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Mount Kailash

Coordinates: 31°4′0″N 81°18′45″E / 31.06667°N 81.31250°E / 31.06667; 81.31250
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Mount Kailash
North face of Mount Kailash
Highest point
Elevation6,638[1][2] m (21,778 ft)
Coordinates31°4′0″N 81°18′45″E / 31.06667°N 81.31250°E / 31.06667; 81.31250
Naming
Native name
  • གངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེ (Standard Tibetan)
  • कैलास (Sanskrit)
Geography
Country China
Parent rangeGangdisê Range
Climbing
First ascentUnclimbed (prohibited)

Mount Kailash (also Kailasa; Kangrinboqê or Gang Rinpoche; Standard Tibetan: གངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེ; simplified Chinese: 冈仁波齐峰; traditional Chinese: 岡仁波齊峰; pinyin: Gāngrénbōqí Fēng; Sanskrit: कैलास, IAST: Kailāsa) is a mountain in Ngari Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region of China. It lies in the Kailash Range (Gangdisê Mountains) of the Transhimalaya, in the western part of the Tibetan Plateau. The peak of Mount Kailash is located at an elevation of 6,638 m (21,778 ft), north of the western trijunction of the border between China, India and Nepal.

Mount Kailash is located close to Manasarovar and Rakshastal lakes. The sources of four rivers: Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali lie in the vicinity of the region. Mount Kailash is sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bon religion. People from India, China, Nepal and other countries undertake pilgrimage to the mountain.

Etymology

The mountain is known as "Kailāsa" (कैलास; var. Kailāśa कैलाश) in Sanskrit.[3][4] The name could have been derived from the word "kelāsa" (केलास), which means "crystal".[5]

In his Tibetan-English dictionary, Sarat Chandra states that 'kai la sha' (Wylie: kai la sha) is a loan word from Sanskrit.[6] The Tibetan name for the mountain is Gang Rinpoche (Tibetan: གངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་; simplified Chinese: 冈仁波齐峰; traditional Chinese: 岡仁波齊峰). Gang or Kang is the Tibetan word for snow peak analogous to alp or hima; rinpoche is an honorific meaning "precious one" so the combined term can be translated "precious jewel of snows". Another local name for the mountain is Tisé mountain, which derives from ti tse in the Zhang-Zhung language, meaning "water peak" or "river peak", connoting the mountain's status as the source of the mythical Lion, Horse, Peacock and Elephant Rivers.[7]

"Tibetan Buddhists call it Kangri Rinpoche; 'Precious Snow Mountain'. Bon texts have many names: Water's Flower, Mountain of Sea Water, Nine Stacked Swastika Mountain. For Hindus, it is the home of the Hindu god Shiva and it is believed that Shiva resides there; for Jains it is where their first leader was enlightened; for Buddhists, the navel of the universe; and for adherents of Bon, the abode of the sky goddess Sipaimen."

— Alice Albinia lists some of the names for the mountain, and its religious significance to various faiths[8]

Geography and topography

Topography of the region with Mount Kailash in the background and Manasarovar (right) and Rakshastal lakes in the foreground

Mount Kailash is located in Ngari Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region of China.[9] It lies in the Kailash Range (Gangdisê Mountains) of the Transhimalaya, in the western part of the Tibetan Plateau.[10] The peak of Mount Kailash is situated at an elevation of 6,638 m (21,778 ft).[10] The region is located north of the western trijunction of the border between China, India and Nepal.[11]

The major rivers rising from the western Gangdise mountains are the Yarlung Tsangpo (which becomes the Brahmaputra), the Indus, the Sutlej and the Karnali, a tributary of Ganges. All these river systems originate in a 60 km2 (23 sq mi) area in the Kailash region.[10] Mount Kailash is located close to Manasarovar and Rakshastal lakes. Mansarovar is a high altitude fresh water lake fed by glaciers and overflows into Rakshastal, an endorheic salt water lake.[12]

Geology

The region around Mount Kailash and the Indus headwaters area is typified by wide-scale faulting of metamorphosed late-Cretaceous to mid-Cenozoic sedimentary rocks which have been intruded by igneous Cenozoic granitic rocks. Mount Kailash appears to be a metasedimentary roof pendant supported by a massive granite base. The Cenozoic rocks represent offshore marine limestones deposited before subduction of the Tethys oceanic crust. These sediments were deposited on the southern margin of the Asia block during subduction of the Tethys oceanic crust before the collision between the Indian and Asian continents.[13][14]

Climate change

Climate change due to global warming is described as happening three times faster on the Tibetan Plateau than anywhere else in the world.[15] According to local observers, the land around Mount Kailash has been growing warmer in recent years with winters not as cold as it used to be.[16] According to available data from the region, glaciers are retreating, lakes are shrinking, the amount of barren land is increasing, and the eventual thawing of the permafrost in this region may lead to uncertain effects on water resources and carbon cycles.[17]

The intergovernmental organisation ICIMOD is involved in ongoing efforts to generate knowledge on the ecological, social, and economic effects of climate change, and sustainable ways to cope with them, in the Chinese region around Mount Kailash and the bordering areas of Uttarakhand in India and western Nepal, in a transboundary project called the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative.[18][19]

Mountaineering

Mount Kailash from the south

In 1926, Hugh Ruttledge studied the north face of Mount Kailash, which he estimated to be 6,000 m (20,000 ft) high and described it as utterly unclimbable.[20] He thought about an ascent of the northeast ridge. Ruttledge had been exploring the area with Colonel R. C. Wilson, who was on the other side of the mountain with a Sherpa named Tseten. Wilson said that Tseten told him that the southeast ridge represented a feasible route to the summit.[20] Wilson explained that although he attempted to climb the mountain, he ran into heavy snowfall, making the ascent impossible.[21]

Herbert Tichy was in the area in 1936, attempting to climb Gurla Mandhata. When he asked the local people whether Kailash was climbable, a Garpon (local Tibetian leader) replied: "Only a man entirely free of sin could climb Kailash. And he wouldn't have to actually scale the sheer walls of ice to do it – he'd just turn himself into a bird and fly to the summit".[20] Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner was given the opportunity by the Chinese government to climb the mountain in the mid-1980s. But he reportedly declined, saying "If we conquer this mountain, then we conquer something in people's souls. I would suggest they go and climb something a little harder."[22][23] In 2001, reports emerged that the Chinese government had given permission for a Spanish team to climb the peak, which caused an international backlash. Chinese authorities disputed the reports, and stated that any climbing activities on Mount Kailash were strictly prohibited.[24] As of 2023, there have been no known successful ascents of the mountain.[22]

Religious significance

An illustration depicting the Hindu holy family of Shiva at Kailasha

Mount Kailash is considered sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bon religions.[25][26][27]

Hinduism

In Hinduism, the mountain is traditionally recognized as the abode of Shiva, who resides there along with his consort goddess Parvati and their children, Ganesha and Kartikeya.[28] Hindus believe Kailash to be the Mount Meru which is considered to be a stairway to Svarga, a heaven where the devas reside.[29][30]

According to the Uttara Kanda of the Hindu epic Ramayana, it is said that Ravana attempted to uproot the Mount Kailash as retaliation against Shiva, who in turn, pressed his right big toe upon the mountain, trapping Ravana in between. This representation of Shiva is also referred to as Ravananugraha (meaning "form showing favour to Ravana") while seated upon Mount Kailash.[31] According to the Mahabharata, it is said that the Pandavas along with their wife Draupadi, travelled towards the summit of Mount Kailash as a means to reach the heaven but only Yudhishthira who was accompanied by a dog, was able to make it.[32][33]

The Vishnu Purana states that Kailash is a pillar of the world, located at the heart of six mountain ranges symbolizing a lotus. It also states that the four faces of Mount Kailash are made of crystal, ruby, gold, and lapis lazuli.[29] It further talks about Shiva sitting in a lotus position, engaged in deep meditation within the confines of a mountain.[34]

Jainism

According to Ashtapada, the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabhanatha attained moksha (liberation) on Mount Kailash.[35] In Jain tradition, it is believed that after Rishabhanatha attained nirvana, his son emperor Bharata had constructed three stupas and twenty four shrines of the 24 tirthankaras in the region with their idols studded with precious stones and named it Sinhnishdha.[36] As per Jain traditions, the 24th and the last Tirthankara, Mahavira, was taken to the summit of Meru by Indra shortly after his birth, after putting his mother Trishala into deep slumber. There he was bathed and anointed with precious unctions.[37][38]

A Thangka depiction of Mount Kailash

Buddhism

As per Buddhist texts, Mount Kailash (Kailasa) is known as the mythological Mount Meru. Kailash is central to its cosmology, and a major pilgrimage site for some Buddhist traditions.[39] Numerous sites in the region are associated with Padmasambhava, whose tantric practices in holy sites around Tibet are credited with finally establishing Buddhism as the main religion of the country in the 7th–8th century CE.[20]

Vajrayana Buddhists believe that saint Milarepa (c. 1052 – c. 1135) arrived in Tibet to challenge Naro Bönchung, the founder of Bön religion of Tibet. The two engaged in a battle of wits with neither able to gain a decisive advantage. Finally, it was agreed that whoever could reach the summit of Kailash first would be the victor. While Naro sat on a magic drum to climb up the slope, Milarepa meditated and reached the summit riding on the rays of the Sun, thus winning the contest. He also flung a handful of snow on to the top of a nearby mountain, since known as Bönri bequeathing it to the Bön people and thereby ensuring continued Bönpo connection with the region.[20]

Pilgrimage

Due to its perceived sacredness to various religions, people from India, China, Nepal and other countries undertake a pilgrimage called yatra to the mountain. Religious pilgrimages to Mount Kailas and Lake Manasarovar were permitted after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950-51. While pilgrimage from India was guaranteed by the 1954 Sino-Indian Agreement, access was restricted after the subsequent 1959 Tibetan uprising and the borders were closed after the Sino-Indian War in 1962.[9] After nearly two decades, pilgrimage from India was allowed in 1981 after an agreement between the governments of India and China.[40] The pilgirmage was again suspended for three years since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[41]

Yaks are often used in the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash. Pictured are yaks on the banks of Lake Manasarovar with Mount Kailash in the background

The pilgrimage involves trekking towards Lake Mansarovar and a circumambulation of Mount Kailash. The path around Mount Kailash is 53 km (33 mi) long.[40] Pilgrims believe that doing a circumambulation of Mount Kailash on foot is a spiritually beneficial practice that can bring various positive effects, such as the collection of meritorious karma, the cleansing of sins from one's consciousness, and good fortune. The circumambulation is made in a clockwise direction by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, while Bönpos circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction.[42] The circumambulation usually begins and ends at Darchen, a small outpost located at an elevation of 4,670 m (15,320 ft).[43] The highest point on the pilgrimage is the Drölma pass situated at 5,650 m (18,540 ft).[44]

Walking around the mountain can be done on foot or using a pony or domestic yak and takes three days on average with night camps at Dirapuk gompa, about 2 to 3 km (1.2 to 1.9 mi) before the Drölma pass and at Zutulphuk.[44] The most extreme method of doing the circumambulation (called Kora) in Tibetan Buddhism is performed by doing full body-length prostrations over the entire stretch around the mountain. The pilgrim bends down, kneels, prostrates full-length, makes a mark with her fingers, rises to her knees, prays, and then crawls forward on hands and knees to the mark made by her fingers before repeating the process. With this method, the pilgrimage takes three weeks on average to complete.[45] Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist pilgrims often sing nyelu songs while crossing the Dolma La pass which are believe to proclaim a fraternity amongst all pilgrims who cross paths on a Kailash pilgrimage.[46] As the mountain is located in a remote area of the Himalayas, very few facilities exist to aid during the pilgrimage. For varied reasons for the different faiths that revere the mountain, setting foot on the slopes of the mountain or attempting to climb it is forbidden by law.[20]

Mani stones on the path around Mount Kailash

Since the reopening of the pilgrimage in 1981, the numbers of pilgrims going on the annual yatra has grown considerably.[47] Before the closure in 2020, several thousand pilgrims from India were going to this pilgrimage every year.[48] Since 2015, aspiring pilgrims from India are required to apply in advance to the Ministry of External Affairs and specific number of passes are issued to pilgrims post computerized selection at random.[49] In India, the pilgrimage is organized by the Government of India and is permitted between June and September.[50] Pilgrims from India travel through two routes opened for the purpose with border crossings at Lipu Lekh pass in Uttarakhand and the Nathu La pass in Sikkim.[51] Since 2020, a motorable road is available till the Lipu Lekh pass through the Indian side of the Mahakali valley, before crossing over to China.[52] The Nathu La route was opened in 2015 and involves travelling to Gangtok before crossing the Nathu La pass into China.[53]

Since 2015, the pilgrimage from Nepal is generally done through a route beginning at the Humla district in northwestern Nepal.[45] Pilgrims also pray to Mount Kailash from within Nepal where it is visible from the Lapcha La pass above the Limi valley on a clear day.[54] Before the April 2015 Nepal Earthquake, the major pilgrimage route from Nepal was through the border crossing at Tatopani-Zangmu.[45] Another route exists through the crossing at Rasuwa-Gyirong.[55] In China, the pilgrimage usually starts from Lhasa before the journey to Lake Manasarovar or Darchen.

See also

References

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