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China Allows Assault on Mt. Kailash

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/04/21; April 21, 2001.]

The Observer, 1 April 2001.

It is the holiest mountain on Earth, Mount Kailash, a beautiful pyramid which stands alone in a remote corner of Tibet, sacred to millions of Buddhists and a billion Hindus, inviolate and venerated. But less than a month after Afghanistan's rulers ordered the destruction of the 2,000-year old statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan, Chinese authorities in Tibet have given permission for a Spanish expedition led by Jesús Martínez Novás to conquer the holy mountain. If successful, Novás and his team will be the first men to reach its summit since the 11th Century Tibetan poet and mystic Milarepa was carried to the top on the rays of the morning sun.

The decision has led to a deep sense of concern among Buddhists and accusations of cynical political propaganda against the Chinese. Migyur Dorje, the Dalai Lama's representative in London, told The Observer: "Mount Kailash should not be made a sporting arena. It won't just offend Buddhists, it will offend Hindus as well." Hindus believe Kailash, 6,714 metres high, to be the home of Shiva and, according to the Sanskrit tradition of Vishnu Purana, an earthly representation of Mt Sumeru, the cosmic mountain at the centre of the universe.

Alison Reynolds of the Free Tibet Campaign believes that the timing of the climb is deliberate, coinciding with a renewed determination by the Chinese to suppress Tibetan independence: "If the Chinese authorities were to allow this climb to go ahead, it would be profoundly symbolic of their attempts to crush Tibetan culture and religion, which they see as obstacles to economic progress and political control. Granting permission to climb Kailash would demonstrate how China has abandoned all pretence at respecting religious sensibilities and believt has crushed Tibetan nationalism."

The Observer has learned that this is not the first time the Chinese have tried to attract western mountaineers to climb Mount Kailash. In the mid 1980s, the Italian climber Reinhold Messner sought permission to walk around the peak, then heavily restricted by the Chinese. Walking around Kailash is a common practice among Buddhist devotees who believe that 108 circuits will lead the pilgrim to nirvana. In his letter of permission Messner was formally told he could return the following year to climb the mountain: "Of course I refused. It would not have been intelligent to do otherwise."

Last November, authorities in Lhasa praised the contribution mountaineers in Tibet have made to the autonomous region's progress as "a triumphant song of patriotism, collectivism, internationalism and revolutionary heroism," singling out the increasing numbers of foreign climbers as being particularly helpful in Tibet's development.

The Spanish climbers proposing to conquer Kailash have described their attempt as a crusade against global environmental degradation, "a collective action aimed at changing [humanity's] self-destructive course." Novás continues: "We want to enlist everyone in the struggle for the transformation of our destructive habits. We are nobody but we dream of mobilizing millions of people who view Kailash as a sacred mountain to demand respect for nature and for humanity."

Other mountaineers both in Spain and around the world have distanced themselves from the climb. Doug Scott, the first Englishman to climb Everest and the current President of the Alpine Club, urged the Spanish to be cautious: "How will they feel later in life about diminishing this mountain?

Once that sanctity is destroyed, it will be gone forever. They're playing into the hands of the Chinese." Reinhold Messner added: "If we conquer this mountain, then we conquer something in other people's souls. I would suggest they go and climb something a little harder. Kailash is not so high and not so hard.

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