The Sacred Lakes of the Sun and the Moon

Marpham Tso (Manasarovar) and Chiu Hot-springs

Lamga Tso (Raksas Tal) and Burang


Map 6, From Darchen we drove south to the Sacred Lakes and camped on the shores of Marpham Tso (Manasarovar), Camp 8. Next day we drove to Burang where we stayed at a "hotel". 

Finally we would get to see Lake Manasarovar, of which Sven Hedin has left such a glorious, romantic image in my mind. After feeding our pilgrims a good lunch-dinner we packed up and left the inhospitable, dirty Darchen compound driving straight down the narrow isthmus between the two lakes.

Marpham Tso-Manasarovar appeared dark blue, darker than the sky on that afternoon. Behind it the hulk of Gurla Mandhata.  

 Peter and Cornelius. We would camp on the large bay hidden behind the foot of the mountain on which lies Chiu Gompa, the "extraterritorial" Bhutanese Karyüpa monastery. Strangely enough it still retains a kind of autonomy in Chinese Tibet. The Chinese bönpo — district-head in Darchen has no power there as he had not in Sven Hedin's time. One reason why the half-breed, Chinese-Tibetan woman in Darchen kept such a close watch over us.  

We put up our tents along with those of the Tibetan pilgrims. Cornelius has dumped his backpack to repack the things he had taken along on the Karla.  

 Towards evening these two colorful Kargyü Lamas from Chiyu Gompa appeared to inspect us. I don't know whether Pujung had to pay them for our camp, but it is possible.   

The early morning brought us this dramatic sunrise above the lake. Like in camp 3 a low inversion cloud was covering the lake, but this one was much darker, threatening, with silver edges. Were the fierce Gods, who would soon overtake us, throwing their shadows on us? I had no premonitions of the things to come on that morning.  

 Below Chiu Gompa is the "Ganga River," a mysterious connection between the two lakes, that has been dry most of the past hundred years, but was ominously full of water in 1995. Sven Hedin had nearly lost his reputation in an acrimonious argument with the British Geographical Society over the existence of a subterraneous connection between the lakes, which meant that the lakes were the source of the Sutlej. — The two girls had seen us sitting in the hot springs and were giggling over out chest hair as they ran.  

We had for days discussed the famous Chiu Hot-Springs with Padru for days — yes you can take a bath there—. After three waterless weeks they had assumed urgent dimensions....  

Here you see Jeroen, Marc, and me soaking in the pleasantly warm water. Notwithstanding that there was no mirror I even shaved! The three women waited on the side. Later I found out that after Padru had also taken an extraordinary dip — Tibetans like the Ladakhi are loath of water — Barbara and Katrina had stripped and jumped in....  


 I had no special desire to visit Burang a very old trading village further south, but the crew wanted to replenish our provisions, which they had not found in Thöling, and wanted to check-in with the local police to complain about the treatment we had been given in Tsaparang and Darchen. So we drove south. on the abysmal road which followed "cross-country" the pebble shores of Lake Lamga Tso— Raksastal. And promptly we had a blown-out tire, the only such mishap on our trip. Raksastal, the Lake of the Moon (on account of its shape) is avoided as "poisonous" by the Tibetans and Indian Hindus who come this way. Sven Hedin already showed as part of his argument for the Sutlej sources that its water is identical with Manasarovar's. So it must be the monster that is supposed to live here which poisons its waters... The incomparable view of its blue waters and Kailas in the background reminded me of Greece and Mt. Athos.  

At Raksastal's southern end the road climbs across an unexciting pass on the western shoulder of Gurla Mandhata.


At a brook on its far side we had a picnic. The two groups still formed two separate circles although we had become much less formal with each other. A palpable cloud was hanging over our crew. For two days I couldn't fathom what was the matter between them.

Burang is still a "rich" trader's town with several large Tibetan houses hidden in stands of poplars at the fringe of the populated area. Burang has an old upper town and a new Chinese settlement in the flatter parts.  

The bridge across the Burang River and the Himalayas in the background, in many ways an alpine village. 


 We found a, after Darchen, luxurious Chinese guesthouse in the new town, and a restaurant. Bakhi did not have to cook,. He went shopping instead, new potatoes which would not taste for gasoline, cabbage and several more cans of Spam — one of the mainstays of his otherwise vegetarian kitchen. This view of the river, as well as the following pictures, were taken by Cornelius. I did not join them and Barbara on an expedition into old town next day. I was exhausted and slept. Katrina once more refused to go along, she read all day sitting in a shady corner of the guesthouse compound. What was wrong with her?

What had gone wrong with our crew I found out when Pujung told me that his satchel with our and his travel papers had mysteriously vanished during his trek around the mountain. I tried to laugh it off, but he pointed out that the Chinese could hold us at the checkpoint until a new set of documents had been produced from Shigatse.... Bakhi told me the rest of the story. One of the drivers had loaned Pujung money after he had lost 1000 Yüan (about $125) to the drivers at their nightly cowry-shell games. That revelation made it more serious. I tried to reassure Bakhi and Padru, that things would work out all-right, if we passed the check-point before the Chinese woke up. Padru was pressing to leave very early next day to have some extra time to cover the worst case. And Bakhi spontaneously gave me a hug and a kiss for being so understanding, a surprise gesture that left me completely nonplussed —in China? — but also honored and very happy.

 Wool traders compressing the raw wool from the Chang Tang for transportation to Nepal and China. The tarpaulin roofs of the Nepali trading stands go back to a British order of the late 19th century, which decreed that the Nepali could not own permanent buildings in Burang-Taklakhot.  

 Pool players on main street


 Burang Gompa.


A very strained- and tired-looking Barbara having tea at the gompa. 


 Cornelius with his tsampa bag from 1989 in the shade of a trader's tent.


 As agreed, we left Burang before sunrise, retracing our route. Peter took this ohotograph.


 Kailas receding behind the hills for the last time.

 We "raced" past Horchu without looking back and over Maryum La. The sun was getting very low. I asked Pardu where he was going to camp — near Paryang, said he. I shook my head that would be another two hours. He agreed. I put my foot down, we had driven 10 hours and we were going to stay at the nearest suitable campground. It was a beautiful place, but around 5000-m high. It was very cold and a strong wind was blowing when we put up our tents. Everyone was shivering and only wanted to creep into his sleeping bag with a warm water bottle. A full moon was rising.





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