal ,so try to get in contract of any travels in nepal at least u can save 10k -20 k if u negotiate well . while if u book from India ageny just makes at least 40 k from you for doing nothing. So try to arrange for any direct travel ageny in Nepal , try and call Gobind travel . I know they organise there own tour ,they have there own buses and choose good staff for tourists who book directly with them.

    1. Thank you for your tips.
      And I KNOW that Kesari and Sachin do outsource part of their trips; but that is fine as long as Kesari and Sachin take care of evaluating the quality, safety and standards of each of the outfits in Nepal and Tibet. An average traveller does not really need to get into that level of detail. We are only interesting in making sure we get a good trip for a price that was given to us ahead of time.

      For some people, directly contacting multiple agents for different parts of the trip may work, but it is not for everyone.

      Thank you thought.

      1. Arun,
        Excellent details and briliant photographs. Which is the best period to go for Parikrama. I am planning to undertake the Parikrama in 2014 – God willing

        1. Congratulations on taking on this wonderful yatra. I think it is better to go earlier in the season (June or early July). It will be much colder than, but in August, you get a lot of rainfall and snow melt and thus flooding.

          Namah Shivay

          1. I went parikrama on a horse during July 2013. It was a beautiful experience. I want to go back again – parikrama by foot. Hope HIS grace will make it happen. I had similar feeling – surrender , at the same time ego that I cannot return home to US no matter what without doing parikrama! Kailashpati made it happen. Parikrama was heaven! despite the breathing, pain in the body, heart was full with bliss. It was as if I and the body were two seperate entities.
            I recommend Karnali – they have offices in Nepal and India and US and UK. I went as single female from US – no issues at all- right from Karnali’s reception – they take care of everything from pickup from airport in Nepal through drop at the airport after the pilgrimage.

              1. I don’t see an option to upload pictures in this blog. Can you provide gudance. I’d love to share HIS abode.

                1. Thank you for your interest in posting the pics.
                  After seeing your comment, I realized it is not that easy for commenters to add pics.

                  The best option may be if you have a flickr or Picasa (i have used Photobucket.com a lot) album where your pics are uploaded. Then just entire the link into your comment and all the readers will be able to see your album and thus see all your pics. This is also a great way to share pics with your relatives or friends.

                  If you have difficulty with posting the link, you can send it to me and I can edit your comment and add it in.

                  Again, Thank you for your valuable comment and input to the readers.

              1. The horse or yak does help particularly ion the first day and part of the second day. But when you have to go over rocks, you have to get off the horse and walk – which is still fine.


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