If a magical wizard named Tigran was flying around the world in his Buddy Lee Dungaree jeans and his buzz cut haircut and decided he would stop to rest on the highest plateau in the world when the wind was soft and the grass was green and to think to himself “gee it sure is pretty here, I wonder what it would look like if it was a lake”, he would turn that plateau into a lake and name in Lake Manasarovar.
Okay, that’s not really how Lake Manasarovar was formed. But I thought it would be funny, especially if your name is Tigran or you know somebody named Tigran. For the 99% of you who don’t, lets move on.
Lake Manasarovar is not the highest freshwater lake in the world. Comfortably resting in the autonomous region of the Tibetan plateau, the lake has an elevation of 15,060 ft. The maximum depth recorded in the lake was 300 ft. The lake has a surface area of 123.6 sq mi and is completely frozen in the winter, which makes it the largest outdoor ice skating ring in the world (does it count if people don’t actually go ice skating on it?).
The lake receives water from glaciers on Mt. Kailash and from precipitation. The lake drains into a neighboring lake, Lake Rakshastal, through the Ganga River. Its water also flows to the Sutlej River, which is a tributary of the Sindhu River.
How to get there
People visiting Manasarovar Lake usually do so while on a pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash. I will cover the reason for this in the historical significance section of the post. I will also describe how you can get there directly and how to go while on a pilgrimage.
Lhasa is the capital of Tibet and is the starting point of most journeys through the country. Directly traveling to Lake Mansarovar by car would take about 20 hours and cover about 733 miles. Breaking the trip down to include stops in Xigaze and Saga would make the trip more enjoyable. Lhasa to Xigaze takes about 5 hours and covers 168 miles. From here you can travel to Saga, which would take just over 8 hours and cover 278 miles. The next stop might be in Payangzhen at a distance of 145 miles and just over 3 hours away. This puts you within 161 miles and 3 and a half hours away from the lake.
Day 01: Arrive in Lhasa.
Day 02: Visit Potala Palace, Norbulingka Palace and a traditional hospital. -06 hrs
Day 03: Visit Sera, and Drepung Monastery, Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Bazaar. -06 hrs
Day 04: Travel to Saga. -13 hrs, 446 mi
Day 05: Travel to Lake Mansarovar. -07 hrs, 304.5 mi
Day 06: Travel around Lake Mansarovar then to Rakshastal Lake. -04hrs
Day 07: Trek to Dehara caves. -08 hrs, 5,000 m / 16,400 ft
Day 08: Trek over Dolma La Pass. -12 hrs, 5,943 m / 19,500 ft
Day 09: Conclude the Trek and travel to Saga.
Day 10: Travel to Shigatse. -08 hrs, 278 mi
Day 11: Travel to Lhasa. -05 hrs, 168 mi
Day 12: Conclude trip
What to bring and where to stay
No matter what time you visit the lake, you will probably want to bring cold weather cloths. The monthly average high temperatures do not normally reach 60o F, and the average monthly lows are in the freezing range 9 months out of the year with the remaining 3 months just a few degrees warmer. The following temperature table was taken from Wikipedia. The table starts in January and progresses to December on the right.
|Daily mean °C (°F)||−8.9|
If you are looking for cold weather cloths you can get it at Sherpa Adventure Gear. You may also want to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, a sleeping bag and a water filter. You may also want to bring some water wings in case you feel the urge to jump into the water (or snow depending on the season). Also, some chap stick might save your lips. In general, dress in layers and keep your skin protected.
There are plenty of places to stay along China National Highway 219, which connects Lhasa to Lake Mansarovar. You can tell your lodging requirements to your travel company or to your guide. Either party can find the best options based on your described requirements, and make the bookings.
When to go
The summer is the perfect time to visit Lake Mansarovar. July, August, and September are the warmest months. I’m not saying those months are actually warm, but compared to the others they are a tropical summer. During this time monsoon weather from the south will barely reach the interior. Just enough rain will fall at this time to make the vegetation lush and the landscape green. This is also a good time to see yaks grazing. Most people that visit Lake Manasarovar say the best time to go is anytime from April to October.
Reliable statistical data on the number of tourist entering Tibet, specifically Lake Mansarovar, could not be found. However, according to the China National Tourism Administration, about 98% of tourist entering Tibet were Chinese. It makes sense that domestic tourism is more than foreign tourism. But no hard numbers were provided. I suggest making your decision based on the weather forecast.
|Climate data for Lake Manasarovar|
|Average high °C (°F)||−3.2|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||−8.9|
|Average low °C (°F)||−14.5|
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||52|
Tibet is a relatively financially poor area by American standards. Its per capita annual national wages are around the $7,700 mark as of 2011 (sorry I couldn’t find any data that was more recent). Therefore, anyone traveling to Tibet will likely enjoy fairly inexpensive costs associated with travel.
From what I could gather, people must book their trip through a licensed travel company. You are required to have a Chinese Visa, and a Tibetan Entry Permit. The entry permit is free when booked through a travel agency. A 12-day adventure touring Tibet with hikes around Mt. Kailash and Lake Mansarovar can cost upwards of 2,500. An 8-day general trip, without hikes, will cost $1,200.
Below is an itemized list of what you can expect to pay. Please note: The cost of the Chinese Visa is not included in the cost of the trip.
- $50/day guide
- $20/day food
- $30/day room board (some locations have tent style rooms for $5/ night)
- $140 Chinese Visa
- $20 Tibet Entry Permit (actual cost)
- $180 transportation
- $200 government tax
There are 4 separate religions that hold Lake Manasarovar in high regard. Hinduism, Buddhism, Bon, and Jainism all value the lake for its historical and religious importance. In Jainism, Manasarovar is associated with the place where people go to attain nirvana. In Bon, the founder of the Bon religion bathed in the lake after his pilgrimage around Mt. Kailash. It signifies purity. Buddhists believe it is the site of Lord Buddhas birth, and a place where he meditated often. I am going to give Hinduism its own paragraph because of the number of Hindu pilgrims that visit the lake.
The Name of Lake Manasarovar originates form a Hindu belief that the lake was first created in the mind of Lord Brahma, then manifested itself on earth as the embodiment of purity. It is believed that anyone who drinks from the lake will stay with Lord Shiva after death. It is also believed that anyone who baths in the lake will have the sins of a hundred life times washed away. Every year people from Nepal and India visit the lake on a pilgrimage known as Kailash Manasarovar Yatra. On the pilgrimage they circumnavigate Mt. Kailash, then wash their bodies in Lake Manasarovar.