Mansarovar Parikrama

Trip Start Aug 19, 2006
Trip End Sep 13, 2006

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Saturday, September 2, 2006

Holy Mansarovar to Hindus or Tso Mavang or Mapan to Tibetans is holiest of lakes. It is fascinating, inspiring and is revered by all who have glimpse of it even once or seen its mystic grandeur. Its sublime serenity and aura is soothing and calms the wandering mind. According to Hindu mythology, the lake is the creation of the manas (mind) of Brahma. Some believe that the Maharaja Mandhata discovered Mansarovar. Mandhata is said to have done penance on the shores of Mansarovar at the foot of the mountains which are named after him.
Mansarovar Lake lies between two majestic mountains -- the Mount Kailash on the north and the Gurla Mandhata on the south. Rakshas Tal is on its west. It is compact (unlike Rakshas Tal) and oblong, almost oval in shape, with east-west major axis. According to the great sage Swami Pranavananda, the lake is 88 km in circumference and has a maximum depth of 300 feet. It covers an area of 200 square miles of Tibetan plateau at a height of 14950 ft. It freezes in winter and melts in spring. Brahminy ducks and swans are seen wading in its ripples. Some caves also exist on its shores.
While in the past, Mansarovar parikrama was done on foot, today it is made very easy as it is done entirely by vehicles. We are, in a sense, deprived of the pleasure of walking beside the Lake and enjoying its beauty, glamour and grandeur from close quarters. We can not be witness to its capricious moods, changing colours and radiance, or see the magical display on it of the reflection of the sun, clouds, the moon and the stars. I have heard and read of the pleasure and pain of fording rivers in spate during summer months due to melting of snow; at times you have to leave the shore and go higher up to skirt the inaccessible hilly sections; of the stories of the gangs of bandits/robbers/nomad tribes always on the look out of the easy prey to loot. All that indeed was hair-raising stuff, rough and tough going which the lucky travellers of yore narrate with such pride. We will miss all the thrill, pleasure and pain that were associated with the Mansarovar parikrama. With roads, buses and cars around we would in course of time forget trekking completely and with that the poetry and thrill that is associated with it. It will then be reduced to a religious ritual only. These machines surely will disturb the serenity of the area and pollute the environment.
 Now Parikrama can be done in two days or even one. There are two places where good facilities for a halt are available; Qihu and Qugu. You can first go to Qihu and halt there, enjoy the wonderful setting of the Lake from there and then go to Qugu via Hore, halt at Qugu then go to Qihu to complete the Parikrama, or vice-versa.  
We begin the parikrama with a drive through the vast plains of Parkha to Qugu, a distance of 85 km. In between there is a brief halt at Hore, where one can buy fresh fruits and vegetables. We move under the benign gaze of a herd of deer close by as we drive through the Parkha plains. A short distance away from Hore we stop to see the spectacular view of the vast expanse of the lake and its changing colours. At the moment it is larch green far toward the depths and pale green nearer the bank and you can hear the ebb and flow of the water. A pair of ducks is wading in the lake enjoying the afternoon sun.
The sky is clear. The sun glare dazzles the eyes. It is very windy and cold. We reach Qugu in the afternoon. The camp is by the edge of the lake. Here we are at a height of about 15000ft. We can see mount Kailash far in the north and Gurla-Mandhata nearby in the south. The Qugu monastery is next to our camp. This is one of the eight monasteries round the lake.  Our accommodation here consists of two rows of cubicles, about 50 meters apart, facing each other. Each cubical is well equipped with mattresses; comforters etc and houses four yatris. The window of our cubical opens on the lake. The setting is so fascinating that we immediately go out to explore our new environs.
As night falls I go out and sit by the lake, listening to the silence of the night. It is so quiet I can hear my heart beats. The sky is clear and deep blue. The moon has now grown in age and is practically sole ruler of the sky, except for few prominent stars. Lake is intensely blue as it reflects the deep blue colour of the sky above. It looks almost black and frightening. The only light is that of the moon and stars winking in the waters of the lake. There is no one around. Eerie silence reins supreme. The lake is calm. At times, sound of soft ripples lapping the shores makes its presence felt. At times the wind whistles past and with that a huge wave rolls by. It is extremely cold to be out in the open during night hours and also extremely dreary now to be alone out by the lake. I therefore, return to my quarters. 
I awake early the next day. The sky is clear and lit up with predawn light. Few stars are still about in the deep blue sky. Cool morning breeze caresses the calm and deep waters of the lake. It shivers with silvery ripples and the ducks which were wading in its still waters get a joy ride. They glide with a bearing of pride as if to show off their close intimacy to the lake. On its shores, tailless rats frantically run around in search of food. A large number of tiny swifts have gathered on the electric cable and are singing their morning prayer in chorus. While preening their tiny feathers now and then, they intently appraise my presence with their small wise eyes. At times one may encounter kyang (wild ass / horse) or wild goats roaming about in search of food. Now the darkness recedes and light follows. Heavy suspended air stirs and a soft easterly breeze follows. Eastern horizon brightens up with rosy glow of sun rise, and the lake shimmers with colours as the rays strike the waters. It is as though the sun is paying obeisance to the Lake. Mount Kailash as also the surrounding mountains glitter in the radiance of the sun. They are bathed in varying hues of red. It is most absorbing and delightful interplay of light. All of them are looking into their reflections in the Holy Lake as if smilingly seeking her appreciation and approval of their grandeur. I have no idea how long I continue to enjoy its magic as the time stands still. As the dazzling disc of sun advances in the sky, the magical display of reflection of the sun, the clouds and even mount Kailash in the lake keeps the beholder spellbound. I enjoyed the mystic charm of the scene with joy and wonder. As wings of my imagination spread, I fancied as though the glittering lake in the sunlight winked at me affectionately. These sunny moments I shall always adore and will ever remain close to my heart.
The lake known for changing colours and mood with passing hours and seasons; it is placid now, tempestuous the next, like the ocean. Many have poetically described its beauty in several ways; like some called it  the Pearl of joy, or saw it simmering like a precious gem in the desert land, others likened its beauty to deep blue lotus and still others compared its still and calm waters as smoothly carved jade rock. But no one can portray or fathom its beauty which Divine brush presents as the day unfolds. It is timeless and its spectacle always displays fresh surprises. During our short stay by the lake we had but a glimpse of its grandeur, and can only imagine the wonderful magic of nature that the frozen lake would display in the silence of the cool starry winter nights, or the silvery opalescence of full-moonlit nights or the Devine sight it must present when the early morning sunrays quietly kiss its smooth glittering frozen surface radiating colourful beam of light all over, with no soul to witness the spectacle.
The waters of the lake can be freezing at certain times of the day and during certain seasons and pleasantly warm at others. Regardless of the temperature, the devout pilgrims take holy dip in the lake, and so did all of us - a dip of faith, bottled part of the lake in small pitchers as a trophy. and  then assembled in Pranavananda square for puja. It is a raised platform of masonry work and is named after a great sage Pranavananda.
On third day we decide to return to Taklakot from where we started the rendezvous of Kailash and Mansarovar. After lunch we drive through the wide valley surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains of Gurla-Mandhata, then cross Gurla-la saddle at 16200 ft and stop there for a while.  From the high grounds of the pass we have a breathtaking panoramic view of both Mansarovar and Rakshas-tal nestled between mount Kailash far on the north and Mandhata ranges on the south both, peeping intently at the crystal clear depths of these Lakes. It is a wonder of nature to have lively twin lakes --- Mansarovar and Rakshas Tal, huge water bodies, together, spread over a large area of about 850 square kilometres of the Tibet plateau at a height of about 4900 meters above sea level. The sublime setting surpasses all the imaginations. As if in trance, under a spell I remain where I am, transfixed by the spectacle and was awakened from my enchanting reverie only when asked to board the bus. I lazily take my own time to do so.
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