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Gosaikunda Lake Pilgrimage 

Photographer: Narendra Shrestha


The journey to Gosaikunda Lake is a tough one, it involves traveling eight hours along a bumpy, muddy road north from Kathmandu to Dhunche, spending one night in the town, and then trekking for two days to reach the final destination. The Lake sits 4,380 meters above sea level in Langtang National Park of Rasuwa district and is one of the highest and most visited pilgrimage sites for Hindus who come from Nepal and India. According to Hindu mythology, in the Samudra Manthan legend, poison was released into the world and to save it the God Shiva swallowed it and kept it in his throat. He then thrust his trishul (holy trident) into a mountain to extract water so that he could calm his painful throat. Since then, Hindus believe that Lord Shiva has been sleeping under Gosaikunda.

From October to June, the lake freezes and all the local villagers move downhill to avoid the cold. But during the pilgrimage month of Janai Purnima (thread changing ritual), which was marked on Aug. 26 this year, many pilgrims from Nepal and India trekked to Gosaikunda Lake to take a holy dip. The villagers set up temporary camps and shelters to accommodate pilgrims and earn some money at different points of the trekking route for which they have to carry food and various goods from the district headquarters in Dhunche. The cost of all the commodities increases as either the porter or the mules carry everything.

Around 6,000 pilgrims visited Gosaikunda Lake this year, according to the festival management committee. Pilgrims of different ages attend the festival, but mostly middle-age and the elderly make holy dips, while many youngsters and tourists trek to the lake either through Rasuwa or Sindhupalchok for expeditions. Shamans attend the festival to gain and renew spiritual power and pray for deceased Shamans. It is believed that taking a holy dip in the cold water of Gosaikunda Lake releases one people from all the sins they have committed. “One obviously feels refreshed and pure from a plunge since the journey has been exhausting”, says Deepak Timilsina, a 43-year-old pilgrim from Kaski district. Many people often vow to visit the holy lake while going through hard times and some promised to visit after their wishes have been fulfilled. Similarly, Harka Bahadur Silwal carried a 6-foot long trident all the way from Sindhupalchowk district to make an offering to Lord Shiva for world peace and happiness. Summer rain and leeches bother most of the pilgrims whereas some face altitude sickness. Everyone has their own way of dealing with these challenges: some carry lemons to sniff, garlic to eat and some use corn flour to prevent altitude sickness. Most pilgrims complain about suffering, the difficulty of the trekking route and a lack of hotel facilities and food. Many say they won’t come to the lake again. But despite all the challenges, they also agreed that the moment they plunge into the water in the mystic morning, they feel it’s magical, the frigid water warms the body and seems to heal them.

Some 30 years ago my father trekked to the lake and after hearing about his experiences I also visited Gosaikunda 20 years ago. The trekking route was tough, and finding hotels and food was challenging. After 20 years, the routes are the same and the difficulties are the same. Though some business groups have proposed building a cable car from Dhunche to Gosaikunda for easy access for pilgrims, the local villagers rejected the idea and don’t want the area’s natural beauty to be altered. The lake is still as calm, peaceful and mysterious as it was decades ago.