The holy water Of Gosaikunda Lake takes the Nepal group's breath away as they continue their 12-day hike through Langtang National Park.
Langtang National Park: Part 3 (By Michael Watt)
With 870m to go to get us over the pass, we set off. Of the many things we learned while trekking, one thing began to set in perfectly today, conserve your breath by minimizing conversing and, as I always reminded everyone, breathe through your nose. It sounds a little silly and antisocial, but it works, especially when you are doing an incredibly strenuous activity at high altitude and pushing your body to insufferable extremes. With a mostly silent crew, we marched up at a decent pace. It came to me that the high snow covered ridge I had seen from our previous camp at Phedi which I thought looked well beyond where we’d ever go was indeed Lauribina La pass, and that was where we were going. While a bit aghast and intimidated at first, I garnered internal confidence as I put together how what may appear impossible may not be as impossible as it looks once you just start walking towards it.
At a lower elevation, I was constantly mesmerized when looking up to the dancing clouds. But now, at this height and about to hit the highest point of our trek at Lauribina La Pass, we were a part of the dance. The clouds rolled over the mountains in all shades of blue and white and you never knew when they’d ask you to dance with them. The white element of Air choreographed today’s dance and, with winds whipping, it looked as though it wanted the green element of Water to join us. As creeping suspicion and anxiety began to mount with dark clouds rolled quickly towards us, we dropped our bags and threw on our rain gear. However, with great relief, we were spared the dance and could continue our progress with just the whipping winds alone.
It goes without saying, but every step forward at this high altitude was exhausting. The pass seemed within reach yet so far away. As the distance between the leader and the rear yo-yoed between close enough to hear each other whisper and far enough to be unable to hear a shout, emotions became high. Acceptance was one of the greatest lessons I learned in Nepal, and we all had to accept that only by staying together would everyone succeed in summitting the pass. Acceptance that on this journey everyone would need to stop, together, to lighten the loads of those struggling, have water and food, bundle up more, and just breathe. Through all that as well as blood, sweat, tears, and deep inhalations and exhalations through our noses we began to reach the pass, as one.
Transformation. From a dusting of snow and breezy conditions to footfalls of snow and gusty winds, we were at Lauribina La Pass. The sacred rock formation with prayer flags atop fluttered as we quickly began to shiver harder as we tok in the frozen scene before us. The holy lakes and mountains surrounding were far more otherworldly than I had ever expected to see here. Any pain I felt in my body was numbed by the sheer beauty of the view’s turquoise icy vistas at the pass. We gathered for a group photograph, hastily changed into heavier clothing, and then began the final stretch to Gosaikunda Lake. I kept my head down and my feet quick as the numbness of the natural beauty quickly faded from my mind and creeped frostily into my physical body. Every step I took was more purposeful as ever as the steps were now the means with which I generated internal heat to stay warm.
The Holy Waters Of Gosaikunda Lake
When we came upon an overlook, never had my eyes been greeted by a more stunning setting to call home for the next two days. Gosaikunda, the holy lake of Hindu mythology magnificently glistening with the final day’s light over its windswept waters. With the end in sight, I became like a trail horse when, after its gallop had turned to walk after hours on the trail, the gallop magically returned at the scent of the finish line. Even with my body shivering and my feet losing all feeling with every frozen step forward down to this mystical lake, my heart was warmed as I could feel my Tolkien dreams of grandeur settings manifesting themselves in front of me.
Because you don't always have to do it all
With camp made, my body, heart, and soul were utterly depleted and the thought of doing a mountain summit on our day off the next day was certainly not on my list of things to do. I had many goals on this trek, but the surprise option to summit Surya Peak was not one that was initially laid out to do. So, missing it wouldn’t have me feeling as though I missed one of my goals. However, to the majority of those who signed up to go on that incredible journey, I commend. That night I tossed and woke more than I had ever in Nepal due to the high altitude of our camp. So, with restless sleep, I certainly felt even more confident in my decision to stay back the next day.
The next morning, I believe I saw a glimpse of fabled Elysium with snowy mountains and the Holy Lake of Gosaikunda under a swift sunrise greeting me as I got out of my tent. Hindu mythology attributes Gosaikunda as the abode of the Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati. Gosaikunda is believed to have been created by Lord Shiva when he thrust his Trishul (holy Trident) into the mountain to release water so that he could cool his sore throat after he swallowed poison. Indeed, being in the presence of these cleansing waters, I could feel my own spirit begin to heal after days of such toil and heartache. I found myself just staring all around in awe and disbelief that this marvel was my current reality.
Climbing my summit for the day
I was relieved at the weather knowing that it must have incredibly boosted the morale of the summit team exponentially. As I looked around at the mountains of Gosaikunda, I noticed a little mountain peak in front of me and suddenly said to myself, “I think I found my summit for the day.”. I recruited two others to join me on my venture purely saying, “I don’t know how long it’ll take, but the aim is to just get to the top. Have fun and go at our own pace.” I was told later that “Going at our own pace” was the most alluring part of my pitch after days of pacing difficulties amongst the larger group.
There was no defined trail to this summit except for little hard to see cairns. Honestly, that was perfect as I wanted to find our own way up. The venture had us in such a blissful state of literal Pure Exploration that the memories and feelings of being a little kid came rushing back into us. I was back exploring in the Pennsylvania forests of my youth, my own little kingdom of adventure. Nothing to lose, nothing to gain except the freedom given to us by the open trail of the mountain, and the rush of it was intoxicating. We rotated leaders, following whoever seemed to find the clearer path over the boulders ahead of us. The winds were strong, but the warmth of the sun gave us the extra layer of protection we needed. Pure Exploration at its finest.
As we got higher, the clouds in the distance began to feather a bit revealing what they were hiding, the Langtang Range of the High Himalayas themselves. There, sheathed in clouds, they stood watching, towering ominously above with a power so expansive yet so deep, I couldn’t help but stare starry eyed at them. While my physical body kept walking, my spirit was humbled and brought to its knees at the majesty of the scene around us. At the top of our little summit, we took all the photos we could and then there came a point of stillness where my physical body caught up. Instagram Stories last a day, but memories last a lifetime and beyond. To that end, I found a little patch of grass protected from the wind and just sat down to be with this place.
What a thing it is, travel. So much time is spent in building the dream of a trip somewhere. From the gentle longing whispers in your heart to the screeching of the plane wheels touching down on your arrival, the tales of our travels extend far longer than from the day we arrive to the day we leave. In that vein, maintaining presence whilst travelling remains ever a challenge. As a photographer, I know this all too well. I feel the desire to have to snap just the right photo to share in hopes that that photo could be the whisper for someone else. But sometimes the camera needs to sit down and enjoy the ride too.
And then the descent began...
The feeling of departure from our summit came naturally. However, for our descent, we decided to take a different route home, through the boulder field on the backside of the mountain. The shores of Gosaikunda looked easily within reach, yet somehow stayed the same distance no matter how many leaps over the boulders we took. It became a comical affair with no one way proving to get us any closer to the shores despite all our efforts. Finally, we garnered acceptance at our predicament, abandoned the boulders, and climbed over to the area where the grass met the boulders. From there we moved along the grass and boulder border making our way back to the area where we ascended.
Coming down the mountain, fulfilled in so many ways, it was a welcome sight to the summit team coming back from their day as well. Many of the group opted for an icy plunge into the waters of Gosaikunda where, again, knowing my limits, I opted to remain dry and warm. Hearing a few high-pitched voices from those who jumped into the lake affirmed my decision to remain as I was! A few of us gathered at the local teahouse for a late but well-earned lunch. With the weather as perfect as it was, it would be a crime not to spend all hours possible outside, so we opted to take our lunch thus and sat, eating, laughing, and enjoying the views of the Gosaikunda area. After lunch, with perfectly blue skies above, I took a nice little afternoon nap.
The magic of snow
When I opened my eyes, I noticed that my tent was far darker than when I had gotten in. However, the time of day shouldn’t have warranted such a darkening. This meant only one thing, the Himalayan weather was brewing. Balance. For all the blissful weather we had, the pendulum of weather was swinging back heavily in the direction of a storm. As we gathered for dinner, the winds were whipping, and the sky turned darker. Our guesses were affirmed that the next day would begin the descent of our Himalayan Trek. Standard protocol had been that the next day's group leaders would brief the team on the day's trek details. However, the weather began to intensify so much that we’d have to seek shelter in our tents early and be briefed in the morning.
Low hanging clouds began to creep over the lake soon filling up with lightning and thunder. Up so high and so cold, there was only one form water could take in a thunderstorm such as this, snow. Never had I ever anticipated this type of scenario, but I couldn’t help but feel so lucky to be in the presence of it all. I fell asleep that night the same way I would fall asleep as I did when I was a kid and it would snow on a school night, excited and ecstatic. The transformative power of snow on a landscape is one of my most absolute favorite things to bear witness to. To be given this frozen gift in a place like Gosaikunda was nothing but divine providence if you ask me. The next morning would be the coldest morning we’d have, but it would be well worth the views.