7. A journey into Tibet – Zhongba to Manasa Sarovar

July 2012

Previous posts:
A journey into Tibet - Kailash Manasa Sarovar
1. A journey into Tibet - At Kathmandu
2. A journey into Tibet – Mountain flight
3. A journey into Tibet - Manakamana
4. A journey into Tibet - Kathmandu to Nyalam Mu
5. A journey into Tibet - Rest day at Nyalam Mu
6. A journey into Tibet - Nyalam Mu to Zhongba

The D day for Manasa Sarovar had arrived. Most people had acclimatized which was clearly visible from their faces!! With high spirits we started our journey to Manasa Sarovar that was still 450 km away.

The road went next to Brahmaputra River.

It would have been another monotonous journey but Tibet brings springs out surprises at such places. This time it was in the form of sand dunes. They were huge giving a feel of desert.

A lake like formation was seen on the other side of sand dunes. Guide mentioned it as the source of Brahmaputra River.

By 12 noon we reached a check post. This would be the Mother of all check posts. Our passports were taken by the guide and submitted to Police at the check post. The Police were taking their own time to verify them. People in the bus were frustrated when things did not move even after 30 minutes of wait. The fact that we were asked to put inside the bus irritated a lot. “Why so much check here? What were the people at immigration doing? Were they cutting the grass?” were the comments from angry people. Few used this opportunity to bash communists and their policies.

For me it was a matter of safety for the country. Better be safe than sorry.  Make sure that the border and entry points are well guarded and protected. Then there is no need to invest on keeping police at each and every monument, mall, Temples, bus and railway stations. I really appreciate the way the Chinese administration handle such things. It may seem draconian but benefits the country.

Little after the check post, drivers decided to have lunch on a road side Chinese restaurant as there were no hotels further. While drivers and guides were busy having Chinese food, we silently munched our packed lunch.

After lunch, we crossed a pass that was 17,000 ft altitude. A lake was seen while getting down the pass. Looking at the size, I mistook it for Manasa Sarovar but it was Lake Kunggyo Co.

We were now seeing a snow clad peak of Gurla Mandhata on our left side. At the height of 25,243 ft it is one of the formidable peaks in Manasa Sarovar area. Now I was sure that we were nearing Manasa Sarovar. Within minutes we saw the first glimpse of the lake!! A sherpa shouted “Manasa Sarovar” and everyone in the vehicle jumped their feet to see the lake. It had taken quite an effort to reach the place and we were emotional.

As per wiki, “Lake Manasarovar lies at 4,590 meters (15,060 ft) above mean sea level, a relatively high elevation for a large freshwater lake on the mostly saline lake-studded Tibetan Plateau. Lake Manasarovar is relatively round in shape with the circumference of 88 kilometers (55 mi). Its depth reaches a maximum depth of 90 m (300 ft) and its surface area is 320 square kilometers (120 sq mi). Manasarovar is near 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), an important tributary of the Ganges River.”

Manasa Sarovar with Kailash Parvath at the background

The lake has religious significance for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. As per Hindu theology, Lake Manasa Sarovar is a personification of purity, and one who drinks water from the lake will go to the Abode of Lord Shiva after death. He is believed to be cleansed of all his sins committed over even a hundred lifetimes.

Gurla Mandhata background

Buddhists also associate the lake with the legendary lake known as Anavatapta in Sanskrit and Anotatta in Pali, where Queen Maya is believed to have conceived Buddha.

As per Jainism Kailash Mansarovar is associated with first Tirthankar Lord Shree Rushabhdev. Ashtapad Mountain which is near to the Kailash Mountain is a place where Lord Rushabhdevji attained Nirvana (Moksh) with crores of his disciples.

Though the lake seemed very near to us, it was still a km away. While we wanted to directly run into the lake, Sherpas asked us to wait for sometime where we can get better spot to touch water.

And then the parikrama of the lake started. The distance of 80 km on the periphery of the lake is covered by vehicles. Today, we would be doing only half of the parikrama and settle down in the camp. Few people also do parikrama by walk which would take about four days to complete.

The beauty of the lake started appearing as we started the parikrama. At each turn, the lake looked different. The Kailash Mountain was partly visible under the clouds.

We got down at a nice location to enjoy the lake. People used this opportunity to take bath in the lake. I shivered at the thought of getting into water at such cold conditions. But the clear water was irresistible and I ended up getting into water. This was the first time I had voluntarily taken bath in a religious place. I kept wondering what made me to do so. Was it the religious feeling or clean waters that attracted me or the fact that I was without bath for past few days? Anyway, taking bath was a refreshing exercise. I also liked the fact that people strictly avoided the use of soaps and shampoos.

The parikrama continued and we were now climbing up from the lake. Another lake was visible now. It was the lake Rakshastal. The Lake looks more beautiful than Manasa Sarovar. But while Manasa Sarovar is considered as pure and holy, Rakshastal symbolizes the daemon. The fact that Ravana, the hated figure in India had performed penance at this lake has not helped the matters!! Even the lake is considered as unholy by Buddhists.

Even though it is just next to Manasa Sarovar (in fact connected by a short river), the water of Rakshastal is salty.

Rakshastal has four islands. The source of Sutlej River is also near Rakshastal.

Until now the parikrama was on kutcha roads. But here near Rakshatal, we joined the highway coming from Taklakot to Darchen. The road again was stunningly smooth. Taklakot is the place where pilgrims from Indian Government side would enter Tibet.

Our place of stay was a guest house near Chui Gompa. The guest house was just opposite to the lake. The Gompa itself is situated on top of a hillock.

During night, my roommate from Bengal started having troubles. He had a slight gas trouble on the previous day but now it had become severe. Severe acidity accompanied with pains worsened the matters.  His refusal to take food had made him weak. Sherpas gave medicines like ENO but they were not effective.  Concerned by his state, I suggested consulting doctor. Luckily, one of the members in the group was a doctor. And good thing was he had the right medicines for the illness. I hope that it solves the problem. During night head of the tour organizer comes and force feed him with food. If his condition shows no sign of improvement he has to return back.