Travellers in Lhasa spend huge amounts of time and energy plotting and planning trips to the highlights of western Tibet: Mount Kailash (冈仁波齐峰, gāngrénbōqífēng), Lake Manasarova (玛旁雍错, măpángyōngcùo) and, less popular but just as enticing, the remains of the tenth-century Guge kingdom, its capital at Tsaparang and main monastery at Tholing. However, this is no guarantee of reaching any of these destinations – regulations change frequently and weather can be a factor – and it can be dangerous. Access to Mount Kailash generally isn’t a problem – you just need to find a tour agency running the trip. Cost is likely to be the largest obstacle as tours to Kailash generally take at least two weeks.
The southern route passes through Saga, Dongpa and Horpa, a stunningly picturesque journey, parallel to the Himalayas, but with rivers that become swollen and passes that get blocked by snow. This route is most reliable from May through to the beginning of July, and again in October and November, although luck plays a big part. The distance is around 1400km from Lhasa to Mount Kailash. The alternative northern route via Tsochen, Gertse and Gakyi is longer; Lhasa to Ali (Shiquanhe) is over 1700km and then it’s another 300km or so southeast to Mount Kailash. It is also less scenic, but more reliable. Many tours plan to go on one route and return on the other – expect at least a week travelling time on either.