Our first holy mountain

We had hardly put down our backpacks in Syabru Besi before our Tibet adventures began.

While we had been without WiFi in the Langtang Valley our co-travellers had been emailing quite a bit — and it turned out that one of them was already in Syabru Besi. We met with him for lunch, were we learned that the best (cheapest) way to get to the border was with the afternoon public bus. We paid the guesthouse for our showers and the use of their WiFi, packed our stuff, and headed out to figure how to get on that bus.

It proved harder than what we first thought, as they definitely are not used to tourists going to this border by public transport! But after several hours of asking around, waiting, asking again, etc. we were allowed into a bus full of locals, boxes of bananas, and a mountain of blankets — and after another hour or so we arrived in a very small village a few kilometres from the Rasuwa Gadhi border — the new main border between Nepal and China. 

From all the emails we knew where the three other members of the group planned to stay, so we went there and asked for a room. Here we were met by the local “guesthouse mafia boss” who could tell that everything were booked by Indian pilgrims going to Tibet. After a second, though, he decided that we could have a room which was booked for three guests who had left Kathmandu very late, so he thought they would not make it that same day.

We thought it was a bit weird, but were glad to have a room. It only lasted an hour or so until we got in contact with the other three from the Tibet group and found out that it was probably their room he had given us! 😛

And this is how we met — early morning in the dining room at a guesthouse near the Rasuwa Gadhi border. The Canadian couple, Andrea and Cameron, sleeping in the dining room as there were no more rooms available. The American girl with an Indian heritage and huge amounts of luggage containing all the well-meant remedies from families and friends to make her do the holy Kora around Mt. Kailash. The Swiss guy, Adrian, with whom we met already in Syabru Besi, and the two of us. A small group of 6 ready for two weeks of adventures in Tibet.

The first adventure (or challenge) was to get across the border and into Tibet. After waiting for our guide to pick us up (he had all our permits) we were let through to Chinese customs. Unexpectedly, what they were looking for here was neither drugs nor weapons. They were after books! Gitte’s notebook and our “Traveller’s Health” was not of much interest, but the Canadian couple had their Lonely Planet for India confiscated, as the map inside “did not show the correct border between Tibet and India”.

Well arrived in Tibet our guide took us to the waiting minibus and our driver, and the adventures could begin! Or the hunt for the necessary permits could begin. We spent the afternoon going through checkpoint after checkpoint — and hanging around in the border village of Girong while the guide went to a local office with our passports to get more documents sorted. The Chinese government seriously do not want to make tourism in Tibet an easy thing.

Nonetheless we made it to Saga, a small Chinese-looking village at about 4500 meters, and after some searching the guide also found a hotel with room for us 😉. The next day was another long day of driving with endless amounts of checkpoints taking us to the small village of Darchen (4670 m), the “trailhead” for the Kora around Mt. Kailash — our first activity in Tibet. On the road we got some pictures of the deserted Tibetan landscape.

Mt. Kailash is a holy mountain for buddhists, hindu, and several other smaller religions in this part of the world — and it attracts wast amounts of pilgrims to do the trek around the mountain. The whole circle around the mountain is about 53 km, starting at about 4670 meters altitude and peaking at 5630 meters altitude in the Dolma La pass.

Unfortunately, both our English-speaking guide and our driver felt sick from the altitude, so they decided to hire a local guide to do the trek with us. He was a nice guy, but spoke only very few words in English. 

Nonetheless, we set off — or we were driven the first 7 kilometres, and then set off for the 16 km walk of the day 😉 We had only walked a few kilometres when it became evident that Gagan had problems with the altitude. However, we made the first 13 km in time for a late lunch in Dirapuk, a small “tent village” set around a monastery. Along the way we got some glimpses of Mt. Kailash and began to understand why it is such a mythical mountain. It truly stands out from its surroundings.

However, we still lacked a few kilometres with about 300 meters altitude gain, and for Gagan and her struggling lungs it seemed almost impossible. It took us 4 hours to get to the tented camp at about 5300 meters altitude, where we were supposed to spend the night.

Considering the -8 °C the last night we chose to stay in the common tent with a stove instead of a private tent without heating, and after eating some cup noodles we all went to bed. It was a long night with sharp light going on and off, locals arriving and leaving, and a lot of noise. None of us got much sleep, and even Ulrik and I started feeling the altitude, although we were much less affected than the rest of the group. We really appreciated the acclimatisation we had done in Nepal!

Our guide woke us up before sunset, gave us tea and bread, and soon we were on the trail. Obviously, a night without sleep had not done anything good for Gagan, and she had to realise that she could not climb to the top of the pass. The guide set out to find a horse for her, and the rest of us struggled our way towards the top of the Dolma La pass peaking at 5630 meters. On the way Mt. Kailash showed her face, and we got some great pictures!

From the top of the pass we had some 24 km to cover to get back to Darchen, a hot shower, and a comfortable hotel bed. The last 10 km were killing us, but we made it — and we have now done our first Kora around a holy mountain! Kind of cool, although we truly do not understand the spiritual power it has for all those pilgrims passing us during the trek — some even prostrating all the way around it!

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