In September and October of 2009 Ven S. Dhammika made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the famous pilgrimage site of Mount Kailash in western Tibet.
Now Ven Dhammika is no ordinary pilgrim so when he went he studied up on the history and the folklore surrounding Kailash, and also its relevance to Buddhists and previous exhibitions to the site, and later he wrote a month’s worth of blogs on the subject.
Ven Dhammika has written some of the standard guides to Buddhist pilgrimage sites (Middle Land, Middle Way on India, Sacred Island on Sri Lanka), and earlier this year he published a small book on the subject, entitled Mount Kailash, A Pilgrim’s Companion.
The book was beautifully illustrated with photographs he took along the way, which made the vastness of Tibet and the remoteness of the pilgrimage come to life. He also wrote some fascinating blogs about it, and I remember this description vividly:
A few kilometers before Dirapuk Gompa it started to snow, first lightly but then quite heavily, although at least it was blowing from behind us. By the time we got to the monastery, our rest for the night, I at least, was freezing cold and utterly exhausted.
The thought of the next day’s march, the most arduous of the parikarma, was starting to fill me with foreboding. After several cups of tea and a cup of instant noodles I went to bed and fell asleep almost immediately.
When we awoke the next morning we found that it had been snowing all night. An icy wind was blowing, the yaks were covered with snow and visibility was reduced to a few hundred yards.
The view of Mt. Kailash from Dirapuk Gompa is the most spectacular on the whole of the parikarma but we could see nothing, not even the cliffs behind the monastery or the other side of the valley. Our whole visual world was white.
During breakfast (two cups of butter tea and a boiled egg) we discussed with our guide and other pilgrims the possibilities of continuing. If it stopped snowing soon it would probably be possible to keep going, even more grueling than it would be otherwise, but still possible.
If we continued and it kept snowing we could be snowed under or even end up in serious trouble. We agreed that we had to turn back.
With the wind and snow blowing in our faces, the plummeting temperature and all our energy sapped by the previous day’s march, the return journey strained my physical endurance almost to breaking point.
By the time we reached Chorten Kanayi I was finished. The physical exhaustion was compounded by disappointment of not having been able to complete the parikarma.
Now recently he gave me permission to reproduce the book he wrote about the site, with extra photographs on the Photo Dharma webiste, and it can be found on this page.
Ven Dhammika is an accomplished photographer and I have previously published some other photographs that he had taken in the Himalayas under the title: Himalayas, Tibet and Nepal.
Do have a look even if you have no intentions of going, the photography and writing bring the whole expedition to life.