Pilgrimage to Kailash
(Gang Rinpoche, autumn 2001)

Mt. Kailash, called Gang Rinpoche in Tibet, is one of the most sacred pilgrimage site for Tibetan.

Changthang Plain

A town suddenly appeared.

Although transportation in Tibet has gradually become more convenient and comfortable, Gang Rinpoche in far west Tibet is still so far. It took five days from Lhasa to Senge Tsangpo, the biggest town in far west Tibet, through the vast Changthang Plain. Several towns along the route are newly developed in the middle of the plain. But they are connected with Lhasa by optical fiber lines. Many of new shops and restaurants are run by Chinese Hui Muslims from Qinghai or Gansu areas.

I reached Darchen, a small town at the southern foot of Gang Rinpoche, by way of Guge remains and Toling Monastery at Tsaparang.

Day One-- to the north face

Tibetan can make the 52km pilgrim circuit (Kora) around the mountain in one day. But foreigners generally make it in three days.

It was the first time for Dawa, my Tibetan tour guide who was a city boy from Lhasa, to visit western Tibet. So we asked another local experienced guide. He was a silent Khampa (man from eastern Tibet) guy from Derge. His son also joined us. He also had enough experience in Kailash and looked much more reliable than Dawa.

The Khampa guide and his son...

Starting pilgrimage. The Kailash peak is in front.

We left Darchen, the base for pilgrimage, at 9 AM and started walking. In the morning we saw the south face of Gang Rinpoche, and the west face in the afternoon. It had various appearance from different directions.

From Darchen, 4600m high, we continued walking up to about 5200m. It was not an easy trip even after we had adapted to high altitude.

But this is the Gang Rinpoche pilgrimage.
Such hardships would be natural and even necessary-- I agreed so by myself as a stoic Japanese and managed to continue the trip.

The first one who gave up was surprisingly (or expectedly) Dawa, the Tibetan guide.
He could not go on walking because of a blister on his feet . After a long rest along the river, he finally declared, "I will go back to Darchen alone". But if he, as a Tibetan, gave up the trip, how badly would his family, friends and colleagues laugh at him? He thought it over and gave up the idea, and go on walking.

In the evening, the beautiful north face appeared and struck me. Gang Rinpoche is the most sacred in the world-- I agreed to the fact with no objection at the moment.

As we reached the Labtse decorated with praying flags and carved stones just in front of the north face, an unexpected event happened. Dawa suddenly started kyangcha, prostration by all his body, toward the peak.

I know young Dawa is not a serious Buddhist. But he seemed to be somehow moved by the holy Kailash after enduring the hardship of blister. It was the first and the last time to see he did kyangcha.

The north face

Han Chinese tourists from Shanghai riding Yaks

Day Two -- beyond the Drolma Pass

In the morning, I saw the north face reflecting the rising sun. It looked saffron color like the robe of an Indian Saddu, an ascetic of Hinduism, who stayed together with us at the guest house.

Around the guest house is a camping site for many foreign tourists and more Chinese tourists. I was seriously afraid that garbage problem would soon come up, although I might be one of those who caused the trouble by careless littering.

The climax of the second day is Drolma Pass, 5668m high. Fantastic but long and hard road led us up to the pass. Several Tibetan groups overtook us on the way. They left Darchen early in the morning and already reached there.

As approaching the pass, the slope became steeper. I could only climb up slowly and slowly. The Drolma Pass is full of praying flags fluttering in the strong wind.

After a rest at the pass for a while, a long and hard downward slope waited us. The guide's son was the most energetic. He sometimes went ahead far away alone and came back, crying because he could not find his father.

We finally finished the slope and came down to the flat road along a river, but the wind was against us there all along.

The pass is still so far

Dawa sometimes took a long rest because of his blisters. We passed the night at a pilgrim tent run by a nomad family before Zutrulphuk Monastery. The tent hotel had a stove and even a lamp by solar battery.

Sign board of tea shop on the pilgrim route

Day Three -- to the hot spring!?

Frankly speaking, the third day is less interesting. Gang Rinpoche did not appear, blocked by the surrounding low mountains. Khampa guide kindly explained various stories of rangjung (stones naturally shaped as gods and goddess). I was sorry but I was fed up with too many series of rangjung. I was also fed up even with the holy appearance of Mt. Nemo Nanyi (Memo nani) after looking for a long time.

Dawa continued murmuring, "let's go back to Darchen to eat shamdre (yak curry) and drink ja-ngarmo (milk tea)! " over and over. Only having mind on curry and milk tea, I completed the boring several kilometers up to Darchen.

As soon as we reached Darchen, we rushed to a restaurant to eat up awaited yak curry with milk tea.

We originally planed to stay at Darchen, but we changed the plan. We all agreed to go to the next destination, the guest house of Chiu Monastery with hot spring (!) near Mapham Yumtso (Lake Manasarowar).

It was autumn 2001, just after the 9.11 terror. It was the best timing for me to pray for peace of all the sentient being on the earth. But all I could do was just to keep walking step by step all along the most sacred pilgrim route. And finale was yak curry and milk tea... I feel so shameful.

Kyang, wild asses