How to Plan a Journey to Mount Kailash in Your Tibet Tour
Aside from the religious significance of Mountain Kailash, which prompts pilgrims from all four religions to make the journey to the mountain to perform the ritual kora trek around its base, it is a popular destination for tourists. The Kailash kora route, one of the major rituals in the four faiths to gain merits towards enlightenment, is also the best trek in Tibet for ardent high-altitude trekkers.
Covering a distance of 52 kilometers, the route around the mountain is one of the hardest in the region, reaching an elevation of 5,636 meters at its highest point, the crest of the Dolma La Pass. Majority of the terrain on the route around the mountain is rough and rocky, and for most people, a three-day trek is required to get around the route. Even for those that are not part of the four religions, the journey to the mountain can be a very spiritual experience, let's learn how to plan your journey to Mount Kailash like an expert.
Required Travel Documents for a Journey to Mount Kailash
Getting to Mount Kailash requires a lot of paperwork and red tape, though most of it is done by us on your behalf. All tourists to the region are required to be on a pre-booked tour, and once that has been booked, we will make the applications for your permits and passes. The main permit, which is required for all travelers to Tibet, is the Tibet Travel Permit.
Tibet Travel Permit
Obtained by us from the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa, it requires scanned copies of your passport and Chinese Entry Visa and takes around 20 days to process. The Restricted Areas Permit, often known as the Military Permit, also takes around 15-20 days to process, and we will do this for you once your tour is booked. The Restricted Areas Permit is required for visiting certain military restricted areas of Tibet, such as the Ngari Prefecture in which Mount Kailash lies.
You will also need the Alien’s Travel Permit, for travel outside Lhasa, and the Frontier Pass, required for all tourists traveling in the regions of the Chinese borders with Nepal, Bhutan, and India. Both of these permits are applied for by your guide once you reach Lhasa, and can be processed within a few hours. Your original passport and Tibet Travel Permit are required for the processing.
How to Get to Mount Kailash from Lhasa
There are two ways of traveling to Mount Kailash from Lhasa, either overland through Shigatse and Saga, or by flying to the Ngari Gunsa Airport at Shiquanhe from Lhasa Gonggar International Airport.
Overland from Lhasa to Kailash
The overland route from Lhasa is by far the most popular option for travelers heading to Mount Kailash, as it takes you through some of the region’s most spectacular landscapes and stunning cities, getting the chance to visit some of Tibet’s most amazing sights along the way. The route starts by taking the road out of Lhasa towards the airport, then continuing southwest to Gyantse, one of the cities in Shigatse Prefecture. The road passes by the stunning Lake Yamdrok, one of the Great Three Holy Lakes of Tibet, before stopping briefly in Gyantse to view the Kumbum, the 32-meter-high one-of-a-kind stupa that the town is famous for.
After Gyantse, it is then on to Shigatse, and a visit to the Tashilhunpo Monastery, the seat of the second highest incarnation in Tibet, the Panchen Lama. Then you will travel to Mount Everest, to view the massive mountain from the northern Everest Base Camp (EBC), as well as visiting Rongbuk Monastery, the world’s highest monastery at 4,980 meters above sea level. Then it is back on the road to head to Saga, the seat of Saga County in Shigatse Prefecture and the garrison town for the Chinese border patrols.
Saga is the last big town before you reach Mount Kailash, and from there it is a short ride to the small town of Darchen, which lies at the foot of Mount Kailash and is the starting point for the kora and the trek.
Flight from Lhasa to Ngari Gunsa Airport
The flight to Ngari Gunsa Airport from Lhasa runs once a day, departing at around 7:30 in the morning. The flight takes around two hours, and lands in Shiquanhe at around 9:30am. From Shiquanhe, it is a 200-kilometer drive to get to Mount Kailash to the south of the airport, which is normally done in just one day of driving.
Recommended Kaiash Travel Route
There are two tours to Mount Kailash that are recommended for travelers to the mountain. You can take the tour that includes the three-day trek around the Mount Kailash kora route if you are into trekking at high altitudes, or you can take a tour that does not include the trek for those that do not want to spend three days hiking one of the hardest trails in Tibet.
Classic Mount Kailash Kora from Lhasa
Our classic 15-day tour for Mount Kailash, this tour includes a two-day sightseeing tour of Lhasa, including the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple, and the monasteries of Sera and Drepung, before heading off to visit Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse Kumbum, Shigatse, and Mount Everest Base Camp, before heading northwards to get to Mount Kailash.
Once at Darchen, you will prepare for the Kailash kora trek, and leave the following morning, taking the route up the valley to the first stop for the night at Drirapuk Monastery. The second day of the trek takes you over the high Dolma La Pass to the Dzultripuk Monastery, where you will stop for the second night. The final day sees you trekking along the valley, heading first south and then west once you leave the valley to get back to Darchen. Then you will normally visit the nearby Lake Manasarovar, another of the Great Three Holy Lakes of Tibet, before heading on the long drive back to Lhasa.
Mount Kailash Trekking Map
Mount Kailash Tour without the 3-day kora
While some people may love to trek, it is not everyone’s cup of tea, and a tour of Mount Kailash without the trek is also possible. The route is the same, traveling from Lhasa to Darchen via Lake Yamdrok, Gyantse, Shigatse, EBC, and Saga, and getting chance to view this stunning mountain in all its glory before heading back towards Lhasa, or even heading on into Nepal across the border at Gyirong Port.
Nearby Attractions That You Can Add to Your Mount Kailash Tour
Lying as it does in the Ngari Prefecture of Tibet, Mount Kailash is also close to some of northwestern Tibet’s most stunning attractions, which can all be incorporated into a tour of the region.
One of the Great Three Holy Lakes of Tibet, Lake Manasarovar is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, and is believed in Buddhism to be the place where Mayadevi conceived Gautama Buddha. For both religions, it is widely believed that bathing in the waters or drinking from the lake can wash away the sins of an entire lifetime. Lying as it does near the sacred mountain, it is often visited by pilgrims and tourists alike after trekking around the Kailash kora, and has its own kora route that you can trek around if you wish. Ruins of Guge Kingdom
In ancient Tibet, after the fall of the Tibetan Empire, a minor royal escaped the devastation of the collapse of the empire and moved to what is now Burang County of Ngari. There he built his own Guge Kingdom, stretching from Tibet into parts of Kashmir and India, and which lasted for centuries. Destroyed and defeated by both Mongols and Tibetan Buddhists, all that remains of this small empire are the ruins of a few of the cities, which lies desolate among the sands of the remote region of Ngari. However, this is one of the best places to visit in Ngari after Mount Kailash, and it is an experience worth having.
To the north of Tibet lies the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Prefecture of China. The Kashgar city, lies far to the north of Tibet, and is the start of one of the most epic road journeys in the world. While it may not be as long as some roads around the world, it is the highest drivable road in the world, and is an adventure that should not be missed, nor taken lightly. Traveling along some of Tibet and Xinjiang’s most remote and desolate roads, the route runs south through Xinjiang to the Aksai Chin territory and then into Tibet, heading down through Ngari to Darchen and Mount Kailash.
The capital city of Nepal, and what is often considered to be the most exotic city in Asia, Kathmandu is a hotpot of cultures, with Hindus and Buddhists standing side by side and living together in harmony within the city. Filled with Hindu Temples and Buddhist monasteries and stupas, a trip to the Kathmandu Valley is an eye-opening experience, traveling overland across the border of the Himalayas to the lush and stunning valley that is deemed to be the “real Nepal”.
Travel Tips for Your First Journey to Mount Kailash
Altitude sickness can be a debilitating illness, which can ruin a tour in Tibet, so it is essential to know what the symptoms are and how to avoid them or reduce the risk of getting them. Most people suffer from a little altitude sickness once they reach Lhasa and other high-altitude areas, and there are ways to reduce how much this can affect your trip to Tibet. Rest, a high-protein diet, and avoiding strenuous exercise, alcohol, strong coffee, and cigarettes can all help to reduce the risk of getting more severe symptoms, and can help you acclimatize faster.
Tibet has some very good roads these days, thanks to plenty of construction work to make traveling around the regions easier and more comfortable for the tourists that descend on the plateau in their millions. However, while the road to Mount Kailash from Lhasa and Kashgar is pretty good, paved with asphalt the entire way, the roads around Kailash are mostly gravel and dirt roads, and can be rough and bumpy.
From Mount Kailash, you have several sites that you can visit during your trip. To the south lies Lake Manasarovar, which is worth a trip to see this most sacred of Tibetan lakes. Saga, a short way back along the road, is also a lovely small town, and while there may not be a lot of attractions, it is a true Tibetan settlement, and the cultural experience in this remote area is unforgettable.
Mount Kailash is notably the most sacred site in Buddhism and Hinduism, and there are certain rules and taboos that you should be aware of. The mountain has never been climbed, due to its religious status, and it is forbidden to set foot on the slopes of the sacred mountain. It is also forbidden to trek to the site of the Buddhist sky burials that lies in a side-valley on the western lower slopes of Mount Kailash. Sky Burials are private and cannot be seen by the eyes of one who is not a Buddhist. You should also remember that Hindus and Buddhists walk clockwise around the mountain for the ritual kora, and you should respect this tradition and do the same.
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