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    Posted on July 31st, 2009 Sheila Yair 2 comments

    monimaheshEver since arriving in Chamba we start seeing pictures of the sacred lake Manimahesh. We see these posters and postcards in every store and restaurant. Manimahesh Lake sits on the foot of the Manimahesh Kailash massif. The mountain is believed to be the house of Shiva, one of Hindus main gods, making the lake which is really just a pound one of the holiest places in north India and the site of a huge pilgrimage. Somewhere in mid august for two weeks many pilgrims climb the trail to bathe in the lake and pray to Shiva. We couldn’t get exact numbers but it was somewhere between 200 people a day to 300,000 people.

    Pilgrimages in India rarely travel flat land, there is always a steep climb involved. Manimahesh is 4100 meters above sea level. We wake up early and take the public jeep to Hadsar. There is no bus as the road is always in bad condition. After two chais (Indian milk tea) we start the relentless 13 km climb up. The trail goes up along the river Ravi which at its steep slant, is really more like one long waterfall. We packed food for two days figuring we might stay at the lake an extra day. We are not very heavy and we start collecting wood to cook dinner as we guess there won’t be anything that high up. After an intense 3 hours we break for lunch. We have tomatoes and paneer (Indian white cheese) sandwiches, which are becoming a camping favorite, especially since we have our own salt and pepper shakers. We pass a couple seasonal villages with many goats and sheep. People climb up these hills during the summers building makeshift villages and bringing their livestock to the better grazing areas. All goes well until we hit 3500 meters, our first time so high this trip, we both feel like 80 year old heavy smokers. We make it to the last village before the lake. We are about 1.5 km away and 200 meters below. We have two more chais at one of the tents. Many people are starting to set up tents for the big pilgrimage offering basic food tea and even accommodation. A little after the village we spot a big green meadow with a stream running through it. We set camp and start cooking dinner. Locals watch us with amazement and don’t understand. For them it is all about getting up to the lake bathing praying and going back down and here are these people stopping right before the lake setting their own tent and camping.

    Now lighting a fire is no small feat at this altitude. My trustworthy lighter breaks after a few uses, leaving me with very few matches. I take the cap off the lighter and pour the lighter fluid on to some sticks and with the help of a candle finally get the fire going. We have a nice hot meal at a cold 3900 meters. Neither one of us can sleep due to the high altitude and we pass a very long night just laying there.

    In the morning I manage to light the fire again and we have some soup made with last nights leftovers. There are no clouds in the sky and we see all the impressive mountains around us. We hast up the trail to get to the lake and see Shiva’s house before clouds form. They usually form around noon. Once we reach the lake we see it is very small like the photos indicate. But what we didn’t realize is that Shiva’s house is the huge mountain we saw from our tent. There is a valley between the lake and the mountain which is exactly where we camped. We walk around the lake taking in the mountain views and meet the local sadu (holy man) who speaks good English. We chat about world events, history, Hinduism and have a few chais. He points us to a pass 3-4 kilometers up above the lake. We leave our bags with him and go exploring. It is a hard climb but we are slightly more acclimatized and with no equipment on our backs. We reach the pass at about 4700 meters just before a clouds sets in. we manage to see the valley below, a mountain deer and the steep trail leading down. The angle is about 80 degrees but there is a trail. We sit and wait for it to clear which it doesn’t. But we both have seen enough to decide we are going back down through here. On our way back the temperature drops dramatically and it starts raining, making it a lot less pleasant then our ascent.

    When we get back to the lake it is a babafest at the sadu’s tent. Baba is the nick name of respect they give sadus. Baba Gi and his entourage have arrived from Punjab along with another sadu. They are sitting around the fire in the tent passing a chillum (a clay pipe usually used for smoking hashish) and snacking on treats. It is a lot like a teenager’s party just with a holy aspect to it. We tell them we are from New York and tell them about 6th street and all the Punjabi restaurants there. They are extremely impressed when I start naming popular Indian dishes and every dish earns a round of laughter and applause. Alu gobi, laughter, palak paneer, laughter, chana masala, laughter. Wow it’s an easy crowd tonight. We go have dinner at another tent where we end up spending the night. It rains all night.

    When we wake up in the morning it is sunny and as we get ready to leave we are advised by several locals not to take the pass as it goes by a glacier and is dangerous after a heavy rain because of falling rocks. We decide to stay one more night and attempt the pass tomorrow. I go bathe in the freezing lake with Baba Gi’s entourage and some locals. You are supposed to dip 3 times. It is icy cold and I can barely feel my legs, to the point of almost falling, when I get out. Baba Gi and his entourage are preparing to leave. He is walking around, covered in white powder, with a towel to his hip, and a towel around his chest. But, as I said before, it is a, ‘Baba fest’. And no sooner does the sound of his wooden clogs start fading away, two more sadus arrive.

    monimaheshIt is a beautiful day, and we decide to enjoy it, walking to the snowline. We reach the snowline after a good 4 km walk. There is another lake there, where I swim, figuring I’ll be double good on Hinduism’s side. After a while, a kid from Chamba arrives, and explains to us that this is Shiva’s third eye, and it is absolutely forbidden to bathe in it. Oopps. He tells us about Chamba valley being Shiva’s place, and about places in the valley with footprints of the gods. As we head back, the clouds appear, and it starts raining. It rains all night, meaning again we can not do the pass.

    In the morning, we go up to the pass, but it is very cloudy, and we decide to just go back. We say a quick goodbye to ‘Baba Cool’, the local sadu, which turns out to be a 3 hour conversation about Hindu philosophy. One of the new sadus is young, very educated, and eager to explain Hinduism in very good English. We talk about the different philosophies and ideas of Hinduism, the main one claiming that God is real and everything is false. Material is false, and what you feel is God, i.e. sugar is Universe (false), sweetness is God (real). I find it amazing how these ideas can coexist with tales of monkey faced gods and god’s footprints, that the kid from Chamba told us. There are no different churches or no different streams, they all belong to one very flexible religion.

    Halfway down, it starts to rain heavily. We get to Bharmour very wet and hungry. We shower, go to our favorite restaurant, and order food for four people. Anything but lentils. We didn’t make it across the pass, but it was definitely an experience.





    2 responses to “Holy lake” RSS icon

    • shula and yaya cien holas !!
      your post card arrived .
      i follow your blog (mostly the fotos that you put) . . . it looks totaly unreal WOW !!
      all ok here the loods are super and sofie is getting to be one of them .
      i had pita on this little raft in a small pool in the galil hmaravie he was amazing -watching frogs
      sniffing from the edge a real macho . . .basicly they go everywhere with me .
      sarah is on a yact with her boys sailing from turkey to israel ! she called to say it was “increible”.
      sabba is doing well still alert and interested – the latest news – he had to go to tzfat to to adjust his pacer
      (ehud is with him on all this madical stuff) . as of now his health is stable and getting better . . .
      yigal is back and forth in RP and we have a lot of fun when he’s here .
      i had a supper hot (2 meanings of the word) summer here and enjoyed it a lot .
      all is 10! besos abbbba

      sent the sme massage on your regular e-mail
      lots and lots of luck abbbba

    • Hola, he estado mirando por el blog muy bien Muchas gracias.

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