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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
Native name
  • གངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེ (Standard Tibetan)
  • कैलास (Sanskrit)
Country China
Parent rangeGangdisê Range
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), near the trijunction 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 in the region undertake a pilgrimage to the mountain. The pilgrimage generally involves trekking towards Lake Mansarovar and a circumambulation of Mount Kailash.

While the mountain has been surveyed by climbers in the past, there have been no recorded successful ascent of the mountain. The climbing of the mountain is prohibited by the Chinese government due to its religious significance.


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][6]

In his Tibetan-English dictionary, Sarat Chandra Das states that 'kai la ca' (Wylie: kai la ca) from Sanskrit Kailāsa is used to denote the mountain.[7] The mountain is also called as Gang Rinpoche (Tibetan: གངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་; simplified Chinese: 冈仁波齐峰; traditional Chinese: 岡仁波齊峰) or Gang Tise locally.[7][8][9] Gang Rinpoche means "snow jewel mountain" with Kang (or Gang) being the Tibetan word meaning white mountain (snow peak) and rinpoche is an honorific meaning "precious one".[8][10][11] Gang Tise means "mountain of ice or cool".[8]

"Tibetan Buddhists call it Kangri Rinpoche; 'Precious Snow Mountain'. Bon texts have many names: Water's Flower, Mountain of Sea Water, Nine Stacked Swastikas Mountain. For Hindus, it is the home of the Hindu god Shiva...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[12]

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.[8][9] It lies in the Gangdisê Mountains (also called as Kailash Range) of the Transhimalaya, in the western part of the Tibetan Plateau.[13] The peak of Mount Kailash is situated at an elevation of 6,638 m (21,778 ft).[13] The region is located north of the western trijunction of the border between China, India and Nepal.[14]

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.[15][13] All these river systems originate within a 60 km (37 mi) stretch in the region.[13] Mount Kailash is located on the banks of Manasarovar, the highest freshwater lake in the world.[15] Mansarovar is a high altitude fresh water lake spread over an area of 320 km2 (120 sq mi) and overflows into Rakshastal, an endorheic salt water lake.[16]


The region around Mount Kailash are remnants of large ice sheets that covered the region during the Quaternary period, the last of which retreated about 10,000 years ago. The mountain might be a large metasedimentary roof pendant supported by a base of granite. The Indus headwaters area is typified by wide-scale faulting of metamorphosed late-Cretaceous to mid-Cenozoic sedimentary rocks interspersed with igneous Cenozoic granitic rocks. 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. It also consists of sand dunes covering late Eocene volcanic forms interspersed with Cretaceous and Eocene sediments.[17][18]


The weather is fairly dry during April to June with day time temperatures of 5 to 17 °C (41 to 63 °F) and night time temperatures of 0 to 6 °C (32 to 43 °F). The temperature starts to reduce in October and winters have much lower day time temperatures ranging from −4 to 0 °C (25 to 32 °F) and further lower in the night reaching up to −20 °C (−4 °F) with January being the coldest.[19] Monsoons bring rain from late June to August with cold winds.[20]

Global warming is described as happening three times faster (by about 0.3 C per decade) on the Tibetan Plateau than anywhere else in the world with lesser snowfall in the winter.[21][22] According to locals, the land around Mount Kailash has been growing warmer in recent years with winters not as cold as it used to be.[23] The retreating glaciers and thawing of the permafrost in the Tibet region might lead to uncertain effects on water resources of the region. These effects along with population explosion and tourism has put severe stress on the fragile ecosystem around Mount Kailash.[24][25][26]

The intergovernmental organisation International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is involved in a trans boundary project called the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative in the region around Mount Kailash.[27][28] The organization is involved in ongoing efforts to generate climate data, and to device sustainable ways for people.[29][30]


Mount Kailash from the south

In 1926, Hugh Ruttledge, the deputy commissioner of Almora, visited the area to meet the Garpon (local Tibetan leader) of Ngari. As the Garpon was away, he circumbulated Mount Kailash while studying it.[31] He estimated the mountain to be 6,000 m (20,000 ft) high and described it as "utterly unclimbable". He thought about an ascent along the northeast ridge.[32][33] 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. As per Wilson, Tseten told him that the southeast ridge represented a feasible route to the summit. Wilson explained that although they attempted to climb the mountain, they ran into heavy snowfall, making the ascent impossible.[34][35]

Herbert Tichy visited the area in 1936, attempting to climb the mountain.[36] When he asked the local people whether Kailash was climbable, a Garpon 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".[31] 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."[31][37][38] In 2001, permission was denied to a Spanish team, who requested to climb the peak.[39] Chinese authorities promised that any climbing activities on Mount Kailash were strictly prohibited.[40][31] As of 2023, there have been no known successful ascents of the mountain.[39][37]

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.[41][42][43]


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.[44][45] Hindus believe Kailash to be the Mount Meru, which is considered to be a stairway to heaven, where the devas reside.[46][47] According to the Hindu scriptures Agamas and sculptural depictions, Ravana attempted to uproot the mountain which was in his way, which enraged Shiva, who pressed his toe upon the mountain, trapping Ravana in between. Ravana sang hymns in praise of Shiva for a thousand years before he was released. This representation of Shiva is also referred to as Ravananugraha (meaning "form showing favour to Ravana") while seated upon Mount Kailash.[48][49][50][51] As per the Mahabharata, the Pandavas along with their wife Draupadi, traveled 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.[52][53]

While the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata mention Kailash and Mansarovar, it is described further in the various Puranas, linking Kailash to Mount Meru. The Vedas and the Vishnu Purana (2nd century BCE) state that it lies in the center of the world surrounded by six mountain ranges similar to a lotus. It also states that the mountain is eight thousand leagues tall and the four faces were made of crystal, ruby, gold, and lapis lazuli.[54][46] Shiva is described as sitting in a lotus position, engaged in meditation within the confines of a mountain.[55][56]


According to Ashtapada, Rishabhanatha, the founder of Jainism attained moksha (liberation) on Mount Kailash. It is believed by Jains 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 and also attained moksha from Kailash. Later in order to protect the mountain, large pits were dug around the mountain and River Ganges was made to flow through it.[57][58][59] 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 into deep slumber. There he was anointed with precious unctions.[60][61]

Buddhism and Bon

A Thangka depiction of Mount Kailash

As per Buddhist texts, Mount Kailash (Kailasa) is known as the mythological Mount Meru.[62][63] Kailash is central to its cosmology, and a major pilgrimage site for some Buddhist traditions.[64] In Buddhism, Kailash represents the father of the world and lake Mansarovar symbolizes the mother.[15] Numerous sites in the region are associated with Padmasambhava, who is credited with establishing Tantric Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century CE.[65][66][67] It is also regarded as the home of the deity Demchung.[63]

Vajrayana Buddhists believe that saint Milarepa (c. 1052 – c. 1135) had a challenge with Naro Böncham, a follower of Bön religion of Tibet.[68] 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 his magic drum to climb up the slope, Milarepa reached the summit riding on the rays of the Sun, thus winning the contest. He also gave the nearby mountain, since known as Bönri bequeathing it to Bön.[31][69][70]

For the Bon people, the mountain was the centre of the ancient Bon empire of Zhang Zhung and the location where its founder descended from heaven to the earth. As per Bon beliefs, the mountain is the source of the mythical Lion, Horse, Peacock and Elephant Rivers which flowed in the four cardinal directions.[63]


Due to its perceived sacredness to various religions, people undertake a pilgrimage called yatra to the mountain.[71] It is one of the oldest of the oldest pilgrimage routes, which has been in existence for over a thousand years.[15]

Pilgrimage to the mountain increased in the 1930s but was affected later due to both China and the British Empire claiming the region.[62] Religious pilgrimages to Mount Kailas and Manasarovar were permitted by China after the its 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.[71] The pilgirmage was suspended for three years since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[72] The route was re-opened in 2023 with new regulations.[73]

Since the reopening of the pilgrimage route from India in 1981, the numbers of pilgrims going on the annual yatra has grown considerably.[74] Before the closure in 2020, several thousand pilgrims from India were going to this pilgrimage every year.[75] 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.[76] In India, the pilgrimage is organized by the Government of India and is permitted between June and September.[77] 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.[78] 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.[79] The Nathu La route was opened in 2015 and involves travelling to Gangtok before crossing the Nathu La pass into China.[80]

Since 2015, the pilgrimage from Nepal is generally done from the nearby Humla district in northwestern Nepal.[81] The April 2015 Nepal Earthquake resulted in the closure of the border crossing at Tatopani-Zangmu.[82] 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.[83] Another route exists through the crossing at Rasuwa-Gyirong.[84] Pilgrims could reach Lhasa by air before the journey to Lake Manasarovar or Darchen.[73]

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 kilometres (33 mi) long.[71] The circumambulation is made in a clockwise direction by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, while Bönpos circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction.[81] The circumambulation usually begins and ends at Darchen, a small outpost located at an elevation of 4,670 m (15,320 ft) with the highest point at the Drölma pass situated at 5,650 m (18,540 ft).[81][85]

Trekking around the mountain can be done on foot with support from a pony or domestic yak.[86] The circumbulation takes three days on average with the first day trek from Darchen to Dirapuk gompa for about 20 kilometres (12 mi), followed by a journey from Dirpauk to Zutulphuk via the Drölma pass for 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) and the final trek from Zutulphuk back to Darchen.[87][85] 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.[15] 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.[81]

Mani stones on the path around Mount Kailash

Pilgrims believe that doing a circumambulation of Mount Kailash is a spiritually beneficial practice that can bring various positive effects, such as the cleansing of one's sins. Each circumambulation is considered to have fulfilled a life-death cycle.[15] There are a lot of stupas, flag poles, Buddhist monasteries and praying stations along the route. Many of the cultural artifacts along the route was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of China from 1966 to 1976.[15] Hindus take a ritual bath in the Manasarovar before doing circumambulation.[15] Hindu text Skanda Purana states that "There are no mountains like the Himalaya, for in them are Kailas and Mansarovar. As the dew is dried up by the morning Sun, so are the sins of mankind dried up by the sight of the Himalaya."[71]

Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims often chant om mani padme hum (jewel in the lotus) and 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.[15][88] As the mountain is located in a remote area of the Himalayas, very few facilities exist to aid during the pilgrimage.[89] 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.[90][35]

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