The journey to Gosaikunda Lake is a tough one, involving an eight hour drive 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.
Photos released by epa on Tuesday show the arduous trip they must undertake, passing through dense forests, over rapids on suspended wooden foot bridges and along sheer cliff faces, to reach the lake.
It sits 4,380 meters above sea level in Langtang National Park of Rasuwa district in the Himalayan mountains, and is one of the highest and most visited Hindu pilgrimage sites.
According to Hindu mythology, in the Samudra Manthan legend, poison was released into the world. To save it, the God Shiva swallowed the poison, keeping it in his throat. He then thrust his trishul (holy trident) into a mountain to extract water so that he could calm the pain. 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.
Villagers have set up temporary camps and shelters to accommodate pilgrims and earn some money at different points along the route.
Around 6,000 pilgrims visited Gosaikunda Lake this year, according to the festival management committee. Pilgrims of all ages attend the festival; mostly middle-age people and the elderly take 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, crystal clear water of Gosaikunda Lake releases 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.
People often vow to visit the holy lake when going through hard times, while some promised to visit after their wishes have been fulfilled. Harka Bahadur Silwal carried a 6-foot long trident to offer to Lord Shiva for world peace and happiness.
Summer rain and leeches bother most of the pilgrims, while others 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 agree that the moment they plunge into the water in the mystic morning, the frigid water warms the body and seems to heal them.