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
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