The Great Himalayan Lakes
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.