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Panorama of Lake Manasarovar in Ngari, Western Tibet

Lake Manasarovar, or Mapham Yumtso (Victorious Lake) in Tibetan, is the most venerated of Tibet’s many lakes and one of its most beautiful. With its sapphire-blue waters, sandy shoreline and snowcapped mountain backdrop, Manasarovar is immediately appealing, and a welcome change of venue from the often forbidding terrain of Mt Kailash.

Manasarovar has been circumambulated by Indian pilgrims since at least 1700 years ago when it was extolled in the sacred Sanskrit literature of the Puranas. A Hindu interpretation has it that manas refers to the mind of the supreme god Brahma, the lake being its outward manifestation. Accordingly, Indian pilgrims bathe in the waters of the lake and circumambulate its shoreline Tibetans, who are not so keen on the bathing bit, generally just walk around it. Legend has it that the mother of the Buddha, Queen Maya, was bathed at Manasarovar by the gods before giving birth to her son. It is said that some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were sprinkled into the lake.

The Hindi poet Kalidasa once wrote that the waters of Lake Manasarovar are ‘like pearls’ and that to drink them erases the “sins of a hundred lifetimes’. Be warned, however, that the sins of a hundred lifetimes tend to make their hasty exit by way of the nearest toilet. Make sure that you thoroughly purify Manasarovar’s sacred waters before you drink them, however sacrilegious that may sound.

Manasarovar is linked to a smaller lake, Rakshas Tal (known to Tibetans as Lhanag-tso), by the channel called Ganga- chu. Most Tibetans consider Rakshas Tal to be evil, home in Hindu minds to the demon king Ravanna, though to the secular eye it’s every bit as beautiful as Manasarovar. The two bodies of water are associated with the conjoined sun and moon, a powerful symbol of Tantric Buddhism. On rare occasions, water flows through this channel from Lake Manasarovar to Rakshas Tal; this is said to augur well for the Tibetan people and most are pleased that water has indeed been flowing between the two lakes in recent years.

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