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Lake Manasarovar


Tibet,  China

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Walkopedia rating87
(Top 100)
Beauty
33
Natural interest
15
Human interest
14
Charisma
32
Negative points
(7)
Total rating
87

 Vital statistics

Length:
90km
 
4-5 days
Maximum Altitude: 4,700m
Level of Difficulty: Difficult

Key information: Lake Manasarovar

  • A sacred circumambulation of this beautiful lake high in western Tibet, a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus.
  • Superb scenery, including views of 7,694m Gurla Mandhata and the fabled Mt Kailash, and surprisingly interesting wildlife.
  • Simple but inspiring Tibetan Buddhist monasteries at sacred points around the lake; mull on the tough life of the Tibetan plateau.
  • This is a tough walk on which you will have to be self-sufficient and where altitude can cause real problems. Come prepared.


Walk summary

Manasarovar is the most venerated of all Tibets many sacred lakes. It is especially sacred to Hindus, who have been walking round it for approaching 2,000 years. Buddhists associate the lake with Maya, Buddhas mother.

Hindu and Buddhist cosmology had it that nearby Mt. Kailash is the centre of the world and that Manasarovar is the source of four of Asias great rivers.

There used to be eight monasteries around the lake, representing points of the Dharma wheel, until the destruction of the Cultural Revolution. Five of these have been rebuilt, in part at least. This has always been a poor, utterly remote area, inhabited by nomads and brigands, many months from the civilised world. The lakes monasteries are, as a result, basic affairs compared with the riches and beauty of the Tibetan heartlands, but no less moving for that.

Manasarovar is said to be the worlds highest freshwater lake. It lies on the high west Tibetan plateau, between the massif of Mt. Gurla Mandhata (7,694m/25,300ft) and the many-named range which runs, for some 1,000km, parallel to the Himalayas, sacred Mt Kailash presiding in full pomp at its heart some 40 km to the north. It is separated by a strip of low hills from Rakshas Tal, the Demon Lake, its cosmological opposite.

The cold mountain light is extraordinary here. Distances are shrunk and views and colours can be flattened during the day, although they are superb at each end of it. The lake can shift from angry indigo, to dull pewter, brushed steel or polished silver, to wonderful lapis lazuli, all within 10 minutes.

Pilgrims come here to perform the kora, the sacred clockwise walk around the lake, and Hindus ritually bathe in it. You meet groups of Indians, huddled and suffering in the cold, thin air, and tough, wind-burned Tibetans in their heavy fleece coats, trudging remorselessly around the lake, oblivious to things of this world such as startling natural beauty. Although dirt poor, they will have struggled their way for thousands of kilometres to get to this desolate place.

The walk around Manasarovar is nearly 90 km (56 miles) and takes four or five days. Few westerners do the whole walk; having travelled huge distances to get here, their time is usually tight, and they are often exhausted and ill after toiling round the nearby Mt Kailash kora. Travellers often do day walks in the best areas, especially around Chiu Monastery.

Quite a lot of the walk is scrunching on the lakeside shingle, with an excursion over hills to the east of Chui, cutting inland to avoid the marshes of the northern shore. It is not all easy, with boggy areas and streams to ford, which can get full in summer.

The best sections of the lake make very satisfying day walks, if time does not allow for a full circuit.

Manasarovar is the most venerated of all Tibet's many sacred lakes. It is especially sacred to Hindus, who have been walking round it for approaching 2,000 years. Buddhists associate the lake with Maya, Buddha's mother.

Hindu and Buddhist cosmology had it that nearby Mt. Kailash is the centre of the world and that Manasarovar is the source of four of Asia's great rivers.

There used to be eight monasteries around the lake, representing points of the Dharma wheel, until the destruction of the Cultural Revolution. Five of these have been rebuilt, in part at least. This has always been a poor, utterly remote area, inhabited by nomads and brigands, many months from the civilised world. The lake's monasteries are, as a result, basic affairs compared with the riches and beauty of the Tibetan heartlands, but no less moving for that.

Manasarovar is said to be the world's highest freshwater lake. It lies on the high west Tibetan plateau, between the massif of Mt. Gurla Mandhata (7,694m/25,300ft) and the many-named range which runs, for some 1,000km, parallel to the Himalayas, sacred Mt Kailash presiding in full pomp at its heart some 40 km to the north. It is separated by a strip of low hills from Rakshas Tal, the Demon Lake, it's cosmological opposite.

The cold mountain light is extraordinary here. Distances are shrunk and views and colours can be flattened during the day, although they are superb at each end of it. The lake can shift from angry indigo, to dull pewter, brushed steel or polished silver, to wonderful lapis lazuli, all within 10 minutes.

Pilgrims come here to perform the kora, the sacred clockwise walk around the lake, and Hindus ritually bathe in it. You meet groups of Indians, huddled and suffering in the cold, thin air, and tough, wind-burned Tibetans in their heavy fleece coats, trudging remorselessly around the lake, oblivious to things of this world such as startling natural beauty. Although dirt poor, they will have struggled their way for thousands of kilometres to get to this desolate place.

The walk around Manasarovar is nearly 90 km (56 miles) and takes four or five days. Few westerners do the whole walk; having travelled huge distances to get here, their time is usually tight, and they are often exhausted and ill after toiling round the nearby Mt Kailash kora. Travellers often do day walks in the best areas, especially around Chiu Monastery.

Quite a lot of the walk is scrunching on the lakeside shingle, with an excursion over hills to the east of Chui, cutting inland to avoid the marshes of the northern shore. It is not all easy, with boggy areas and streams to ford, which can get full in summer.

The best sections of the lake make very satisfying day walks, if time does not allow for a full circuit.

William Mackesy's account of this walk

Mansarovar may not match your expectations of a sacred lake. Rather than a mistily numinous world of deadened sound, its icy waters lap its stony shores under a fierce, astringently beautiful light. The air could not be clearer, or, at 4,560m (15,000ft), much thinner. It is not a kind place, rather one of pure contemplation and sharp ecstasies.

Mansarovar's beauty and magic are justly famous, and a traveller's expectations can be high. The first view of the lake, whether from the windy pass, festooned with prayer flags, on the long dirt road from Lhasa, or coming up from the old trading town of Purang (Talikot) after walking across the Himalayas to the south, can initially disappoint after the long build-up: the sheet of dappled blue water under arid brown hills can seem a little.....

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Other accounts: share your experiences

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Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more

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Practical information for Walking in Tibet, China, Lake Manasarovar

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Guidebooks/maps/background reading

Guidebooks

Tibet - Lonely Planet

Tibet Handbook - Gyurme Dorje (Footprint). [ ], “different”, but perhaps need to use in conjunction with other guidebooks.

Tibet – Bradt Travel Guide

Other books

Kailas Manasarovar – Swami Pranavanda (out of print?)

A Mountain in Tibet – Charles Allen (fascinating history of Western exploration, primarily about Mt Kailash but heavily focussed on the Manasarovar area generally)

Circling the Sacred Mountain – Robert Thurmann and Tad Wise (primarily about Mt Kailash but heavily focussed on the Manasarovar area generally)

Maps

Various maps can be bought in Kathmandu, Lhasa or elsewhere. There is no really reliable map although the map in the Lonely Planet guide is perfectly sufficient for most walkers, as the path is so well trodden.


Best times to walk/weather

Best times to visit

Late May – early October

Weather

High plateau, so very variable. Can get very cold (especially at night) even in summer. Winds can become strong in the afternoon, so the mornings are the best time to walk.

For detailed weather information, have a look at: http://www.worldweather.org/ or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides


Getting there/transport/permits

 

Most people drive to Manasarovar from Lhasa or Kathmandu. There is no public transport. The majority hire jeeps and drivers in Lhasa (or join organised expeditions); some hitchhike, although this is very unreliable.

It is possible to hike in up the Humla valley and across the Himalaya from Nepal.


Route(s)

See Walk Summary above.


Possible problems, health, other warnings

  • Altitude: can affect some; potentially fatal. Acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.

  • Tough mountain weather: rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Come prepared.

  • This is a remote country: You will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.

  • Health risks: This is a relatively under developed country and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Make sure you have appropriate insurance.


Guided or independent?

Independent

It is possible to walk the kora independently, but you will have to carry tents, food and water. For some nights you may be able to use small, very basic guesthouses. Given the altitude, this is a tough option and needs careful planning.

Guided/supported

You can hire a guide and yak/ponies at Hor Chu, although this will not necessarily be straightforward, not least because of communication issues. There are many firms which will organise expeditions to/round Lake Manasarovar, which does take a lot of difficulties (including communication problems) out of the trip.

We used Great Walks of the World (http://www.greatwalks.net/) to organise the expedition. Their Nepalese agents were excellent.

Other possible firms include:

  • Explore! - http://www.explore.co.uk/ - reputable and experienced organisers. Do a tour taking in Mt Kailash and Manasarovar.

Accommodation

In Chui or Hor Chu (most peoples' start points): basic, limited and unpleasant. There is a small guesthouse at Trugo Monastery, although these are also very basic and limited and can get full up. You will have to camp at least some of the nights on the kora.


Useful websites and information

There are many websites with information on this walk. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.


Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

Other activities

Two days drive takes you to Tsaparang, the capital of the ancient Guge Kingdom, a rotting city of mud brick on a spike deep inside the upper Sutlej canyon.

Shopping, if you must

We are not a shopping website. But, anything bought from local people must be of some help to this desperately poor area. So, wallets out!

Lake Mansarovar -  - © William Mackesy

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

See our Fun page for some entertainment and to read about our travel writing and other competitions.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

Lake Mansarovar -  - © William Mackesy

Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more