pilgrimage to the sacred land of
guru rinpoche & yeshe tsogyal in Central Tibet
Three-Day Mt Kailash circumambulation
June 23 - July 11, 2019 • 12 or 19-Day options
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Participants must be Vajrayana practitioners motivated to undertake pilgrimage as a spiritual practice for deepening their path. There is an online application process. Once an application is accepted, a deposit is requested, and in-depth resource materials and pre-trip advice become available through a login account and discussion forum. Here are the highlights, day by day:
Fly Chengdu to Lhasa
Chengdu to Lhasa is an unforgettable 55-minute flight that crosses the mountain ranges of eastern Tibet and the river gorges of the Yangtze, Mekong, and Salween rivers.
Arriving at the Gongkar airport just south of Lhasa, we will be greeted by our guide and driver. Then it’s a 45-minute scenic drive to Lhasa! As we cross the Kyichu river, we will immediately see the breathtaking Potala towering majestically over the modern city!
After checking-in to the Kyichu Hotel, we can have lunch, relax and start acclimatizing. Our hotel has a beautiful garden cafe and the restaurant serves American, Tibetan, and Nepalese cuisine.
A word of advice for today: Walk slowly! Drink gallons of water (literally) for the next few days.
The much-loved Barkhor is just a ten-minute walk from the hotel. It's so exciting to arrive and be in the heart of this sacred place of the gods!
Enjoy the rest of the day!
Lhasa: Jokhang & Ramoche Temples
Morning is free time. At your leisure, you can explore the neighborhood and the Barkhor, a pedestrian street and shopping area that encircles the Jokhang Temple. Locals and pilgrims from all over Tibet gather here for devotional practice, relaxing and socializing. Join in and circumambulate the Jokhang. Offer candles and incense and shop for Dharma articles.
After lunch, our guide will bring us inside the Jokhang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the spiritual heart of Lhasa and Tibetan Buddhism. The Jokhang is the most sacred of all temples because it houses a special Shakyamuni statue, known as the Jowo, believed to have been consecrated by Buddha Shakyamuni. The temple was built by Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal in the seventh century on an important geomantic site and has undergone continuous renovations through the centuries. Please learn about the Jokhang before the pilgrimage.
Later, we will meander over to the Ramoche Temple, the second most important temple in Lhasa. Built by Princess Wencheng, it is reputed to be her burial site that she divined as having a direct connection with the subterranean crystal palace of the water-dwelling spirits.
Our second night at the wonderful Kyichu Hotel!
Potala & Norbulingka or Drak Yerpa Caves
Today you can choose to visit the Potala and the Lukhang temple or go to the Drak Yerpa caves, just outside Lhasa. The morning is free. If you're feeling energetic, our guide will take you on the traditional circumambulation called the Lingkhor that encompasses the Potala Palace and other important temples in the area.
In the afternoon, our guide will take us into the Potala Palace, named after the mountain abode of Chenrezig, Buddha of Compassion. For centuries, the Palace served as the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas. Built in the 7th century and reconstructed by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century and many times since, it continues to tower over and bless the Place of the Gods (Lha-sa).
There are several buildings to visit, designated by colors—red, yellow and white. With thirteen levels and over 51,000 rooms and 200,000 images, the Potala is an invaluable repository of historical, cultural and spiritual significance & a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the late afternoon, we will visit the nearby Lukhang Temple located on an island behind the Potala. This is a small temple that contains a unique series of murals illustrating themes from esoteric yoga practices. Located in a park, you can also enjoy quality relaxation time.
Drak Yerpa, Caves of Mystical Realization, is a complex of about eighty caves. It is a sacred site of of Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal and a place of great scenic beauty. Great beings from many lineages practiced there such as the 80 siddhas of Yerpa and Lord Atisha.
This will be our third and last night at the Kyichu Hotel.
Tsetang & Samye
The city of Tsetang is the gateway to the historical Yarlung Valley, cradle of Tibetan civilization. The drive takes us back toward the airport and then follows a scenic highway along the southern bank of the Tsangpo Brahmaputra River, the highest river in the world.
We will stop in Tsetang to pick up our local permits and circumambulate the Tsechu Stupa which contains a crystal statue of the Buddha. We will lunch in Tsetang and then drive 45 km to reach the town of Samye on the north shore of the Tsangpo River.
After checking in to our hotel, there will be time to circumambulate the mandala complex. This takes about 30 minutes at a leisurely pace. You may also choose to hike the gently sloping Hepori Hill where Padmasambhava subdued antagonistic spirits. The small town of Samye is interesting to explore and we can relax in a friendly restaurant.
Our hotel (New Samye Monastery Hotel) is a stone's throw from Samye.
Dakini Day at Samye!
How fortunate to be in the holiest of places for Dakini Day!
Samye (Inconceivable) is the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet built in the 8th century. The architectural design models Mahayana cosmology with the main temple and peripheral temples representing Mt. Meru and the four continents. The original buildings have been re-constructed many times throughout the centuries. Today, there are four gates, four stupas, a central temple and eight satellite temples. In recent years, the grounds have been beautifully landscaped and it's truly a pure land!
Samye continues to be the repository of the highest quality sacred art in all of Tibet. It’s breathtaking! It’s a full day to visit the temples and stupas. Please study the history of Samye beforehand to get the most out of your visit. Also, good shopping at the Monastery Store and in the village.
In the late afternoon, we will find a good place for a Yeshe Tsogyal practice and feast offering in honor of Dakini Day.
Samye Monastery Hotel night two.
Chimphu Mountain Hermitage
From Samye, we will drive uphill to the base of Chimphu, the foremost site of Guru Rinpoche’s wisdom speech and secretly, the womb of Vajra Varahi. All the Dharma in Tibet was disseminated from Chimphu where Guru Rinpoche taught his Twenty-Five Disciples.
There is a beautiful nunnery at the base of the valley. From there, we will hike along well-defined paths, passing resident yogins and yoginis along the way who live in caves and simple constructions. We will see many historical sites such as King Trisong Detsen’s Vajrakilaya cave, Jigme Lingpa’s Flower Cave from where he has the vision of Longchenpa, and many others, too many to recount here!
Chimphu is where Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal took her first vows with Guru Rinpoche. She returned there many times throughout her life. There are several Tsogyal caves at Chimphu but the only accessible one is the southern cave where she spent twelve years in retreat. Then just twenty minutes from Tsogyal’s cave is Drakmar Keutsang where Guru Rinpoche bestowed the first empowerment of the Eight Logos to his twenty-five disciples. On the way down, we will circumambulate Longchenpa’s reliquary stupa commemorating where he passed away in 1365. The stupa has been recently gilded in gold!
Samye Monastery Hotel night three.
JUNE 29-JUNE30-JULY 1:
After an early breakfast, on the way to Tsogyal Latso (about 30 minutes), we will stop at the amazing Zurkhardo stupas built by Shantirakshita to commemorate the place King Trisong Detsen first welcomed Padmasambhava to Tibet.
Then we will arrive at Tsogyal Latso that is cradled in a valley that legend honors as the abode of Vajra Varahi and Saraswati. Tsogyal Latso is well known for Tsogyal's life-force lake or latso that spontaneously arose at the moment of her birth.
This is the most heartwarming part of our pilgrimage. Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo and the Jnanasukha Foundation sangha care for this sacred place of the enlightened feminine, supporting the nuns and the complex since 2009. There are sixteen nuns in residence and it is a joy to meet them and spend time together. This year, Lama Wangmo is again bringing a healthcare team to help the nuns.
Our time at Tsogyal Latso over these three days will be relaxed as we have the opportunity to do personal practice in t e new temple, enjoy the new murals, take walks and explore the sacred places such as Tsogyal’ breast milk springs, her still-thriving life-force tree, birthplace stupa, and more. To learn more about Tsogyal Latso, please visit this website.
Each evening, we will drive back to the Samye Monastery Hotel bringing out total stay there to six nights.
Dorje Drak, Mindrolling, Yamdrok Yutso Turquoise Lake & Gyangtse, New moon, total solar eclipse
Leaving Samye, we will drive along the north shore of the Tsangpo River, pass the turnoff to Tsogyal Latso and soon reach Thubten Dorje Drak Monastery, the home of the Northern Treasures (Jangter), one of the nine mother monasteries of the Nyingma. There is a newly constructed Copper-Colored Mountain style temple and the most exquisite views of the Tsangpo and Yarlung Valley. The main temple is has been undergoing renovation for the past few years. This year, it may be reopened.
After Dorje Drak, we will cross over to the southern side of the Tsangpo river and visit nearby Mindrolling. Mindroling was founded by Terdak Lingpa in 1670. The main buildings are the main temple where there are important extant images and murals, the Drubcho Sangak Podrang and the recently restored Kumbum Tongdrol Chenmo stupa. Mindrolling was home base for His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorje and Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche.
After lunch, we will turn back in the direction of Gongkar airport and drive along the exquisite highway to the sacred lake of Yamdrok Yutso that lies at 4,408 m/14,461 ft and is believed to be the life-force of the Tibetan nation. Stretching over an area of 754 km, its teal blue waters create the largest lake in southern Tibet. Surrounded by snow capped mountain ranges, the lake is fed by icy streams and inlets that flow down from the higher elevations during the warm summer months. Its curved pincer shape boasts nine islands, numerous bays and is home to several monasteries. At Gampa La Pass, on the winding road that leads to Yamdrok Yutso lake, we'll behold an unforgettable vista of shimmering turquoise waters with a backdrop of glaciers. Along the way, we will enjoy the wares of local vendors and take adorable photos with yaks and goats!
Gyangtse town is famous for having retained its rural Tibetan character. Here will overnight at the Yeti Hotel, a charming small hotel.
Shalu Complex, Shigatse
Today, continuing on to the city of Shigatse, we will visit Shalu founded in the 11th century.
Before leaving Gyangtse, we will visit the Kubum Stupa, a unique octagonal stupa of one hundred thousand deities known as Tibet’s Sistine Chapel. This stupa is one of Tibet's most outstanding artistic achievements. Built in the 15th century, the Kumbum or gomang—many doored—stupa is 35 m tall, with nine gates and nine stories and contains a total of 77 chapels. Built as a three-dimensional mandala representing the universe, its circle within a square design is meant to aid an individual on the path to enlightenment. Many of the statues were damaged during the Cultural Revolution but the main temple survives intact and contains important 14th century murals and images.
Shalu is a small complex that houses some of the finest 14th century murals that fuse Chinese, Mongol and Newari styles. It is the only temple in Tibet that contains a Prajnaparamita chapel believed to have been consecrated by Atisha around 1045 AD.
Shigatse is a big city with convenient banking and shopping. We will be staying at the 4* Tashi Choten Hotel.
Saga Town, Western Tibet
Rising early, we will bid farewell to those members of our group who are leaving Tibet today and then we will start the trip to Saga (278 mi).
Along the way, we will have spectacular views of Mount Shishapangma and the beautiful alpine Lake Pelkhu which is a bright turquoise all year round. This is also known as one of the best areas in all Tibet for wildlife.
After our day of travel, we will overnight at the comfortable Saga Hotel and shop for snacks and supplies.
Lake Manasarovar & Darchen
On the last leg of our journey into Far Western Tibet, we will we pass through nomadic lands graced with sand dunes, rocky mountains, and snow-capped peaks. We will drive 225 miles to Lake Manasarovar (Lake Conceived from the Mind of God), the world’s highest freshwater lake.
Located at the southern foot of Kailash, Manasarovar stretches 55 miles in perimeter and goes to 330 feet deep, covering a total of 120 sq. mi. The lake is often graced with an exceptional color that varies from crystal clear blue near the shores to a deep emerald green at the center. Revered as the epitome of purity, her waters are believed to have healing properties, physical and spiritual.
Resuming our journey, our final destination today is the small village of Darchen (15,009 feet above sea level) at the foot of Mt. Kailash. This is a bustling town with magnificent views, lots of pilgrims from all over the world and tons of excitement. Very exotic!
Hotels cannot be booked far in advance in Darchen but we will try for the 4* Himalaya Hotel.
Kailash Circumambulation Day 1
Mount Kailash is sacred to almost one-fifth of humankind. Serving as the watershed of South Asia, its magnificent peak lies near the source of the Indus, the Brahmaputra and the Ganges Rivers. Mount Kailash is an interfaith pilgrimage site shared by Buddhists, Hindus, Bonpos, and Jains.
Starting at 4,600 m / 15,000 ft. and reaching a high point of 5,500 m / 18,200 ft., the path around the sacred mountain will take three days. It is 52 km/32 mi. From Darchen, we will take a bus to Darboche. Those who have opted for porters or horses will meet their helpers and then we’re off! As we walk throughout the day, the face of Kailash will periodically appear on our right. The trail passes a famous stone piled with colorful prayer flags called Tarpoche. It is said Buddha Shakyamuni and 500 disciples flew here from India and that the Buddha left his footprint.
The Lha Chu (Divine River) flows through the valley and we will pass three mountains called The Pinnacles of Longevity—Amitayus, White Tara and Vijaya. Then, the trail becomes smooth and is known as the Saddle of Ling Gesar. Soon we will find ourselves in a grassy valley with marmots and rivulets of pure water and we will pass a rock associated with Mahakala. After 7.5 miles, we will arrive at an area known as Drira Puk Cave of the Female Yak Horns. It offers a spectacular view of the great north face of Kailash, a vertical sheer cliff consisting of jet black rock, and simple communal accommodations. Drira Puk is associated with Gotsangpa, a disciple of Milarepa. On our right is a mountain associated with Vajrapani, on the left a mountain associated with Avalokiteshvara and beyond, a mountain associated with Manjughosa—the three patron bodhisattvas of Tibet that embody power, compassion and wisdom.
Rest well tonight, for tomorrow it’s Dolma Pass, the climax of the three-day kora.
Kailash Circumambulation Day 2 —Dolma Pass
Today, we will ascend and cross over Dolma (Tara's) Pass, the most arduous but most rewarding part of the kora. Crossing this pass represents moving from a former life to a new one, having been purified by Tara's blessings. Every stone is considered to be permeated with the blessings of enlightened body, speech and mind.
In the middle of the pass is a large, cubic rock called Phawang Mebar, with a pyramid of stones supporting a flagpole of prayer flags. Also called Silway Tsel charnel ground or the place of death, pilgrims leave all kinds of personal possessions here to represent the renunciation of worldly attachments.
Above is a small cairn linked to Vajrayogini, the consort of Chakrasamvara who presides over the Mountain. One then continues to climb and take short rests, passing a small azure pool.
Finally, the summit is reached! Here, there is a large boulder into which the Twenty- One Taras are said to have dissolved when Gotsangpo journeyed here. This is the time and place for prayer, meditation, resting and looking for omens. Tibetans often leave momentos of themselves here.
Resuming our path, the trail gently descends into the fields of Dzu Trul Puk (Miracle Cave) where we will find another night's simple accommodations.
Kailash Circumambulation Day 3—Return to Darchen
In the morning, we will visit Milarepa's cave and then begin our final day of kora.
The trail winds gently downward toward Darchen and the circumambulation circuit is complete! Today’s walk is easy!
We will take a bus back to Darchen and enjoy a hot shower! Hotels cannot be booked far in advance, but we are trying for the 4* Himalaya Hotel.
Retracing Our Steps & Leaving Tibet
For the next three days, we will retrace our way back to Shigatse, staying once again at the Saga Hotel and the Tashi Choten Hotel.
These final days will be good time to digest the pilgrimage and the Kailash experience and soak in the extraordinary landscape that is Tibet.
On the last evening, we will have a group dinner, offer our gratitude and gratuities to our Tibetan hosts, and dedicate the merit of our pilgrimage!
In the morning we will depart Tibet from the Shigatse Peace airport, bid our farewells and the pilgrimage with Sangha Journeys will be completed.