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

Add yours

  1. Arun,
    Your travelogue has been great reading.
    My name is Rajib Das and I am planning a trip later in 2012 and had a few questions over and above what has been written here. I live in the San Franscisco Bay Area and would like to have a word with you at a convenient time in January / Feb 2012 if possible and convenient for you.

    I am hoping you could answer these questions:

    Time to go:
    1. Which month of the year did you go? I am thinking May / June. Is it going to be cold / rainy at that time?

    1. Browsing of different travel operators sites leads one to understand there is an additional cost for NRIs. Did you book your trip in India or from US?
    2. Apart from the tour operator costs, what were the costs associated with porters, yaks / horses, temple / gompa donations, tips and others once you reach ManSarovar.
    3. Did you buy any travel / medical insurance specifically for this trip? In the US? If so from whom, what kind of package and how much did it cost?

    Mansarovar Parikrama
    1. How long is the Mansarovar Parikrama? Is it done on foot? I see 1 day in most itineraries while the circumference should be 60 or more Kilometers right? Am I missing anything?
    2. As an aside and not that it matters – what is suggested in the scriptures – parikrama of both Mansarovar and Kailash or any one or any specific one?

    Travel option
    1. I am thinking of doing the helicopter thing to Taklakot and then to Mansarovar primarily to save time as also wanting to avoid this rough jeep travel. I know it will cost an additional packet – but will I miss something great I should not.
    2. I went to the Kesari website but it has no mention of Kailash travel – did they tie up with any Nepalese operators?

    Preparing for the hike
    1. Did you practice hiking in the mountains anywhere in the US for this? Anything other than your marathon?
    2. Why do they do 22 Km on the 2nd day of the Kailash Parikrama? Is there no way of breaking down that into a smaller hike for the second day?
    3. What all did you buy in terms of clothes/shoes etc.. such as goretex shoes / down jackets and from where – if at all.

    Thanks in advance and looking forward to hearing from you.



    1. Hi Rajib,
      Congratulations on your decision to do the Kailash Manasarovar.

      Rather than typing out the responses, you could call me and we can chat ~ that would be easiest.
      Send mail to: arunshanbhag AT gmail
      to pick a time to talk.

      Best Wishes for the New Year

  2. Wow, A wonderful travelogue. I really enjoyed the whole series of post. I spent 2 days to read and in between had a dream of myself roaming around in the mountains. The Altitude sickness was something that I experienced on my way to Nathu-la Pass. I guess the symptoms here would be much more acute as this is placed at much higher altitude. I hope to make It to the Yatra some time soon. I would like to obtain details of travel agency, the cost of the trip and so on. I have heard some people also take yatra from Uttaranchal, please provide more details on the same.

    1. Hi Nithin,
      Glad you enjoyed the travelogue – I had been meaning to work further and clean up the text a little bit. It is comments like yours that inspire me to write more articles for the blog. Thank you.

      The altitude sickness was very frustrating and nothing that I could prepare for; thankfully, it passed and we all returned safely. I went with the kesari Group based in Mumbai. You should contact them directly for the latest prices for 2012.

      Best Wishes,

    2. Arun:

      Just returned from Kailash/Mansarovar/Everest basecamp trip. You description helped a lot with the trip. Of the 12 who attempted, 6 of us completed the trek. Thanks for all your hardwork in putting this together.

      Rajiv Gupta

      1. Hi Rajiv,
        So awesome to hear of your success. Must have been an amazing experience.
        Looking forward to hearing of your experiences in person.

        I am sure you longed for a hot shower and cozy bed.

  3. Hi Arun,

    What an excellent portrayal of your Yatra. It was like – I travelled with you. God bless you! I am planning to take the Yatra next month and your description has given me an idea of what to expect.I pray to the almighty that he gives me the strength and will power to complete the yatra.

    Regards & Best Wishes


    1. Hi Gouri:
      Thank you for your kind words. It was an amazing trip and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
      You have already taken a step forward by planning your Yatra. I wish you the best.
      In my opinion, the best preparation is by doing Pranayama and chanting,
      Om Namah Shivaay! That chant, which can take you across the turbulent river of Samsaar, can soo easily guide you on the parikrama.

  4. Dear Arun,
    I really enjoyed your writings about Mt.Kailssh trip.
    Last Sep.,2010,I was fprtunate enough to go same
    trip you had.I would like share my pictures with you.
    I walked the first day of Parikrama without any difficulty.
    On the second day I used the horse about 70 percent.
    I was the only one ventured to go on the second day
    of the group of four.Due to pressure of my guide I completed the rest of the trip on the second day.
    I am 67 years old and I am ready to offer any help for
    any one who wants to go the same Yatra.

    With best wishes,
    R.Krishna Moorthy

    1. Mr Krishna Moorthy:
      I am thrilled to hear of your success in completing the Parikrama.
      More than the pics, I would like for you to share your experience during the Parikrama ~ and it is amazing that you completed it on the second day. Yes, the 3rd day was a simple 45- min walk.

      Congratulation again, and
      Om Namah Shivay!

  5. sri Arunji
    While I am searching for Kailash Parikrama in net, I found your articles and photos. Really very Nice write up and photos. I am planning to go for the Yatra in 2011 May. Getting good gear such as waterproof shoes, winter jacket are a problem for me. I am having one woodlands trekking shoes which I used for Kedarnath Yatra(As there is no company I went by horse and returned on walk). Can you suggest me some good apparel,etc.

    V.V.Subba Rao

    1. Namaskar Subba rao:
      Congratulations on making the decision to do the Yatra.
      Yes, you will need good shoes and jackets. See if you can make the trip through Kesari Travels in Mumbai. They have several info sessions and also provide jackets for the yatris.

      Additionally, the first part of the trip goes through Kathmandu which has a huge bazaar for purchasing winter-type hiking gear. That is fine for Jackets and such, but I think you may want to buy good, waterproof hiking shoes earlier and try them out locally on small hikes. Rather than the brand, Just make sure the shoes have good treads, are waterproof using Goretex or something similar and are comfortable for you to use. You will also need to have good, warm socks.

      Best Wishes

  6. Dear Arun,

    I just finished your diary. At some point I felt that I am also walking alongside. Your awesome description of untainted beauty of open, vast, empty, barren and arid land will leave a mark in my mind untill I realize and experience it by myself. If mercy descends on me, my journey would start from Sydney/S’pore/K’mandu…and back via Kolkata to Sydney. But I would be on my own.

    Ray Chaudhury

    NB: Is it better to have water protected shoes and rain jacket?

    1. Hi Ray:
      Thank you for going through the entire yatra. It was a life altering experience for me, and one which I am glad I did when I did.
      I am sure it will be a similarly enlightening experience for you.

      You WILL experience HIS mercy and beauty, which will leave an indelible mark on your heart for ever.
      Considering your travel plans, I’d recommend you include an extra day in Kathmandu or perhaps when you return in Kolkata. You may need an extra day to just let your body simply catch up.

      And absolutely ‘water protected shoes’ and jacket. I had water-proof, breathable shoes and a heavier + light hooded jackets.

      Good luck to you.

  7. Namaste Arun,
    Thankyou for your beautiful and inspiring travelogue.It has inspired four of us undertake the Yatra in a week or so.
    It would be a great help if you could let me know about
    1.Money management-just like Abhishek asked for
    2.The luggage-as to what is actually necessary and unnecessary.I have found huge lists on different websites-but carrying them all would definitely be a burden.Any insight on this is most helpful.
    I am leaving for kathmandu on the 19th and would appreciate any help
    Regards,Hema[Mysore, S.India]

    1. Hi Hema:
      Fabulous that you will participate in this ultimate yatra.
      Hope I can provide a few tips:
      1. Money management – we went with the tour organized by Kesari from Mumbai. It was an all inclusive tour, so we just paid in Mumbai and all aspects of the trip were included. We each carried about 800 Yuan (or more) to account for incidental expenses and gift purchases. In Nepal, we could use and change our Indian rupees.

      2. Your travel organizer must have given you a list. Please follow that. Remember, it will be cold, so you definitely need some sweaters, wool caps, mufflers and gloves. Make sure you have good shoes and warm socks.

      General clothes you do NOT need a whole lot. After leaving Katmandu there aren’t many places to take a shower and since the weather is cold, you will NOT be sweating. Having said that, carry some wet wipes to wipe your body and discard. Also, I suggest carrying older clothes which you can wear and simply discard along the way.

      Carry some comfort foods, like chocolates, laddoos, chewda, etc.

      And remember, you can go shopping in Katmandu and also in Nyalam in Tibet where there are good stores to buy winter clothes. So carry some extra cash for that.

      Have a fabulous trip!
      Om Namah Shivay!

  8. hi Arun,
    excellent writeup…..very useful and inspiring. my mother will be going on the yatra in june with a group of 25 ppl..she is almost 60 yrs…she is pretty healthy and active but we have our apprehensions regarding the parikrama…how difficult is it for ppl of her age to do the parikrama? and do they provide extra care or facilities for elderly ppl? just hoping that she will be able to complete it without any major problems.

    1. Hi Vidya:

      I am always in awe of everyone who ventures on the Kailash Yatra. While is fabulous, it is not a regular ‘tour’ and really something to be cautious about. It appears your mother is young and healthy, so the yatra should not be a problem. I recommend doing pranayama as training for the low oxygen environment. The parikrama itself is a very difficult adventure and remember, that are NO roads, or emergency services there. Atmost the organizers can arrange to rent a horse/yak for riding around. But it is still a difficult ride. Most folks are super happy to have even reached Manasarovar and caught a glimpse of Kailash. I would recommend that your mother see how she manages leading up Kailash and how she is feeling. If she is still feeling very sprighty, go for it; Once they reach Kailash, everyone is given a choice to either go on the parikrama, or stay back at Manasarovar. She can decide then. On our trip of about 60+, only 20 folks actually went on the parikrama, and 7 walked it.

      So there, Wishing your mother and her fellow yatris all the best. And please do keep us updated.

      Best Wishes

  9. Hi Arun,

    Thanks for your reply. I had few other questions which I hope you shall be able to help me with.

    The first question is related to approximate expenses one can expect above the one which is paid to travel agen(like Rs. 80,000 /- in your case). I try to be as cost effective as possible anywhere I go but there must be some mandatory expenses(like food, gratuity to porters, extra stay etc.)

    Another question is how the people manage to carry cash there. I have heard that the Indian notes of 500 and 1000 denominations are not accepted in Nepal. So, the only choice we are left with is to carry notes in Rs. 100 denominations. Now, assuming that I get my booking from India itself and pay them about 50% in advance, still I shall need to carry atleast 50-75 K for emergency situations. How does that work ? Does’nt it become risky to travel with this money at a new and remote place ?

    Are the card payments accepted in Kathmandu ? I do have some ICICI and CitiBank credit and debit cards in India but they all say that they are not valid for payment in foreing currency in Nepal, Bhutan … etc. So, another idea can be to carry USA cards. But, somehow I am not very positive if even that is a good idea(because of probable fraud and cost of transaction everywhere we go).

    But, since you had already gone there, you must have seen some workaround which I shall request you to kindly share and help put my questions to rest. I hope I am not bothering you….

    Thanks in advance !


    Yours Sincerely
    Abhishek Gupta

      1. Hi Arun,
        I am planning a trip in 2010. I live in USA , and would like answers for the questions asked by Abhishek. My husband does not want to take this trip because his trip to char dham was hard enough for him. but I want to take this trip. Is it safe for a woman to go alone with unknown people in the group? any info is appreciated.
        aruna shenoy(yes I am konkani)

        1. Hi Aruna:
          If you can write out the queries, I will try and answer them here. looks like others may benefit as well.

          yes, you can do it without your husband. I guess you meant, safe from crime. yes it is safe.

          But, it is a treacherous yatra and the facilities are very less than spartan. For most of the days, toilet is out in the open when you may find a rock to sneak behind No showers for about 10 days, etc. and your whole body is going to be suffering.

          I would NOT recommend going with complete strangers. You need to get a group of friends, cousins, relatives, whoever to go with you. Then you can all take care of each other, motivate each other, and take care of each other when you all are sick. You just need someone to make sure you are “still there.” Like you did make it back from the bathroom trip, or you did make it back from wherever.

          If you have a firm plan let me know. Some of my relatives want to go and I can keep you updated on the dates they are planning.

          Despite all the dangers. IT IS THE BEST THING I did (next to bringing Meera home!).

          And as I recommended to Abhishek, you can always call me and I can answer any of your questions. email me at the address above.

          Best Wishes for the New Year.

  10. Hi Abhishek:
    Sorry for the delay in reply to your query.

    the reason you need to work with a tour organizer is because there are NO facilities once you leave Kathmandu. Only in a group you will be able to afford to carry the tents and food for the round trip journey of about 19 days. There are NO rest areas or places to buy food along the way; and no signs on the roads either. Actually, there are NO roads!

    From Mumbai, Kesari Travels does a good job of organization and it costs about 80K Rs. There are many operators from Kathmandu who also arrange for smaller groups. But I think a group of 8-10 is a minumum. The tour operators arrange for the Tibet/China visa. Actually, it is easier if you have an indian passport.

    I did not speak or interrupt the british lady who was doing the parikrama in namaskars. But I suspect she too had a support group of about 5 people to cook her foods, carry her tents and else.

    BTW, the 80K is all inclusive from Mumbai to Mumbai.

    Good luck with your planning! let me say one thing – It will be the best thing you will EVER have done!

    Best Wishes

  11. Hi Arun,

    I read your travologue a couple of times. Wonderfull pictures and very nicely and practically worded story. I had a quick question about the VISAs. I am currently located at USA with Indian passport and plan to undertake Kailash Yatra from India. Could you please advise me the cost/time about the formalities to get the Chinese Visa with Tibet permit. I have heard that it is not possible to undertake this yatra from India (unless we go with by Indian Government organised Yatra).

    Also, since you had already undertaken the yatra and you described the British lady who was doing full body Parikrama of Holy Kailash(Dandauti Parikrama), did you ask them how much it would had costed her for that (25 days is a big time). I am too planning the same but not sure about my affordability.

    Please let me know.

    Thanks and Regards

    Yours Sincerly
    Abhishek Gupta

  12. Hi Sagar:
    Thank you for your kind words. Yes, it was a fabulous trip.

    I did this tour with Kesari Tours based in Mumbai. They are pretty good. They do sub-contract the Tibetan part to another outfit – and during our tour we had big management type problems with this subcontractor. I heard that for 2007, they changed this subcontractor. Overall a good group to travel with.

    We travelled in July-August.
    I don’t know if they have any tours in May; But I was told June is an excellent time, albeit a bit more cold. Aug is more prone to rains and the roads do get washed out!

    Best Wishes to you during your yatra; if there is anything else that I can do, please do not hesitate.


  13. dear Arun,
    very nice snaps and description. Can u pl. tell me when was this trip undertaken and in which months and secondly which was the tour operator you used and is best in your opinion and experience. I am going to yatra in 2nd week of may. 08.

  14. Mr. Arun Shanhbag:

    Nice that you responded to me. If it is your feeling to maintain based on ‘extensive reading’, etc., I don’t want to interfere for it is an obvious fact.

    Anyway, I appreciate your pursuits. May I suggest you something: Have you ever climbed in barefoot, Sri Arunachalam, i.e. Tiruvannamalai and did Giripradakshina after visiting the Arunachaleswara Temple and Sri Ramanasramam?

    If you are serious about your quest for truth, then let me share mine:


  15. Mr MaheshKumar:
    I would have to respectfully disagree with you. My statement of the names of the different faces of Kailash was based on extensive reading, and personal discussions with the priests at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. Note the linga in the pashupatinath temple is modelled after mount Kailash and also has the four faces and “ishaan.”

    If you can provide me with direct citation and references to scriptures, I am willing to re-assess.

    Thank you for reading and appreciated your enthusiasm.

  16. Dear Arun Shanbag,

    Nice to see you travelogues!

    A correction I would like to point out here:

    “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.”

    The East Face of Kailash is Eesanyam and not Thathpurusham as you have mentioned.

    Thathpurusham is the centroid of the Kailash sandwitched in between the other four faces shooting upwards!

  17. Sia
    This was a dream for long and I was blessed I got darshan of Kailash. What a treat! I think i will forever carry this experience in my heart.

    BTW, there are about 22 posts in this series, you may want to peruse some of them. And I have to confess, it was not a easy trip!

    Glad to hear you and your husband are enjoying the photo-essays.

  18. wonderful post arun. its my dream to visit kailash and ur post is a visual treat. both me and my hubby enjoyed reading ur kailsh parikrama 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: