The story of Gosainkund, the sacred mountain lake

A quickie today, because I’m not actually here. I’m trekking somewhere in the Langtang Valley, Nepal, with no access to the internet.

Last time I was there, my Nepalese friend Siling, who is fond of a story, told me about the origin of Gosainkund, the sacred lake that I will be passing as I cross over the Laurebinayak La, a high pass dividing the Langtang and Helambu regions of Nepal.

Prayer flags and ceremonial bells beside the shores of Gosainkund
Prayer flags and ceremonial bells beside the shores of Gosainkund

There are actually a series of lakes in the high mountain amphitheatre where Gosainkund is located, at 4,300m just below the pass. There is a small temple and some teahouses on the shore of the largest lake. On the night of the August full moon it becomes a Hindu pilgrimage site, as thousands come for the festival of Janai Purnima and bathe in the lake.

Normally it’s a peaceful setting, with a moorland feel. The surrounding mountains resemble Scottish Munros, with grassy hillsides and rocky outcrops. The lake is believed to have been created by Shiva, one of the three principal Hindu gods.

Here is the story that Siling told me as we sat beside Parvati Kund, another lake two days’ walk away, in a wetland setting on the nearby Tamang Heritage Trail.

Parvati was Shiva’s consort, and she apparently had a curiosity for science. She knew that if you stir milk you get butter, the essence of milk. She assumed that if you stir water you will eventually get the essence of water, too, but she didn’t know what that was. She was keen to find out though, so she asked her husband Shiva to take a bowl of sea water and stir it until he discovered its essence.

Faithful Shiva did as he was asked, but when he tasted the substance that was left behind, he discovered it to be a terrible poison. He needed pure water quickly to cure his illness. He took a handful of earth and hollowed out a bowl in the ground to fill with fresh water. As he waited for the hollow to fill, the lake of Gosainkund was formed.

It’s not clear where Shiva managed to obtain sea water high in the mountains of Nepal, but the story has a grain of truth. The How Stuff Works site explains somewhat graphically what happens if you drink too much sea water. Human kidneys are only able to process water that’s slightly less salty, so in order to process the sea water, your body has to pee more water than you drink. I don’t want you to dwell on that thought for too long, so I’ll just say that the result is severe dehydration.

Parvati Kund, a couple of days' walk away, is a little smaller and greener than Gosainkund
Parvati Kund, a couple of days’ walk away, is a little smaller and greener than Gosainkund

The story reminded me of a similar one from Northern Irish folklore. The Giant’s Causeway, off the coast of Northern Ireland, is a pathway of basalt columns stretching into the sea. According to legend it was built by the giant Finn McCool to enable him to wage war on the Scottish giant Benandonner. A few miles south of Giant’s Causeway is Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles. This lake was formed in a similar fashion to Gosainkund, when Finn McCool scooped up an area of land and cast it into the Irish Sea. The land attached itself to the sea bed and became the Isle of Man, while the hollow left behind filled with water and became Lough Neagh.

You’re probably thinking that both of these stories seem a bit far-fetched, so I’ll just remind you that they are folk tales. They are not fake news.

One thing is more certain, though. Both Parvati Kund on the Tamang Heritage Trail, and Gosainkund above the Langtang Valley, are both tranquil, spiritual places where you can get away from the madness for a while.

By the time you read this I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed my second visit to Gosainkund, and will be happily oblivious to world events as I trek through the Himalayas.

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