For centuries water has been intimately intertwined with culture, and this is strikingly evident in the Himalayas. Himalayan water is considered sacred for its purity, and it sustains the lives of hundreds of millions that live along the banks of the rivers that flow from the mountains.

One of the sources of such water is Gosaikunda Lake in Nepal’s Rasuwa, situated at an altitude of 4,380 metres above sea level. The water from the lake feeds one of the major rivers in the Gandaki river basin, and is considered sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. According to Hindu lore the god Shiva created Gosaikunda Lake. He thrust his trident into the mountain to draw water to cool his throat after swallowing poison found in the ocean during the war of gods and demons.

The lake is also a famous destination for trekkers in Nepal, and is one of the high altitude Ramsar wetland sites. It is within the Langtang National Park.

Every year on the August full moon during the Janai Purnima Festival, thousands of Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims flock to Gosaikunda Lake in the quest for the holy water. On the day of the full moon, pilgrims take a bath in the lake to purify their body and soul. They also collect the water from the source of Gosaikunda Lake in their water bottles to take back home. The collected holy water is symbolically used in different cultural and religious activities back home throughout the year in Nepal.

It takes two to three days of trekking from Dhunche, the headquarters of Rasuwa district, to Gosaikunda Lake. Pilgrims of all ages trek up the mountain. Although the high-altitude trek is difficult, the religious and cultural value of the holy water gives the pilgrims incentive to tackle the route.

Then they bathe from morning to evening in the freezing cold water, worship the water and meditate in front of the lake.

A Hindu pilgrim on a horse through Langtang National Park one day before the August full moon [image by: Nabin Baral]

Hindu pilgrims rest during the climb up in Langtang National Park [Image by: Nabin Baral]

At the crack of dawn on the day of the full moon Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims worship the water of Gosaikunda Lake on August 26, 2018 [image by: Nabin Baral]

A pilgrim emerges from a dip in the sacred lake [image by: Nabin Baral]

Shamans are part of the worship of the water of Gosaikunda Lake on the morning of the full moon day [image by: Nabin Baral]

A queue of pilgrims at the main source of Gosaikunda Lake to collect the holy water to take back home for religious and cultural purposes [image by: Nabin Baral]

A pilgrim collects holy water from the main source of Gosaikunda Lake [image by: Nabin Baral]

Pilgrims carry away filled bottles. This water is used for rituals throughout the year [image by: Nabin Baral]

Worship of the lake takes many forms, from taking a dip, to meditation [image by: Nabin Baral]

Many pilgrims carry back water for themselves and those that could not make the arduous trek [image by: Nabin Baral]

A shaman treks back home through Langtang National Park [image by: Nabin Baral]

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