Mount Kailash in Tibet, revered by four million Asian religions, is certainly one of the world’s most sacred places. Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Tibetan pilgrims come to Kailash to complete their rituals at the foot of the mountain. But after half a century of Chinese rule, religious and cultural expression in Tibet faltered. Tibet is now struggling with cultural erosion as the Chinese migrate to the region with the help of government incentives, after years of total religious repression that banned the destruction and worship of thousands of monasteries. Most recently, the Chinese government accelerated efforts to make Kailash a tourist attraction by funding the construction of infrastructure in the region but ignored the sanctity of the site. According to the Dalai Lama, Mount Kailash and its environs have a special symbolic value to Tibetans. The region has been an undisputed part of Tibet since the rise of the Tibetan nation, and the sacred mountain peak has long been the center of spiritual inspiration.
Mount Kailash plays a vital role in both geography and mythology. Mount Kailash, more than 22,000 feet away, cannot compete with the peaks of the Himalayan range, including Mount Everest. Its greatness lies not in its height but in its distinctive shape. It can be seen by having four faces that match the basic features of the compass and its solitary position without dwarf or obscure neighboring hills. Kailash is considered by Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain universities to be the spiritual center of the universe, Mount Meru, or the manifestation of Sumeru’s earth. This great mountain is considered to be the source of four life-giving rivers. In fact, the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Sutlej, and the Karnali, a major tributary of the sacred Ganga in India, originated in the vicinity of Kailash. To Tibetan Buddhists, Kailash is the abode of Demchog, the god of diplomatic meditation. Hindus see Kailash as the throne of Lord Shiva, one of the most important deities. The Jains revere Kailash as the place where their first prophet attained enlightenment.
Pilgrims travel to Kailash to complete a 32-mile ritual. Although some devotees worship the full body all over the land for up to a month, it often takes one or three days to complete the circuit. All pilgrims pay homage to the deity by climbing the mountain. There are monasteries and spiritual significance and rituals all along the way. Natural stone carvings revered as footprints of the Buddha, stone buildings representing mythological figures, places where pilgrims collect souvenirs, and other pilgrims leave offerings such as hair or teeth. Mount Kailash in the southwestern part of Tibet, near the borders of India and Nepal, is far from any population center and cannot be easily reached. However, for many Buddhists and Hindus in Tibet and India, the trip to Kailash is the most important pilgrimage they can make.
From the 7th century onwards, when Tibet began to emerge as a united nation, the country enjoyed relative independence. In 1950, however, Communist China invaded Tibet. The recently enthroned 14th Dalai Lama-led Tibetan government was forced to sign an agreement for Tibet’s “peaceful liberation” or face further military action. After the failed Tibetan uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India and established a government of slavery. At that time the Hindu pilgrimage route to Kailash was closed. China abolished the Tibetan government and imposed social change based on Marxist principles. Religious activities were banned during China’s Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, and the situation worsened when Chinese troops began destroying six Buddhist and Bon monasteries on Mount Kailash.
China began to relax its stance in the mid-1970s, and by the 1980s, Tibetans had regained religious freedom. Undestroyed monasteries began to reopen, and confiscated religious artifacts were returned. Indian pilgrimage to Kailash resumed. Also in 1984, the area around Kailash was officially opened to Western tourists. However, the political situation in Tibet is still volatile, with high levels of human rights abuses and religious repression. More than 50 years after the liberation of Tibet, more than 1.2 million Tibetans have died, tens of thousands more have been displaced, and more than 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed by Chinese forces. If you are going to visit Mount Kailash, we ask you to pay attention to the sanctity of the place for religious reasons and the beliefs of the people who live there. Do not climb the mountain. Follow the etiquette of going to a place of worship.