October 12, 2015
The Unrivalled Kawa Karpo Trek: Tibet.
Written By Admin
The valleys of the Gods: Unique expeditionary trekking in the Tibetan borderlands of China.
Straddling the border between Yunnan and Tibet sits one of the Buddhist world’s most holy mountains, Kawa Karpo, or ‘white pillar’ in Tibetan. Worshiped as a deity, it’s never been climbed and remains a remnant and icon of the ancient Bon religion; an animistic tradition based on the concept of a world pervaded by good and evil spirits which inhabit forests, rivers and mountains.
Every year thousands of hardy and devout Tibetans arrive to circumambulate this revered peak in one of the region’s most sacred pilgrimages. To trek in unison with these wild-looking nomads in their quest to purify a lifetime of negative karma is truly one of Asia’s epic mountain adventures.
The topographic extremes on the kora are immense. In a stretch of less than 10km the land rises from 1,800m along the Mekong River Valley to 6,740m at the Kawa Karpo summit. Environmentally, this untouched part of China has an awe-inspiring variety of spectacular landscapes while the trekking route winds its way through sub-tropical scrub, arid canyons, moss-laden forests, alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks. Getting to the start of the trek is a stunning journey in itself. Driving for the best part of a day and a half, the road crosses over mountain passes with huge vistas over the Eastern Himalayas. Laid back Tibetan villages such as Benzilan, and the beautifully-muralled Dongzhuling Monastery, offer a number of intriguing options to break up the journey as the road heads further off the beaten track. Spending the night in Fei Lai Si rewards you with the most spectacular views of Kawa Karpo and its triangular female counterpart, Miancimu. On a clear dawn, the jagged tips of these mountains catch the amber glow of early morning sunrays – it’s enough to take your breath away.
Embarking on this challenging 12-day trek first involves a visit to the Zhizingtang monastery to collect the symbolic ‘key’ to the kora. It’s here that Tibetan pilgrims seek spiritual inspiration and prepare themselves mentally for the journey ahead. The first section of more than 180km begins with the crossing of an old chain bridge above the Mekong River before ascending through a gorgeous valley to the village of Yongzi. From here the goal for the next two days is the first of six high altitude passes at Dokar La.
The path winds up through primordial forests with lychen hanging from the branches like old party streamers. The mind starts to settle, mesmerised by the hypnotic ringing of the caravan pony bells. The first of the great passes, Dokar La, is 4,479m high and offers incredible views of the surrounding peaks. It’s colourfully draped with thousands of fluttering prayer flags and covered with offerings of zhaba flour and yak butter. The kora is dotted with many sacred sites including springs where pilgrims stop to collect water to take home for their families, as well as small shrines where further offerings of clothes, food and money are deposited (to be used when retracing the route in their next life).
The scenery down into the Salween River valley suddenly becomes more barren and remains strikingly arid, dotted with cacti, as the trek ascends towards the isolated Tibetan village of Gebu. Magnificent views of snowy peaks slowly replace the huge pine trees. The introspection that comes from meandering through these lychen forests is eventually lifted by enormous blue skies. Ahead lies the mighty red and grey Shola pass at 4,800m, beckoning both pilgrims and trekkers with its other-worldly beauty. In ancient days this was the biggest test of mortal will for traders transporting tea along this ancient route into Tibet and India. The revered shrine at the top is piled high with offerings of clothes and bamboo walking sticks. The haunting, high altitude pass then descends to the most scenic campsite on the kora at Zhaxi pasture. With Shola in the rear, the kora is nears its end. The final day spent hiking past grazing yaks, crystal clear streams and immense forests comes to an abrupt end when you hit the road. But every trip, no matter how majestic and unforgettable requires some kind of hard resolution.
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