Tibet The Lakes in Winter

Mt Kailash, and the two lakes it overlooks, are a moving sight even for unbelievers
Tibet The Lakes in Winter
Tibet The Lakes in Winter

It is hard not to be taken in by the energy of Kailash-Manasarovar. Even an atheist like myself was drawn back again and again, compelled, it seemed, by forces I did not quite comprehend. Only someone who has been there can understand this draw.

Over the years I made trips to locate the sources of the four rivers, view Kailash&rsquos east face, do the inner parikrama, cross the Khado Sanglam La, and visit a host of significant places linked to the myth of Meru&ndashthat colossal mountain at the centre of Creation, of which Kailash is supposed to be the earthly manifestation.

Somewhere, caught up in all this energy, I came upon an account of the freezing of the lakes Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal in the writings of the eclectic Swami Pranavananda. A regular visitor to the region, he witnessed the event in the winter of 1936&mdash37, during a year-long stay at Thugolho Gompa.

The Swami rose on December 28, 1936, sensing something had happened&ndash&ldquoThere was pin-drop silence everywhere. Like the eternal silence of Nirvana there was perfect stillness all around.&rdquo

Climbing up to the monastery&rsquos terrace, he realised that the lake had frozen a mile from the shore. (Two days later, the entire lake turned solid.) With this &ldquothere had descended a thorough change in the whole atmosphere (physical, mental and spiritual)&rdquo. The experience moved him deeply. &ldquoTears of joy trickled down the cheeks, only to be frozen on the parapet.&rdquo

His description of the frozen lakes, and his adventures that winter had me hooked Can lakes that size freeze over Quite unimaginable. Yet, he said they do, and, what&rsquos more, solidly enough to support the weight of a human being. He made a tentative crossing on foot across the northwest corner of Manasarovar, but later visited two islands in Rakshas Tal, during a journey across the lake, that he made riding a yak This had to be experienced to be believed.

In 2006, after years of trying, I finally got a permit, and made my way to this corner of southwest Tibet. These are images from that visit. And, yes, the experience was every bit as magical as the Swami described.

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