What’s Kora in Tibet?
The kora in Tibet is one of the most spiritual things one can do in Tibetan Buddhism. The word “kora” is a transliteration of the actual Tibetan word, which means “circumambulation” or “revolution”, and which denotes the circling of a religious site, such as a mountain, lake, or temple. The kora is done both as a pilgrimage and meditative practice in Tibetan Buddhism, and is the main part of a ritual pilgrimage. Tibetans believe that the performing of the kora empowers the pilgrim, who receives merits for their devotion as part of their path towards enlightenment. In Tibetan Buddhism, the kora is done in a clockwise direction around the site, while the Bonpo perform their kora in an anti-clockwise direction. As a major Buddhist region, Tibet has hundreds of kora sites that are used daily by pilgrims, of which several are noted to be some of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism.
Downtown Lhasa Koras – How to Plan Lhasa Kora Tour
Lhasa City has a number of kora routes for the devout Buddhist to perform, and none is more important than the famed Barkhor Kora, which circumambulates around the sacred Jokhang Temple. Starting at the gates, the kora route takes you around the five streets of Barkhor Street, with prayer wheels and burning juniper branches along the whole route. A devout kora for pilgrims, this is the most important kora in Tibet, and culminates with prayers inside the temple at the 2,500-year-old Jowo Rinpoche.
The Nangkhor kora actually runs around the inside of the Jokhang Temple, the spiritual heart of Tibet, and follows a circuit around the sacred Buddha Hall where the “Jowo Rinpoche” statue of Sakyamuni Buddha sits. The route contains around 380 prayer wheels, and is believed to be the holiest kora in the world, because of the close proximity to one of the world’s oldest statues of Buddha.
The kora route around the base of the Potala Palace is one of the most iconic kora routes in Lhasa, and covers a distance of around 2-3 kilometers. The famous palace is commonly referred to as the Tsek Potala, and the circumambulation is the Tsekhor Kora obviously.
The largest and longest kora in Lhasa is the Lingkhor Kora, which extends around the outer boundaries of the Old City of Lhasa, which mostly covers the Chengguan District. The kora is around 8km long, and takes around 3-4 hours to complete. For many older Tibetans, the Lingkhor Kora pilgrimage is a part of their daily routine, and it is common to see dozens of locals walking the streets in the early dawn light.
Drepung Monastery Kora – How to Plan Drepung Monastery Kora Tour
Located at the foot of Mount Gambo Utse, in the foothills of the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains, Drepung Monastery is the largest monastery of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, and one of the most sacred of the man-made kora routes. Lying at an altitude of 3,850 meters, the kora around Drepung Monastery is a popular ritual for Tibetans, as well as a stunning hike around the monastery.
While the kora route is not a long one, it is an important site, as well as being a popular short hike for tourists. The route begins in the car park of the monastery, around ten minutes walking from the entrance, and runs up the hill to the left of the monastery. You will pass several rock paintings along the way, as well as the high Thangka wall, peaking at a small valley filled with prayer flags near the top of the mountain. From there the kora heads downhill once more, passing through a Drolma Statue and past more rock carvings to end at the car park. The kora normally takes around 2 hours, walking at an average speed.
Ganden Monastery Kora – How to Plan Ganden Monastery Kora Tour
Ganden Monastery, the primary monastery of the Gelug School, is one of the most sacred ritual kora sites in the area around Lhasa, and is one of the “Great Three” Gelug university monasteries in Tibet. An exciting and adventurous day out from Lhasa, the kora around Ganden is noted as being one of the best day-treks in Tibet, and the kora comes in two parts, with high and low kora routes.
At an altitude of 4,300 meters, Ganden kora is in two parts, and with stunning views on both, it is hard to choose which to take. However, it is easy to do both within one day without rushing. The low kora, which takes around 45 minutes to walk, follows the route around the basin in which the monastery lies, starting and finishing at the front of the monastery. The high kora then takes you up the side of the monastery in a 40-minute climb up the mountain ridge to the summit, a popular place for burning juniper and hanging prayer flags. After the summit, the trail continues on down the other side of the monastery, coming to an end outside the main doors again.
Lake Namtso Kora – How to Plan Namtso Kora Tour
At 4,718 meters above sea level, Lake Namtso in the north of Lhasa in Damxung County is one of the most arduous kora routes in Tibet. One of the Great Three Sacred Lakes of Tibet, Lake Namtso, the “heavenly lake”, is one of the most stunning places to visit in Tibet, lying between the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains and the vast plains of the Changtang Grasslands.
The kora can be done in two ways at Namtso. You can take on the entire route around the lake, which can take over a week to complete. However, for those with little time, the kora around the Tashi Byland on the small peninsula that juts out into the lake is the more popular kora trek. Covering a distance of around 40 kilometers, the kora can be completed in just a single day, though many Tibetan Buddhists do this either seven or thirteen times, as an alternative to trekking the entire lake circuit. The Peninsula boasts some stunning features, including prayer flags, karst formations, and the two huge Yinbin Stones, designated as “welcome” stones for guests to the Tashi Dor Monastery.
Tashilhunpo Monastery Kora – How to Plan Tashilhunpo Monastery Tour
The second most holy monastery in Tibet and the seat of the Panchen Lama, the Tashilhunpo Monastery has a short but spiritual kora that has prayer wheels lining most of the route. Located just outside the city of Shigatse, this beautiful kora route gives you some of the best views of the valley and out over Shigatse itself.
The kora starts at the main entrance, and begins with a turn into an alley just past the main entrance, where the prayer wheels begin. A stone walkway covers the entire length of the kora route, and as you ascend up the left had side of the monastery, the path takes a lot of twists and turns. As you pass between the buildings, you will soon reach the back of the monastery, on the hillside above, and it is not uncommon to see goats wandering along the pathway.
As you begin to descend, you can see a small Dzong ahead, but the path turns back downhill to the right, and takes you back onto the road in front of the monastery. It is well worth visiting the small monastery ahead, and takes just a few minutes to get there. And as the kora is only around four kilometers long, you have plenty of time to make the added trip to the monastery.
Mount Kailash Kora – How to Plan Kailash Kora Trek Tour
The Mount Kailash kora is regarded as one of the top kora routes in Tibet by both Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus from India. A major trek around the base of Mount Kailash, in the far west of Tibet in Ngari Prefecture, is a long and arduous three-day hike, though many pilgrims will make the entire 52-kilometers trek in just one day. For trekkers, this is the pinnacle of Tibetan trekking, and a major achievement for any high-altitude trekker.
The trek begins in the small village of Darchen, and heads west to the entrance of the Lha-Chu Valley, where it takes you north up the valley to the Drirapuk Monastery. En route, you will also pass the Chuku Monastery and the entrance to a sacred sky-burial site, though you are not permitted to enter the ritual site. From Drirapuk, the route then ascends to the high pass at Dolma La, which sits at an altitude of around 5,630 meters above sea level. The climb is arduous and over rough ground, but the stunning view of the Gangdise Mountains from the crest makes it well worth the effort. On the other side, you will descend to the Dzultripuk Monastery for the night, and continue on in the morning to the end of the kora at Darchen again.
Kailash is counted as the most sacred Buddhist site in the world, and is also held sacred in Hinduism, Jainism, and Bon. One of the most popular trekking routes in Tibet, this ancient kora route has been followed for thousands of years, and you can always see pilgrims walking around the route, no matter what time of year.
Lake Manasarovar Kora – How to Plan Manasarovar Yatra Kora Tour
Located to the south of Mount Kailash, Lake Manasarovar is one of the Great Three Sacred Lakes of Tibet, and is the location of another very sacred kora for Buddhists and Hindus. A huge lake, which is believed to have been the place where Maya Devi conceived Gautama Buddha, the kora around Manasarovar Lake normally takes around four days, and you can stay at the many monasteries that lie around the lakeshore.
The trek starts at the Chiu Monastery, on the northwest corner of Manasarovar, and heads clockwise around the lake, passing by the monasteries of Langbona, Seralung, Trupo, and Gossul, to end once more back at Chiu Monastery. At an average altitude of around 4,590 meters, the trek around the lake can be arduous, due to the high altitude, but is one of the most beautiful kora routes in the world.
Dos and Don’ts in Tibet Kora Tours
The kora is a sacred ritual in Tibet, and is not to be taken lightly by any Tibetan. The kora is a part of their daily lives, and many perform ritual koras on a daily basis in Lhasa. If you are trekking along a kora route in Tibet, remember to have some respect for those Tibetan pilgrims along the route, and allow them to continue on undisturbed. Many pray devoutly along the entire route, and talking to them would disturb their prayers. Your guide can give you the information you require.
Most religions that perform koras walk clockwise around the site, except the Bonpo, who perform their kora in an ant-clockwise direction. Most tourists normally also walk clockwise, out of deference to the major religion of the region, so it is best to follow this, unless you are actually a Bonpo follower.
Prayer wheels can be found around most kora routes, except the most remote, and you can spin these if you wish while walking around the kora. Prayer wheels contain the sutras in the ancient form, and every time one spins a prayer wheel, it is the equivalent of reading the entire sutra contained within. Since the sutras are prayers to the gods for blessings to all beings of the earth, it is a good thing to spin them in Tibetan Buddhism, and locals will appreciate you following their customs. Just remember to spin them clockwise.