How to Get to Mount Kailash & How to Reach Manasarovar Lake?
Travelling to the sacred Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar Lake can be done from three different directions; from Kathmandu, crossing the border into Tibet; from Lhasa, as a long overland journey; and from Kashgar, in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Prefecture, to the north of Tibet. Please follow our detailed guide to navigating your way to two of the holiest Buddhist sites in Tibet.
Where is Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar?
Both Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar Lake are located in the western of Tibet, to be more exactly in Ngari Prefecture. Mount Kailash lies in the Gangdise Mountains, part of the Transhimalaya that stretches across Tibet to Qinghai Province. Lying on the southern edge of the Gangdise Mountains, not far from the Chinese border with the Indian state of Uttarakhand, Mount Kailash is 1,211 kilometers (752.5 miles) from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, by road. In a direct line, the mountain is a mere 955 kilometers (593.5 miles) from Lhasa, though there is no available flight to the mountain region.
Mount Kailash and Manasarovar Lake are two of the holist Buddhist sites in Tibet
47.6 kilometers due south of Mount Kailash, in an alluvial plain that separates the Gangdise Mountains from the Himalayas that line the border between China and India, lies the sacred Lake Manasarovar, next to its twin, Lake Rakshastal. Located just north of the ancient Guge Kingdom town of Burang, the “Gateway to Mount Kailash”, Lake Manasarovar is unique in Tibet, as it is a freshwater lake, whereas most of the lakes in Tibet are saline lakes.
Different Ways Get to Mount Kailash and Manasarovar
Traveling to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar can be done from one of three directions, traveling down from the north, from Kashgar in Xinjiang, from the east, along the Friendship Highway and G219 from Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and from the south, crossing the border traveling from Kathmandu.
Travel from Kashgar to Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar
Traveling south from Kashgar, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Prefecture, is one of the most spectacular road trips in Tibet, and is a journey of around 1,549 kilometers (962.5 miles). Traversing two high-altitude passes that exceed 5,400 meters, the Xinjiang Tibet Highway is the highest drivable road in the world. Running south from Kashgar (1,270m), the route takes you through several counties in Xinjiang and past the Quanshui Lake (5,137m), before entering the disputed area of Aksai Chin. After Aksai Chin, the road enters Rutog County of Ngari Prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and runs south along the shores of Bagong Co and over the Mariom La Pass, at 4,725 meters.
Once in Gar County of Ngari Prefecture, the road continues through the county seat of Shiquanhe, once known as Gar Town, through which the Sengge Zangbo River runs. The route continues south into Burang County, and down to the small town of Darchen, the starting point of the Kailash Kora, at 4,575 meters above sea level.
One of the main concerns when taking this route is the fast increase in altitude along the road. As the road passes through Kargilik County of Kashgar Prefecture, it maintains a relatively low altitude, increasing gradually as it heads south. However, once the route reaches the mountains, the altitude increases dramatically, rising from well below 1,500 meters on the plains to more than 3,100 meters within the span of just 45 kilometers. With such a huge increase in altitude over a short time, there is a very high risk of altitude sickness.
Flights to Mount Kailash can be obtained from the Kashgar Airport in Xinjiang to Ngari Gunsa Airport, located at Shiquanhe in Ngari Prefecture. The Gunsa Airport is just a single day’s drive from Darchen, the small town that lies between Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, which makes travel to the area much shorter and easier. However, altitude is still an issue, as the area of Darchen lies at an elevation of 4,575 meters, an increase of more than 3,000 meters from the starting point in Kashgar.
If you are planning the route from Kashgar to Mount Kailash, then you are going to need to book a pre-arranged tour with a Tibetan tour operator. Independent travel in Tibet is prohibited, and once you have passed through Aksai Chin, you are officially in the Tibet Autonomous Region. You will also need a number of permits in order to get to Mount Kailash, including the Tibet Travel Permit, the Alien’s travel Permit, the Frontier Pass, and the Restricted Areas Permit. Unlike traveling from Lhasa, these permits must all be applied for by us before you depart from Kashgar, and since the Tibet Travel Permit and Restricted Areas Permit take several weeks to process, you will need to book your tour well in advance of your trip in Kashgar.
Travel from Kathmandu to Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar
One of the more popular routes to Kailash is from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. As Tibet’s closest neighbor, Nepal is the only country that has direct access to Tibet, with a border crossing at Gyirong Port/Rasuwa Gadhi and direct flights from Tribhuvan International Airport to Lhasa Gonggar international Airport. With two main routes to get to Ngari Prefecture, it is a preferred route for many tourists traveling to the sacred mountain.
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-- Fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa and then get to Ngari by flight or road
The fastest way to get to Kailash is by flight, although it does require you to fly to Lhasa first and then transfer to a flight to Ngari Gunsa Airport, as there is no direct flight to Gunsa Airport from Kathmandu. There are a couple of daily direct flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa, which takes around 90 minutes and flies directly over the summit of Mount Everest en route to Lhasa. Flights are not cheap, though, starting at more than 500 dollars for an economy ticket, and it can be an expensive route to take.
From Lhasa, the connecting flight takes you to the recently built Ngari Gunsa Airport, at Shiquanhe. There is only one flight per day to Gunsa from Lhasa, which leaves at around seven in the morning. The flight takes just 2 hours to get to Ngari, and costs from around 380 US dollars. The main down side to this is that you do not get chance to acclimatize before reaching Darchen, which leaves you at a higher risk of getting altitude sickness.
The alternative is the drive from Lhasa to Darchen, which takes around three days. You will take a tour from Lhasa, which includes acclimatizing and sightseeing in the Tibetan capital before you leave, and will stop overnight in Shigatse and Saga, before reaching Darchen in the afternoon of the third day out of Lhasa. The route from Lhasa to Darchen is one of stunning Himalayan views and dramatic Tibetan landscapes and scenery. Stops are made for you to admire and explore the spectacular sights of the plateau as you travel, including Yamdrok Lake, the Karola Glacier, the Gyantse Kumbum, and Tashilhunpo Monastery.
-- Travel overland from Kathmandu to Kailash via Gyirong Port
There is another route, which takes you direct from Kathmandu overland to Kailash, crossing the border at the now-famous Gyirong Port. The journey takes 2-3 days, depending on how fast you travel, but it is a good idea to acclimatize in Gyirong Town or at least one day after climbing from a relatively low altitude in Kathmandu to more than 2,700 meters in Gyirong Town. With the altitude at Darchen being higher than 4,500 meters, it is best to acclimatize before continuing the travel to reduce the risk of altitude sickness in the higher latitudes of Ngari Prefecture.
After acclimatizing in Gyirong Town, it is then a drive up through Gyirong County to the G219 National Road, which takes you all the way to Darchen without turning off. From Gyirong, the road heads northwest to Saga County, a short but scenic drive, where you will sop for another night, before continuing along the road to Darchen the following morning. The trip is long, taking 8-9 hours to get to the sacred mountain, but takes you through some of the most stunning grasslands on the plateau, filled with a plethora of plateau wildlife and a multitude of lakes and mountains.
For any visit to Mount Kailash, all of the permits for travel in Tibet are required, including the Group Tourist Visa, Tibet Travel Permit, the Alien’s travel Permit, the Frontier Pass, and the Restricted Areas Permit. These are needed for any entry to Tibet from Kathmandu, even if you are not traveling overland, before you leave Nepal.
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Travel from Lhasa to Mt. Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar
The route from Lhasa to Mount Kailash is one of the most exciting and spectacular roads in Tibet, traversing almost the entire Tibetan plateau from east to west. As the most popular of all the routes to Kailash, around 90 percent of all tourists and pilgrims take the road from Lhasa, following the G318 Friendship Highway for part of the route.
Traveling through Gyantse, Shigatse, and Saga, many tours to Kailash also stop at Mount Everest to take in the view of the world’s highest mountain along the way. After visiting Everest, the route then takes the same route as from Kathmandu, following the G219 through Saga to Darchen. As with the other routes to Kailash, the same documents and permits are required, and must be obtained before travel outside Lhasa.
Starting at Lhasa is a good way to acclimatize to the higher altitudes of the Kailash area of Ngari, especially if you are taking the trek around the sacred mountain’s kora route. Once you arrive in Lhasa, you will normally spend a couple of days acclimatizing to the higher altitude of the Tibetan capital, to help reduce the risk of altitude sickness as you travel higher. This acclimatization period also gives you the chance to travel around the city and view the stunning sights, such as the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple.
It is possible to take a flight from Lhasa to Gunsa Airport in Ngari, which takes just two hours flight time. The flights, however, are not cheap, and start at around US$ 380 for an economy ticket going one way. However, it does cut the travel time down dramatically, and is good for those that want to trek the kora route but are short on time.
The most recommended way to get to Mount Kailash and Manasarovar
With the different ways to get to Mount Kailash, it can be a little confusing which to take, as they all have their amazing views and delightful scenery and landscapes. However, unless time is of the essence, the best route to take for Kailash is from Lhasa along the Friendship Highway and G219 National Road. Not only is this the simplest and most cost-effective route to take, it also gives you more of an insight into the Tibetan culture and religion, spending more time in the more populated areas of the plateau, and visits many of the most important sites in Tibetan Buddhism along the way. By the time you get to Mount Kailash, you should have a better idea of how and why the Tibetan Buddhists and the Hindus believe that this mountain is the most sacred in the world.