It is strange. Two similarly sized lakes sit side-by-side at the foot of Mt. Kailash, one of the holiest mountains of South Asian religions. But Rakshastal is considered a lake of demons, and Manasarovar is considered a place where a true believer can become a god.
Believers’ passion about Manasarovar is deep. So they cry or go into trances by the side of the lake. What makes this lake so awesome for so many people? Part of the mystical qualities is the beauty and remoteness of the rugged land in western Tibet.
Lake Manasarovar is beautiful. The blue of the lake mirrors the blue sky and white clouds, and in a climate with little vegetation and grey dirt, the blue of the fresh water contrasts strikingly with the white sides of Mt. Kailash nearby.
Lake Rakshastal two miles away across a narrow piece of land is even connected by a thin river that takes the sweet magical water from Manasarovar and gives it to the dead and poisonous salt lake of Rakshastal.
What is this love hate relationship? Rakshastal too has a fine view of Mt. Kailash. But a kora (a ritual walk around Manasarovar) is believed to bring cosmic blessings, whereas Hindus, Tibetans, and others avoid the cursed Rakshastal, saying it is a haunt of evil.
Only the truly determined foreigner of the past could venture to Manasarovar, and the whole process of fighting nature to perform the age old traditions strips people of some of their pride. Pride is a major issue that needs to be solved to attain godhood or sainthood.
Some Indian pilgrims on a "yatra" pilgrimage wait for years to do a kora walk around Mt. Kailash and see the lake. Tibetans and others join them. For some, a challenging and painful submersion in the lake's frigid waters is a highlight. People visit the shrines along the lake. Their devotion may surprise you.
Now it is no longer so difficult to travel there. Moneyed modern pilgrims sometimes go there by jet and then heated helicopter from Nepal. The Kailash and Manasarovar scenic area is now connected by a nice two-lane paved road, with comfortable warm hotels in Shigatse.
Real believers might find themselves jostling with busy picture-taking sightseers for some space on the lake's shore of rock and sand. At night tourists congregate on the shore to watch the flickering lights of pilgrims.
Best time to go: The area is difficult to travel to in the winter. So the summers and early fall are the best.
Altitude sickness and preparation: The high altitude makes it dangerous for many unacclimatized people to exert themselves. It is suggested that people prepare physically and bring the right equipment and clothes if they are planning a hike.