Eastern Tibet

Bönri is the Bön religion’s most sacred mountain, a sprawling massif where Bön founder Tonpa Shenrab fought and defeated his arch rival Khyabpa Lagring, and where legend holds that Guru Rinpoche fought epic battles against an array of evil forces. Bönpo pilgrims come from all over Tibet to circumambulate the mountain in an anticlockwise direction. Foreign travellers are currently not permitted to do the full kora, though it is possible to do a shortened version over the 4500m Bönri-la pass.

The full 60km kora starts and finishes in Nyingtri, 18km west of Bayi, and takes two or three days, climbing to the 4500m Bönri-la on the second day. It passes many sites connected to Tonpa Shenrab, as well as an ancient burial tumulus, a 9th-century stele and a cemetery for babies.

It’s now possible to complete the main part of the kora in around seven hours, thanks to a new road built around the back of the mountain. It’s a tough trek because of the steepness of the climb, not to mention the altitude, but it’s incredibly rewarding to follow pilgrims over such sacred ground and among such fabulous scenery. The forested mountainside eventually opens onto grasslands at the top where nomads graze their yaks. Azalea bushes also cover parts of the top of the mountain and in season splash the landscape with pink and violet.

The shortened seven-hour section of the kora starts in the village of Miru (米瑞, Mǐruì), where you can also find a local hiking guide, but it’s just as easy to follow the pilgrims. In any case, prayer flags line pretty much the whole route. After Mira turn off onto a small paved road just as the main road splits two large hills, and follow this as it becomes a gravel road that eventually reaches Sanjunting Monastery and the trailhead of the walk.

The path will take you up and over Bönri-la until you eventually meet the main Sichuan–Tibet Hwy (Hwy 318) where your driver can pick you up. Don’t be persuaded by your guide or driver to either start from the highway, or to trek up and down the same side of the mountain. Doing this may be quicker, and more convenient for your driver of course, but will result in you walking part of the kora in a clockwise instead of anti-clockwise direction, which will be considered highly disrespectful by the Bönpo pilgrims.

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