So the Spiral Kora with increasing nearness to the holy Mt. Kailash represents the essence of pilgrimage. Walking these paths is of great merit - it fills the pilgrim with joy as there are wonderful views of the mountain and an extraordinary energy present at Mt. Kailash, the holiest of mountains.
Mt. Kailash in the far west of Tibet is one of the holiest mountains in the world, worshipped by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bönpo. During the last two decades, Indian pilgrims as well as Westerners have visited this remote region. Pilgrims and tourists perform the circumambulation, the Kora of Mt. Kailash, which in India is called Parikrama. A Kora is usually clockwise – a spiritual circumambulation of a temple, a mountain, a lake or any other sacred place. The Kora of Mt. Kailash (fig. 11) is a 52 km route at altitudes of 4800 m to 5670 m, which some Tibetans walk in one long day, but most Indian pilgrims and visitors from western countries usually take 2½ days.
As with other holy mountains, there are several paths for the circumambulation of Mt. Kailash. Those who have performed it twelve times can do the Inner Kora1. In the Horse Year of the Tibetan calendar cycle, this condition is fulfilled by doing a single Kora1. The Inner Kora is a path leading directly into the south face of Mt. Kailash. However, it never leads around the holy mountain itself, but goes around Mt. Nandi1, a southern outlier of Mt. Kailash, and is, therefore, also called the Nandi-Kora (fig. 1). There is a second Inner Kora with the same restrictions as the Nandi-Kora, called the Secret Dakini Path. It is an alternative route in the northeast side of the holy mountain, instead of the Dölma La crossing the Khandro Sanglam La, the Pass of the Lion-faced Dakini (fig. 1).
Figure 1: Kailash Kora Map1. The Nandi-Kora and the Secret Dakini Path are shown as dotted lines; the figure also shows the Nangkor1, a real Inner Kora of Mt. Kailash including the Northern Traverse1 and the Southern Traverse1, as dashed lines (Ngari Korsum Association, Switzerland, copyright www.kailashprojekte.ch)
Whereas the Kora of Mt. Kailash is described in most traveller guides for Tibet, there are very few descriptions of the Inner Kora. Only recent publications1,3,4 deal with these Inner Koras. As stated above, these Inner Koras should not be accessed prior to the completion of twelve Koras of Mt. Kailash or a Kora in the holy Horse Year of the Tibetan calendar cycle. In addition to these Inner Koras, there are also more distant Koras1. The Barkor1,5 connects the holy lakes Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal, Tirthapuri and the sources of the four holy rivers - Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), Indus, Sutlej and Karnali. The last is the source of the holy river Ganges. The Takor1,5 is an extension of the Barkor to the historical Kingdom Guge. The access roads to Mt. Kailash, the classical 1400 km north route via Mendong, Gertse and Ali, and the 520 km south route via Saga and Drongpa, form the 1920 km Outermost Kora1.
In recent years, new routes or combinations of routes received new names for special Koras for advanced pilgrims. As both paths of the Inner Kora do not go around Mt. Kailash, the Nangkor, an Inner Kora of Mt. Kailash, a path for the circumambulation of the holy mountain inside the Kora of Mt. Kailash, including the Northern Traverse and the Southern Traverse, was described1 (fig. 12). The Northern Traverse1 crosses Mt. Vajrapani, Mt. Avalokiteshvara and Mt. Manjushri, the three northern outlier mountains of Mt. Kailash, and joins the Secret Dakini Path. The Southern Traverse1 is a path from the Zuthrul Phuk Gompa over the passes Gevo La and Shapje La to the Gyangdrak Gompa, described in the first Kailash guide from 1948, 2nd edition 19836, but was then forgotten, even to local people1. This path was redetected in 20061. The combination of the Nandi Kora and a circumambulation of the middle northern outlier, Mt. Avalokiteshvara, was called the Vajra Kora1,7, as on a map these combined routes look like a vajra, a meditation attribute of Buddhists. Walking into the eight major valleys up to the base of the central mountain was called the Lotus Kora1,7, as the orbited outlier mountains resemble a lotus flower with eight petals, although these petals are not symmetric.
Figure 2: Map of the Mt. Kailash region1,2 with the paths of the Spiral Kora, the Sapphire Kora (blue), the Emerald Kora (green), the Ruby Kora (red), and the Golden Kora (yellow). Extras are the thin lines and the routes of the Golden Kora not yet explored are the dotted lines.
From 18-20 March 2016, the Third International Conference about the Phenomenon of Mt. Kailash, titled Assembly for Kailash – Path Along the Spiral of Unity, took place in Varna, Bulgaria. Several presentations demonstrated various alternatives to the known Kora of Mt. Kailash. The central issue was the Spiral Kora, a combination of routes around Mt. Kailash with increasing nearness to the central holy mountain. A successful approach to a Spiral Kora was presented8. The presentations and discussions at this conference opened new perspectives and showed that some very special routes are walkable9, and suggested others to be tackled. Only shortly after the conference, some of these routes were successfully explored10.
For the Hindus, Mt. Kailash is the residence of god Shiva with his consort Parvati; for Buddhists of Buddha Cakrasamvara (tib. Demchok) and his consort Vajravarahi (tib. Dorje Phagmo). This paper uses the Buddhist terminology. Buddha Cakrasamvara has four faces, symbolizing the jewels - the faces of Mt. Kailash in the four directions are believed to be made of1,11. The first face is blue, so the east face of Mt. Kailash is made of lapis lazuli or sapphire. The second face is green, so the north face of Mt. Kailash is emerald. The third is red, the ruby west face of Mt. Kailash. The fourth is yellow, defining the south face of Mt. Kailash, considered to be made of gold. In honour of the four faces of Buddha Cakrasamvara, and according to the four faces of Mt. Kailash, four turns of the Spiral Kora can be defined and named according to the jewels.
Figure 2 shows a map2 of the Mt. Kailash region with the Kora of Mt. Kailash and the routes of the four turns of the Spiral Kora drawn in the appropriate colour. The first turn, the Lapis lazuli or Sapphire Kora, is very close to the Kora of Mt. Kailash, but remains on the west bank of the Lha Chu with good viewing conditions of the west face of Mt. Kailash, and stays on the north side of the Dölma La Chu. It includes the Drira Phuk Gompa, but passes the Zuthrul Phuk Gompa. After a special start directly uphill from Darchen, the second turn, the Emerald Kora follows the Kora of Mt. Kailash on the west and north side, then the Secret Dakini Path and in the end the Southern traverse1. The third turn, the Ruby Kora, follows very special paths deep inside the Mt. Kailash massif. It includes the Northern Traverse1, visits the Kuber Kund (Tib. Ragta Dutse) and crosses the mountain Tashi Tseringma Palace into the Menlung Chu valley and branches over the western ridge to the Ghedun Lha Chu valley. Finally, it ascends from the Gevo La to the summit of the mountain Buddha’s Throne. Some parts of it were explored only recently10. The latest exploration was the SW Ascent/Descent10 at the start of the Ruby Kora, which may be named ‘Shiva Lingam Descent’. Even for the fourth turn, the Golden Kora, the exploration of parts9 was shown on the Kailash Conference in Varna. Some paths were previously explored1, but several parts are still waiting to be explored, for example the descent from the pass east of the mountain Buddha’s Throne down into the Two Lake Valley with the two holy glacial lakes Kapala Durchi and Kapala Rakta. They are still speculative as it is uncertain if they are practical for the pilgrim, which means on these paths the use of mountaineering equipment is to be excluded. The parts of the Golden Kora not yet explored are shown as dotted lines in the figure. On three of the turns of the Spiral Kora, there are some optional ‘extras’ - the Chuku Gompa and the caves above it, as well as the Gauri Kund (Tib. Thugje Chenpo Tso) on the Sapphire Kora, Vajravarahi’s Kapala on the Emerald Kora, the summit of Mt. Nandi (Tib. Neten Yenlakzung) on the Golden Kora. The start of the Golden Kora, the passage below Mt. Tisum from Vajravarahi’s Pass to the Western Gate, and the exit from the Golden Kora down from Vajravarahi’s Pass to the Kora of Mt. Kailash in the Lha Chu valley, are shown in fig. 3. As this exit starts directly under Mt. Tisum, the white snow cap of which represents the jewel crystal1,11, it may be called the ‘Crystal Descent’, because it is no longer a kora, just a descent.
Figure 3: The SW edge of Mt. Kailash/Mt. Tisum, composition of three photographs taken by W. Wöllmer from Vajravarahi’s Pass, directly under Mt. Tisum. The Golden Kora conforms in the first part with the Nandi-Kora, then it turns to Vajravarahi’s Pass and descends over the ridge down to the Western Gate. At the end of the Golden Kora, the Crystal Descent leads down from Vajravarahi’s Pass to the Kora of Mt. Kailash in the Lha Chu valley. Both of these parts are speculative, as they are not yet explored.
The Spiral Kora is a route for the advanced and experienced pilgrim. As the Emerald Kora, the Ruby Kora and the Golden Kora include the Nandi Kora and the Secret Dakini Path, the restrictions named above are to be respected also for the Spiral Kora, except for the first turn, the Sapphire Kora. With increasing nearness to the central holy mountain itself, the turns of the Spiral Kora are of increasing challenge and require surefootedness.
Mountaineering equipment has no place on the pilgrimage paths of Mt. Kailash. The pilgrim on the described paths imposes reverence to the holy mountain and shows respect for other pilgrims. So the Spiral Kora with increasing nearness to the holy Mt. Kailash represents the essence of pilgrimage. Walking these paths is of great merit - it fills the pilgrim with joy as there are wonderful views of the mountain and an extraordinary energy present at Mt. Kailash, the holiest of mountains.
Mt. Kailash in Tibet is one of the holiest mountains, worshipped by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bönpo, as well as visitors from Western countries. This paper details the various Koras/Parikramas/Circumambulations possible around this holy mountain.
DR. WOLFGANG WÖLLMER spent his professional life as a medical physicist in Germany. He performed his first Mt. Kailash pilgrimage in 2002, the horse year of the Tibetan calendar, others followed in 2006, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. He planned various routes and special paths to explore the whole region. He has compiled his experiences and findings in his book The Inner and Outer Paths of Mt. Kailash.
ALEXEY PERCHUKOV is a businessman in Russia and traveller and has visited around 200 countries. He has been involved in investigation and promotion of Tibet since 2005 and visited Tibet more than ten times. In 2016 he wrote and published the first guide of Tibet in Russian language: TIBET, Country Which Changes Your Life.