Kailash Kora, Part II: Day 16 (Ultimate Elevation 5600M / 18373FT)
August 19, 2010, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today was THE big day: the stretch of path around Mount Kailash that probably burns away the most sin because you really have to work for this one.  It was the day of kora that took us over the 18,000+ foot Dolma La pass. 

We woke up an hour before sunrise, had a quick breakfast, and then began our walk across a landscape frozen underneath a layer of snow.  It was wonderful hiking in the fresh powder and near darkness; absolutely frigid but gorgeous.  The blue and silver hillsides then warmed to shades of pink as the sun moved over the horizon:

The sun didn’t actually touch our bodies for several more hours though so our slow ascent was a particularly cold one.  I’m thinking about how incredibly icy my toes are here:

Soon after sunrise we came to the kora’s burial grounds.  It’s said that people who die along the pilgrimage route are brought here (and Kailash is known to take several lives each year).  But it seems more commonly to be a place to undergo a symbolic death.  One source of background reading says that some pilgrims take time to imagine their own deaths here and contemplate the nature of impermanence.  

There is a tradition of leaving something behind before you depart from this holy site and pilgrims most often offer clothes, though they are also known to leave hair, teeth and even blood.  Below, amongst the rocks and prayer flags, you can see a few of the less gruesome items that have been left behind (mostly hats & jackets):

Members of our group offered such things as beloved pieces of clothing and a dreadlock or two.  I left an amulet I’ve been carrying with me for the past decade or so, it’s nice thinking of it up there.  Beyond the symbolic death concept, I’ve also heard that you are able to form a bond with the sacred places where you leave personal offerings, and your consciousness will then return to these sites when navigating the bardo between death and rebirth.  (Another nice thought.) 

And up the trail to the Dolma La we continued.  My camera did not make it out of my pocket until reaching the top, I was far too busy breathing.  Along the way I came upon the odd lone pilgrim in the process of prostrating the entire way around the mountain, which can take three weeks.  I also found myself doing the final stretch with a merry group of a half-dozen Tibetan pilgrims who, not more than a few hours past sunrise and at over 17,000 feet, were tucking into a bottle of homemade barley beer.  They were navigating the rocky path at an incredibly fast pace but would then pause every 15 minutes or so for a beer break and some snacks.  I declined the shot of alcohol they offered (prude) but was thoroughly grateful for the petite whole dried apricot I was handed for those last steps to the top. 

And finally we reached the Dolma La (!!!), a pass named after the goddess of compassion.  We all made it to 18,000-plus feet in great spirits, such an amazing feeling to be that ridiculously high:


We offered lungta to this sacred site (small paper prayer flags that are thrown up in the air to be carried off by the wind), as well as some khata (traditional offering scarves).  After maybe an hour or so we made our way downward, though time moves a little differently when you’re oxygen deprived so who knows how long we were actually up there.  Personally, I know I spent a lot of time feeling quietly joyful and staring into space, as well as being fixated on taking pictures of snow-encrusted prayer flags:

We then began to descend from our extreme height, passing a small lake called Gauri Kund.  I believe it’s a particularly sacred site for Hindu pilgrims and I’ve read that the devout are supposed to break the ice that usually covers its surface to bathe in its waters.  Luckily we didn’t know this at the time so we walked past without any sense of spiritual duty (those waters clearly look as if they should remain sealed under a layer of ice, no?):

The way down from the Dolma La moves through a long boulder/scree field, across snow and half-frozen streams, then drops into a wide river valley:

We then trekked along the wonderfully flat valley floor for several hours to our eventual campsite in a meadow near the small temple at Zutulpuk.  Not too many pictures were taken by me along the way (actually none).  It was a bright, sunny day by this point and I got into a nice rhythm hiking on my own.  We finally joined our yaks at camp and settled in for a much needed meal at a more gentle 15,715 feet above sea level.



6 Comments so far
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I was mesmerized with the pic of the snow-encrusted prayer flags that you included, so i can’t wait to see the rest of them 😉
In general, this particular installment of pictures were amazing. Thanks for taking us along!

Comment by veronique

Thank you, lady! I’ll maybe post a few more frozen prayer flagy ones shortly. Wish I could’ve taken you along in the flesh, you would’ve really liked Xxxxxxxx

Comment by wayuphigh

They’re up!

Comment by wayuphigh

Awesome! Close ups too! 😀

Comment by veronique

Can I pop a few of them up on my facebook acct?

Comment by Jeje

Er, you may recognize my question from a comment a while back. Nevermind! (password filling program saved the comment in addition to the login to your blog and regurgitated it when I logged in this time)

I wuz gonna say… Lovely pics. I also like the snowy flags. And the floating ice layer. : )

Comment by Jeje

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