The Great Hi­malayan Lakes

Distinguished Magazine - - Contents - PRATIK ROY CHOUDHURI

The lakes form the most sa­cred and pic­turesque sights that the Hi­malayas have to of­fer. Even in an­cient mythol­ogy, the Hi­malayas were a place of mys­tery, majesty and spec­tac­u­lar beauty. For gen­er­a­tions, the great range has been revered by peo­ple from around the world for its peaks, which are the high­est in the world. But for many, it is the lakes that form the most sa­cred and pic­turesque sights that the Hi­malayas have to of­fer. It is be­lieved that over one hun­dred lakes spread across the 2,400km long range. But what they all have in com­mon is their un­par­al­leled nat­u­ral aes­thet­ics, some­thing that ap­peals to us to­day in the same way as it did the an­cients.

In Hin­duism, the an­cients men­tioned the ‘panch sarovar’ or five sa­cred lakes, Pampa Sarovar, Bindu Sarovar, Narayan Sarovar, Pushkar Sarovar and Manasarovar in the Pu­ranas. Al­though all of them are revered, Manasarovar is held to be the holi­est. It is said that drink­ing wa­ter from the lake cleanses one’s sins over many life­times. The lake is fed by the Kailash Glacier and on clear days, re­flec­tions of Mount Kailash sparks up vi­su­als as it forms one of the most sa­cred and beau­ti­ful sights in the world. The fresh­wa­ter lake is lo­cated at an al­ti­tude of 4,590m, mak­ing it a chal­leng­ing trek through spo­radic weather changes. Thus, trekkers and devo­tees gen­er­ally avoid the win­ter and flock dur­ing au­tumn.

Fur­ther north in Kash­mir, the Dal Lake has been per­haps the most ad­mired sight in the re­gion for cen­turies. Known as the ‘Jewel in the crown of Kash­mir’, this tourist des­ti­na­tion has at­tracted mil­lions who en­joy and ad­mire its pic­ture-per­fect scenic beauty. The lake is not only one of the largest in the re­gion, it is also con­nected to sev­eral other lakes via straits and chan­nels. Most no­table of them all is the Nigeen Lake. Al­though Nigeen is some­times con­sid­ered to be a part of the Dal Lake, it is a sep­a­rate body with dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics. The Nigeen of­fers much more seclu­sion than the hus­tle and bus­tle of the Dal Lake. What both have in com­mon are the shikaras (small wooden boats) and the house­boats that cater to tourists all through­out the year. These, un­like many oth­ers in Kash­mir, are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. But even the most re­mote of the Hi­malayan lakes are not be­yond the reach of the pa­tient and the brave.

The Gu­rudong­mar Lake lies at an al­ti­tude of nearly 18,000 feet at about one hun­dred and twenty miles from Gang­tok, the cap­i­tal of Sikkim. One of the high­est lakes in the world, it is also one of the most sa­cred sites for Bud­dhists, Hin­dus and Sikhs. Named af­ter the founder of Ti­betan Bud­dhism, Guru Pad­masamb­hava bet­ter known as Guru Rin­poche, the lake is said to have been vis­ited by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Al­though the lake re­mains frozen for most of the year, the sum­mer months melt the ice and re­veal the spec­tac­u­lar glory of the Gu­rudong­mar. Vis­i­tors have to en­dure a long drive from Gang­tok and trekkers have to bravely over­come the high al­ti­tudes and ex­treme tem­per­a­tures. Yet, tourists and devo­tees flock to the lake every year. Usu­ally, the pe­riod be­tween March and June is pre­ferred.

Most of the Hi­malayan lakes are con­sid­ered to be sa­cred. Through man’s de­vo­tion, these ma­jes­tic places have been revered as abodes of the gods. The Su­raj Tal in the La­haul-Spiti val­ley in Hi­machal Pradesh is said to be the lake of the Sun God. Al­though al­most all the lakes are wor­shipped or revered, some have been ap­pre­ci­ated for be­ing just what it is - a beau­ti­ful moun­tain lake. Close to the Su­raj Tal in the Spiti val­ley, lies the Chan­dra Tal. Un­like the for­mer, the Chan­dra Tal has been named not af­ter gods but af­ter its unique cres­cent moon shape. Both are fairly ac­ces­si­ble dur­ing sum­mer with bik­ing and trekking tours be­ing a reg­u­lar phe­nom­e­non.

The Hi­malayan lakes are harsh! Strong winds, dif­fi­cult ter­rain, ex­treme al­ti­tudes and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures makes these places very hos­tile. The con­di­tions are tough and thus vis­it­ing such places re­quires not just mere phys­i­cal at­tributes, but also a sound mind and a fear­less heart. In­deed, even non-be­liev­ers revel at the di­vin­ity of such sites with a heart full of rev­er­ence, not just for gods, but the lakes them­selves. At the end of the jour­ney, most re­turn as devo­tees, swear­ing by their ma­jes­tic beauty and vow­ing to re­turn as soon as pos­si­ble.

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