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Meili Snow Mountain

Meili Snow Mountain

Meili Snow Mountain (aka Kawa Karpo) – in reality, a multi-peaked mountain range – is located in the western section of Deqin County, Yunnan Province, on the border with Tibet Autonomous Region. Apart from its top, which is snow-capped year round (whence the name), Meili Snow Mountain is characterized by the usual four distinct seasons. Between the mountain's foot and summit are several zones of plant distributions, from a flower-studded tropical zone near the base of the mountain to a frigid zone that comprises the mountain's snow-capped peaks, with intermediate and transitional zones in between. Meili Snow Mountain is also a one-of-a-kind habitat for several endangered species (among them: snow leopards, clouded leopards, Asiatic black bears and red pandas), which is why The Nature Conservancy has chosen to throw its support behind Meili Snow Mountain.

Meili Snow Mountain has 13 peaks boasting an average peak height of 6000 meters above sea level. The highest peak, Kagebo, reaches 6740 meters above sea level, the highest peak in Yunnan Province. Since all of Meili Snow Mountain's peaks are quite high (they are often either mist-enshrouded or covered in clouds), the mountain – or rather, mountain range – is also called Taizi Shisan Feng, or "13 Princely Peaks". As part of the same belt of mountains that stretches both north and south, Meili Snow Mountain connects with Mount Adongeni of Tibet Autonomous Region to the north, and with Biluo Snow Mountain farther to the south in Yunnan Province.

Meili Snow Mountain is a sacred place, a place of pilgrimage for Tibetan Buddhists, for whom the mountain is the first of the eight great divine mountains in the Tibetan region. To the locals who live near the mountain, Kawa Karpo is the residence of their guardian deity, and they subscribe to the belief that if the mountain is ever climbed by man, their guardian deity will abandon it, with catastrophic consequences for the locals who inhabit the villages in the valleys below. Religious beliefs notwithstanding, several attempts have been made, none successfully, to scale Kagebo.

The first team to try, in 1902, was British. This was followed, equally unsuccessfully, by American, Japanese, and Chinese teams, all of whom also failed. A combined Chinese and Japanese team tried to reach the summit of Kagebo in 1991, but the expedition ended in tragedy: the entire team perished in an accident, their remains not discovered until years later, in 1998. The many failed attempts to climb Kagebo have – quite understandably – only reinforced the religious beliefs that the local Tibetans attach to their sacred mountain.

Each year in late autumn and early winter, Tibetan-Buddhist pilgrims flock to Meili Snow Mountain from neighboring Sichuan Province, Tibet Autonomous Region, and even Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, some travelling hundreds of kilometers to pay homage to the sacred mountain. They spend one to two weeks in a pilgrimmage around the mountain (a process termed "circumambulation" by the adherents who participate), ritualistically prostrating themselves in reverence at certain key localities. On each Goat Year of the Tibetan Calendar, the number of "circumambulators" increases a hundredfold.

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