Manasarovar, Tibet

Lake Locations:

Tibet -

Also known as:  Mapam Yumco, Manasa Sarovar, Lake Manas, Manasarovar Lake

One of the most revered lakes on the Tibetan Plateau is Manasarovar Lake. Also called Mapam Yumco (in Tibetan) or Manasa Sarovar, this remote lake is considered sacred by at least three major religions in Asia. One of the five holy lakes of the Indian Panch-Sarovar, Manasarovar is difficult to get to without several days of rough transportation over marginal roads. That doesn’t keep the faithful of Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism from coming here on holy pilgrimage to seek the blessings of their chosen deities. The lake is located in Tibet Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China. This sacred place was not accessible to the faithful of India for more than 30 years due to border issues, but since border security has been relaxed by the Chinese government, holy tours arrive here regularly by the busload. Some tour agencies also provide transportation via helicopter. The pilgrimages are so popular that arrangements are made by the Indian government, and space must be reserved well in advance.

Devout Buddhists associate Manasarovar with the legendary lake known as Anavatapta in Sanskrit and Anotatta in Pali, where Queen Maya is believed to have conceived Buddha. Several other myths related to Buddha are associated with the lake. In the past, eight Buddhist gompas (prayer/meditation halls) ringed the lake.

The Hindu believe the lake to have first been created in the mind of Brahma after which it was manifested on earth in this place. The name Manasarovar is a combination of the words manas (mind) and sarovara (lake). When Mahatma Gandhi died, some of his ashes were brought here and scattered on the lake. In Jainism, the faithful associate the lake with first Tirthankar Lord Shree Rishabhdev. And all three faiths associate the nearby Mount Kailash with their deities and ascribe sacred powers to the mountain. At 21,778 feet, Mount Kailash quickly imposes its presence on all lake visitors. These religions revere the area, in part, because four of Asia’s longest rivers (Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra and Karnali-largest tributary to the Ganges) all have their headwaters within 30 miles of the mountain. The significance of this location as the source of their precious life-sustaining waters was not lost on ancient people and thus was incorporated into their religious mythology. Each religion has its own rituals which are performed upon reaching the rocky and barren shoreline.

Buddhists often pay homage at several monasteries located on the shore, particularly the ancient Chiu Gompa, built on a steep hill. Formerly, there were eight gompas located around the lake symbolizing the Wheel of Life, with the center of the lake as the hub. The devout circled the lake, stopping to pay homage at each gompa, which represented the spokes of the sacred wheel. The lake’s perimeter is 54 miles, so this journey took several days to complete. The journey is still completed by the faithful who bring tents to camp along the shore.

Hindus who drink the waters and bathe in the lake believe their ascent into Lord Shiva’s heaven is assured. Hindu myth talks of a giant jambu tree growing in the middle of the lake that drops fruit to feed a sacred serpent, and that some of the fruit falls to the bottom of the lake and turns to gold. Its is interesting to note that gold mining did occur for a while near the Chiu Gompa at the northwest corner of the lake. When smallpox broke out among the miners, the mining was stopped.

The land around Manasarovar is quite barren, windswept with only low brush growing. The lake is important to those who live in the area as a source of water for themselves and their cattle and for fishing. They also hunt in the alpine meadows around the lake. A short distance to the west another lake, Lake Rakshas Tal, has far less religious significance but is still an important source of sustenance for the hardy Tibetan people who live here.

These high-altitude lakes on the arid plateau draw the attention of scientists. More study is scheduled as the Chinese become more accepting of outside scientific study. Manasarovar is located at 15,060 feet, a difficult altitude for tourists to handle under strenuous exercise. Altitude sickness is often a problem. It is also very cold in winter and over 500 miles from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. Only hardy adventurers come here, and even the devout try to make the trek when they are young and in good health. Decent lodgings are located at least a hundred miles away, so camping is the only option for visiting. Even the trip by jeep from Lhasa can take several days over rough roads.

Once visitors arrive, however, they are thoroughly enchanted with the deep lake. The water changes color, with deep blue around the shore and emerald green toward the center. Migrating birds stop here, and an important marsh area offers breeding space for a variety of them, including the bar-headed goose and the brown-headed gull. The marsh areas are listed as a RAMSAR wetlands of importance, and they hope to study them more carefully in the future. Colorful Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the wind and should be treated with all respect due religious objects. Fishing is apparently allowed in the lake, but no one has bothered to record what species will be found there. Respectful visitors are usually welcomed at the monasteries, and the ancient Chiu Gompa is sure to be a camera-pleaser. Most visitors come with a tour group and guide who will instruct tourists on proper etiquette at the monasteries.

If you ever get the chance to see Manasarovar, you will begin to understand why so many myths and religious customs revolve around the beautiful lake with Mount Kailash’s snow-covered peak gleaming to the north. Come prepared for rough camping conditions and no outside amenities. Manasarovar deserves your respect, and you will come to respect the devout and determined people who visit here to pay homage to their gods. It’s easy to believe their deities are close to earth here.

*Some sources list the surface area of the lake as 76,800 acres, others as 102,400 acres. We have listed the larger of the two but find no reliable official statistics to support either.

Things to do at Manasarovar

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Hunting
  • Birding

Manasarovar Photo Gallery

Manasarovar Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 102,400 acres

Shoreline Length: 54 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 15,060 feet

Maximum Depth: 300 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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