Every year, thousands of devotees make the pilgrimage from different parts of the world join the trek to Mansarovar Lake and Mount Kailash, one of the most difficult treks of its kind. This fascinating journey involves trekking at a height of 19,500 feet under inhospitable conditions. The good news is that on the way are some of the most beautiful places one has ever come across. There is no unnecessary noise or pollution and only peace and calm prevail. The mountain ranges are spread across three countries, India, Nepal and Tibet.
Different people interpret the importance of the place in their own different ways. Kailash Mansarovar is a sacred place for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and followers of Bon religion, a native Tibetan religion. For Hindus, Mount Kailash is the abode of Lord Shiva where he meditated along with his wife, the Goddess Parvati. The mountain also has a description in the Vishnu Purana, according to which the four sides of the mountain are made up of ruby, crystal, lapis and gold.
It is said to be ‘pillar of the world’ and symbolises a lotus for its location in the middle of six mountain ranges. Lake Mansarovar, also known as Mount Meru, is believed to be the first lake created in the mind of Brahma. According to legend, the lake was created by Lord Brahma for meditation, hence the name, as Manasa in Sanskrit is the “mind” and Sarovar means “lake”. Aryan cosmology claims that Meru is the navel of the Earth as well as the centre of the Universe. Swarga, or Heaven, is situated on its peak, ruled over by the Lord Indra who is also the God of Rain that brings prosperity every year to farmers living in the Indo-Gangetic plains.
For Buddhists, the place is an embodiment of Lord Buddha. Sites in the region are associated with Guru Rinpoche who established Buddhism in the region in the 7th and 8th centuries. Lake Mansarovar is also associated with many teachings in Buddhist literature. According to Tantric Buddhists, Mount Kailash is the abode of Buddha Demchok who signifies Supreme Bliss. Buddhists believe that Lake Mansarovar is the site of the conception of Lord Buddha. Myths claim that Queen Maya was given a bath in the lake by the gods before the birth of Siddhartha. The shores of the lake are home to several monasteries.
According to the ancient text of Kangri Karchhak, presiding deity of Kailash is Demchhok who, like Shiva, wears a tiger skin and has a necklace of skulls around his neck, holds a damru (small drum) in one hand and a trident in the other. His Shakti, or spouse is Dorje-Phangmo or Vajra Varahi. Ancient Tibetan paintings and idols show her clinging to Demchhok in a convoluted embrace. On the western side of Kailash as smaller snow peak called Tijun is said to be the abode of Doric-Phangmo.
There are many other legends about Mount Meru in Buddhist literature, Jain legends, Bon beliefs which inspire not just religion but also art, architecture, literature, naturopathy and mythology. The manifestations of Meru are numerous and varied and found in the inner journey of the human psyche. The importance of Kailash and Mansarovar proves the essential unity of all religions Jains refer to it as Meru Parvat or Sumeru. The mountain next to Kailash is Ashtapada, believed to be the site where Rishabhadeva, the first Jain Tirthankara, attained Nirvana.
The Bons believe that their saint Shenrad descended on the peak of Kailash. The region is the seat of all spiritual power and it is said that Lake Mansarovar is the abode of Zhang Zhung Meri, a sacred deity. Mansarovar lake has a circumference of 110 km. The locals, it is said, cover the distance in a single day on foot. Inexperienced trekkers, on the other hand, may spend at least up to three days for covering the distance. This act is known in Hindi as a parikrama.
Undertaking a parikrama once washes off the pilgrim’s sins forever. If done 108 times, the pilgrim can attain Nirvana or Salvation. Imagine, if one trek around the lake takes three days, how many days would one have to spend in that shivering cold for a leap into salvation. Buddhist pilgrims perambulate clockwise around the mountain and the Jains and pre-Buddhist, Shamanic Bon religion’s pilgrims walk counter-clockwise around Mount Kailash. Yaks and ponies are available for those who are unable to walk the distance.
A dip in the sacred waters of the lake is said to cleanse one’s sins from the past seven births. This is the reason for many Hindus from across the world choose to purify themselves at least once in their lifetime. It is also said the best time to visit the lake is between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., the period known as the Brahmamuhurta, or the time when the Gods come for a bath in the lake. Gauri Kund, a water body that is also known as the Lake of Compassion, lies on the way while going on downwards from Dolma – La (Dolma Pass). At an altitude of 5,608 metres, the lake is also famous as “Parvati Sarovar” as this was the place where Goddess Parvati had acquired her son Ganesha (the elephant-headed God) from the lather on her body and she had breathed life into it. A visit to Gauri Kund, a group of five natural small reservoirs with emerald-green water is a must for pilgrims.