Ultimate guide on how to plan a Kailash tour
1. Why plan a trip to Mount Kailash
Mount Kailash is located in Burang (Purang) County, it lies like a giant dragon on the vast plateau of the Ngari region in western Tibet. With a height of 6,638 meters (21,778 ft), it is the main peak of the Gangdise Mountains, which forms part of the Trans-Himalaya and Gangdise – Nyenchen Tanglha range. It is one of the most mysterious and sacred mountains in the world and recognized as the center of the universe by four religions: Bon, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Every year, numerous pilgrims from India, Nepal, Tibet make their trip to Mount Kailash for worship.
There’s a saying among the Buddhism believers: if you complete the circumambulation of Mount Kailash (Outer Kora) once, all the sins of your current life will be washed away; if you complete the kora 10 times, you will avoid the suffering of hell in the five hundred metempsychoses; if you complete the kora 108 times, you will become a Buddha.
Even for ordinary travelers, looking up and respecting Mount Kailash is absolutely to make you feel awe. The Kailash Kora itself is an interesting and challenging trek, not only the holy meaning for the pilgrims but also the splendid landscape along the way. It also offers a close glimpse into the mystical far-western Tibet Nagri area.
2. When to tour Mount Kailash
Best season to travel
The best time to make the trip to mountain Kailash and do its Kora trek is from middle May to early October, for relatively warmer and stable weather. From June to September is the high season for the Hindu pilgrims. Travelers should always prepare to have changeable weather here, snowfalls could be encountered on the Drolma-la pass (the highest pass of Kailash Kora) at any time, the temperature will often drop well below freezing at night, even during the summer months.
Another best period is to join the Saga Dawa festival during your Mount Kailash kora trip, to see a big prayer pole to be raised and witness thousands of pilgrims worshipping at the foot of Mount Kailash. The festival begins on the 1st day of the 4th Tibetan month (around May-June in the Gregorian calendar) to celebrate Shakyamuni Buddha’s birth, Nirvana (enlightenment), and Parinirvana (death). The festival’s main purpose is to pray for all the gurus’ long life, the spreading of the Buddha teachings, and all the sentient beings’ happiness. It’s highly recommended to book the tour 4 months prior to departure to join this festival, due to the high demand from the massed pilgrims.
Whole year climate
For every traveler to make a trip to the Mt. Kailash area, please be aware that due to the particularly harsh natural environment and climate in the winter in the Ngari Prefecture, Mount Kailash area will shut its door for all the visitors from mid-end October to next March. Below is the whole year climate for reference:
|AVG Max Temp.||-11℃/12℉||-10℃/14℉||-7℃/19℉||-2℃/28℉||5℃/41℉||11℃/52℉||15℃/59℉||14℃/57℉||10℃/50℉||2℃/36℉||-3℃/27℉||-7℃/19℉|
|AVG Min Temp.||-26℃/-15℉||-27℃/-17℉||-23℃/-9℉||-15℃/5℉||-8℃/18℉||-3℃/27℉||0℃/32℉||0℃/32℉||-4℃/25℉||-11℃/2℉||-17℃/1℉||-20℃/-4℉|
3. How to get China Visa & Tibet Permits to Mount Kailash
According to the Chinese immigration regulation, all foreign visitors who want to travel to Tibet are not only required to have a valid China visa but also the additional Tibet permits. For a trip to Mt. Kailash area, it takes about 25-30 days to obtain all the necessary permits, please be sure to have enough time before planning a trip there. Furthermore, all the foreign visitors need to take an organized tour accompanied by a licensed tour guide when touring in Tibet.
1) China Visa
Individual Chinese Visa: For most travelers who enter Tibet from mainland China, such as Beijing, Xining or Chengdu, etc. The individual Chinese visa is required to apply for in the travelers' countries' local Chinese embassy prior to departure. We will provide an invitation letter to help to obtain the visa after the booking confirmation from WindhorseTour.
China Group Visa: For those travelers going to Tibet from Nepal, ONLY the China group visa issued by the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu will be valid for them to travel to Tibet. The group visa process takes about 3-4 working days after submitting the original passports and application forms. A kind reminder that for those who already got the individual tourist visa or any other type (like the business, working, etc.), please go to Tibet from mainland China instead of Nepal, as the individual China visa will be canceled by the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu.
2) Tibet Permits to Mount Kailash
Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) Permit is a required entry document for foreign travelers to enter Tibet, no matter by flight or train to Lhasa, or overland trip from Kathmandu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Kashgar. Alien's Travel Permit is required to visit the 'unopened' areas in Tibet, including Mount Everest and Mount Kailash. It is issued by the Foreign Affairs Section of the Local Public Security Bureau (PSB). Military Permit is required if you are planning to travel to Ngari, Nyingchi, and Nagqu which are regarded as the military sensitive areas in Tibet. It is issued by the Military office in Lhasa. Foreign Affairs permit is also required for the trip to the Mount Kailash area.
4. The ways to get to Mount Kailash
Currently, there are 4 ways to get to Mount Kailash. Most travelers will choose to arrive in Lhasa to stay around 3 days to acclimatize the high altitude. The altitude of Lhasa is 3,650 meters, and the average altitude of the Kailash area and Ngari Prefecture is above 4,500M.
Travel Route 1
Lhasa[3,658m]⇀Gyantse[3,900m]⇀Shigatse[3,800m]⇀Shegar[4,150m]⇀EBC[5,250m]⇀Saga[4,600m]⇀ Lake Manasarovar[4,600m]⇀Darchen[4,670m]⇀ Mt. Kailash Kora[4,600m - 5,600m] by overland tour
This route, to reach Mount Kailash on day 7, is the most worthwhile and most popular choice. As it not only offers the travelers enough time to acclimate the high altitude but also covers the most famous sites in Tibet. Travelers could enter Lhasa from Xining by train; Chengdu/Beijing or other cities of mainland China by flight, or even from Kathmandu by flight. The tour’s ending point could be either Lhasa or Gyirong border for a further trip to Kathmandu, Nepal.
The highlights along the way: Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Lake Yamdrok-Tso, Gyantse Kumbum, Karola Glacier, Tashilhunpo Monastery, Gyatso La Pass, Gawula Pass, Rongbuk Monastery, Everest Base Camp, Peiku-Tso Lake, Lake Manasarovar, Mount Kailash Kora.
Travel Route 2
Kathmandu[1,400m]⇀Gyirong Border[3,900m]⇀Gyirong town[2,600m]⇀Saga[4,600m]⇀Darchen[4,670m]⇀Mt. Kailash Kora[4,600m - 5,600m] by overland tour
This route, to reach Mt. Kailash on day 4, is one of the most popular overland travel routes in Tibet. This route is a perfect combination for travelers who wish to visit both Nepal and Tibet, however, due to the high-altitude, it’s better to spend some days either in the high mountain area of Nepal or an extra day in Gyirong for good acclimation.
The highlights along the way: Peiku Tso Lake, Mount Shishapa (8020m), Paryang Grassland, Lake Manasarovar, Chiu Monastery, Mount Kailash Kora, Drolma-la Pass.
Travel Route 3
Lhasa[3,658m] ✈ Ngari Gunsa Airport[4,300m]⇀Darchen[4,670m]⇀ Mt. Kailash Kora[4,600m - 5,600m] by overland tour
This route, to reach Mt. Kailash on day 4, is the least popular way due to its expensive cost by adding the airfare. As there is only one flight daily from Lhasa to Ngari Gunsa Airport (then drive 4.5 hours from the airport to Darchen). Due to the large altitude difference, it requires high physical adaptability. However, it’s a good choice for travelers who have limited time. It is still strongly recommended to stay at least 2 days in Lhasa to acclimatize to the high altitude.
Travel Route 4
Kathmandu[1,400m]✈Hilsa[3,650m]⇀ Burang Border[4,755m]⇀ Darchen[4,670m]⇀ Mt. Kailash Kora[4,600m - 5,600m] by overland tour
For this travel route, visitors need to take the helicopter (it costs about 8,000 USD per helicopter for maximum 5 seats) from Kathmandu to Hilsa for around 3 hours, with a stopover in Nepalgunj for a refuel. Then drive to Burang border for about 1 hour, and continue 3 hours to Darchen. If you are well acclimatized, you can technically reach Mt. Kailash within 1 day. The Burang (Purang) Border is located in the southeast of the Ngari Prefecture in Tibet which is bordering with Nepal. Historically, it is the only way for Hindus to enter and worship Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar.
5. Kora Options
There are two optional routes for trekking in Mount Kailash: outer Kora and Inner Kora. The inner kora can be done within one day but the route is more complex and dangerous. Due to the uncertain safety issue, the local authorities have closed inner kora for tourists since 2018.
Therefore, Mount Kailash Kora generally refers to the outer Kora, which is one of the most important pilgrimages in Asia. Nestled in the foothills of Mt Kailash, the small town of Darchen is the starting/ending point of the Kora. The entire outer ring route is 52 kilometers, which can be completed in 3 days for regular travelers. Most travelers choose to take the sightseeing buses on the first and last days to save strength for about 9KM.
Below is the outline route for the 3 days Kailash Kora: start crossing a plain; head up a wide river valley; climb up and cross over the 5,630m Drolma-la pass; head down another river valley; and finally, cross the original plain to the starting point. It offers the gorgeous mountain scenery, some amazing travelers, kind local Tibetans, and the true believers.
3-day Outer Kora Route
Day 1: Darchen (4,600m) - Drirapuk Monastery (5,080m) 【6 hours / 20KM】
Day 2: Drirapuk Monastery (5,080m) - Dzultripuk Monastery (4,820m) 【7 - 8 hours / 18KM】
Day 3: Dzultripuk Monastery (4,820m) - Darchen (4,600m)【3 - 4 hours / 14KM】
6. What to Pack for Kailash trip
We always suggest the travelers pack lightly and travel easily. However, a trip to Mt. Kailash is not a short one, below are some tips for reference, especially during the Kailash Kora trek.
Due to large temperature differences, travelers should always dress in layers, and the clothing needs to be prepared to cope with the hot and cold environment at the same time. As the weather in the mountain area is always unpredictable, the snowfalls are available even in summer times, not to say June or September. Comfortable hiking boots, warm jacket, quick-dry underwear, warm hat, and gloves are necessary.
The restaurants along the overland trip to Kailash offer Tibetan/Sichuan cuisines. Along the Kora trek trails, there are some small Tibetan-owned tea houses (tents) covering the snacks, drinking water, instant noodles, etc. Besides, the monastery guesthouse can provide some simple fried rice, noodle soups for dinner, and breakfast. You could just bring along a water bottle and some easy-to-eat food like chocolate, cookies, beef jerky, etc.
In most days, hotels with private rooms (private bathrooms) are available. Even for the trekking start/endpoint Darchen, it has proper hotels that provide private rooms with private bathrooms, also shower rooms for tourists to take the hot showers before or after the Kora trek. While during the Kailash Kora trek, the lodging options are limited: either camping with tents or dormitory beds in the monastery guesthouse, there is no private bathroom for a shower. Although pillows and quilts will be provided, we strongly recommend bringing a thin sleeping bag or lining for a cleaner and more comfortable sleep.
Trekking poles and knee pads would help you to trek easier; the sunscreen, scarves, and sunglasses can protect you from sunburn as the Ultraviolet can be really strong along the whole trip; a thin lining for the sleeping bags if you worried about the cleanness; lightweight backpacks; an extra pair of shoes; personal medicine; etc.
7. Useful travel tips
- Do some adaptive exercises and take some supplement Vitamins and high altitude sickness medicine (Diamox is recommended) to adapt to over 5000M altitude area.
- The admission of Mount Kailash (Unicom ticket Mount Kailash + Lake Mansarovar) is 300 CNY/ Per person. It can be purchased separately, 150 CNY each. The ticket validity period is 6 days.
- Mt. Kailash kora sightseeing bus fee is 110 CNY/ Per person, from Darchen to Tarpoche - 60 CNY on Kora’s first day and from tea house to Darchen - 50 CNY on the last day of the kora trek.
- Mount Kailash Kora's starting/ending point - Darchen, the small town at the foothills of Mount Kailash, has the most of the tourists' restaurants and hotels/guesthouses in this region, it can basically meet the needs of tourists.
- The lodging during the Kailash Kora could be camping or a monastery guesthouse (dormitory bed).
- The small tea houses (tents) on the way to the Kailash Kora or guesthouses for overnight offer very basic noodle soups or fried rice etc., the type of food is very limited. You’d better prepare some easy-to-eat food and snacks (bread, cookies, chocolate, etc.) before the trekking starts.
- For those that want to soften the load during those 3 day Kailash Kora, there is an option of hiring a porter with pack animals (yaks/horses) in Darchen, your local guide in Tibet can help you to arrange it upon arrival. The cost (about 1,050 CNY per animal for 3 days and 1,150 CNY per animal keeper) will be charged for at least 3 days no matter if you take for 1 or 2 days. Please note yak can carry up to 30kg luggage and will only travel in pairs or herds. During the peak months of the Hindu pilgrim season (June to September), the horses/yaks would be in high demand.