Mt Kailash Garuda Valley
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- Trip duration : 19 days
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Guruda Valley (Nepali name) or Khyunglung (Tibetan name) is an amazing complex of caves set in the hills on the north bank of the Sutlej River about 35 km west of the hotsprings and gompa of Tirthapuri and the nearby coal mining town of Moincer/Montser in the modern Chinese prefecture of Ali/Ngari in the Tibet Autonomous region. There are further ancient ruins on the hilltops above the Bon monastery of Gurugem/Gurugyam which are only 6 km from Tirthapuri. There is a very little published about these sites and virtually no archaeological investigations have been carried out.
The caves of Khyunglung are generally small (about 4 square metres) and have a small raised fireplace at the far end. However, almost without exception, they have no chimney and the blackened ceilings make it clear that the smoke exited the cave through the only entrance, making them thick with smoke when the fire was in use. Many of the cave are filled with ancient artifacts dating back to the time of the Zhangzhung. These artifacts include small stones inscribed with ancient Tibetan script, stone statues of Bon deities, and various vases and pots. There is also no obvious recess for a bed or other storage. It seems that these fires were used for sacrificial offerings and some are still in use today as the scattering of bones, feathers etc. make clear.
There are no visible springs on site, no water channels or wells and it is therefore probable that water from the river was used. However the caves are downstream of a large sulfurous hotspring and the water in the Sutlej at this point is barely potable. In addition, the immediate vicinity of the caves show no signs of agriculture - there are no terraces for fields and the grazing land is very poor. All in all, this seems a very strange site for a permanently occupied city.
It has been suggested that Kyunglung was never a city as such, but more of a "convention centre for Bonpo magicians" and that the caves were used for ceremonial purposes during times when the clans gathered. Possible camping grounds for the main retinue would be around the modern village of Khyunglung a few kilometres upstream where the valley is somewhat broader or the area between Gurugem and Tirthapuri which is still heavily used by yak and sheep herding nomads today. The ruins above Gurugem appear to be a more likely site for permanent habitation but much more study would be needed to establish this.
There is also a village called ‘the modern village of Kyunglung’ lies just upstream from its ancient namesake. It is a tiny community of small households, and the people live and depend heavily on yaks for agriculture and transport. The village itself is very old, and the villagers maintain a way of life that has changed very little in the last hundred years or more. The villagers at Kyunglung follow the ancient religion of Bon, the same religion as their Zhangzhung anscestors.
Day 01: Arrival in Kathmandu and transfer to hotel.
Day 02: Sightseeing in Kathmandu and visa preparation day for Tibet.
Day 03: Take a scenic drive from KATHMANDU – KODARI. After completing custom and immigration formalities both at the Nepalese and Chinese sides, drive uphill to NYALAM via ZHANGMU. O/n at Guest House / Camping (153 km / 6-7 Hrs)
Day 04: Drive NYALAM – SAGA (4,400m – 240 km / 6 – 7 Hrs) .O/n at guest house / Camping.
Day 05: Drive SAGA to PARYANG (4,750m - 255 km / 5-6 Hrs). O/n guest house / Camping.
Day 06: Drive to PARYANG – CHUI GOMPA (4,560 m – 223 kms / 5-6 Hrs ). Explore LAKE MANSAROVAR. O/n guest house / Camping near Chiu Gompa.
Day 07: After morning exploration of MANASAROVAR, take a scenic drive to TIRTHAPURI (4,500 m) or MONTSER (4650 m) about 100 km northwest of MANASAROVAR. It's a beautiful 3 hour drive. As Tirthapuri has accommodation facilities, we make our base for the trip out to the ancient capital of the Zhangzhung Kingdom/Kyunglung (Garunda Valley), the next day. Besides, we could enjoy hot water from the natural geyser here for our special relaxation. Guest House / Camping in TIRTHAPURI
Day 08: EXCURSION TO KYUNGLUNG (Garuda Valley), ZHANGZHUNG KINGDOM
Garuda Valley The drive is about 35 km to Kyunglung (Garuda Valley) from TIRTHAPURI. It takes about an hour. This morning, we set off early to the spectacularly-set Gurugyam Gompa, a Bon-po gompa just southwest of Montser, set under broad canyons walls next to the Sutlej river. Built into the cliffs, an ancient cave complex with tunnels, balconies, prayer flags and ancient artifacts mark the spot that Guru Rimpoche and the Bonpo masters meditated over a millennium ago, now used by the resident Rimpoche Lama. This is one of the most important Bonpo monasteries in far west Tibet, the present gompa re-built after the Cultural Revolution, and a beautiful spot.
Next, we'll drive a few kilometers along the Sutlej river to the modern Kyunglung village, and then on to Kyunglung itself, the ancient capital of the Zhangzhung Kingdom, which ruled over most of Tibet and neighboring Ladakh from the pre-Christian era onwards, and a fabled troglodyte community. Set amidst spectacular red-sandstone canyons, these are the relatively untouched ruins of one of Tibet's earliest cities, little visited by tourist of any nationality. The name means 'Garuda Valley', and the dzong on top is called Ngulkhar, which translates as 'Silver Castle of the Kings'; there is much mythology associated with the region , and the population was said to be between two and three thousand. Old paths lead up to crumbling cave-home with wooden doors, tunnels, old stone walls and mani walls. It's a wonderful day of exploring!
To get there, we cross the Sutlej near a large complex of hot springs and limestone deposits, and hike for about 20 minutes up to the ancient city. After the exploration until late mid day, we drive back (2 hrs) to DARCHEN and prepare for our 5 day long kora around MT KAILASH next day – GUEST HOUSE / Camping.
Day 09: Today we start our circumambulation trek to MT KAILASH heading west and climbing to the series of prayer flags at 4730m from where you should have great views of Mt. Kailash. Then, head north through Darboche, Sher-song. The rebuilt Chukku Gompa and Damding Donkhang (5890 m.) and camp.
Garuda Valley Day 10: Continue trek climbing through a moraine to a meadow at 5210 m. and and Guest House / Camping JAROK DONKHANG
Day 11: Continue trek past rock cairns to emerge at Dolma La at 5630 m and cross the pass in the early part of the morning. From the pass, descend via Gauri Kunda (Lake) to the La Chukkir valley at 5150m. where you should look out for the footprints which, pilgrims believe belonged to the Buddha. Descend further along a long, gentle path to Zutul-Puk Gompa (4790 m.), where there is a cave in which the saint Milarepa is said to have meditated. Guest House at ZUTUL-PHUK / Camping
Day 12: Continue trek along the Zhong Chu (river) to a bridge, cross it and climb a little before descending to 4610 m. from where you will have good views of Mansarovar Lake. A short trek through Mani walls will lead you back to Darchen – Guest House / Camping
Day 13: Take a special visit to the small kora (inner kora) – back to Darchen – Guest House / Camping
Day 14: DRIVE TO PARAYANG (5-6 HRS)
Garuda Valley It's a 300 km drive through wild country from Lake Manasarovar to Parayang. We cross wide plains, shallow rivers and pass by a few local truck stops with makeshift tea houses. Passing the stunning Mayum-tso lake, we climb to the Mayum La, where we are rewarded by a magnificent mountain panorama. The scenery along this section is some of the most beautiful of the entire journey, and a distant storm drifting in back of Tibetans, horses and sheep is a surreal sight. The kids will be out at the camp site to welcome us to our sand dunes camp site at Parayang ... as will the village dogs! This is a wonderful spot to watch sunset and roll down the soft, dun-colored sand with the village kids.
Day 15: DRIVE TO SAGA (255 KM / 6-7 HRS). O/N GUEST HOUSE / Camping.
Day 16: Drive downhill to ZHANGMU through winding road of NYALAM hill – Guest House / Camping in Zhangmu
Day 17: Drive to the Friendship Bridge where transportation awaits for the final leg of journey back to KATHMANDU. Transfer to your hotel.
Day 18: Rest and final shopping day
Day 19: Final departure to next destination.