For many thousands of years Mt. Kailash has been the most venerated site on Earth, visited by pilgrims not to climb it, but to undertake the 32-mile ritual journey that circumnavigates the base of the mountain. Sacred to billions of people of four religions, it is the least frequently visited holy spot because of its remoteness in western Tibet. It takes weeks of hard and dangerous travel to reach it, the weather can be treacherous, and all supplies for the whole journey are carried by the pilgrims. I must admit that, for all the mountain climbing I have done in the region, I never approached Mt. Kailash, preferring, instead, more popular climbs areas like Mt. Everest.
Mt. Kailash stands alone, apart from the nearby Himalayan range, and has a distinct shape, with each of its four sides pointing to a cardinal direction. Its tip points to the heavens and marks the mountain as the Axis Mundi—the Vedas call it the very center of the world—which runs through the center of all the planes of creation. It’s considered the central point around which the cosmos rotates. Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains (like my accountant) believe it is to be the gateway to heaven.
Four rivers flow down the slopes in the four cardinal directions: the Indus River in the North; the Brahmaputra in the East, the Karnali in the South (which drains into the sacred Ganges River), and the Sutlej that flows West. Each face of Mount Kailash depicts an emotion and is associated with a precious substance: north (gold) is forbidding; south (lapis lazuli), always snow covered, is splendor; the west (ruby) is compassion; and the east (crystal) is mystery. The snow that falls on the mountain creates the symbol of Om, the sacred symbol of Hinduism.