Brief Description of Mount Kailash Trek
Situated in the Gangdisê Mountain and rising to 6,638 metres (21,778 feet) in elevation, Mount Kailash cuts a distinctive figure above the heart of the Tibetan plateau.
The mountain has never been climbed, as it is considered a holy site by the followers of four different religions – Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Bön, a native religion in Tibet.
However, thousands of pilgrims, and more recently tourists as well, flock to Mount Kailash each year in order to hike around the base of the peak. The 52-kilometre (32-mile) trek is generally done in four days, but can take longer, depending on the pace of the group.
While the trek is not very technically challenging, there are no modern amenities near the mountain, so participants need to bring everything they will need for the trip with them.
Quick Facts about the Mount Kailash Trek
- Mount Kailash’s name comes from the Sanskrit language and is derived from the word that means crystal. In the Tibetan language, the peak is called Gang Rinpoche, which means “precious jewel of snow”. In the local Zhang-Zhung language, the peak is called Tisé or “river mountain”.
- Mount Kailash is home to the headwaters of some of the longest rivers in Asia, including the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra and Karnali, a tributary of the Ganges.
- In Hinduism, Mount Kailash is the home of the main god Shiva. In Jainism, the mountain is the site where Rishabhdeva, the first of the religion’s 24 teachers, attained nirvana. For Vajrayana Buddhists, the mountain is the home of the buddha Cakrasaṃvara, who embodies supreme bliss. Meanwhile, adherents to the local Bön religion believe the site is the axis mundi – or spiritual centre – of the Earth.
History of the Mount Kailash Trek
The pilgrimage around the base of Mount Kailash has been embarked upon for thousands of years.
However, the first Westerners to visit the peak would not arrive until 1926, when the Englishman Hugh Ruttledge visited the region while attempting to climb Mount Everest.
Ruttledge made plans to try and climb the steep north face of the mountain, but ran out of time. In the years following 1926, several other European attempted to climb the peak, but none could find a local guide willing to assist them.
There is now a formal ban from the Chinese government on climbing the peak, but the pilgrimage around the base of the mountain has grown in popularity over the years for international trekkers.
Experience Required for Hiking the Mount Kailash Trek
While none of the trekking required to circumnavigate Mount Kailash is technically difficult, the pilgrimage does require a high level of physical fitness.
The trek mostly involves some moderate ascents and descents over uneven terrain and at fairly high altitude – about 4,000 metres (13,100 feet) or more. The trek also takes place in a remote part of Tibet, so climbers will need to haul some of their own gear.
As a result, most guides recommend that participants spend a few months prior to the trip improving endurance, strength and flexibility.
Main Routes of the Mount Kailash Trek
There is one main route that leads around the base of Mount Kailash. Hindus and Buddhists make their pilgrimage around the peak in a clockwise direction, while Jains and Bönpos do so in a counter clockwise direction.
The trek generally begins from Darchen and the first day is spent hiking to the Dirapuk Monastery. The following day trekkers will cross the Tara Pass and before arriving at the foot of the mountain’s north face.
The third day is generally the toughest as trekkers ascend over the Drolma Pass before continuing on to Dzultripuk Monastery. On the fourth day, trekkers return to Dechen.
Useful information about Mount Kailash Trek
Length: 52 km (32 mi)
Weather: During the climbing season, average daily temperatures hover between 10 ºC and 15 ºC (50 ºF and 60 ºF) at the base of Mount Kailash. The spring and autumn tend to be the driest time of year around the mountain.
Peak Climbing Season: May to October
Summit Window: May to October
Average Expedition Length: 4 days
Accepted Currencies: Renminbi (CNY)
Language: Tibetan, Mandarin
How To Get To the Mount Kailash Trek
Most trips to Mount Kailash begin with a flight into either Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM), in Kathmandu, or Lhasa Gonggar Airport (LXA). Most guides will opt to meet at one of these two points and arrange transport to the start of the trip, which usually requires about two to three days of driving and acclimatising.
Your travel route will vary depending on the expedition you choose. Please refer to the individual guides expeditions for more information.