Kora is both a type of pilgrimage and a type of meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Kora is performed by making a walking circumambulation around a temple, stupa, or other sacred site. Kora many be performed while spinning prayer wheels, chanting mantra, counting mala, or repeatedly prostrating oneself.
Many consider Mount Kailash the most sacred mountain in Asia. Four religions - Buddhism, Hinduism, Bön, and Jainism – worship this remote mountain, located 900 miles west of Lhasa, as the center of the spiritual realm. For thousands of years Hindu pilgrims and Tibetans have revered the Himalayas as an embodiment of the divine; the presence of the lone towering Kailash peak is the ultimate seal of this sanctity. Pilgrims believe that by circling Mount Kailash by way of an arduous 34 mile-long path, one can cleanse the sins of a lifetime.
My desire to film this mystical landscape in Tibet preceded my knowledge of the existence of the mountain itself. In the summer of 2007, I was mourning the loss of my daughter. My bearings shattered and drowning in sorrow, I sought spiritual sanctuary in Buddhism. One day, I came across an album by Tibetan Buddhist singer Kelsang Chukie Tethong. I was immediately captured by her voice—a sound so serene and bright it compelled me to close my eyes. At that moment, a vision unfolded in my mind; one with the vivid image of wind-swept plains, a deep blue sky, and distant snowcaps. Later I was shown an image of Mount Kailash by a Tibetan monk. I knew immediately the journey to Tibet’s sacred mountain would be the most important task for me in the coming years.
In the summer of 2011, I embarked on a four-week expedition to western Tibet, including a four-day kora around Kailash. The mountain seems perfect and its shape, deliberate beyond any natural thing. Such form inherently points to a higher reality—a realm that predates the existence of language and religions. The harsh elements and expansive landscape turned my thoughts inward. There was no immediate enlightenment, but gradual realization—that the pilgrimage is an external mirror to my solemn confrontation with past and future. The kora, as a circle, has no beginning or end.
Music composition by Aaron Travers and Melody Eötvös
Federico Agostini, solo violin
Warren Haggerty, solo cello
Ji-Woon Jung, violin
Erin Rafferty, viola
Melody Eötvös, electronic sound performance
Aaron Higgins, field recording, camera co-operator
Directed and produced by Jawshing Arthur Liou