Kailash Finally

Kailash Parikrama: Hiking Around Kailash, Day 11, 12 and 13
Approximate Elevation: Dira Phuk: 4,775 m (~ 15,666 ft);
Dolma La (Pass): 5,650 m (~18,500 ft)

Within an hour of starting our Parikrama, the rains stopped, the clouds dispersed and the sun broke through. By this time, our small group of hikers and porters were spread out and I was essentially walking alone (with Pema way ahead). The elevation was slowly taking its toll and I would make frequent stops – just to catch my breath. And with Pema leading, we made steady progress.

At one point, we reached a gap in the fortress of mountains ringing Kailash, and there peeking through the break was the imposingly massive, black granite Kailash!

The overnight storm had covered it in fresh snow and clouds still kissed its forehead. I learned that Kailash is shaped like a rounded pyramid with four distinct faces aligned with the cardinal directions. From Manasarovar we had earlier seen the South face – Aghora! Here was the West face of Kailash – Sadjyota! WoW! I was so close to Kailash! I had brought along several Shiva Stotras (Shiva Raksha Stotra, Shiva Ashtakam) to recite along the way, but with the brain deprived of oxygen, and the body barely conscious, I did not have the energy to recite. I could only chant Om Namah Shivay.
photos of mount Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag

At one point our trail passed within 2 kms of Kailash. Here I foolishly left the trail and tried to hike up to the base of Kailash. At sea level I could have covered this distance in 15 minutes, but at this elevation (~ 15,000 ft), I was gasping at every step. I was having an absolutely bear of a time. It took me nearly thirty minutes to hike just 500 meters and it looked like I made hardly any progress. By this time the rest of the group had walked on way ahead. I could see a few of the Sherpas and one the organizers behind me on the trail. They had spotted my side adventure and had been screaming to get my attention. They thought I had become delusion and was intent on “going to kailash” – as in giving up my life. So two of them were trying to catch up with me – but even they had a hard time. Then I thought it was time to yield on this adventure and turn around! But not before asking Pema to take a pic of me – the closest I got to Kailash! Near my feet was a tiny, crystal clear stream, carrying snow melt from Kailash. Its icy cold water felt like nectar, as it coursed down my throat.
(Click image for larger version)

photos of mount Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag

A little ahead when we stopped for a packed lunch break, this caravan of yaks carrying our camping supplies passed us by.
photos of mount Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag

By late afternoon, we had reached our destination of Dira Phuk: a tiny clearing for tents. There, right under this awesome gaze of Vamadeva – the North face of Kailash we camped. It was a moonlit night and Kailash shone brilliantly in the clear sky. This pic was taken earlier in the evening. Om Namah Shivay!
Note: This would be our last glimpse of Kailash, as high mountains would block our view of Kailash for the next two days. We would not get to see Tatpurusha – the East face of Kailash.
(Click image for larger version)
photos of mount Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag

The next day would be the most difficult, when we would hike 22 km of rough terrain and across the Dolma La (Pass) at 18,500 ft. Several of our groups had planned to not continue further and would retrace their steps back the next day.

At the campsite, there was not much to do, I stayed in my tent for the most part and rested. It was still freezing cold, and no hope for a warm shower! Even removing our shoes and unpacking my sleeping bag was an exhausting chore. I would take off my shoes and fall in the tent for a 5 min rest; Then open the sleeping bag and crawl in for another rest. Any simple activity required a corresponding period of rest. In my waist pouch I carried my toothbrush and painkillers, as hunting for those would be an additional chore. We had a quick dinner, immediately brushed my teeth and went back to sleep (restlessly, albeit) in the tent. Yes, we all slept at we were dressed in our jackets and else. We had not changed clothes for several days. The bathroom was the great outdoors!

Early next morning, after a quick breakfast, we continued on the parikrama. It was one of the most tiring hikes I have ever done. It felt like at mile 23 of running a marathon – where your enthusiasm has evaporated, every muscle in your body is hurting, and you are only going forward because you “have to.” I was looking for even the slightest excuse to stop. I would walk for five minutes and rest for five minutes. Om Namah Shivay. Just place one step in front of the other – Om Namah Shivay. My mind was so focused on the ‘here and now’, I could not even force myself to let my mind wander, and think of home, M, my parents or anything else. Om Namah Shivay. Walking was no longer a subconscious activity. Om Namah Shivay. Every step required all my energies and my conscious presence. Om Namah Shivay! I chanted at every step. Om Namah Shivay! One foot forward and then the other. Om Namah Shivay! My lungs were screaming! Om Namah Shivay! I can do this! Om Namah Shivay!

The peak seemed only a few feet away, but I seemed to be crawling at an ant’s pace! Even now I see the peak – just so near and yet so exhaustingly far away! I did not take any pics from this segment! It was exhausting to even bring up the camera! Yes, I was that tired.

Some of the sherpas carrying emergency oxygen tanks and medical supplies, who were bringing up the rear, had caught up with me. With them I could make small talk and asked about their families. I shared the granola bars I had saved for this part of the trek. They in turn taught me how to hike in this rarefied air: take small steps at a steady pace. Even after a rest, don’t rush, keep a steady slow pace! Thus the miles passed. With Sherpas as translators, we chatted with Pema as well.

As we neared the peak – the surrounding mountains were covered by stacks of clothes left to the elements. Here the locals leave a piece of clothing as offering to the Devi who graces this pass. At the top, one of our sherpas unfurled a prayer flag he had brought along. See the mounds of clothing left over – and a glacier in the background. You cannot see Kailash anymore as it is already behind one of the mountains.

The sherpa reminded me to leave something behind and also that it was better to give to someone less fortunate than leaving it on the ground. So I gave my gloves to a passing tibetan who was overjoyed. Because of the low oxygen levels, we were not allowed to sit at the pass for more than a few minutes, and slowly descended onto the other side. Within a few steps, I found a gold ring by my foot – must have been an offering by an earlier devotee. I picked it up and gave it to Pema! At first she hesitated, then grinned widely and put on the ring. She was smiling the rest of the day! And the next!
(Click image for larger version)
photos of mount Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag

There are many more pics, but here I will end my diary. I obviously made it around and back to Mumbai safe and sound. I survived an asthma attack and nearly died of suffocation, had blurry vision till I returned and could not even tell time on my wrist watch. That was really scary, but I got back to normal on my return to the US. Had a mild case of pulmonary edema as well. I survived! and completed the Kailash Parikrama! I think this was more of an accomplishment than running a marathon!

On seeing so many fabulous pics, M wants to go. For her I will have to go again. Now I am ready for the next yatra: Chaar Dhaam and Valley of Flowers in the foothills of the Himalayas for the Summer of 2008! If others are interested, let me know. We could organize something together.

This is the concluding portion of the Kailash Manasarovar Travelogue. Miscellaneous pics from the trip will follow in subsequent posts. Select the “Kailash Manasarovar” Tag in the sidebar.

Start at beginning of Kaliash Manasarovar Travelogue:
Rendevous with Sagarmatha (Everest)

69 thoughts on “Kailash Finally

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  1. If a 57 year old female had a back propane’s and sciatica sbout 10 years but walking and leading an active life now do you advice that person to take this yatra and would she be okay doing the parikrama.

  2. Thanks Mr. Arun for this beautiful writeup and giving a traveller like me detailed insight of this tour.
    I am now leaving for kailash in 5 days time. I have read the comments I am 44 year old with two kids, I always had a wish to go to kailash mansarovar yatra am overweight but am quite fit otherwise but a little scared to do the parikama now after knowing of the risks involved. As I have a family waiting for me back. But God willing this can be possible just keeping my fingers crossed.
    Will have to wait and watch. Can you give an idea how many kilometers are covered the first day and how many hours and subsequently the second and third day too.
    Also which month you travelled.
    Thank you.

  3. Dear Arun
    Nice to hear from you after a while. Let us plan a trip together. Send me your email address
    Suresh Gupta

  4. at the age of 74 i undertook kailash yatra. I wonder how i survived. i completed the parikrama in 3 days. i am now 85 years Lord sivas blessings

  5. Wonderful write up, reminded me of my Kailash Mansarovar Yatra . Would love to go once again.this time by nathula pass.this year i am going to amarnath…

  6. Arun would love to travel with you. Yes the dangers of high altitude are there but most lay persons and travel agents do not give proper advice or have the appropriate medications. Fortunately I being a physician was able to help another traveler in my group with the right medications during our 2014 trip

  7. Wow !! I stumbled upon this blog just as I was gathering courage to take the plunge and do the Kailash yatra and I am inspired !! Thank you for such a wonderfully detailed write up. I plan to do do the yatra in the next two years, hence will keep revisiting this blog frequently for inspiration. But, I will be doing Valley of flowers trek next month to test the waters and see how it goes. Again, thank you for the inspiration. Cheers !

  8. Excellent write up on the Holy Pilgrimage to mount Kailash and Manasarovar. Indeed you have taken us with you by detailed description of the tour.

  9. Sir, one way u have left a lesson for the parikrama aspirants to not to venture and otherway u have quitely encouraged the aspirants with ur beautiful pics and narration. I wish u make another trip as desired by u.

      1. Wonderful write up, reminded me of my Kailash Mansarovar Yatra on Sep 201. Would love to go to to other holy sites like Gangotri/Gaumukh, Tungnath etc

  10. Hi Arun !
    Is Kathmandu the best starting point for the KaIlash yatra ? Can you recommend any agencies that conduct tours from there ?
    appreciate it
    Om Namah Shivay

    1. Yes, Kathmandu is the best place to start. There may be other Agencies starting directly from Kathmandu, but if you are in India, try Kesari Agencies (kesari.in) as they conduct several tours each season.
      Wishing you the best.

  11. Your story has brought to my mind many of the details that I had forgotten. I made the trip this year in Sept and to me it is the most beautiful journey that I have made. It was not always easy but neither was it impossible and one reason for that is certainly my good friend who accompanied and my guides both Tibetan and Nepalese. Thank you for sharing. I had my problems as I went, on the second day I fell off my horse and hurt my head. I could not do the third day as I went back to Darchen by jeep. My heart is set on going back. I just have that pull which I cannot explain.


  12. Dear Ganga manian,
    sorry to hear about your friend’s husband.
    actually manas sarovar trip is very dangerous and people do not know full details .all want to go there but are not aware of the life danger there.
    those who have lost there beloved ones during the parikrama should come forward and update in internet so that peolple will think twice about the trip or else at the least will be prepared for the worst situation.
    i know the pain because i have lost my 30 year old daughter in 2012.
    she went along with her inlaws and husband. and during the 2 nd day parikram she developed serious problem and passed away.
    as soon as we find it difficult in the 1st day parikrama we should immediately come down.
    my son inlaw is educated but did not have decision making power to descent immediately
    and they proceeded next day and my daughter could not make it.
    the experienced sharpas or the guides also did not guide them properly.
    this is the situation of our travels . so think twice before planning this kind of trip.
    and please let all know if someone has passed away because travels people do not give this news.so many deaths are happening but no records are there
    comments are invited
    Mrs Pushpa

    1. You are right in bringing this issue to the fore. Surprising there are no records for the number of people who have passed away on the tour. I know of at least 2-3 people already.

      Om Namah Shivay

  13. Just read ur beautiful description. Spellbound and wonder struck.read it at a most in auspicious time as I got the message that my dear friend’s husband passed away while on the 2nd day trek round the parikrama. Just wondering how she is bringing him back!

  14. Dear Arun,
    I had the blessings of Bhole Baba who called me to have a glimpse of his abode in Jun 2009. Your writings reminded me of all those wonderful moments. We all went there trekking from Indian side and it was most enjoyable and wonderful experience.

    — M R Sharma

  15. Dear Arun,
    You are really a wonderful writer and photographer. Above all, you are great human being. Your pictures take us to the scene of action. I wish you could visit us with your family during your next trip to India. We have been to Manasarovar in July 2010. But could not complete Parikrama due to bad weather. Hope to do it in again in a year or two. I have uploaded the video of our trip in you tube. It is a long video but give it a glance when you have time.Here is the link.


  16. Dear Arun –

    Just wanted to say thank you for all your hard work in compiling this useful information for Kailash Yatra aspirants. I wish you abundance of Health, Wealth, Joy, Peace and Prosperity through and through.

    Thank you so much

    Sanjeev Jopat

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