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(This is from Steven Batchelor's Tibet Guide. If you want me to take down my except, Steven, please write me. I've put it up because the book is out of print (but pirated in Nepal) and because in the introduction the Dailai Lama urges people to visit Tibet.)
For most people, a trip to Western Tibet is virtually synonymous with a visit to Mount Kailash. The power of this strange, domed peak has gripped the imagination of the people of India and Tibet since time immemorial, with the result that it has long been one of Asia's most important (and remote) pilgrimage destinations. More recently, Mount Kailash's reputation as a sacred mountain as well as a place of natural beauty has begun to lure travelers and pilgrims from around the world. Beginning in 1984, when the Chinese authorities first opened Tibet to the outside world, Western visitors (the first since Lama Govinda in 1949) have begun to make their way into the area in trucks, land cruisers, and even on horseback and by foot. Today, it is still extremely difficult to reach the region, and the obstacles that people meet in trying to get here are frequently attributed to the sacred power of the mountain itself, which allows only those with sufficient spiritual preparation to gain a glimpse of its magical presence.
Mount Kailash is remarkable in that four of the largest rivers in Asia have their sources within 100 km (62 miles) of it: the Indus flowing to the north, the Brahmaputra to the east, the Sutiej to the west, and the Karnali (leading to the Ganges) to the south. As a mountain in this part of the world it is not particularly high, a mere 6,714 m (22,027 ft), yet it is striking in the way it rises above the surrounding range and remains perpetually snow-copped. The stunning image of this white peak against the clear blue sky helps to explain the mountain's name in Tibetan, Gang Rmpoche, or Jewel of Snow.
Traditional Buddhist cosmology has often connected Kailash with Mount Meru, the great mythological mountain that forms the axis of our world system. As the center of this world system, Mount Meru is often visualized surrounded by the various continents and adorned with the sun and moon and then offered to the buddhas and bodhisattvas as a mandala. in addition to Buddhists (who regard Kailash as the abode of Samvara), Hindus, Jains, and Bonpo practitioners all hold Mount Kailash to be sacred. Hindus most frequently see the mountain as the abode of Shiva and his divine entourage. A well-known Sanskrit lyrical poem from the fifth century, The Cloud Messenger by Kalidasa, pays tribute to the mountain and its surroundings through a message sent by an exiled denizen of Kailash to his wife via a passing cloud.
The Jains, whose own faith was founded at the time of the Buddha in India, regard Kailash as the place where the first Jain saint gained emancipation. Followers of the Bon tradition in Tibet worship the mountain as the spiritual center of the ancient country of Shang-shung and as the place where their founder, Shenrab, descended to the earth from the sky. Because of these and other religious associations, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Bon ascetics and pilgrims have been drawn to the mountain for thousands of years. Once they arrive, they gaze upon it, circumambulate it, and sometimes settle down to practice austerities and meditation. The eleventh-century Tibetan Buddhist saint Milarepa is said to have resided there for eleven years. Padmasambhava is also associated with the mountain, particularly the valley on the western side, where he stayed in a cave.
CIRCUMAMBULATION (KORA) OF KAILASH
It is the goal of every pilgrim to Kailash to walk at least once around the base of the sacred mountain. This act of circumambulation, or kora in Tibetan and parikrama in Sanskrit, is considered to hold great powers of purification for the pilgrim. Some say that by completing the route just once, a person can purify the effects of all the negative actions of the present lifetime. Of course, the degree of purification can be increased by further trips around the mountain, with the most merit accrued to those who perform prostrations along the entire length of the circumambulation route.
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