KEY FACTS ABOUT MANASAROVAR LAKE
Location: Western Tibet, Ngari Province, about 1,200 km from Lhasa, about 30km to the South from Kailash
Altitude: 4590 meters
Area: 410 square kilometers
Maximum depth: about 90 meters
Circumambulation: about 82 km along the shore or 90 km when visiting monasteries along the way
Transparency: up to 14 meters
ABOUT MANASAROVAR LAKE
Tibetans call the lake Mapham Yumtso, meaning Victorious Lake in Tibetan.
Manasarovar is a freshwater sacred lake in Tibet. The waters from glaciers in Kailash feed the lake. It is located in the western part of Tibet Autonomous Region in Ngari Province, about 30 km from Darchen. The lake is one of the highest in the world at an altitude of about 4590 meters. The deep blue color of the lake looks gorgeous backed by snowy mountain ranges. The calm surface of the lake reflects mountain ranges and clouds like a mirror.
The highest peak in the surrounding range is Gurla Mandata (7694 meters). To the North from the lake is magnificent Mount Kailash, you can see the South face of Kailash on a clear day.
Waters of the lake are so clear with transparency up to 14 meters, that you can easily see fish swimming deep inside the lake.
To the West from the lake is Rakshas Tal lake (Langa-tso in Tibetan). The Ganga Chu river connects Manasarovar lake with Rakshas Tal. Further in the West, Ganga Chu flows into Sutlej River. The two lakes are counterparts: Manasarovar is a freshwater lake, while Rakshas Tal is salty. Manasarovar lake has a lot of fish that attracts various birds. Waters of Rakshas Tal are so salty that can be deadly for some animals. That’s why the two lakes are often imagined to represent Sun and Moon. For Hindus, demon king Ravan resides in Rakshas Tal lake.
Kailash Manasarovar region is a source of 4 great rivers flowing across Asia. One of them, the tributary of Sutlej originates on the West side of Manasarovar lake.
KAILASH AND MANASAROVAR SOURCES OF 4 RIVERS
Four major Asian rivers have their sources on four sides of Kailash. These four rivers flow across Asia and huge population of the neighboring countries depends on the water from these rivers.
HOLY MANASAROVAR LAKE
Manasarovar lake is sacred for 4 religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Bon. Pilgrims of all these religions visit the lake and walk around it. Nowadays it is possible not only to walk, but also to drive around Manasarovar. Followers of Bon walk around in a counterclockwise direction, while everyone else walks clockwise.
According to Tibetan legends, the mother of Buddha Queen Maya bathed in the lake before giving birth to the Buddha.
Buddhist pilgrims circumambulate the lake on foot visiting all the monasteries along the way. Buddhists dont swim in the lake.
According to Hinduism beliefs, the lake is a creation of the mind of god Brahma. He created a perfect area for his sons to take a bath after a strenuous trek.
It is a symbol of purity. According to the Hindu poet Kalidasa, drinking water of the holy Mansarovar lake can clean the sins of hundreds of lifetimes. We strongly recommend filtering and boiling the water before drinking it.
Ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were sprinkled in the Manasarovar.
Bon is a dominant religion in Tibet before the adoption of Buddhism. There are still some followers of Bon in Tibet, especially in the Eastern part. However, in the Western Tibet there are still some Bon temples. According to Bon religion, its founder Tonpa Sherab took a bath in a lake when he came to Tibet for the first time.
For followers of Jainism, the history lake is connected with the first Tirthankara, who reached nirvana in the Himalayas.
WALKING AND DRIVING AROUND THE LAKE
Trekking around the lake can take 4-5 days. The circuit around the lake shore is about 80 km long. If you want to visit all temples along the way, the route is around 90 km long. Nowadays, most visitors prefer to drive around the lake. There are small minibuses arranging the drive and it takes about 3 hours.
TREK AROUND THE MANASAROVAR LAKE
If you are trekking, you should be prepared to camp for at least some of the nights. There is a simple guesthouse by the Trugo monastery.
Trekking paths mostly follow the lake shore, and you will enjoy great views of Manasarovar all the way. One of the best viewpoints will be from Gotsuk monastery that sits on top of the cliff.
The best time for trekking is in warmer months. At the same time, it is best to avoid the rainy season as some of the streams along the way become deep.
Here is an outline of the trek around the lake:
Day 1. From Chiu Monastery to small town Hor. 30km.
Day 2. Hor to Seralung Monastery. 13 km.
Day 3. from Seralung to Trugo. 27 km.
Day 4 (or add one more day for walking at a slower pace): From Trugo to Chiu. 40 km.
MONASTERIES NEAR THE MANASAROVAR
Because Manasarovar is the sacred lake, there were 8 monasteries around it, in all cardinal directions. Nowadays, only two are well-restored. The most famous Chiu monastery is located on the North-Western part of the lake. Chiu sits on top of the hill, overlooking Manasarovar and is one of the best photography spots. From the terrace of Chiu, you can see Mount Kailash in the distance. Going clockwise from Chiu monastery on the North-West, the next monasteries are: Cherkip Monastery (now in ruins), Langbona (North), Seralung (East), Yerngo (ruins), Nyego monastery (now in ruins), Trugo (South), and Gotsuk, also spelled as Gossul (South-West).
HOW TO TRAVEL TO MANASAROVAR LAKE
All travelers in Tibet have to travel in an organized tour, not necessarily a group tour. However, due to the remoteness of the lake, most visitors prefer traveling with a group to lower cost. Majority of travelers combine visit to the lake with sightseeing in Tibet and pilgrimage trek around the holy Mount Kailash. As all visitors need special permits to travel to Tibet in addition to Chinese visa for most of the nationalities, you should plan your visit at least 1 month in advance.
DRIVING FROM LHASA TO WESTERN TIBET
The most popular way to approach the Lake is by driving from Lhasa. The distance is about 1,200 km. Presently, new roads connecting Lhasa with Western Tibet are very good. You can reach Manasarovar lake within 3 days, however, most tours take at least 4 days and include a scenic detour to Everest Base Camp. Since it is a popular route, there are regular group tours from Lhasa to Manasarovar lake and Mount Kailash, including the pilgrimage trek around Kailash. By reaching Manasarovar lake from Lhasa you will have time to acclimatize to high altitude and visit a lot of historic, religious and spectacular places on the way.
DRIVING FROM SIMIKOT IN NEPAL
This route is popular among pilgrims, who prefer to shorten the duration of the tour. When traveling from Nepal, you enter Tibet in a small border town in Purang County. From the border you can reach Manasarovar lake within 2.5 hours of driving. However, if you are following this route you will need to spend some time either in high altitude areas of Nepal or at the border. Since the altitude at the Manasarovar lake is about 4590 meters, it is dangerous to drive there without prior acclimatizing.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MANSAROVAR LAKE
The best time to visit the lake is from May to the middle of October. For photographers, it is best to visit either in May or late September – October.
Although you can visit Manasarovar lake year round, the best time is when the weather warms up. Due to high elevation, weather can rapidly change even in summer dropping from pleasant +15 during the day to around 0 by the nighttime. In winter the lake is frozen. In addition, sometimes there is a heavy snowfall in the region, making it difficult to drive and walk. Most of the guesthouses close if there is too much snow.
On the graph above you can see average weather distribution by each month.
July and August are the rainy season in the Himalayas. The Mountain range stops most of the rain and Tibet doesn’t get as much rainfall as neighboring countries. However, it might be cloudy and it usually rains during the nighttime. For photographers, it is best to travel before or after the rainy season when weather is mostly clear.
WHERE TO STAY BY THE MANASAROVAR
Accommodation options are very basic. There are several guesthouses by the lake shore. Inside are dorm rooms with twin beds. Public shared toilets are outside. There is no running water or showers. However, within a short walk from the guesthouses you can find natural hot spring. There are baths inside, and for a small fee you can take a shower. If needed, you can also wash some of your clothes outside of the baths.
FOOD AND WHERE TO EAT
As in most remote areas of Tibet, the food options are limited to simple Tibetan meals. There are various tea houses, where you can order Tibetan dishes such as Tsampa with butter tea for breakfast, fried rice with yak meat or vegetables for lunch/dinner. You can also buy instant noodles, chips, biscuits in the stores on the way to the lake. We recommend supplementing these meals with some snacks, fruit, energy bars, etc.
FISH AND BIRDS
The waters of the lake are full of fish. Tibetans believe that some of these fish varieties help to cure different diseases. When approaching the lake, you will see sellers offering dried fish. Although Tibetans don’t eat fish as they believe that lake spirits Naga will be disturbed, they will use the fish Manasarovar as a medicine.
The abundance of fish attract many birds hunting them, including swans, ravens, ducks, gulls, and some others. It is an ornithologists heaven. Migrating birds from Europe, Asia and Siberia stop here on their way to India and further South.
BATHING/ FISHING IN THE LAKE
In order to protect the environment, fishing is not allowed in the lake. Swimming or bathing is also not allowed. Many pilgrims want to take a ritual bath in the lake. For this purpose, we recommend using a bucket to get the water from the holy lake and perform ritual bathing.
PLACES TO VISIT NEAR MANASAROVAR LAKE
The monastery is a must visit when you travel to Manasarovar. It sits on a steep red-colored Sangtok Pelri Mountain by the magnificent Manasarovar Lake. From the monastery you can enjoy an amazing view on the Manasarovar lake and Gurla Mandhata Peak (7,694m). On a clear day you can also see Mount Kailash.
It is impossible to imagine a visit to Manasarovar lake without traveling to magnificent Mount Kailash. Located about 30 km from the lake it is visible in a clear weather. Similar to Manasarovar, Kailash is sacred for 4 religions. If you are not up to trekking around the mountain, you can at least enjoy the view on its South Face.
The Western most region in Tibet rarely sees tourists. If you are looking for an off the beaten path adventure, Guge Kingdom wont disappoint you. You will see ruins of an ancient kingdom, clay caves in the mountains, Tholing and Tsaparang monasteries, and moon-like landscapes of stone forests and muddy mountains.
TOURS VISITING MANASAROVAR LAKE
15 DAYS MOUNT KAILASH GROUP TOUR
One of our most popular group tours, starting in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and going to Manasarovar lake and Mount Kailash for three-days trekking around this sacred mountain. During this tour, we visit Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse monastery and Kumbum stupa, Mount Everest, Lake Manasarovar, Chiu Monastery, Mount Kailash, and much more.
2021 SAGA DAWA FESTIVAL TOUR
This special tour takes you to the sacred Mount Kailash and Manasarovar lake during the biggest festival of the year. Saga Dawa Festival celebrated the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death. It attracts thousands of pilgrims from all around Tibet, India, and the world. You will see the greatest diversity of Tibetan national dress as people wear their best clothes for the festival.
17 DAYS WESTERN TIBET: KAILASH AND GUGE KINGDOM
A private tour taking you from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet to the most Western part of the country. The tour includes three days trekking around Mount Kailash and visiting the ruins of the Guge Kingdom on the West, in addition to Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse, and Everest Base Camp.
OTHER SACRED LAKES IN TIBET
Yamdrok is a gorgeous turquoise-colored sacred lake. If you are traveling to Mansarovar lake from Lhasa, you will see Yamdrok lake on the way between Lhasa and Shigatse. It will be one of the highlights of your trip! The lake is fed by the water from melting surrounding glaciers, some of which you will also see on your tour.
Read More: Yamdrok Lake
Namtso, unlike Manasarovar and Yamdrok, is a salt water lake. Because of its high altitude, it is often called a Heavenly lake. Namtso is located to the North-West from Lhasa and can be visited in one or two days trip from Lhasa. You can enjoy stunning sunset view from Tashi peninsula and visit a small monastery.
Read More: Namtso Lake