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Mt. Kailash - center of the universe in Asia

Trucks crossing a gushing river Quite sad to realize that the girls are gone when I rush to the restaurant for food the next morning. No need to stay here anymore and I soon start cycling after stocking up with supplies from the nearby well-equipped store. A long ride through a dry landscape brings me to a gigantic riverbed - more than 20 meters deep. It looks like a demon has used an enormous knife to cut a mortal wound through the valley But the establishment of new bridges on the southern road in Tibet has made this and the next similar place unproblematic. Still, things are not perfect yet and I have to cross the next gushing river with the bike on my neck while using my ski pole to prevent a dangerous fall in the river. I eat in a small restaurant with a bunch of staring Tibetan pilgrims while a thundercloud darkens the light before making my way up to the last pass before Mt. Kailash. The view of the mountain is staggering here and I try for a long time to catch a good photograph, but weather is just as bad as it has been the last days. Still, I am happy as a naive dog - only 21 km to Kailash, but the downhill is frustratingly stony and another wide river just makes things worse. Darchen emerges up on the horizon after I turn left and ride fast to avoid the approaching darkness.

Mt. KailashThe city looks like I can reach out for it when I discover a huge wild river just outside town. Not again - this one looks completely uncrossable, and common sense would be to camp and cross this glacier river in the morning, when it will be much lower for sure. Problem is I have put common sense out of order, and am totally focused on finding Erik and Stephane again because cycling alone is for sure no fun. Two Tibetans with horses watch the mad cyclist cross the river three times, almost losing foothold several times in the angry river. How can such anger come from Kailash? The horsemen leave for Darchen with big smiles when they realize I won't drown. I lose half an hour here and have to kick my way through the hordes of barking wild dogs in the darkness. I completely lose orientation and start walking around in town until a friendly but choked Tibetan leads me toward a guesthouse after I walked straight into to his living room, looking like a Yeti. Suddenly a woman yells after me in the darkness - Oh no - more problems I think, but it turns out to be a very friendly PSB woman who leads me to the place there the gang of two already are gone to bed.

The routeThe reunion looks like something take out of a movie and we end up talking half the night about our adventures until now. It is difficult for me to sleep, because I have to choose among joining up with them now and giving a miss to the Kora (cicumambulation) or rush around Mt. Kailash and start the sick catch-up game again. Whatever the disadvantages, I have to choose Kailash and we separate early in the morning after eating breakfast together. I cannot help thinking how bumpy we have all turned into, worst of all Erik, who with full beard and tourist-hat looks like a potential rapist.

I have packed only the most necessary things including two kg of camera gear in a daypack for the 53 km. Kora, but the start at 10 in the morning means I have to cross the 5600 meters pass half around the mountain today in order to reach some small dinner and sleeping tents. I overtake three Japanese with camcorder at high speed and find myself in the company of two Germans on the west side of Kailash, shortly after crossing a small hill. They are on a commercial tour and turn out to be mother and son and we chat while walking for one hour. Reality forces me to leave them and I find a steady pace, but cannot keep up with the incredible pilgrims who are unbelievable fast. Most of them do the Kora in a single day, while tour groups (and the One of the Germans on the koragang of two) use three days. The Lonely Planet guidebook mentions the Mt. Everest phenomenon, Reinhard Messner's 12 hours kora as an outstanding achievement, but old pilgrim women do it much faster every day in the high season.

I walk through a grassy valley with steep mountain walls on both sides and small waterfalls looking like they are coming from heaven. It is easy to find the way - a well-walked path is the highway around the mountain. One kora walk eliminates the sins of a lifetime - 108, the holy Tibetan number is the straight way to nirvana, the enlightenment. I take a short break at one of the few well supplied dinner and shop tents and prices are surprisingly low taking the transport up to here into account. The surroundings open up as I pass a small monastery and the valley leading up to the source of the Indus river two days away, discovered by Sven Hedin. I cross a tiny bridge over a small glacier river and begin the exhausting ascent Yaks carrying gear for the Germansup the pass. It is becoming late in the day and the altitude begins to take it's toll on me when I reach a place covered with cloth. This is the symbolic place where sins are lost by throwing away some of your belongings. I need all I got because the cold is intense here and I realize it still is a long way to the actual pass. Keep on going while the day quickly passes away and I become increasingly aware of the problem of where to sleep. Finally I see the prayer flags, but cannot enjoy the moment and just walk fast over the Dolma- la pass. I have arrived far too late for any proper descent from the mighty pass.

One hour of daylight is all that is left for the now less self-confident cyclist to find shelter in and I begin to rush down the steep wall of rocks. A white tent appears to my relief in the fading light just some few 100 meters below. Coming closer, I am ready to do anything to stay there tonight. An old woman looks anxiously at the stranger coming to her place while she cooks water for butter tea outside the tent. Two women in their thirties appear from the small tent. Hopes fading, will there be any room for me anyway? Pilgrims on the west side of KailashThey invite me inside, but the old woman seems to dislike this hospitality and suddenly rips her sleeping gear outside while arguing intensely with the others. Honestly, I don't care, because now I got a shelter against the cold night and there is room enough for all four of us for sure. The two women give me butter tea and Tampa and arrange a little bed place for me with some of their clothes. Still, I have a horrible night without sleeping bag and wake up at least 10 times. In the end I just wait for light to come and end this. The women become very active at the first rays of light, and urge me to rush also. They begin to bind my bed place around their knees and take on heavy aprons. Now I begin to realize how things are. They are nuns doing the kora by prostrations, throwing themselves to the ground all the way around this awesome mountain, their center of the universe.

The north face of Mt. KailashI suddenly feel very humble. The old woman obviously feared that there would not be any nuns left in the tent with the sunrise, if I slept there. Somehow, to prove my good intentions after all, I pay 100 yuan for staying in the tent. A lot, but also expression of my admiration of what they are doing and a stay in one of the commercial sleeping tents would according to the guidebook cost me 50 yuan anyway. This (bribing) immediately makes the old woman change mood and they led me down to a chorten, where they start their prostrations, while I continue my kora.

Of course, only a half hour later I find a dinner tent with sleeping possibilities. Here I eat together with a lama who reached here going the opposite way in an impressive three hours from Darchen. The young Tibetan guy staying here is on drugs, takes it in front of me and runs around from tent to tent as if the Sins of lifetimes laying heredevil himself has taken place in him. I soon got enough of the show and leave the place. Sleepily I walk fast and steady down the valley,passing bon-pilgrims on their one-day kora the opposite way. Kailash itself is hidden by mountain walls here and I just want to get back to Darchen now, also because the straps on the bag really hurt my shoulders. Distances surprise me and finally at 3pm Beijing time I arrive in Darchen, eat a quick meal at a good Chinese restaurant and go directly to bed. Catching up with the gang of two seems now more unrealistic than ever and it looks like I have to do the rest of the grueling trip alone, something I don't look forward to. Short meetings with people you are not really able to communicate with, leaving you to your imagination, daydreams and reflections on life most of the time.