Here’s our take on the ancient pilgrimage to Mount Kailash. For people with good health, the whole trip around the mountain is 52km and takes about 16hours. Starting at an elevation of 4700, the trek runs through a mountain pass at 5720m above sea level. Being a holy site for Buddhists, Jains and Hindus, there was an abundance of devout India people here as well. The only difference though, is they mostly ride yaks or horses for the trip, and they take 3 days. They come from low-altitude regions, and every year people die of altitude sickness as they are not well accustomed to the high-altitude…. talk about devotion.
A few Westerners also come for the trek, and they come decked out with full hiking gear full of food, sleeping systems and etc! It is said that, the less people carry, the less sins they have committed in their life. =P
We each carried a backpack with a small ration of chocolates, our trusty Feathered Friends bag, medicine and water. Being told that food was not an issue as there were supply tents scattered amongst the trail, we weren’t too afraid of starvation or thirst (Total regret on this..for Alan only).
The starting at noon, we entered the trekking site with a clear view of Mount Kailash overlooking us. Good start! We were all very excited, and were on a much faster than expected pace. The trek can be split into three sections, Start → 3.5hrs Zhire Monastery → 4.5hrs Zhuomala Mountain Pass Bottom → 6.5hrs Home. It took us the expected 3.5 hours to reach the monastery, including a 20min lunch break. Being 3:30pm, we thought we could push for the pass and save ourselves a ridiculously long trip the next day (Brilliant move!), we pushed for it. On flat land, Alan had no trouble leaving numerous Tibetans in his dust as they were taking a breather, while Jiajia kept a constant and steady pace in the back, which is advised for high-altitude hiking.
Arriving at Zhire Monastery at 5200m above sea level, this is where the story diverges. Altitude-sickness is said to pray on the athletic, the fat, and the males. Being an athletic fat male, Alan was having a ridiculously hard time doing the climb up from 5200m onwards, while Jiajia being the skinny unathletic female had absolutely NO problems with the altitude. In fact, she passed several groups of local Tibetans, and got many a thumbs-up. Before long, Jiajia was about 500m in front while Alan had to take a rest after every 10meters of ascent, taking in agonizing breathes of emptiness as the air is thin.
Alan’s Altitude Sickness:
The Zhuomala Mountain pass was definitely a pain. Other mountain passes are very obvious, you notice a sea of scriptures fluttering in the wind and that’s the peak, but this mountain likes to tease you with scriptures every 100m or so starting from 5400. So everytime you think you’re there, you look up and another treacherous walk awaits you. By the time we reached the actual mountain pass, Alan had eaten 3 snickers bars, a full Ritter sport pack, a bottle of medicinal-glucose (used to combat fatigue) and about 30 different pills for altitude-sickness, sore throat and cold-symptoms. This brew of mish-mash did not help, as he continued to experience fatigue, dizziness and breathlessness, all symptoms of altitude-sickness. It was so tough, if I spoke a sentence, I would pant like I just ran 10km.
For those who aren’t aware, here’s some info (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altitude_sickness), and at that moment many thoughts came to sudden pulmonary explosion, the unwanted sibling of wanderlust explosion, to the rapid deterioration of brain function. The only way to solve altitude-sickness is to descend quickly (which was impossible as that means I need to walk quickly), or to breathe oxygen. Being afraid of the low-frequency, high-severity occurances of DEATH, we brought along a bottle of oxygen to save my life. But it wasn’t until getting back down and recovering normal functionality, that I realized the whole 10minutes I sat there breathing ‘oxygen’, I didn’t even turn the stupid thing on!!!….. FML, but at least I didn’t die.
So as I barely escaped death, we managed to put up some prayer scriptures for our family before making our ascent down. Another ritual is to discard clothings (not happening, too cold), and to cut off a lock of your hair to signify a ‘rebirth’. The strangest part was, unlike the rest of the trail, THERE WERE NO SIGNS TO TELL YOU WERE AT THE TOP!?!? It’s like winning the race without knowing where the finish line is….? Not actually knowing if there was a place to stay, the locals tell us that “There is a place to live at the bottom of the mountain pass”, but I think we mentioned before the distance/time misjudgement by the locals. Jiajia continued her blistering pace downhill as I slowly inched my way down with my recently ‘oxygenated’ blood.
Thankfully, there WAS a set of tents at the bottom of the hill at 5200m again. Seriously, those 500m were the worst 500m ever. First world problems now include: Running water, electricity, toilet paper and OXYGEN.
We got into our tents, but it had several gaping holes which let in the blistering winds. There was no poop-stove to keep us warm, as they were all taken up by foreigners and locals. AND THE WORST PART?!?! We had to pay 60% higher than their warmer, more comfortable tents! W T F. And we couldn’t even get any warm water which is a staple in any place for guests, we had to PLEAD the owner to get us enough water to make cup noodles, and then we were left with fresh mountain water to drink at freezing cold temperatures… Swear to Mount Kailash, those locals were being racist to Han-chinese people….
Nonetheless, we busted out our lovely sleeping bags and slept from about 10pm til 8:30am, being woken up by the hail storm that was outside and inside. In our same tent were 4 other young trekkers, and they brought a hilarios but possibly useful device: A FLEA COLLAR. They heard the place was infested with fleas, so they brought along a doggy flea collar…haha! Anyways, it was time for bed Zzzzzz.