Posts by Emily Yeh

Circumambulation of Mount Kailash

Posted by on Jan 17, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, Images | 1 comment

Circumambulation of Mount Kailash

Spread the News:Share Mount Kailash, or Gang Rinpoche (Gangs rin po che), is associated with Mt. Meru, the axis mundi or center of the world, and is thus considered one of the world’s most sacred mountains.  Four major rivers – the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, and Karnali – originate in the four cardinal directions nearby.     As such, it is a destination for pilgrimage and circumambulation for Tibetan Buddhists, Bonpos, Hindus, and Jains.       Tibetan Buddhists consider it a dwelling place of Demchog (Chakrasamvara) and for Hindus it is the abode of Lord Shiva. For Jains, it is the place where the first Tirthankara attained enlightenment, and for Bonpos, Mt Kailash is a nine-story swastika mountain that is the seat of spiritual power.     Moreover, the region of the mountain and nearby Lake Manasarovar is where Thonpa Sherab founded and disseminated Bon.         Located in western Tibet, near the contemporary borders of the PRC, Nepal, and India, the symmetrical cone-shaped Mount Kailash, at 6638 meters (21,778 feet), rises alone above the rugged landscape.       Tibetan pilgrims typically complete the 52-kilometer circumambulation route over the 5600-meter (18,500 feet) Dolma La pass in 15 hours, rising at 3am and finishing at 6pm.     Most do more than one circuit; we met quite a few groups of pilgrims who had done or were planning to complete 13 circumambulations.       One Bonpo pilgrim in his 50s, a former businessman who had renounced everything, had walked the circuit 800 times over five years and was planning to complete 1000 circumambulations altogether.  Still others complete the circuit doing full-body prostrations. Whereas Buddhists and Hindus circumambulate clockwise, Bonpo pilgrims circumambulate counter-clockwise.     At the time of our visit, most Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims we met were from Ngari prefecture, especially from Gerze, Gegye, and Tsochen counties.     We also met pilgrims from Nyingtri, Dechen (Yunnan) and Kyirong.  The Tibetan Bonpos we met were mainly from Bachen County in Nagchu and Dengchen County in Chamdo. Passing each other as they walked in opposite directions, they greeted each other with “blessings” (byin rlabs byed) or “Tsering!” (“long life,” a common greeting in Nagchu).       There is now a government agreement in place that allows Indian pilgrims to visit Kailash and Manasarovar. However, the quota to come directly from India, which requires a long trek, is very limited and so most Indian pilgrims instead fly through Kathmandu and visit through private tour operators. Upon arrival in Simikot, they take a 15-minute helicopter ride to the border (in contrast to our many-day walk) and then head directly for a ritual bath in the waters of Manasarovar.  Because of their sudden arrival at very high altitudes, twelve pilgrims had already died in 2016 when we visited.       Along the route, Tibetan pilgrims visit monasteries and other important sites. Among these are a number of footprints, including those of Milarepa, the Buddha, and Gyalwa Gotsangba (who ‘opened’ the circumambulation path in the thirteenth century), as well as numerous self-arisen forms, including a saddle of King Gesar, the Karmapa’s black hat, and prayer beads. Pilgrims touch the various manifestations with their own prayer beads or bow to touch their foreheads upon them.  In still other places pilgrims test their level of merit, sin, and fortune through physical encounters with the landscape.       Lake Manasarovar (ma pham g.yu mtsho, the Unconquerable Turquoise Lake) lies at 4590 meters and is located to the south of Mount Kailash. Pilgrims also circumambulate the lake, which is eighty-eight kilometers in...

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