By BALARAM GHIMIRE
If you’re an intrepid nature lover looking for adventure, Gosaikunda in Nepal is where you need to go. It is perhaps the best high-altitude trekking destination the country has to offer.
Gosaikunda is at an altitude of 4,380m above sea level in Langtang National Park in Rasuwa. There are four different trails you can use to reach Gosaikunda from Rasuwa, Nuwakot and Sindhupalchok districts: Kathmandu-Dhunche-Gosaikunda; Melamchi-Kutumsang-Thadepati-Gosaikunda; Sundarijal-Kutumsang- Gosaikunda; and Ghyangphedi-Yarsa-Gosaikunda.
Kathmandu-Dhunche-Gosaikunda trail is the most popular. It takes around six hours (or 117km) on bus to reach Dhunche from Kathmandu. Dhunche is a small town that sees cool weather throughout the year and snowfall during winter.
From Dhunche, the trek to Gosaikunda begins. On the first day, you can easily reach Chandanbari or Lauribina by the evening. The route is rich in flora and fauna, consistently offering magnificent views of the snow-clad mountains.
Along the route, spots like Ghattekhola, Deurali, Dimsa, Chandanbari, Cholangpati, Lauribina, Buddhadanda and Ganesh Gauda make for good vantage points to observe the rolling hills and mountain peaks such as Mt Langtang and Mt Ganesh.
You will reach Gosaikunda on the third day of your trip. The trail is full of ups and downs, and gets narrow in some parts. The features the trail offers depends on the season.
If you travel in March or April, you can see the undulating hills painted red with at least 16 different species of rhododendron. The forests are home to rare wildlife including red panda, musk deer, and several species of birds amid its wild greenery.
The trekking trail passes through several settlements of the Tamang people, who have their specific traditions and culture. Trekkers can talk freely to the locals and revel at their way of life.
There’s a historic monastery in Chandanbari, which the locals call Sing Gompa. Stop by the gompa to light some butter lamps, listen to the praying monks, or just rest your weary soul. You’ll also come across a cheese factory where most travellers drop in to taste local yak cheese and packed to snack on later.
The trekking trail is also home to the red panda, a shy and charismatic endangered mammal species called habre in Nepali. To get a glimpse of this elusive creature, you have to walk 3-4km away from the main trekking trail. A view tower has been constructed in Polangpati, about 4km from Cholangpati. According to conservationists, Polangpati, Cholangpati, Gupche and Dhokachet are the major habitats of the red panda.
Meanwhile, Gosaikunda is an alpine freshwater oligotrophic lake around 600m long by 370m wide. There are several other ponds around Gosaikunda. It is believed that there are 108 ponds in the vicinity of this Ramsar site.
When to go
Tourists, foreign and domestic, visit around the year. September to November and March to May are the main trekking seasons in this region. A few decades back, it was foreigners who would mostly be seen trekking. Of late, domestic tourists are seen as equally enthusiastic, according to tourism entrepreneurs.
“Besides pilgrims, the number of domestic tourists who come exclusively for treks has been significantly rising in the past two years,” said Subba Lama, who owns a hotel in Chandanbari.
Apart from trekkers, Gosaikunda sees a huge number of pilgrims during two major festivals, Janai Purnima and Gangadasahara. The lake has unparalleled importance for Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims. The Hindus believe that all Hindu deities descend to the lake in Janai Purnima. Therefore, taking a dip in the lake is their chance to get closer to divinity.
According to Hinduism, Gosaikunda is the abode of the god Shiva and goddess Parvati. Various scriptures refer to Samudra Manthan, which is directly related to the origin of Gosaikunda. The lake is believed to have been created by Lord Shiva when he thrust his trident into a mountain to extract water, so he could cool his burning throat after swallowing poison during Samudra Manthan.
Gosaikunda holds equal significance for Buddhists. According to Phurpa Tamang, a resident of the lake who has written extensively on Tamang culture, most Buddhists visit the lake to pay reverence to departed souls, praying for their well-being in the afterlife.
Besides its religious importance, Gosaikunda has historic significance as well. Amarsingh Thapa, the Nepali commander of the western front during the Anglo-Nepal war (1814-1816), travelled to Gosaikunda and died during his pilgrimage. Today a cave in the area is named in his honour, reminding his countrymen about his service to their country.
Always be prepared
From seeking adventure to quenching one’s spiritual thirst to a walk down the history lane, a trip to Gosaikunda will meet all your expectations. But before you take a trip to the holy lake, be prepared – physically and mentally.
It’s a high altitude trek and first-timers are advised to take it slow. As you gradually ascend to Dhunche, oxygen level dwindles. Walk strategically, slow and steady, and give yourself time to breathe. If you show any signs of altitude sickness, it is advisable to start on your descend immediately.
The trekking trail from Dhunche to Gosaikunda has 14 hotels and the availability of rooms are slim during trekking seasons, so be prepared to pitch a tent and camp.
If you’re in the area during the religious festivals, you won’t have to worry about accommodation. There will be temporary huts built for pilgrims, and you can be a part of the community living there. – The Kathmandu Post/Asia News Network