Day Two: Dri-ra Puk to Zutrul Puk
Cross the Lhachu River over the bridge again and head southeast to begin the steady and physically taxing climb toward the highest point on the kora route: the Drolma (Tara) Pass (5,670m: 18,420 ft). Half way up to the pass is the Vajrayogini Burial Ground, a place where the bodies of Tibetan pilgrims who die while visiting Kailash are still deposited. Tibetan pilgrims who do not die leave a piece of clothing, a lock of hair, or another personal item at this site. The idea is that the pilgrim can symbolically replicate the moment of death here in the cremation ground, thus preparing for the moment of his or her actual death. Some pilgrims even lie down, visualizing their own death and subsequent rebirth. To the left of the path and above the burial ground is the Vajrayogini peak, on which devout pilgrims have piled countless small heaps of stones. There is also said to be a foot print of Milarepa in a rock above the burial ground.
The trail beyond the burial ground contains many significant sites that can be difficult to identify without the aid of an experienced pilgrim. Many of these sites involve crawling through narrow passages among the rocks, tasting the earth, and collecting stones and water. These items that are collected from the circumambulation route are considered to have extensive medicinal and spiritual powers. For example, one of the streams that crossed the trail not long before the pass is said to have the ability to purify the negative karma that comes from slaughtering animals. Pilgrims search the bottom of the stream bed for small black “pills” that are held to be powerful medicine.
Before reaching the pass itself, you will see a small lake; from here you turn right to struggle up the last slope to the pass. Because of the altitude the ascent of the pass is the most arduous stretch of the circuit around Kailash. The air becomes increasingly thin as you climb, and it is important not to overexert your self. Make sure to rest frequently and to walk slowly.
The pass itself is broad and contains a large cairn in the middle. From the midst of the piled-up rocks rises a pole, attached to which are numerous prayer flags. One also finds clothing, hair and other personal mementos on and around the rock pile. Many pilgrims will stop and make ritual offerings on the pass, praying to the bodhisattva Tara for help on their path. The atmosphere is generally one of great gaiety and celebration.
Shortly after the Drolma Pass to the south of the path is another very small lake, the Tukje Tso, “Compassion Lake” (called Gauri Kund by the Indians). It takes half an hour to climb down to it from the path. The scenery around the lake is particularly dramatic, with soaring cliffs rising a thousand feet up from the turquoise or frozen water. Indians often make a detour to this lake to perform their ritual ablutions, even though the water is extremely cold. After the lake there is a steep descent of several thousand feet down a rock “staircase”. At the bottom of the staircase you meet the eastern valley. At this point depending on the amount of daylight left, you should decide either to make camp here or to proceed to Zutrul Puk.
Although some maps may suggest otherwise, the eastern stretch of the route from the base of the staircase of Zutrul Puk, though fairly level and straight is a good five hour walk. Hence the entire stretch from Dri-ra Puk to Zutrul Puk can take up to ten or twelve hours to complete. Once you arrive at Zutrul Puk, you should make camp immediately and explore the monastery and caves the next morning. As at Dri-ra Puk, there is an Indian pilgrim’s rest house as well as ample room for tents.