Altitude of Mt. Kailash Tour or Kora and How to Avoid the High Altitude Sickness
Mt. Kailash, one of the holiest places in Tibet, is the location of one of the most demanding and challenging treks in the region. Situated in the far west of the Tibet Autonomous Region, in Ngari Prefecture, the mountain plays host to thousands of tourists and pilgrims who come to trek around its base, in what is known as a kora.
Although it is not the highest mountain in Tibet - that honor belongs to Everest – the Kailash Kora Trek is high enough to cause severe altitude sickness if you are not properly acclimatized before reaching the area.
Altitude of Mt. Kailash Tour from Lhasa to Mount Kailash
Before starting your kora around this holy mountain, you should firstly get to Darchen, the village at the foot of Mt. Kailash, also the starting point of this pilgrimage. Usually, the journey starts from Lhasa, covering a distance of 1,210km, while the altitude along the path keeps gradually rising, allowing you to better adapt to the plateau environment. The whole route takes about 3 days in total.
Altitude Change Chart from Lhasa to Mount Kailash
3-day Kora Route
Day 1: Darchen (4,560m) - Drirapuk Monastery (5,210m)
The route starts at Darchen, and heads to Sarshung village, below the south face of the mountain. From Sarshung, the route heads first west, before turning north into the Lha-chu valley. The flagpole at Tarboche can be seen clearly as you walk, at an elevation of 4,750 meters and standing some 80 feet in the air.
The trek continues up the valley, to the first of the monasteries in the kora. Chuku monastery, at 4,875 meters, is of particular interest to visitors and houses three objects of legend. The legend tells of how an invading army tried to steal three objects from the temple. They were stopped by the gods, and the army left without the statue, conch shell, and teapot they had tried to steal.
After Chuku, you head on towards the monastery at Drirapuk, another three hours up the valley. Located on the bank of the Lha-chu River, it sits at 5,060 meters, and is one of the five monasteries around the mountain. This is the first place from which you will see the sheer north face of Mt. Kailash.
If you have time, from Drirapuk it is just a 2 hour round trip to the tongue of the Kangkyam glacier, set at the foot of the mountain’s north face. One of the few moving glaciers left in the world today, this huge expanse of constantly moving ice is a breathtaking sight to behold.
Day 2: Drirapuk Monastery (5,210m) - Dzultripuk Monastery (4,790m)
From Drirapuk, on the second day, you cross the small bridge onto the trail that leads to Shiwachal, a rocky field strewn with small cairns draped with clothing. The trail leads up to the highest point of the kora; Dolma-la Pass. At an elevation of 5,630 meters, it is the highest pass in the world, and the hardest climb of the kora. The pass is the focal point of the Kailash kora, and many pilgrims leave tokens of coins or longda here, or attach prayer flags.
The trail then descends steeply to Gaurikund Lake, also known as Tuje Chempo Dzingbu. The valley here is lush with green grass and plants, as you descend to the Lham-chu valley. The route follows the river as it flows down to your next stop, Dzultripuk monastery, at 4,790 meters. The monastery houses the site of the cave where the eleventh-century Buddhist philosopher, Milarepa, spent many years of his life.
Day 3: Dzultripuk Monastery (4,790m) - Darchen (4,560m)
The last day starts with an easy stroll down the Dzong-chu valley, which narrows into a gorge with prayer flags hanging above the river. The last part of the trek from here to Darchen is a little rough, but easily passable, and after less than four hours after leaving Dzultripuk monastery, you will walk back into Darchen, the end of your Holy Kailash kora.
Altitude of Mt. Kailash Kora
As the main peak of Gandise Mountains, Mount Kailash is 6,638m above sea level. The average elevation of the kora around the Mount Kailash is about 5,000m, with the highest point of Drolma La at 5,630m. It usually takes Tibetan visitors three days to complete this 56km kora in a clockwise direction. Generally speaking, the route begins at Darchen (4,560m), then you enter the Lha-chu valley, Lham-chu valley, Dzong-chu valley, and finally go back to Darchen. During the kora, you would spend one night in Dirapuk monastery and another night in Zutulpuk monastery.
Altitude Change Chart of Mt. Kailash Kora
Day 1: Trekking: Darchen(4,560m)-Darpoche (Great Flagpole, 4,750m)-Choku monastery(4,875m)-Dirapuk monastery (5,210m) (20km, 7-9h, 200m of climbing)
Mt. Kailash kora starts in a clockwise direction. We head west from Darchen(4,560m). Only 4km later, the trail climbs up over the southwest end of the ridge to reach a cairn (4,730m) and then bends north to Darpoche (Great Flagpole, 4,750m) where Tibetans would hold SagaDawa Festival every year. Before the festival begins, the pole would be lowered down, decorated with new prayer flags and then raised again. On the north of Darpoche is Kyilkhor Teng with a sky-burial site in the center.
After passing the Lha-chu valley, Choku monastery (4,875m), the first temple in the Mt.Kailash kora, comes into view, which has three objects of interest to pilgrims Choku statue, the conch shell and the teapot. It’s said that an invading army attempted to steal those three objects away in the 17th century. However, the gods exert their magic power to stop them successfully. The statu became so heavy that the army couldn’t carry it away and only had to abandon it by the riverside. The conch shell with magic flew back to Choku monastery automatically. Boiled in the teapot, the tea turned to be blood. The invading army went away empty-handed. You can have a short break here.
Another 3 hours' trek along the river, you would hit the first day’s stop, the Dirapuk monastery (5,210m). At the same time, the north face of Mt.Kailash is unveiled.
Day 2: Trekking: Dirapuk monastery (5,210m)-Jarok Donkhang (5,210m)-Silwutsel Charnel Ground (Shiva-tsal, 5,330m)-Drolma La (5,630m)-Gaurikund Lake (Tuje Chempo Dzingbu,5,608m)-Zutulpuk monastery(4,790m) (18km, 7-8h, 550m of climbing)
Trek along Drolma Chu and reach the Jarok Donkhang (5,210m). A little while, Silwutsel Charnel Ground (Shiva-tsal, 5,330m) comes in front. It is a rocky expanse dotted with small stone cairns and draped with piles of clothing. People who died in the kora would be given a sky-burial, a holy Tibetan burial, which is different from any other way in the world to end one’s life.
Next challenge is to get over Drolma La (5,630m), the highest point of the entire kora, where you can look south for your last glimpse of the north face of Mt.Kailsh. Howere, even if snow-capped Mt.Kailash is not in sight, the scenery itself is spectacular with hundreds of thousands of colorful prayer flags dancing in the wind. After the ascent, you would experience a steep descent. Gaurikund Lake (5,608m), also named as Tuje Chempo Dzingbu, comes into view immediately. Enjoying the greenery and vegetation, you would enter the Lham-chu valley and finally reach the second day’s stop, the Zutulpuk monastery(4,790m).
Day 3: Trekking: Zutulpuk monastery(4,790m)-Darchen(4,560m) (14km, 3-4h)
It’s just a 3 or 4 hours’ walk from Zutulpuk monastery(4,790m) to Darchen(4,560m) and begins with the easy stroll down. The Dzong-chu valley narrows into a gorge with the prayer flags fluttering across the river. Green shrubs and blue waters appear again. The road from here back to Darchen becomes rough and costs less than an hour. Finally, Mt. Kailash kora ends up at Darchen.
Travel Tips for the Kora
1. The road keeps closed during winter and spring. The best time to visit Mt.Kailash is May, June, September and October, during which you can avoid the rainy season and muddy roads.
2. In order to save time, you had better bring some food and warm water with you while trekking. One day’s food is enough since there are some tents selling instant noodle and biscuits on the circuit. The price would be a little bit higher.
3. The living condition is very tough and simple on the kora. Please do not hold high expectation for the monasteries.
4. Please remember to bring the permits which would be checked on the way.
How to Avoid the High Altitude Sickness during Mount Kailash Tour or Kora
High attention should be paid to the altitude sickness during your Tibet tour, especially when taking the strenuous Kailash tour or Kora. Tourists are supposed to have trekking experience at an elevation of above 4,000m before kora around Mount Kailash. Since there are enough time for tourists to get used to the high altitude on the way from Lhasa to Mt. Kailash, one should not worry too much. And there are some tips on avoiding altitude sickness when taking an adventure around this holy mountain.
1. Move slowly and steadily during your kora, do not get too excited. Do not ascend too fast on the way, especially when climbing the Drolma La. Drink plenty of water before departure, since dehydration may be caused by sweating due to the dry and cold air in the high mountain.
2. Stay in Lhasa for two or three days before heading for Mt. Kailash to better adapt to the high altitude. Do not take a shower on the first two days after you enter Tibet.
3. Bring the necessary medicines in case you suffer from mild altitude sickness or catch a cold. Recommended medicine includes Ibuprofen Sustained Release Capsules (treating low fever and headache), Oral Magnesium Gluconate Solution (replenishing one’s strength), multi-vitamins, anti-motion sickness drug, Quick Acting Heart Reliever etc.
4. Ensure adequate sleep and have a good rest. Do not be nervous, since the symptoms of altitude sickness will get worse once you get stressed out.
5. Prevent yourself from catching a cold. When travel around Tibet, you should attach importance to the cold, since it can be easily transformed to other serious altitude sickness, like pulmonary edema and encephaledema. If you catch a cold before entering Tibet, you’d better reschedule your trip to regain your health first.
6. If you suffer from altitude sickness during your kora, showing some symptoms as losing appetite, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, dizziness, headache, breathlessness and breathing irregularity etc, you should stop ascending immediately; otherwise more serious problems may occur and even cause death sometimes within just a few hours.
7. It is not suggested to inhale oxygen to copy with mild hypoxia symptoms, so that you can acclimatize the high altitude environment in less time. Normally, slight altitude sickness can be self cured. Do not turn to the oxygen bottle frequently in case you become dependent.
8. Do not pack too many things in your backpack. Try to travel light as possible as you can to conserve strength. If you do feel tired or exhausted during your trekking, you can also hire a horse or Tibetan yak from locals to carry your luggage.
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