Meeting Mount Kailash: Day 8 (Ultimate Elevation 4750M / 15583FT)
July 16, 2010, 5:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today was made up of so many glorious firsts.  We spent the morning driving several thousand feet further up the Plateau to reach Lakes Manasarovar and Rakshastal, and the area that is the source of four of Asia’s major rivers. 

Pictured from above, Lake Rakshastal is on the left and Lake Manasarovar on the right.  We followed the road up the strip of land that separates the two:

It was just before reaching the shore of Rakshastal that we caught our first sight of Mount Kailash.  An incredible moment.  I couldn’t keep my eyes off her for the next week that we spent in the area.  We then stopped our caravan beside Rakshastal; so serene and untouched– mostly because it’s considered EVIL:

Known as “demon” or “poison” lake, a web of mythology has been spun around this gorgeous place by both Hindus and Buddhist throughout the past few millennia.  By Hindus, it’s considered to be the residence of Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Ceylon (not good).  I didn’t get to the bottom of what Buddhists see as so dark and evil about this lake.  The main issue for Tibetans seemed to revolve around its saline content.  Nevertheless, this “poison” lake is the source of the mighty Sutlej River that feeds parts of northern India and Pakistan.  Its waters also flow into its much favored sister, Lake Manasarovar, via a narrow, umbilical cord-like canal called the Ganga Chu.   Anyway, I see the mythology surrounding Rakshastal as an ironically lucky conservation strategy for this “evil” lake. 

Below our group member (and beloved Kiwi photographer) Craig Potten sets up for his first shots of Kailash and the Rakshastal:

And on our way out he found something to take along with us.  Stones from the Kailash area also have their own mythology.  As physical pieces of this holy region, they are sacred.  I’ve heard stories of such stones having the ability to bestow blessings, help cure illness, and have a magnetic charge that can make a compass spin out of control. 

We then drove toward our next most important meeting of the day, that with Lake Manasarovar.  But on our way we stopped for an unplanned encounter with two gorgeous wolves:

I’ve never seen wolves in Tibet before, but on this journey we seemed to be followed by them.  Our guide, Tashi, saw two wolves on her way to pick us up from the border just the day before.  And we had one more encounter just a few days later as we were en route to Guge.  Unfortunately, I was down in a ditch at the time losing my stomach and wasn’t able to give them a proper hello.

The view from our Cruiser with Lake Rakshastal to the left:

We also passed the holy mountain of Gurla Mandhata (25,242ft) on our way.  (I love the name of that mountain, go ahead and say it a few times to yourself).  Its peak has been ascended by several expedition teams from abroad since the area was opened in the 1980s.  Tibetans don’t bother with the peak, they focus on the long pilgrimage route that circumambulates its base:

We then made it to the western shore of Lake Manasarovar (or Mapam Yum Tso in Tibetan), the highest body of fresh water in the world.  It’s also among the most important sacred sites in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.  For Hindus, it’s customary to strip down and jump in as it is believed to cleanse all sins.  Chloe and I had all intentions set on doing just that but this particularly muddy and dank part of the shoreline coupled with the cold at that altitude kept us clothed.  Most of us did touch the water though, so at least our hands are now sin free!  We also drank quite a bit of it (once boiled) and that is also said to do the job.

The handsome Le Gros men:

We then moved on to our ultimate destination, Mount Kailash.  It was the night before the full moon of Saga Dawa, the holiest day of the Buddhist calendar.  We camped near hundreds and hundreds of pilgrims (and a fair amount of domestic & foreign tourists) in a meadow below the south face of the mountain awaiting the festivities of the next day.

The prayer flags at Darboche, the focal point for the Saga Dawa ceremonies:

Sunset and moonrise:

The altitude gain made it hard to sleep, but much of what kept me up that night was the constant desire to look out at the mountain and see what she was doing.  Was she completely aglow in the light of the nearly full moon?  Was she now accompanied by even more stars?  What would sunrise look like?  Was she doing anything particularly magical?  Our tent was unfortunately facing the wrong way so I couldn’t unzip the fly and have a sneaky peek at her between dozes, so I just lay there and let my imagination whirl away…


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

A lovely read and great pics! I’m enchanted by the wolf sightings. A protective omen?

Comment by veronique

I like to think so, especially that they came in pairs, though I need to ask more Tibetans about their take on wolf sightings and local lore. We did make it safely though so I think they proved to be a protective omen indeed…

So good their pop.s are back after decades of poaching!

Comment by wayuphigh

What lovely photos. Did you take them? Lovely!

Comment by Joshua

Yes! Well all but the one taken by satellite (mine’s been in the shop). Oh– and the one I just added of the wolves. Thanks J-man.

Comment by wayuphigh

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