In Tibetan Buddhism, Meili Snow Mountain (梅里雪山) is the holiest among the 8 sacred mountains of the Tibetan-inhabited regions.
6,740 meters in height, Peak Kawagebo is one of the top 10 magnificent mountains in China and the highest peak in Yunnan Province. In Deqen Prefecture are 13 peaks that reach an elevation of over 6,000 meters.
Table of Contents
Meili Snow Mountain map
Geographic location: about 10 kilometers north of Deqing County, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture
Scenic status: the core area of the Three Parallel Rivers World Natural Heritage; the Three Parallel Rivers National scenic area
Tour time: 1 ~ 3 days
1．Meili Snow Mountain is capped with snow the whole year round and it is very cold on the mountain. Warm clothing is essential.
2. Tibetan prayer wheels (called Mani wheels by the Tibetans) are devices for spreading spiritual blessings and well being. A prayer wheel is a wheel on a spindle, and on the wheel are written or encapsulated prayers or mantras. The most common text used on prayer wheels is the mantra Om mani padme hum. According to Tibetan Buddhists, saying the mantra out loud or silently to oneself invokes powerful benevolent attention, blessings, and compassion. Spinning the written form of the mantra around in a Mani wheel is also supposed to have the same effect.
3. In Tibetan Buddhism, to ride a horse is forbidden when one comes to such religious structures as monasteries, chortens, pagodas, and so on. One should dismount and make a detour in a clockwise direction. People who still hold Bon religious beliefs detour from in the opposite direction.
Recommended Tour Route
Mingyong Glacier → Siqia Glacier → the Taizi Temple → the Lotus Temple → the Qudenggong Temple and the Gunmading Temple → the Kagebo Peak and Yubeng Waterfall
Basic facts of the mountain, the meaning of “Kagebo”, the thirteen peaks, Lamaist temples, Tibetan pilgrimage tour
When it comes to the glamour of Meili Snow Mountain, a verse written by the Sixth Dalai Lama captures the wonderful feelings evoked by this incomparable landscape. It reads, “Not seeing the best from the start, I don’t have to miss her all the time.” This reminds people of this beautiful and sacred snow-covered mountain and brings to tourists an unforgettable experience of the charms of Meili Snow Mountain.
Meili Snow Mountain, also known as “Taizi (Prince) Snow Mountain”, is worshipped as the “Holy Mountain” by local Tibetans. It is also called “the mountain of the medicine king”, which derives from the original meaning of its Tibetan name. It is approximately 10 kilometers northeast from Feilai Temple near Deqin County town, situated between the Nujiang River and the Lancangjiang River, and adjoins Adogeni Mountain to the north and Biluo Snow Mountain to the south. This undulating mountain range stretches out for tens of kilometers. There are 20 peaks above 5,000 meters and 6 peaks at an altitude of more than 6,000 meters. The snow mountain is featured by highland meadows, deep valleys, glaciers, large-scale vegetation of frigid zone, and typical alpine views.
These snow-covered mountains will give rise to sacred awe in everyone. Tibetans’ awe toward nature is completely integrated with their religion. Therefore, lots of snow mountains are deified as guardians (also known as “patron saint”) of local people or gods in Lamaism. Furthermore, peaks of the snow mountain have been completely deified and enshrined as gods of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Kawa Karpo (Kagebo) Peak and other surrounding peaks are jointly named as “Thirteen Taizi (Prince) Peaks”. Actually, “13” is not an accurate total for these snow-capped peaks, but due to its propitious implications in the Tibetan language, local Tibetans named peaks with the number. The Kagebo Peak, located at an elevation of 6,740 meters, is the highest peak in Yunnan. It is not only the heart of “Three Parallel Rivers Area”, but also the core of the Meili scenic region. As one of Eight Sacred Mountains, the Kagebo Peak is regarded as the patron god of local Tibetans and considered sacred in Tibetan Buddhism. In particular, Kawa Karpo is said to be the protector of Red Sect (a branch of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Ningma Sect). A local legend says that Kawa Karpo, who has 9 heads and 18 arms, stopped his wrongdoings and converted to Buddhism under the influence of Master Lotus (the founder of Red Sect), and eventually became the patron saint of Tibetan King Gesar. Most of the time, the mountain is swathed in cloud and mist, therefore the opportunity to enjoy the snow mountain scenery under a clear sky is rare. It is due to this feature that makes the mountain more mysterious and holy.
Located to the south of the Kagebo Peak, the Mian Cimu Peak looks like a beautiful woman with a beautiful figure and graceful posture. Some consider her to be the daughter of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the wife of Kagebo. Walking close to her, one will see her “veil”—— the dense cloud and mist, which makes her even more mysterious and alluring.
The Jiawarenan Peak
With the highest elevation of 5,770.5 meters, the Jiawarenan Peak stands to the north of Mian Cimu Peak. Jiwarenan means a crown of Five Dhyana Buddhas in the Tibetan language because the main Jiawarenan Peak is made up of five parallel flat peaks that resemble a brilliant crown, which is said to be able to bless Tibetan people and their land.
Meili Snow Mountain is not only renowned for its 13 peaks, but also for the spectacular glaciers and glacial moraine. The massive Siqia Glacier extends from an elevation of 6,000 meters and disappears into the thick forests at 2,660 meters. The Mingyong Glacier can be considered as the most spectacular glacier in the whole Kagebo, ranging from 2,700 meters to 5,500 meters. Covering an area of 735 square kilometers, it extends 8 kilometers long and more than 500 meters wide. According to the research of geologists, it is classified as a rare modern monsoon maritime glacier — the rare glacier closest to the equator. The formation of large-scale glaciers here has undergone a long period. The densely packed thick snow in the mountain was gradually crystallized under the influence of long-term low temperatures and windy days. Consequently, loose snow was turned into the hard and firm glacier. Although the mountain is close to the equator, the high elevation and snowy days in this area result in massive glaciers. Seen from distance, the two glaciers look like the crystal necklace of the holy mountain.
Close to the glacier are Taizi Temple (built-in 1233) and the Lotus Temple (constructed from 1763 to 1796). A local legend said that the founder of the Nyingma Sect stayed at the Lotus Temple; therefore, many Tibetan visitors come to the temple each year to pray. The Qudenggong Temple and the Gunmading Temple are likewise holy places for Tibetans. All the Tibetan Temples (Lamaseries) are characterized by colorful ribbons and flags waving on roofs, which symbolize the five sects in Tibetan Buddhism, namely, Gelu Sect, Ningma Sect, Sakya Sect, Kagyu Sect, and Bon Sect. The five sects are also named after their distinctive colors in costumes and architectures, hence known as Yellow Sect, Red Sect, White Sect, Stripped Sect, and Black Sect respectively. Since Tibetan Buddhist sutras are written on the colorful flags and ribbons, they were hanging over Lamaseries, chortens, and pagodas. The waving of flags and ribbons symbolizes Buddhist sutra-chanting and pious praying.
Moving southward, tourists can view a tranquil Tibetan village which abounds in forests, flowers as well as wild animals. Besides, it is reputed for a fantastic waterfall named Yubeng by Tibetans. Yubeng is a Tibetan word meaning “Buddhist scriptures”. The same to the snow mountain, the waterfall here is also defied by Tibetans. Local Tibetans recognize it as the Sacred Waterfall and believe it is blessed by countless Buddha. A pilgrimage to the waterfall is believed to cleanse the pilgrim of their sins and to drive away evils. The quantity of water would change in different seasons due to temperature and climate changes. Local Tibetans believed that the changes in water quantity could foretell a pilgrim’s fortune and misfortune. It is said that if a pious but unfortunate person goes near the waterfall to pray, the waterfall will stop flowing or turn into trickles. However, when a fortunate pilgrim goes near it, he or she will get drenched all over.
Plateau areas inhabited by Tibetan people are featured by unfavorable living conditions such as bitter coldness, strong wind, heavy snow, and oxygen shortage. Consequently, Tibetan culture is the achievement of the ideological progress of the Tibetan people gained in their long-term struggle with nature. Tibetan people hence tightly relate their social practices to the awe toward nature. The imposing and lofty snow mountains logically are regarded as holy places. As the mainstream of Tibetan culture, Tibetan Buddhism preserves these basic primitive beliefs toward nature and appeals greatly to the Tibetans.
In traditional Tibetans’ belief, if people do not worship Meili Snow Mountain, they will not have a good end in their life journey. It is no wonder that they make pilgrimage tours every year to the snow mountain to pray for good fortune. Between the end of autumn and the beginning of winter, thousands of Tibetans from Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, Tibet, and Shangri-La in Yunnan would trek a long way to worship Meili Snow Mountain here. Most of them even prostrate themselves again and again on the way to the mountain. They measure the long pilgrimage way by their bodies to show their piousness to the sacred mountain. When arrived, they never climb up the mountain but walk around it repeatedly. Such a behavior symbolizes the core philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism—the transmigration of life and death. Tibetan Buddhism believes that birth, human sufferings, death, and retributive justice form a circulation, so good doings are definitely able to result in a desirable afterlife. To worship the sacred mountain enable them to gain inconceivable amounts of merit, which helps to get a desirable rebirth.
This area is both a place with great religious significance and an ideal place for mountain climbing and adventure. Meili Snow Mountain, which is famous for its mystery and magnificence, was extolled as “the most beautiful mountain of the world” by American scholars in the 1930s. Despite the fact that humans have already conquered the 8848-meter high Mount Everest, the Kagebo Peak is yet to be climbed. Since 1902, mountaineers from China, Great Britain, the United States and Japan have challenged the summit but all failed. In 1991, 17 mountaineers from China and Japan lost their lives due to the sudden snow collapse and unexpected climate change. The failures of these climbers and explorers have spread the fame of Meili Mountain worldwide. At present, it is still one of the “virgin summits” in the world.
There is a road to the foot of Meili Snow Mountain, making access to the mountain more convenient. This offers all visitors to Deqin an opportunity to embrace these holy places and to enjoy the unique combination of religious and natural significance. Just being in the general area of Meili Snow Mountain will provide a religious experience for most tourists, even though it doesn’t match that for traditional Tibetan pilgrims. The journey itself and the deep understanding of Tibetan culture and religion will result in a colorful and rewarding journey.
Words and Expressions
adjoin n. 毗连
snow-capped adj. 积雪覆盖的
Mian Cimu Peak 面茨姆峰
Jiawarenan Peak 吉娃仁安峰
Kagebo Peak 卡瓦格博峰
Yubeng Waterfall 雨崩瀑布
prostrate v. 俯卧
Image: Oliver Huang, Chinese web
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