Mount Kailash, or Kang Rinpoche in Tibetan, is located in the remote far west of the Tibetan plateau, and has an elevation of 6,714 m (22,030 ft.). It rises from the Barkha plain, near Lake Manasarovar and a basin that gives life to four of the greatest Asian rivers: Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra River), Karnali (a major tributary of the Ganges River), Sutlej River and Indus River.
Mount Kailash is a sacred mountain in four religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and the followers of the indigenous Tibetan religion of Bön. For Hindus, Mount Kailash is the home of Shiva, the Destroyer and Transformer, and his consort Parvati. To Buddhists, Mt Kailash is the abode of Demchok and his consort Dorje Phagmo, it is also believed that Mount Kailash is a natural mandala representing the Buddhist cosmology on the Earth.
The Jains believe this is the place where their religion’s founder was spiritually awakened, and Bonpos believe Mount Kailash to be the place where the founder of the Bon religion landed when he descended from the Heaven.
How to Get to Mount Kailash
There are several ways to get to Mount Kailash from Lhasa. The most popular and fast is to travel along the Nepal-Tibet Friendship Highway to the town of Lhatse, and from there take the National Road 219 to Mount Kailash. It is a good paved road and normally it takes about 4 days to reach Mount Kailash from Lhasa with stops at Gyantse (or Shigatse), Sakya (or Lhatse) and Saga Town.
There is also a daily direct flight available between Lhasa and Ali, the capital city of the Nagri prefecture, which is the nearest big city to Mount Kailash (around 4-5 hours of driving away). If you have limited time or want to save 3 days of driving to go back to Lhasa, then you can consider to take the overland travel to Mount Kailash and fly back after the Kailash Kora, from Ali.
Travelers can also head to Mount Kailash from Kathmandu by land, after crossing the border at Kyirong. This is another border checkpoint between Nepal and Tibet, just opened for foreign travelers in September 2017 after the closure of the old border checkpoint at Zhangmu, since the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. After crossing the border, you shall continue to Saga Town (it takes around 5 hours), with a stop at stunning Peiku Tso, where you can enjoy the great view of Mount Shishapangma. From Saga Town, it takes day to reach Mount Kailash.
The Best Time to Visit Mount Kailash
The best time for a Kailash tour/trekking is from mid-May to mid-October. However, snow could be encountered on the Drolma-la pass at any time of year. The temperature will often drop well below freezing at night, even during the summer months.
While some die-hard travels may try to do the Kora when the passes are covered in snow, we won’t suggest it. Until early May, the pass tends to be snowed. If you just want to have an overland travel to Mount Kailash and other sites in the far west of Tibet excluding the Kailash Kora, then you can consider traveling also in April or November. A great time to meet the pilgrims at Kailash Kora is from June to September, during the Hindu pilgrims season.
Accomodation at Mount Kailash
The accommodation condition has been improved in West Tibet in the past years, due to more travellers demands, however, it is still quite basic compared to larger cities. In Saga, Darchen, Zanda and Ali you can find local 3/4 star hotels, which provide rooms with private bathroom and hot shower, but at the village near Lake Manasarovar and the ones that you will encounter while crossing the Northern Tibetan Changthang plateau, expect only dormitory bed available at the local guest houses. The lodging during the Kailash Kora will probably be camps or a monastery guest house.
Don’t expect gourmet meals when you come to Tibet, especially to Mount Kailash. Only in Lhasa and Shigatse will you find some international restaurants that serve some western food, as well as Nepali and Indian thali sets. In the order places you will only be able to find local Tibetan and Chinese food.
Generally speaking, traditional Tibetan food is quite basic, Tibetans used to subsist on Tsampa (barley flour) and butter tea, but now many Chinese dishes have been introduced to their diet. Many small restaurants on the way to Mount Kailash serve typical dishes like yak momo (steamed dumplings with yak meat), Tibetan soup noodles, fried rice with eggs (or vegetable with meat), braised yak meat with potatoes and some other fried Chinese vegetable dishes with/without meat (chicken, pork or yak meat, etcetera).
You may need to tell the restaurants that you don’t like too much oil or chili when you order your food. Some guesthouses, such as the ones at Everest Base Camp and Darchen Village, may offer some western-style breakfast (pancakes and omelets).
Staying Healthy and Avoiding Altitude Sickness
The biggest safety concern during your travel to Mount Kailash is the AMS (Acute mountain sickness), as most of the places you will be visiting are located over 4,000-4,500 m of altitude (roughly 13,000-15,000 ft.). Generally speaking, most visitors to Tibet will suffer from at least some symptoms that will generally disappear through acclimatization (which may take from several hours to several days, according to the person). Symptoms tend to be worse at night and include headache, dizziness, lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea, breathlessness and irritability. Difficulty sleeping is another common symptom.
To lessen the effects of the AMS, here are some tips: First, you shall choose an itinerary that allows your body to acclimatize gradually to the high altitude. Then, you will need to stay hydrated, which means you will need to have water available to drink all the time, and avoid alcohol in the evenings. Third, you shall keep your immune system strong by dressing warm, consuming enough calories and taking vitamins. The medication also helps to prevent AMS: the two most popular medications are the Diamox and the Hongjingtian Tibetan herbs. If the medication doesn’t relieve the symptoms, go to a hospital or evacuate immediately to a lower (and safer) altitude.
In the case that you are struck with AMS on the road or during the Kailash Kora, you should immediately tell your local guide or the agency you book the tour with: they should have a backup plan for this case. Finally, always get health travel insurance, when traveling to anywhere.