Saturday, May 22, 2010



Lake Manasarovar is a fresh-water lake in Tibet Autonomous Region of China 2,000 kilometres from Lhasa. To the west of Lake Manasa Sarovar is Lake Rakshastal and towards the north is Kangrinboqê Peak. It is the highest body of freshwater in the world. Manasarovar lies at 4,556 m (14947.5 ft) above sea level, making it the highest fresh-water lake in the world. It is relatively round in shape with a circumference of 88 kilometres. Its depth is 90 m (300 ft) and its surface area is 320 square kilometres. The lake freezes in winter and melts only in the spring. It is connected to nearby Lake Rakshastal by the natural Ganga Chhu channel. Manasarovar is the source of the Sutlej River which is the easternmost large tributary of the Indus. Nearby are the sources of the Brahmaputra River, the Indus River, and the Karnali River (Ghaghara) which is an important tributary of the Ganges River, so this region is the hydrographic nexus of the Himalaya.

Situated in the south-western part of Tibet bordering the Kumaon hills and Nepal, is Mount Kailash. It is supremely sacred mountain, cosmology connected with Mount Meru, the great mythological mountain that forms the axis of this world system. Being a central watershed of Asia, it has always been the most sacred mountains for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bons.

Mt. Kailash is most bewitching! Its beauty is over powering and from a spiritual point of view, it possesses a subtle magnetic vibration of a supremely high order. Mt. Kailash is considered to be the abode of Shiva and Parvathi, along with Devatas, Ganas, Yakshas, Yogis, Siddha purushas and Gandharvas. Mention of the Mt. Kailash Yatra is made in the Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Skanda Purana etc…. Kalidasa has mentioned about this holy Yatra in his Meghaduta. In the book ‘Yoga, Enlightenment and Perfection’ describing the thrilling spiritual experiences of Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatheertha Maha Swami - 35th Shankaracharya of Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham, the Swamiji himself has stated that the night he took Sanyasam at his thirteenth year, he had a dream. “I found myself on the amazingly scenic summit of a tall, Ice clad Mountain... Though the mountain was icy I felt no cold. In front of me, I saw a huge crystal Shiva linga... suddenly there was a great flash of light and from the linga Lord Shiva manifested. The lord had one face and two arms”. The hill referred in this dream is of course Kailash and the crystal Linga refers to the crystal mount which is again Mt. Kailash. He became a Jivanmukta(one liberated while alive). Very few get to even hear of such a state and after hearing about it a much smaller fraction can comprehend it. To understand such a mindset requires a dimentional change in the manner of attitudes. For example, is it not difficult to even conceive of actions that do not stem from selfishness? On the contrary, a delightful description of a Jivanmukta is a follows:

" There dwell calm, great noble ones who move about effecting like the spring season, what is beneficial to people. Having themselves crossed the dreadful ocean of transmigratory existence, they without any motive, cause other persons to do the same"

The scriptures abound in the description of a Jivanmukta's state and it is repeatedly emphasized that the attainment of Jivanmukti is the greatest of all achievements.

Mt. Kailash has other names....Meru, Sumeru, Sushumna, Hemadri, Deva Parvatha, Gana Parvatha, Rajatadri, and Ratnasanu. It is the piller of universe and provides an environment to forget the outer world and experience the full truth - the divine self, a blissful state. Mt. kailash's East face is filled with Crystal, West face is filled with Ruby, South face is Sapphire and North face is Gold. That is the reason it gets the name "Ratnasanu". Nobody has even attempted to climb this holy mountain.


Holy Manasarovar in the form of dark blue waters is the most beautiful, fresh water wonder lake at around 15,000 ft altitude – at the sight of it the mind dances with wonder and ecstasy said Sri Swami Tapovanam. Manasarovar is to the south of Kailash mountain. A bath in it is stated to take one to Brahma loka and to Shiva loka – as per Ramayana. It’s water is very sweet and said to posses medicinal properties. It is about four million years old. In skanda purana, it is stated that the lake was created out of Brahma’s mind. Hence it is called Manasa Sarovar. Sanaka, Sanandanna and other maharishis performed tapas here. It appears Buddha’s mother dreamt before Buddha’s birth, a white elephant from Kailas mountain entering her womb. Daily at Brahma Muhurth time, they say Devatas come down and take bath, especially on the northern side. Some people can even see the Devatas in the shape of the stars descending into the lake and go back. Gandhi’s ashes have been mixed in these waters. It is said Arjuna is said to have received his pasupathastra here. Lake Manasa Sarovar is a place of pilgrimage, attracting religious people from India, Nepal, Tibet and the neighboring countries. Bathing in the Manasa Sarovar and drinking its water is believed to cleanse all sins. Pilgrimage tours are organized regularly, especially from India, the most famous of which is the Kailash Manasa Sarovar Yatra which takes place every year. Pilgrims come to take ceremonial baths in the cleansing waters of the lake.

Manasa Sarovar lake has long been viewed by the pilgrims as the source of four of the greatest rivers of Asia namely Brahmaputra, Karnali, Indus and Sutlej. So it is an axial point which has been thronged by pilgrims for thousands of years. The region was initially closed to pilgrims from outside and no foreigners were allowed between 1949 and 1980. But after the 80s it has again become a part of the Indian pilgrim trail.

According to Hindu religion, the lake was first created in the mind of the Lord Brahma. Hence, in Sanskrit it is called "Manas sarovara", which is a combination of the words manas (mind) and sarovara (lake). The lake, in Hindu religious belief, is also supposed to be the summer abode of swans. Considered as sacred birds, the swans (Sanskrit: Hansa) are an important element in the symbology of the Subcontinent, representing wisdom and beauty also believed the Devas descend to bathe in the lake between 3 and 5 am the time of the day known as Brahma Muhurta.

Buddhists also associate the lake to the legendary lake known as Anavatapta in Sanskrit and Anotatta in Pali, where Queen Maya is believed to have conceived Buddha. The lake has a few monasteries on its shores. The most notable of which is the ancient Chiu Gompa Monastery, which has been built right onto a steep hill. It looks as if it has been carved right out of the rock.

Monday, October 12, 2009


There is such an old and well-known saying in North India. Literally translated, it means, "who can find access to Manasa Sarovar? There it rains down snow without clouds." " To rain down snow without clouds" is as impossible as a child being born without a mother. The figurative statement only emphasizes the idea that there is constant snowfall in the area. We can involve in its loveliness with eager and insatiable desire.

"I could live and die on this heavenly lake without ever growing weary of the wonderful spectacle always presenting fresh surprises." - wrote the famous Swedish traveller, Swen Hedin, who travelled over the region in 1907, recording the boundless joy of his wonderful experience.

South of Mount Kailash across the great plain of Barga at the base of Mount Gurla Mandhata, are the two lakes Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal. They are among the highest bodies of fresh water in the world, with Manasarovar at 4,558m (14,954 ft) and Raksha Tal about 15m ( 50ft) lower. The two lakes are connected by a channel called Ganga Chu which, although it flows in various degrees of volume, occasionally becomes totally dry. Traditionally, it is believed that ample water flowing in this channel augurs well for the Tibetan people and the years of drought in the 1980s for the channel were taken as a bad sign for the country. More recently the channel has begun to flow again, but it is unclear whether there has been any corresponding shift in the fortunes of the Tibetan people.

Manasarovar is the large of the two lakes and is considered by both Buddhists and Hindus to be much holier than Raksha Tal. Hindus regard Manasarovar as the mental creation of the god Brahma, especially made so that pilgrims to Kailash would have a place to perform their ablutions. In 1948 some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were carried here from India and scattered on the lake. Buddhists believe that Queen Maya, the Buddha’s mother was carried here by the gods and washed prior to conceiving the Buddha in her womb. The lake is considered to have pure healing waters and to represent the forces of sun, light and victory. The lake is traditionally circumambulated as part of the Kailash pilgrimage. There are eight Buddhist monasteries on the shores of the lake. In contrast to Manasarovar, the small lake Raksha Tal is usually ignored by pilgrims, who compare it to the moon and the forces of darkness. Others associate Rakshas Tal, “the demon lake”. Unlike the healing waters of Manasarovar, the waters of Rakshas Tal are said to be poisonous. The association of Manasarovar with the sun and the Rakshas Tal with moon is also linked to the respective shapes of the two lakes, with Manasarovar more closely resembling the full orb of the sun while Raksha Tal resembles a half moon.

Rakshasatal is a big lake which is about fifty miles in circumference and winding and crooked in shape. Ravana who is said to have danced holding the weight of Mount Kailash, had done great austerities on the banks of this lake and hence it is called Rakshastal. Though it is as big as the manasa, the inhabitants of Tibet and the Hindu travellers do not regard it holy or worshipful. Hence no one bathes in it nor gives charity along its banks.

Before we set out to circumambulate Manasarovar it is vitally necessary to have sufficient supplies. We must make sure to have food for 4 to 5days, since it is generally not possible to buy any along the way. In the summer make sure to bring a surgical mask as well as insect repellent to protect yourself against the swarms of flies and mosquitoes that can plague the trekker at various points. The walk itself is longer than that around Kailash, but it is completely flat.

The starting point for the circumambulation of Manasarovar is the village of Huore. To reach Huore, we leave Darchen and go to Barga, a small settlement of three compounds and a military post, to the junction of the road connecting Shiquanhe and Purang with the so-called southern route to Central Tibet. The old site of Barga is a few kilometers away from the present, Chinese-built town. From New Barga we continue east along the southern route for a further 28kms, passing to let the snow-capped mountain Bonri said to have been given by Milarepa to his vanquished Bon opponent in the magic contest that took place at Kailash. The only regular transport between Darchen and Huore is the Indian pilgrim bus, which leaves once every four days during the pilgrimage season. It is also possible to hitch a ride on a truck or jeep.

At Huore we can stay the night at a small guest house before starting off for the lake itself the following morning. From Huore we can also hire horses to ride or carry our baggage around the lake. The body of water we see to the south of Huore is not Manasarovar but a small independent lake. Make sure to keep it to our right as we cross the deserted landscape, heading southwest to Manasarovar. When we first reach the northeast shore of the lake, there is short stretch where peculiar egg-shaped balls of weed and Karmapa stone (small pieces of highly polished jet) can be found. Both objects are venerated by Tibetans as precious relics.

From here we head south for about three hours until we reach Seralung Monastery. The original Seralung Monastery which housed up to one hundred monks, was located a couple of kilometers up the valley was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In 1980 a modest temple was rebuilt at its present site on the lakeside. It has a single shrine room. If we feel like sleeping here, it may be possible to stay either in the kitchen or in tents nearby. At the lakeside by the monastery one can find layers of five-colored sand-black, red, gold, green and silver, which is also venerated by the Tibetans.

From Seralung it is a 7 hours walk to Trugo Monastery on the southern shore of the lake. Trugo has also been rebuilt on the lakeside instead of its original site. All along the southern shore of the lake Kailash can be seen clearly to the north. Several kilometers of Ta-ge River are hot spring and geysers. There is a government-built pilgrim’s Guest House at Trugo, where we can spend the night for a small fee. Trugo is an excellent place to stay for a few days as it is isolated, peaceful and friendly and the views and sunsets are often spectacular. Trugo is also a trading pint for Tibetan nomads, who comedown from the northern plains to sell wool and slat to Nepalese traders. Many Nepalese Hindus from northwest Nepal also come here to bathe and perform ablution in the lake, but these pilgrims rarely continue to Kailash. Behind the monastery is the great mountain, Gurla Mandhata.

The next stretch of the circumambulation entails a full day’s walk from Trugo to Tseti Lake on the western shore. As we turn around the southwest corner of Manasarovar, we will notice that this is the nesting place for many wild geese that migrate to the region. Also near this corner is a cairn made up of several peculiarly shaped rocks, upon which Tibetans make offering of scarves, sweets and chang. A couple of hours further around the shore we will pass by some tall cliffs in which are several blackened caves. A small monastery Gosul Gompa, has been rebuilt on top of the cliffs. A climb up affords magnificent views of the entire lake.

The only building at Tsethi is a rest house, where it is possible to spend the night, although there are no cooking facilities. From here, it is possible to meet the pilgrim’s bus or we can try our luck hitchhiking on the road nearby either back to Purang or on to Darchen and Shiquanhe.

If we decide to continue on the pilgrimage, we can walk another 2 hours or so to Chiu Monastery at the North West corner of the lake. This small monastery is a hill and marks the place where Padmasambhava spent the last seven days of his life on this earth. We can visit the cave where he is said to have meditated. Hot springs are found nearby a short distance down the channel. They are great for washing our hair.

Pilgrims must now make their way back to either Darchen via Barga or Purang. From Chiu Monastery we can walk to Barga in about four hours, or hitch a ride with a truck on the nearby road. From Barga it should be possible though not necessarily easy, to arrange transport back to Shiquanhe. We would probably have more success at Darchen. It is 104km from Chiu to Purang, which has to be hitched unless we have prearranged transport. Hitchin in Tibet means stopping a truck and negotiating with the driver how much we will pay for the journey. Because there is no public transport, all travellers, including Tibetans, pay for lifts. During the summer months the Indian pilgrims’ bus picks up groups of Indians here every few days and takes them to Darchen and then back to Purang. If seats are available, it may take other passengers for a charge.

From Srimad Bhagavata - One day, it seems, Apsara ladies were bathing naked in Lake manasa. At the time, Suka, followed by Vyasa, happened to pass along the shore of the lake. Suka, who preceded, was all nude; but the ladies did not feel embarassed on seeing him who looked like a picture. On the contrary, when their eyes fell on Vyasa, who was properly clothed, they hurriedly put on their dress. Struck by their strange conduct, Vyasa sought an explanation from them. They then told him, "O, Vyasa, your mind still remains in the idea of sex distinction. Your son, on the contrary, has not a trace of such distinction, because his mind is fixed solely on Brahman."

The Lord of Gouri with his consort and Devendra with Indrani and the celestial women are said to sport in this enchanting plain between Manasa Sarovar and Kailash.


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