WESTERN TIBET AND THE MT. KAILASH AND LAKE MANASAROVAR PILGRIMAGE

WESTERN TIBET

null WESTERN TIBET is a region of desolate badlands and arid mountains. Centered around Ngari Prefecture, It is the home of Mt. Kailash, the 11th-century Guge kingdom and today is lightly inhabited. Web Site: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide

Ngari Prefecture is located in the western part of Southwest China's Tibet autonomous region, at the center of the Changtang Plateau on the northern part of the Tibetan Plateau. It begins at Zhamai Mountain, west of the Tanggula Mountains, in the east, bordering the Nagqu Prefecture, and stretches to the western section of the Himalayas in the west and southwest, bordering India and Nepal. It joins the middle section of the Kangdese Mountains, neighboring the Shigatse Prefecture's Zongba and Sagar counties, and ends on the southern side of the Kunlun Mountains in the north, neighboring Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The border totals 1,116 kilometers with 57 passageways linking the area to other places. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

Known as the "roof of the world's roof," Ngari covers a vast stretch of land and has a sparse population. It stretches 600 kilometers from east to west and measures 550 kilometers from north to south, covering a total area of 345,000 square km. Ngari has a total population of over 70,000, about 82 percent of which are peasants and herders. With a density of about 0.2 people per square km, Ngari is the largest prefecture in China in area, with the smallest population density.

The Ngari Prefecture is made up by seven counties: Burang, Gar, Ge'gyai, Gerze, Choqen, Zhada, and Rutog. Burang, Zhada, Gar, and Rutog, in the area's southwestern and middle parts, engage mainly in agriculture, supplemented by animal husbandry, while Choqen, Gerze, and Ge'gyai, in the east, engage purely in animal husbandry. Ngari is an undisturbed refuge for wild animals. Qiangtang National Nature Reserve is a protected area for h more than 150,000 animals, including Tibetan antelopes and black-necked cranes.

Xinjiang-Tibet Highway

Xinjiang -Tibet Highway, Route No 219 National Trunk Highway, starts from Yecheng county of Xinjiang and ends at Lhaze county of Shigatse Prefecture in Tibet. It runs 1,455 kilometers, winding its way among mountains and rivers. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

Construction of the highway began in March 1956 and finished October 6, 1957. It climbs over 10 soaring mountains, including the Kunlun and Gangdisi mountains, with the highest elevation reaching 5,433 meters. Most areas it crosses are 4,000-5,000 meters above the sea level. It then goes southbound along the north slope of the Himalayas and crosses deserted land in the west.

A spectacular view of the holy mountain Kailash and the holy lake Lake Manasarovar (Mampang Yumco) can be viewe from the road. Many famous attractions and historical sites are also seen. Numerous Tibetan antelopes and wild donkeys and occasionally wild yaks and wolves are seen.

Xinjiang-Tibet Highway is the principal thoroughfare for Ngari Prefecture's and also an important defense trunk highway. It plays a major part in the economic development of Ngari, maintaining social stability, improving people's life and consolidating the southwest frontier defense.

Archaeologists Uncover Branch of the Silk Road in Tibet

In 2016, scientists announced that evidence from a high-altitude tomb that suggests the Silk Road went through Tibet. Jane Qiu wrote in Scientific American: “Discovered in 2005 by monks, the 1,800-year-old tomb sits 4.3 kilometers above sea level in the Ngari district of Tibet. When excavations began in 2012, the research team examining the site was surprised to find a large number of quintessential Chinese goods inside. The haul lends itself to the idea that merchants were traveling from China to Tibet along a branch of the Silk Road that had been lost to history. [Sources: Jane Qiu, Scientific American, April 1, 2016; Source: “Earliest Tea as Evidence for One Branch of the Silk Road Across the Tibetan Plateau," by Houyuan Lu et Al., in Scientific Reports, Vol. 6, Article No. 18955; January 7, 2016; Map by Mapping Specialists \=\]

““The findings are astonishing," says Houyuan Lu, an archaeobotanist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geology and Geophysics in Beijing. Among other artifacts, archaeologists unearthed exquisite pieces of silk with woven Chinese characters wang hou (meaning “king” and “princes”), a mask made of pure gold, and ceramic and bronze vessels. \=\

“They also were taken aback by what looked like tea buds. The earliest documentation of tea in Tibet dates to the seventh century A.D., but these buds would be 400 to 500 years older. To confirm the identification, Lu and his colleagues analyzed the chemical components of the samples and detected ample amounts of caffeine and theanine, a type of amino acid abundant in tea. Moreover, the chemical fingerprints of the tea residues were similar to those of tea found in the tomb of a Chinese emperor of the Han Dynasty dated to 2,100 years ago, and both could be traced to tea varieties grown in Yunnan in southern China. “This strongly suggests that the tea [found in the Tibetan tomb] came from China," Lu says. The findings were recently published in Scientific Reports.

“Such early contacts between Tibet and China “point to a high-altitude component of the Silk Road in Tibet that has been largely neglected," says Martin Jones, an archaeobotanist at the University of Cambridge. The evidence contributes to the emerging picture that the Silk Road—which the Ottoman Empire closed off in the 15th century—was a highly three'dimensional network that not only traversed vast linear distances but also scaled tall mountains. \=\

“Other studies, too, have documented signs of trade along mountain trails in Asia from around 3000 B.C."routes now known as the Inner Asia Mountain Corridors. “This suggests that mountains are not barriers," says Rowan Flad, an archaeologist at Harvard University. “They can be effective conduits for the exchange of cultures, ideas and technologies."“ \=\

Gyirong

Gyirong (Tibet-Nepal border, 43 kilometers south of Zongga, accessible from the Xinjiang -Tibet Highway) is a small town whose name means "Happiness Town" in Tibetan. Gyirong received its nickname in the eighth century by a visitor from India. Located in the border area of China and Nepal, it has a mild climate which allows green vegetation to grow. Besides the weather, the abundant culture heritage and natural beauty, such as Mt. Yangrankangri and Mt. Langbokangri, make this place worth visiting.

Gyirong also has conserved many famous temples, such as the Paba Temple and the Chagadasuo Temple. The Tibetan Buddhist monastery there has stone walls, leaky roofs and 13th century murals. The murals weren't photographed for the first time in the mid 1990s.

Shishapangma (five kilometers from the Nepal border) is the 14th highest mountain in the world at 8,027 meters (26,335 ft) above sea level. Also called Gosainthān, it was the last 8,000 meter peak to be climbed, due to its location entirely within Tibet and the restrictions on visits by foreign travelers to the region imposed by the Chinese government. The famous American mountain climber Alex Lowe died in a massive avalanche while trying to climb it. Many other mountaineers have died on it slopes.

Sacred Mountains and Lakes of Western Tibet

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Prostrating pilgrims
Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes of Tibet (1,600 kilometers west of Lhasa) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Located in Burang County, Ngari Prefecture of Tibet Autonomous Region, at an elevation of over 4,500 meters, Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes is adjacent to Zanda County, Gar County and Gya'gya County, bordering on India and Nepal. ‘Two peaks perching to the north and south, two lakes reflecting with each other in the east and west’ describes the basic natural landscape features of the property, comprising a fairly compact geomorphology unit of ‘two mountains with two lakes in between’, also resulting in unique landscape composed of glaciers, lakes, wetlands and grasslands in this region. ‘Two mountains’ means the Sacred Mountain of Gang Rinpoche (Mount Kailash) )and the Goddess Peak of Naimona'nyi (7,694m), and ‘two lakes’ refers to the Holy Lake of Manasarovar and the Ghost Lake of Lhanag-tso. Unique natural environment has bred particular and rich religions and cultures, which is of world-class [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“From natural perspective, the landform features of Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes have recorded the comprehensive progress of endogenetic force of the collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate and exogenic force of glacier and running water. The Gangdisê Mountains, of which Mount Kailash is the main peak, are distributed in the direction of NW-SE, parallel with the Himalayas, of which Naimona'nyi is one of the peaks. It is faulted basin in between, with several groups of lakes scattered, and the group including Lake Manasarovar and Lhanag-tso Lake is one of them. As the main peak of Gangdisê Mountains, Mount Kailash is a pyramidal horn which is formed from the famous ‘Kailash conglomerate’ under the uplift effect of ‘Karakorum Fault’ and the erosion of glacier, grand and vigorous. Gaint U-shaped valleys formed by Quaternary glaciation are distributed around the pyramidal horn of Mount Kailash, dislocated by ‘Karakorum Fault’, forming beheaded valley/betrunk gully, with moraines, gullies and alluvial fans widespread at mountain foot.

“Mount Kailash is the main peak of Gangdisê Mountains, at an elevation of over 6,638 meters, and Lake Manasarovar, located to south of Mount Kailash, is the lake with the highest transparency in China. Snow mountain and bright lake constitute a magnificent plateau landscape under the blue sky and white clouds, which represents the typical natural landscape features of plateau regions. The landform of‘two mountains with two lakes in between’ on the plateau at such high altitudes is also unique worldwide. Diversification of religious beliefs has added a solemn and mysterious color for Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes. The wonderful fusion of nature and human embodies the unparalleled aesthetic value of Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes. Location: Burang County, Ngari Prefecture of Tibet Autonomous Region, Coordinates:N31 11 45.53 E81 22 35.65

Mt. Kailash

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Kalais from a distance
MT. Kailash is a 22,028-foot-high (6,714-meter-high) pyramid of ice and rock and the highest peak in the Kailash Range, a group of sacred mountains north of main Himalayan range and the source for three sacred rivers-the Indus, the Brahmaputra and Sutleh. Mt. Kailash is considered to be the center of the universe to Hindus and Buddhists, who regard the mountain an earthly image of the heavenly peak, Mt. Meru. Hindus regard it as the paradise home of Shiva, one of their most important Hindu gods. Tibetan Buddhists believe the 11th-century poet and mystic Milarepa was carried to the peak on the rays of the morning sun.

According to ancient belief, the Ganges descended from Mount Kailash to a spring called Chlimikthungtool, where it was said the sand was composed of emeralds and cat's eyes and people who drank the water became as strong as horses. From there four great rivers---the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Indus and Sutleh emerged in pipes in Lake Manasarovar and after circling Mount Kailash and the lake seven times began flowing to the east, south, west and north.

No person has ever climbed Mt. Kailash. In the late 1990s, Beijing gave permission to a Spanish expedition to make the first assault on the summit. Tibetans and others were outraged by such an overt political decision by Beijing and the possibility of the sacrilegious act to Buddhists and Hindus. In the end, the Spanish expedition didn't make the climb. The famous climber Reinhold Messner was invited to climb it in the mid-1980s. He refused. Web Site: Wikipedia Wikipedia Sacred Sites Sacred Sites Summit Post Summit Post

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Mount Kailash, called ‘Handle of stone mill’ by local Tibetan people, looks like ‘Pyramid’ with four symmetric sides, and its shape is totally different from the surrounding mountain peaks. Its famous symbol of Buddhist swastika, formed by a vertical giant glacial valley and a lateral stratum, can be observed from the south. Though Mount Kailash is not the highest mountain in the region, it is the unique mountain peak which is snow-capped all year round. Wreathed by a sea of clouds and fog, it looks magnificent, unconquerable and mysterious under sunshine.” [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

Pilgrimage Around Mt. Kailash

Every year, thousands of pilgrims from all over the world gather there to walk around Kailash for worship.The 33-mile trek around Mount Kailash is one of the holiest acts for Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Bonpos. Pilgrims from all four religions do the trek. Tibetan Buddhists believe that one trek around the mountain cleanses one of his or her sins and 108 circuits (an auspicious number to Tibetan Buddhists) will lead to nirvana in this life.

The complete circumambulation of the mountains is known as the kora. Most of the pilgrims follow the Buddhist custom and walk clockwise around the mountain. A few pilgrims walk counterclockwise. They are mostly followers of the animist Bon religion. The main pilgrimage season is in May. Many of them prostrate themselves at regular intervals. Along the route are discarded clothing and drops of blood left by pilgrims who cover the distance on their knees.

Those who prostrate themselves, take one step, make a Tibetan prayer gesture, raise their hands in prayer, and lay down on the ground, their arms extended in front of them. Then they stand up and place their fee where their fingertips had just touched and repeat the process again. Those that do this often wear knee pads, aprons and canvas shoes on their hands and take two three weeks to complete the journey.

Darchen is settlement at the base of Mount Kailash where people begin the kora, the pilgrimage trek around the mountain. It is a rough town, often seeming like it is more full of hustlers than pilgrims. In the town are some guest houses with camp beds in narrow concrete rooms and cots for beds. In the high pilgrimage season some tents are erected to absorb the crowds.

Foreigners are usually assigned to an area separated from the other areas. They stay in tents. There is a dining tent and toilet tent. Hawkers and vendors sell all kinds of food and religious items. Darchen sits at about 15,000 feet. Getting There : Darchen is reached by a four-or five'day jeep drive from Lhasa. In many ways it almost easier to get there from Kathmandu, if that can be arranged. Web Site : Travel China Guide (click attractions) Travel China Guide

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Mt. Kailas

Trek Around Mt. Kailash

Besides the pilgrims, the mountain also attracts millions of ordinary tourists. Hiking in the area allows you to experience the breathtaking scenery and witness local customs and sacred culture. It takes three days to walk around the mountain. You generally a special permit to visit Tibet and Mt. Kailash and have to do the trip with the help of a travell agency. Bring suitable clothing and if you are picky, your own food. Travel Information: Best time to visit: June to September; Admission: free

The trek around Mt. Kailash involves a climb of 4,920 feet. Most Westerns do the trek in 2½ days and often hire pilgrims to carry some of their gear. The first day out of Danchen involves a six-hour hike in a deep valley through walls of red rock.. The official beginning is marked by cairn of stones a couple miles out of Darchen. Along the way are yak skulls, cairns, numerous sites associated with deities, spirits and famous lamas, and great views of Mt. Kailash, barren peaks and huge rock formations.

At Tarboche there is a wooden pole smothered in prayer flags, white scarves. Some pilgrims gather around the pole to dance and sing. The pole is usually raised during the Saga Dawa festival in May or June. Nearby is a sky burial site and small walk-through stupa-like structure called Kangnyi. Bonpos leave behind ram's heads and braided tails here.

On the other side of the river Lha Chu is Choku Gompa, one of three ancient monasteries on the pilgrimage route destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but later rebuilt. Inside a shrine is an alabaster statue of a lama flanked by elephant tusks. Many people camp by the river. On the other side of Lha Chun is a waterfall and fine view of a slightly concave face of Mt. Kailash and other interesting peaks. The second major monastery, Dryra Phuk contains a cave with an image of a female yak.

The highest pass on the pilgrimage route is 18,600-foot-high Dolma La. Trekkers usually cross this on the second day. It takes about four hours to reach the pass and often is necessary to negotiate through patches of snow and ice and glacier-deposited boulders. Pilgrims tie prayer flags to cairns and shout “Lha Gyalo! " ("Victory to the Gods!") when they reach the pass. Some cut off locks of their hair and leave them as offerings.

Below the pass trekkers descend eight hours through a long valley and spend the night at a camp within shelters made of mud brick. Along the way they pass Zutrul Phuk monastery, which contains a sacred statue of Milarepa and an imprint of his hand in the ceiling. The next day trekkers return to Danchen.

Pilgrims and Westerners alike spend the night in small guesthouses at monasteries spaced along the route. The "beds" are rough wooden planks, sometimes covered by dirty cotton mattresses. Permits are needed to visit Mount Kailash. Travel agencies usually sell them. During the pilgrimage season, the roads to Mt. Kailash are filled with pilgrims trying to hitch rides. Buddhist truck drivers feel they will earn merit if the give the pilgrims a lift. To the south of the mountain are two beautiful lakes which are also considered sacred: the crescent-shaped Rakas Tal is a symbol of night, and Lake Manasarovar.

Naimona'nyi

Naimona'nyi (roughly across Lake Manasarovar from Mount Kailash) is the highest peak of the Nalakankar Himal, a small subrange of the Himalaya. Also called Gurla Mandhata and Nemo Nani, it is is named after king Mandhata of suryavansha of Ikshvaku dynasty. It is notable for being a very high mountain well within the Tibetan Plateau (most peaks of similar height - except notably Shishapangma, the world's 14th highest peak - lie nearer to or outside the edge of the Plateau) and relatively far away from other peaks of height greater than 7500 meters.

Naimona'nyi is the highest mountain in southwestern Tibet and the 34th highest in the world. It is 7,694 meters (25,242 feet) high. J. Madeleine Nash wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Even from the top of a 16,000-foot pass, Tibet's Naimona'nyi looks formidable, and the closer we get to it, the larger it looms, until, finally, its ice-glazed face disappears behind the steep, rock-strewn ridge we have yet to climb.” The Tibetan name, Naimona'nyi, is said to come from naimo ("herbal medicine"), na ("black") and nyi ("heaped-up slabs"), giving "the mountain of heaped-up slabs of black herbal medicine.”

Because of its nearness Lake Manasarovar from Mount Kailash, Naimona'nyi is regarded as a sccred peak and is sometimes called Goddess Peak. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Naimona'nyi Peak is a small subrange of the west Himalayas, where the Himalayas and Gangdisê Mountains are so close that Naimona'nyi Peak sits roughly across Lake Manasarovar from the Mount Kailash. Glaciated peaks and snow-capped ridges form its east and west wings, which constitute a long wall of ice and snow, standing in the Southern margin of Tibetan Plateau. Both sides of mountain peaks of Naimona'nyi Peak are relatively low and away from the lake, protruding its majesty and magnificence. The sedimentary wide valley by glaciers, running water and lakes between Mount Kailash and Naimona'nyi Peak has developed large area of Alpine Meadow, with abundant water, meadows, and marshlands. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

Lake Manasarovar

Lake Manasarovar (20 kilometers southeast of Kailash, 90 minutes by jeep from Darchen) has 90 kilometer circumference and a lovely turquoise color. Believed to contain the powers of the sun, Lake Manasarovar is the highest fresh water lake in the world (14,950 feet). In the distance you can see 22,028-foot-high Mount Kailash. Visitors often stop at Chiu Gomba, a small monastery perched on a craggy knoll above the plain.

The lake is sacred and many pilgrims circles it in a clockwise fashion as they do with Mount Kailash. There are no hotels, no guesthouses, no building in the shore of the lake (1996). Lake Manasarovar was described by Swedish explorer Sven Hedin a century ago as "an enormous turquoise lake embedded between two of the finest and most famous mountain giants of the world," Kailash and Naimona'nyi. This stunning tableau, about 10 miles from Nepal and 20 miles from India, is among the world's most sacred landscapes. According to Hindu and Buddhist belief, this is the center of the universe, and four great rivers are said to flow through subterranean passages. This is figuratively true: four of Asia's most important waterways---the Indus, the Sutlej, the Brahmaputra and the Ganges---are fed by the snow and ice fields of this mountainous region.

Manasarovar Lake sits at an elevation of 4,588 meters and covers 400 square kilometers and has a maximum depth of 70 meters. The lake derives most of its water from melting snow in local mountainss. Offset by blue skies and white clouds, it is a beautiful sight. The water is transparent, tranquil and boundless. Blue waves roll softly across the lake, and distant mountains are seen indistinctly around it. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]

Manasarovar Lake is recognized as a holy site by various religions and is also one of the highest freshwater lakes in the world. Manasarovar in Tibetan means the "eternal and invincible jade lake," and was named to mark the victory of Buddhism over the local Bon Religion in the 11th century. It called "the king of holy lakes" and is as holy and famous as the holy mountain of Kailash.

According to Tibetan Buddhism, the Guangcai Dragon King Palace lies at the bottom of the lake. In front of the palace is Tsampo Zhaxi, which is a holy tree sending out light as the source of happiness on the earth. Indian legend says the lake to be a place where Siva and his wife Parvati, daughter of the king of the Himalayas, bathed. In Buddhist scriptures, the lake named the "mother of the rivers in the world". Xuan Zang (600-664), the eminent Tang-era Chinese monk, described Manasarovar Lake in his book Records of Western Travels as "a jade pond in west."

There are eight monasteries surrounding the lake. Gyiwu Monastery and Curgu Monastery are the best known of them. The area surrounding Curgu Monastery is respected as a holy and pure bathing site. Best time to go: From July to August

Ecosystem and Geology of the Lakes of Western Tibet

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes, where Holy Lake of Manasarovar (an interior lake with the largest reserves of freshwater at a relatively high elevation, also the most representative lake wetland in Tibetan Plateau), the source of four great rivers in Asia, and the Ghost Lake of Lhanag-tso are distributed, is also the important demarcation point of the internal and external water system in Tibet. Maquan River flows eastwards, developing into the Yalu Tsangpo River, the longest river of Tibet, and then flows into Indian, called the Brahmaputra River; Xiangquan River is called Sutlej River when it flows into India; Shiquan River flows northwards, as a major tributary of Indus River; Majia Tsangpo River is the upstream of the Karnali River, a tributary of the River Ganga, when it flows into India. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“To some extent, the influence of sacred mountains and lakes on surrounding regions is propagated by the flowing around of the four rivers which originate from here. At the same time, typical plateau wetland ecosystems are still kept in the park, and precious plateau biological communities are distributed around the lakes, with abundant and valuable wild lives living here. Distinctive characteristics of geology and landform, combined with ecological diversity, have endowed it outstanding scientific and aesthetic value.

“Manasarovar Wetland Nature Reserve mainly protect the plateau lake ecosystem, as well as its biodiversity and rare animals. It represents a high level of protection both in China and around the world concerning the comprehensive evaluation about protection area, wetland type, ecosystem biodiversity and altitude and other aspects. The area is rich in wild plants resources such as river wetlands, plateau marsh vegetation, community of Kobresia, which are important habitats of dozens of national first-grade and second-grade protected animals. There are 100 species of vertebrate animals (7 species of fish, 1 species of amphibians, 2 species of reptiles, 65 species of birds, 25 species of mammals and 25 species of mammals. The number of passerine species is as high as 10 families and 26 species, and that of Falconiformes is 10). It is also one of the main corridors for the migration of rare wild animals such as Tibetan antelope and wild yak to the Tibetan Himalayas. From perspectives of both scientific research and conservation cultivation, Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes is a habitat for valuable species that of great Outstanding Universal Value.

Spiritual Meaning of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: From cultural perspective,Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar are regarded as Sacred Mountain and Holy Lake by Native Bon of Tibet, ancient Jain, Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. Mount Kailash is a sacred mountain which is universally acknowledged and mentioned by a lot of important writings such as the Indian epic poem of Ramayana, Tibetan historical records of Legends of Gangdisê Mountains and Seas, Puranas and Buddhist work of Great Tang Records on the Western Regions and so on. It is held to be the seat of Olmo Lung Ring of Bon by a lot of scholars, which is both the origin and object of worship as well as spiritual home for Bon. It is also the site where the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabhadeva, attained Nirvana. According to Hinduism, it is the place that Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, resides in. It is also believed to be the Mount Meru, the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes, by a great many Tibetan Buddhists. Many eminent Monks have undertaken Sādhana beside the Lake Manasarovar, giving initiations and consecrations for it. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“The severe natural environment of Tibetan Plateau has made the Tibetans believe in "all creatures have spirits and they share the same nature with humankind ". Influenced by this belief, the layout of Tibetan architectures can be flexible according to the surroundings, demonstrating the harmonious coexistence between human and nature. There are eight monasteries around Lake Manasarovar: Sewa Lung Gompa of Drikung Kagyu School in the east, Nye-go Gompa of Sakya School in the southeast, Thrue-go Gompa of Gelug School in the south, Go Tsug Gompa of Bhutan Kagyu School in the southwest, Ja-kyib Gompa built based on the Sādhana caves of five hundred arhats in the Northwest, Jiwu Gompa in the west, Lang-na Gompa of Bhutan Kagyu School in the north, Bon Ri Gompa in the northeast. The buildings in the Gompas are solemn and sacred, setting off with the landscape of mountains and lakes, and constituting unique interpretation of the relationship between human and environment.

“The religious worship of the sacred mountains and lakes dates back to around 1000 B.C. It is also regarded as a sacred place by Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon and ancient Jainism, and the tradition of circumambulating Mount Kailash on foot is still kept as a solemn and sacred religious ceremony. In addition, the Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar have been recorded as sacred mountain and lake in many religious classics, such as the Indian epic poem of Ramayana, Tibetan historical records of Legends of Gangdisê Mountains and Seas, Puranas, Buddhist writings of Great Tang Records on the Western Region’. Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes not only associates with religious beliefs directly, but act almost as the carrier of beliefs itself.

Cultural Importance of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Ngari Prefecture, where Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes is located in, is the convergence zone of diversified cultures from ancient times, and it has also produced ‘Zhang Zhung civilization’, which is not only the root of ancient Tibetan Plateau civilizations, what is more, it is one of the origins of Chinese multi-cultures. As the cradle of ‘Zhang Zhung civilization’, Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes has witnessed its generation, development, evolution and decline in the process of communication with other civilizations. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes is the cradle of ‘Zhang Zhung civilization’ and native Bon of Tibet. Although Bon and the Zhang Zhung civilization gradually declined along with the development of history, its impact on Tibetan Buddhism can hardly be underestimated. As a sacred place for many religions, Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes attracts both domestic and foreign believers all the year round and carries their spiritual beliefs. The tradition of circumambulating Mount Kailash on foot has continued since its very beginning and thus making Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes the witness of the development of a variety of religions and cultures.

Furthermore, Ngari Prefecture is located on the key communication routes between northern India, where Buddhism is prevailing, and Tibetan Empire, and it is the vital region for the spread of Buddhism culture through the ages. For its unique religious status, Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes has witnessed the process of mutual exclusion, influence and penetration between Bon and Tibetan Buddhism. It is said that the grand contest of the 11th century between them happened by Lake Manasarovar, ending up with the victory of Tibetan Buddhism. The four great Gompas in four directions of Mount Kailash, as well as the four holy bath doors and eight grand Gompas in four directions of Lake Manasarovar, have recorded the historical operation process of different religions and sects, and it is a powerful testimony about mutual exclution as well as promotive effects between different religions and cultures. Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes, together with the magnificent religious buildings, not only reflects the Tibetan customs and cultures, but also bears incomparable religious significance, and it is an important manifestation of Outstanding Universal Value.

Geology of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Scenic and historic area of Sacred Mountains and Lakes has recorded the evolution process of the Tibetan Plateau, which is of great academic value. Mount Kailash, which is composed of ‘Kailash conglomerate’, provides evidence of collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate revealed by geological studies, and offers records of the whole process, which is also considered as the ‘window’ and ‘key’ for the study of the evolution of Tibetan Plateau. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“The ‘Karakorum Fault’ between Mount Kailash and Naimona'nyi Peak extends from the Kongur Tagh (the extreme northwestern of the Fault) in Tashkurgan Town of Xinjiang to the southeast of Mount Kailash for 1,200 kilometers, is the most active boundary fault in the southwest of the Tibetan Plateau, which has a far-reaching impact on the landforms within the region, such as the uplift of Mount Kailash and Naimona'nyi Peak, and the depression of Lake Manasarovar and Lhanag-tso Lake is also controlled by the Fault.

“The extensive lacustrine strata and fluvial stratigraphy in the valley are rich in the tectonic, climatic and biological information of the Cenozoic Plateau Uplift, which has attracted scholars all over the world. Such as the fossil horses found in Moincêr Village, who lived in 126,000 years ago. Nahumanni peak is the most typical ‘detachment’ of the Tibetan Plateau, which is identified as the key point for geologists to study the uplift of the Himalayas. It is also one of the largest concentrated areas of the Himalayan modern glaciers in the southwest of Tibet, with typical Quaternary glacial landforms and complete glacier series. It is currently the oldest mountain with the most complete glacier series on the plateau, which are of great significance for the study of the ancient climate in Tibetan Plateau.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site; Beifan.com; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020


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