PREPARE FOR MOUNT KAILASH TOUR
In this article we will cover everything you need to know to prepare for Mount Kailash trek, known as kora in Buddhism and yatra/parikrama in Hinduism. You will find information about required documents, when is the best time to visit, how to travel to Mount Kailash from Tibet, Nepal and India, how to prepare, what to pack and most popular tours.
PLAN YOUR VISIT IN ADVANCE
Mount Kailash is a sacred mountain for 4 religions and attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world every year. Visiting the Kailash region is also a great way to travel through Tibet, see the most impressive landscapes, learn more about Tibetan Buddhism, experience local traditions and culture.
For many people, traveling to Mount Kailash will be a once in a lifetime adventure. To make the most of it, we recommend planning your adventure beforehand. Due to the permit requirement, you should plan your trip at least 1 month in advance.
To travel to Tibet you need:
First, you need to obtain a passport if you don’t have it yet. After that, most visitors will need to apply for a Chinese visa. The process is different for travelers arriving from China and Nepal.
Chinese visa when traveling to Tibet from China.
Citizens of several countries, such as Singapore, Japan, Mauritius, Serbia, Belarus, Grenada, and a few others can travel in China visa-fee for a certain time (between 15-60 days depending on a country). For more details, please, check the visa requirements in the article: Chinese visa application. Most other travelers will need a valid Chinese visa to travel in Tibet.
You will first need to apply for Chinese visa in the Chinese Embassy in the country where you reside. A Visa application usually takes about a week. When you have a Chinese visa, we’ll need a scan or a clear photo of the visa to apply for all necessary Tibet permits. Your Tibetan agency will take care of all the necessary permits. It will take about 2 weeks to receive the Tibet travel permit. When your permit is ready, we will send you the original permit to your hotel or airport in China where you make a stop on the way to Tibet. You need an original permit to travel to Tibet.
Chinese group visa when traveling from Nepal
All travelers arriving to Tibet from Nepal need a special type of visa -Chinese group visa. To receive the visa, we will first need to apply for your Tibet travel permit in Lhasa. Usually, it takes about 10-15 days to receive the permit. After that, we send the permit along with Tourism Bureau invitation letter to our agent in Nepal. He will meet you in Kathmandu to collect your passport, passport size photo and application form to submit the visa application to Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. Visa processing takes 3-5 business days (depending on selected service). During that time you can travel in Nepal or explore Kathmandu. Once the visa is ready you can travel to Tibet.
WHEN TO VISIT: WEATHER CONDITIONS
It is possible to visit Mount Kailash from April until the middle of October. During the rest of the year, it can be too cold and the path might be covered with snow. Many guesthouses close for the winter, and it might be difficult to find a yak if you are planning to use them for carrying loads.
However, the most popular time to visit Kailash is during summer through the end of September, when the weather is warm. In July-August, it is a rainy season in the Himalayas. While Tibet doesn’t get a lot of rain during the daytime, it can be cloudy. To have a higher chance to see mountain peaks and for photography, it is best to visit before or after the rainy season, for example in May or September.
Once a year there is a large festival in the Kailash region. The festival Saga Dawa celebrates the Birth, Enlightenment, and Parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha. It is a great time to visit Mount Kailash. The festival is celebrated on the 4th month, 15th day of Tibetan Lunar Calendar and usually falls on the middle of May – beginning of June.
2021 SAGA DAWA FESTIVAL TOUR
This special tour takes you to the sacred Mount Kailash during the biggest festival of the year. Saga Dawa Festival celebrated the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death. It attracts thousands of pilgrims from all around Tibet, India, and the world. You will see the greatest diversity of Tibetan national dress as people wear their best clothes for the festival.
HOW TO GET TO MOUNT KAILASH
There are 4 main ways how to reach Mount Kailash:
All these ways of traveling have their pros and cons. Below we will describe each of them in details and list their benefits.
TRAVEL TO MOUNT KAILASH FROM LHASA
It is the most popular way for most of the foreign visitors, as well as tibetans. There are good roads going from Lhasa first to Everest region, and then further to the Western Tibet and Mount Kailash. It takes several days to reach Kailash.
You can drive from Lhasa to Darchen at the South side of Mount Kailash in only 3 days. However, group tours usually spend 5 days on the road, including detours to Mount Everest and Manasarovar Lake. It allows travelers to acclimatize to high altitude and prepare for a strenuous trek. You will also enjoy incredible views on the way, visit historical sights, and enjoy magnificent landscapes. Since it is a popular way to visit Kailash, we have regular group tours visiting the mountain. Joining one of the group tours allows to lower the price of the tour. In addition to group tours, you can also arrange a private tour just for you with a custom itinerary and flexible departure date.
- group tours available to lower the cost of traveling
- tours designed to spend adequate time acclimatizing to high altitude
- itineraries include visiting all the major attraction sites in Tibet along the way, including highlights in Lhasa, Yamdrok lake, Gyantse and Shigatse, and, of course, Mount Everest
- on the way back you will travel along many of the previously visited sites
- group tours have fixed departure dates and fixed itinerary
15 DAYS GROUP TOUR TO MOUNT KAILASH
One of our most popular group tours, starting in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and going to Mount Kailash for a three-day trekking around this sacred mountain. During this tour, we visit Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse monastery and Kumbum stupa, Mount Everest, Lake Manasarovar, Mount Kailash, and much more.
TRAVEL TO MOUNT KAILASH FROM ALI, WESTERN TIBET
There is an airport in Ali, the capital city of Western Tibet province Ngari. It is possible to travel to Mount Kailash from Ali. There are regular flights connecting Lhasa and Ali. However, the altitude in Ali is about 4,250 meters, and you cannot fly there directly without acclimatizing prior to traveling there. As all foreign travelers can only travel in Tibet with a local licensed guide in a tourist vehicle, your car will still have to travel from Lhasa to pick you up in Ali airport, making the cost of this trip high.
Once you arrive in Ali, you can reach Darchen in a day. From Darchen, you can trek around Mount Kailash. You can travel to Kailash from Lhasa by car, and after visiting Kailash fly back to Lhasa from Ali. That will make your tour shorter compared to driving both ways.
- Visit Mount Kailash in a shorter time compared to driving both ways
- Private tours only: customize your itinerary and start on any day (depending on flight schedule)
- High price compared to group tours and even to a private tour if you are traveling by car both ways
- Have to spend more time in Lhasa or nearby areas to acclimatize to high altitude prior to flying to Ali
TRAVEL TO MOUNT KAILASH FROM NEPAL
There are two border crossing points between Tibet and Nepal. The most popular one is in Gyirong. You can reach this border within 1 day of driving from Kathmandu during the dry season. In the rainy season, the road becomes rougher and sometimes it takes much longer to reach Tibet border. From the border town of Gyirong in Tibet, you can continue traveling to Mount Kailash. Although you can reach it in only two days: first drive to Saga and on the next day to Darchen, we highly recommend approaching Kailash slowly. If you didn’t acclimatize to high altitude in Nepal, arriving at Darchen after only 2 days at high altitude can be dangerous.
The second entry point on the Nepal-Tibet border is in Purang county. It is a less popular route, as it takes much longer to drive from Kathmandu to Hilsa (border town in Nepal). You will also gain altitude fast once you enter Tibet. In Tibet, you will need to spend some time at high altitude prior to traveling to Kailash.
FLIGHTS AND HELICOPTER
Another way to travel to Kailash is by flight and a helicopter ride from Nepal. This is a scenic and unusual route. First, you arrive in Kathmandu. In order to travel to Tibet from Nepal, you need Chinese group visa issued in Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. The process takes at least 3 business days, and you need to plan your visit accordingly. Here you will find all details of the visa application process.
After that, you will take 2 flights, first to Nepalgunj and then to Simikot. Finally, you will take an impressive helicopter ride from Simikot to Hilsa near the Tibet border. Heli flies over gorgeous mountain ranges in the Himalayas. Once you reach the Tibetan border and cross it, you will drive to a nearby town to stay there, acclimatizing to high altitude. If you are not visiting any high altitude areas in Nepal, you need to spend some time in Purang province of Tibet or near Manasarovar lake before heading to Mount Kailash. Rapid altitude gain is dangerous and won’t allow you to enjoy your journey.
- Scenic route and beautiful view from the helicopter
- Visiting both Nepal and Tibet in one trip
- High cost as it includes several flights and a helicopter, in addition to a private tour in Tibet
- Have to spend some time in a small town while acclimatizing to high altitude
- Plain flights from Kathmandu and helicopter flights are often delayed during the rainy season (July- August), you need to allow extra time for unexpected schedule changes
NEPAL TO KAILASH BY HELICOPTER
Scenic and unusual tour for those who want to see see Himalayas from both sides and fly next to the majestic mountain range. This private tour will take you from Kathmandu, impressive capital of Nepal, to Tibet-Nepal border at the Himalayas by two flights and an unforgettable helicopter ride. Once you arrive in Tibet, you will first travel to Manasarovar lake. After that, your pilgrimage continues to Mount Kailash.
VISITING MOUNT KAILASH FROM INDIA FOR INDIAN PASSPORT HOLDERS
Indian passport holders can currently travel with groups arranged by Indian travel agencies. There are special requirements and only Indian agencies (including the government agency) can arrange this pilgrimage. These tours are typically arranged from either Lhasa or from the Tibet-India border. If you travel from the Indian border, pay attention to how many days you spend in Tibet acclimatizing to high altitude before you reach Mount Kailash. Many travelers want to shorten their tour duration and some travel agencies will arrange short tours. However, it is very dangerous. If you don’t spend enough time acclimatizing, you might not be able to complete the trek. In rare cases, fast ascent can be fatal. Please, read more about altitude in a section below.
Visitors of Indian origin holding passports of all other countries, including Australia, USA, Canada, any European passports, etc can travel with any Tibetan travel agency. If they wish to travel together with their relatives or friends who hold Indian passports, they will also have to join one of the Indian agency groups.
ALTITUDE ON MOUNT KAILASH TREK
The trekking route around Mount Kailash is one of the highest in the world. The starting point is in Darchen at an altitude of about 4,575 meters. Trek reaches its highest point in Drolma La pass at 5, 640 meters above the sea level. Mount Kilimanjaro (5,791 m), the highest mountain in Africa is only a little higher than the Drolma La pass. At this altitude oxygen level in the air drops down to about 10% compared to 21% at the sea level. That’s why it is extremely important to acclimatize to the high altitude before your arrival in Darchen.
The best way to acclimatize is to spend time at an altitude above 3,000 meters and then ascent to higher altitude slowly, making stops along the way. That makes Lhasa a great starting point of the tour to Kailash. Lhasa altitude is 3,650 meters above sea level. After you spend 2-3 days exploiting Lhasa, you start your journey to Shigatse first (about 3,900 meters). Then you will typically visit Everest for one night (5,000 meters). From Everest, you continue to Saga.
Then most tours make another stop at Manasarovar lake. After that, most visitors acclimatize well enough to trek around Mount Kailash. However, there are no factors predicting how well you will feel at high altitude. If you already had a history of high altitude sickness, you should spend more time in Lhasa acclimatizing and consult with your doctor. Additionally, people with various conditions, especially lung or heart disease have to consult their doctor.
Related Article: 7 Tips to prevent altitude sickness
MOUNT KAILASH TREK INFORMATION
First Day: 20 km/ 12.4 miles. Ascent 335 meters.
Highlights: South and West sides of Kailash, Tarboche flagpole and stupa, Dira Phuk monastery
On the first day of the trek the path is relatively flat. There are some minor hills, but overall it is easy to walk following the road.
Second Day: 22 km/ 13.6 miles. Ascent 730 meters. Descent 850 meters.
Highlights: North and East side of Kailash, Drolma La Pass (5,640 m), Buddha footprint
On the second day of the trek you will encounter the most challenging part of the route. First, we will go up to the Drolma La pass at 5,640 meters. The steep path goes uphill to the highest point. After that, there is also a steep descent, rocky terrain, where you sometimes have to jump from stone to stone. As you continue, you will also have to descend further down the sandy hill to the tea house where you can finally rest. From the tea house, the path leading to Zultul Puk monastery is much nicer. However, there are some hills along the way.
Third Day: 14 km/ 8.7 miles. Descent 215 meters.
Highlights: South side of Kailash, Zutul Phuk
The third day of the trek is the shortest and easiest. Most travelers complete it by early afternoon. Enjoy a pleasant walk through the beautiful valley and a final descent to Darchen.
Visiting Mount Kailash involves 3 days of a strenuous trek on various terrains at high altitude. You should be prepared to walk 15-22 km per day. As we discussed above, it is important to acclimatize to high altitude. The more time you spend in Tibet before reaching Mount Kailash, the easier it will be for you to trek. It is also very helpful to start preparing for your visit in advance. Any type of physical activity, especially walking, running, hiking, and endurance gym workouts will help you to prepare for the trip. You can test your abilities by hiking somewhere near your home before your tour to Kailash. Ideally, you should start preparing 2-3 months in advance by doing any type of physical exercise.
AGE LIMIT FOR VISITING KAILASH
According to Tibetan regulations, there is no age limit for visiting Mount Kailash. At the same time, Indian government agency arranging tours for Indian pilgrims have an age limit of at least 18 years old and no more than 70 years old to join the tour. This limit is often misunderstood as the general requirement. This age limit applies only for Indian passport holders traveling with the Indian government agency. For all other travelers to Kailash, there is no age limit. However, the most important factor is individual health and physical abilities. Please, discuss your travel plans with your doctor.
MEDICAL HELP AT KAILASH
Some parts of the trek are accessible by car or motorbike. However, on about a third of the trekking route you can only walk or hire a horse or yak to help you carry the load. That’s why it is important to prepare for the trek.
Evacuation by car is expensive, and there are no helicopter rescues. On some areas of the trek, cell-phone signal is very weak. If you don’t feel well, immediately notify your guide. Then your guide will keep an eye on you and try to help you. Unfortunately, there is no medical help (outside of the basic first aid kits and oxygen cans) on the trek route. We recommend bringing all essential medicine with you. If trekking becomes too difficult for you, sometimes it is best to turn back and return to Darchen to rest and recover. In a section below we will cover all options you have if you cannot complete the trek.
GEAR, WHAT TO WEAR AND WHAT TO PACK
Weather in Western Tibet can change rapidly and there is a big temperature difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. It is best to have clothes that you can layer with each other to adjust to various temperatures. Below is a suggested list of what to wear for Mount Kailash trek.
- Comfortable shoes, ideally waterproof hiking boots
- Hiking pants or very comfortable trousers. Jeans are not the best choice as they are not breathable. Revealing or yoga pants are not the best choice as Tibetans are very conservative. If you wish to wear yoga pants, please, wear a skirt or shorts or a long tunic above it.
- Base layer or thermal layer
- Sweater/fleece jacket that can serve as a middle layer
- Jacket: insulated jacket for spring and fall and if possible waterproof jacket for warmer months. Make sure that you can layer it with your sweater for colder temperatures.
- Hat and baseball hat or wide-brim hat for sun protection
- Gloves and scarf for colder months
- Sleeping bag or inner sheet for your sleeping bag or any light cover to use in guesthouses with provided blankets
- Day backpack. If you are planning to hire horse, porter or yaks to carry some of your things, in addition to a day pack you will need a trekking backpack or a duffel bags that can be strapped to animals
- Rain gear (especially during the rainy season): poncho, backpack cover, waterproof jacket
- Trekking poles (optionally)
- Sun protection: sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, hand and face cream
- Personal toiletries, such as toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, wipes, hand sanitizer, shampoo, toilet paper, towel, etc.
- Electronics: phone, power bank, camera, extra memory cards/ batteries for your camera
- Flashlight and binoculars (optional)
- Passport and money. Only Chinese yuan are accepted in the Kailash region, no credit cards.
We recommend having a small medical kit with essentials, such as band-iid, painkiller medication, such as Ibuprofen, cold/flu medications, throat lozenges, diarrhea medication, such as loperamide, allergy medication, and any other medications that you use, including prescription medicine.
Some visitors use Diamox for altitude sickness prevention. While it works for some, it can also cause dehydration. Consult with your doctor about using it and follow recommendations.
More information about packing in the article: Packing List for Tibet
FOOD OPTIONS ON MOUNT KAILASH TREK
Darchen is the starting point of the trek. When you arrive in Darchen, you can buy simple snacks in small stores around town. On the trekking route, there are small tea houses along the way as well as near the guesthouses. The tea houses offer black salty tea and sell water bottles. Tea houses also have instant noodles and hot water to prepare them. Some tea houses sell simple snacks, water, and oxygen cans. In the kitchen of some guesthouses, you can order egg fried rice. It is best to supplement these simple meals with some snacks, such as nuts, dried fruit, biscuits, candies, etc. Having a vegetarian meal in the Kailash area is not a problem. If you have other dietary restrictions, consider bringing freeze-dried meal packages or any other food that will satisfy your needs.
ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS AROUND KAILASH
We start and finish Kailash trek in Darchen. Although it is a small town, a lot of tourists and pilgrims visit it every year. That’s why there are different accommodation options from basic guesthouses and simple Tibetan hotels to modern comfortable hotels. The best hotel in Darchen is the Himalaya Hotel. It is comfortable with all modern amenities, although pricey.
When we start trekking around the mountain, there are 2 options: basic guesthouses and camping. Guesthouses are located around two monasteries. The first night we spend in one of the guesthouses by the Dira Puk Monastery. The second night visitors rest in guesthouses near Zultul Puk Monastery. All guesthouses are very simple with dorm rooms and outdoor public restrooms (just a pit hole). There are no showers or running water. Some guesthouses have electricity and you can charge your phones. All guesthouses offer many blankets, although they are rarely washed. That’s why we recommend having a sleeping bag or any cover that you can use with these blankets. Although guesthouses are simple, they allow travelers to trek lightly with only a small day pack.
For those who prefer camping, there are nice flat campgrounds near monasteries. You can set uptents along one of the rivers to access fresh water. However, if you are traveling with tents, you will most likely need to hire a horse or yaks to help you carry all the necessary camping gear.
HORSES, YAKS, AND PORTERS IN KAILASH
During the trek around Mount Kailash, we eat in small tea houses along the way. Although food is very simple, it can be sufficient for the duration of the trek. You can, of course, carry snacks with you. However, you don’t need to bring a lot of heavy items with you. For the night, we are staying in the guesthouses. Amenities are simple, and we recommend having a sleeping bag or at least a cover to use with provided blankets. There is no need to bring tents, air mattresses, or other camping gear with you unless you feel more comfortable staying in a tent. Therefore, most visitors carry just a day pack during the trek with only essentials. If you are planning to pack lightly, you can carry your daypack by yourself.
PORTER, HORSE OR YAK
However, if you are planning to bring more things than you can carry, you can hire help. Important to notice, that you can only let them carry things that you are not using during the daytime. Porters, horse men and yak men walk very fast. That means that you will only meet them at the end of the day’s trekking route. You will still need to carry a small day pack with things that you are planning to use during that day.
Another thing to note is that you hire them for all 3 days. Even if you cannot complete the trek and return back to Darchen on the first or second day, there are no refunds. Porters can carry up to 7-8 kg. If you hire a horse, you also have to pay for a horseman that comes with the horse. Similarly, you need to hire a yak and a yak man. Unlike horses, yaks don’t walk along and you need to hire at least 2 yaks at a time. This option is best for larger groups when you can hire several yaks and split the charge.
Prices to hire porters, horses and yaks (in Chinese yuan, all prices are per day, have to multiply by 3 for the entire trek):
- Porter: CNY 330 per day
- Horse: CNY 410 per day
- Horseman: CNY 380 per day
- Yak: CNY 340 per day (have to hire at least 2 yaks)
- Yak man: CNY 380 per day
Please, note, all these prices are set by the agency in Darchen and can change. There is only one official agency providing these services.
TREKKING TO TOUCH THE NORTH SIDE OF MOUNT KAILASH
Once you reach Dira Puk monastery, you will see the majestic view on the Kailash North face. Going between the mountains is a narrow path leading to Kailash. It is possible to trek to the foot of the mountain. Depending on your physical abilities, trek can take 2-4 hours one way. After that, you need to return to Dira Puk. Some people can complete this detour on the first day of trekking by going straight to the North face of Kailash instead of resting at Dira Puk. However, for most people, it is necessary to add one more day of trekking to visit the North face.
INNER KORA IN MOUNT KAILASH REGION
In addition to the main kora, there is a smaller inner kora going close to Mount Kailash. The inner kora is much shorter than the outer one, running about 30 km. Tibetans complete it in one day. However, it is a lot more difficult because it goes through high passes and steep cliffs. This route is more dangerous compared to the outer kora.
According to Tibetan beliefs, you can only walk along this route after you completed the main outer kora at least 12 times. There is a Gyang Drak monastery and a viewpoint on the inner kora route. However, at the present moment, this territory is closed for all visitors.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE THE TREK
Once you reach Darchen, carefully assess your physical condition. If you are not confident that you can carry all necessary things, it’s a great time to notify your guide who will help you to hire a porter, horse or yak to carry your load.
Since the first day of the trek is relatively easy with a mostly flat path, you can assess your ability to complete the trek. If you feel very tired during the first-day hike, and not able to continue, it might be best to return to Darchen. You can return back after some hours of hiking on the first day. Alternatively, you can reach Dira Puk guesthouse to rest there, and return to Darchen on the next day following an already familiar path. If you start trekking on the second day further towards Drolma La pass, it might be more difficult to return, because the road toward the high pass is not as easy as paths on the first day. There are no more roads and arranging evacuation is very difficult and costly.
IS TREKKING AROUND KAILASH THE ONLY OPTION
We often receive questions if it is possible to drive around Kailash in a car or fly around it on a helicopter. At the present moment, cars are driving from Darchen to the area around Dira Puk and also from the tea houses after Drolma la pass to Darchen. There is no road around the high pass. In addition, the use of these roads is limited, tourist cars cannot drive on these roads.
In addition, there are no helicopters flying around Mount Kailash and in the Himalayan region on the Tibet side. Therefore, if you wish to circle around Mount Kailash the only way to do it is to trek around the mountain.
CLIMBING MOUNT KAILASH
Although Mount Kailash is not the highest mountain in the region, it remains unclimbed. The reason for it is not in the difficulty of climbing it, but because Mount Kailash is a sacred mountain. That’s why climbing the mountain is considered to be disrespectful. In the 20th century, there were attempts to climb it, however, the climbers turned back before reaching the peak. At the present moment, no one can climb Mount Kailash.
Tour to Mount Kailash is impossible to imagine without visiting Manasarovar lake. This majestic sacred lake is within a short (less than an hour-long) drive to the South from Kailash. On a clear day, you can see Mount Kailash from the lake. However, it is not the only prominent mountain. Spectacular Gurla Mandata peak overlooks the lake. Tours to Mount Kailash usually visit Manasarovar lake first, to spend a night by the lake, rest and acclimatize before heading for a trek. There are simple guesthouses by the lake and hot spring baths nearby. Chiu Monastery is overlooking the West side of the lake. When we visit Chiu, you can get a great view of the lake and surrounding mountains from its terrace.
TOURS VISITING MOUNT KAILASH
15 DAYS MOUNT KAILASH GROUP TOUR
This classic 15 days group tour starts in Lhasa, where you spend the first 3 days exploing the capital and acclimatizing. From Lhasa, we drive to Shigatse visiting Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse monastery and Kumbum Stupa. After that, we reach Everest where we spend a night enjoying magnificent view. From Everest, we first drive to Manasarovar lake visa Saga. Finally, we reach Darchen and prepare for the 3 days long trek around Kailash. When we finish the trek, we return to Lhasa, making stops along the way to enjoy nature views and to visit Tashi Lhunpo mionastery.
12 DAYS MOUNT KAILASH WITHOUT TREKKING
This 12 days private tour follows the itinerary of the classic 15 days tour to Kailash, but excludes the strenuous 3 days trekking around the mountain. You will enjoy sightseeing in Lhasa, scenic ride to Everest, and views of untouched nature in Western Tibet.
17 DAYS MOUNT KAILASH AND GUGE KINGDOM
In addition to all places visited on the classic tour to Mount Kailash, we will visit the most Western part of Tibet – Guge Kingdom. After visiting Kailash, we continue journey to the West to the birthplace of ancient Guge Kingdom. You will visit ruins of the kingdom, Tholing and Tsaparang monasteries, and see the impressive moon-like landscape of the region with “stone forests” and muddy caves.