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Holy Lake

Yilhun Lhatso

This sacred glacial lake is one of the most beautiful in all of Kham. Striking views of the Chola Mountains can be had, and the shores are decked with giant Mani stones.

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By Kevin McFarland

Visited October 2016

"Can you take us to Yilhun Lhatso?" I confidently asked two strangers, trying to hitch hike to an alpine lake.

"Yilhun what??" they replied.

"Yilhun Lhatso? Or Xinluhai?"

"I don't know what you mean" they responded in Chinese.

"Manigango??" I responded, hoping they knew the nearest village.

It turns out they knew the village, and we tried our best to tell them that the lake we were seeking was about 30 km past the village, the same direction they were traveling. "Ok!" They responded, "How much money will you give us?"

"Umm, 50 yuan?"

They were enthusiastic about this price, enough to even tell us we were over paying them. But for an expected two hour drive to the lake, we thought it was suitable. However, they still didn't quite get our directions. Sometime in the middle of the ride, they finally figured out the lake we were talking about, but said they won't drive us there, only to Manigango. We ended up explaining that the lake is only several kilometers past the small town, right off the road where they are headed. They agreed, and when glimpsing the lake off in the distance, they even decided to pay the lake a visit themselves.

Such is life in the middle of nowhere, where cars are scarce, and the ones who pick up hitchhikers even scarcer.

We finally made it to the entrance of the lake where a local Tibetan who lives on the lake shore collects a modest fee from the few visitors who venture out here. From the entrance we hiked another kilometer to the lake, and what we beheld was water of a perfect shade of blue with a hint of green, sparkling under the mighty snow-capped peaks. All the trouble to get here was instantly satisfied. This is Yilhun Lhatso, one of the holiest and most revered lakes in Kham Tibet.

Everywhere you look on the lakeshore you can see evidence of its reverence, where nearly all the large stones are carved with Tibetan words, prayers, and poems. These are called Mani Stones, and they must number by the hundreds on this lakeshore. We immediately took off exploring the southern shore of the lake, hoping to walk its perimeter in a clockwise direction. The more west we walked, the more beautiful the sights. After an hour of walking, views of the mighty Chola Mountain can be had, a 6,168 meter (20,236 ft) giant dominating the horizon. Once we reached the west end of the lake, we saw the equally dominating glacier descending from the peaks of Chola to within kilometers of us. Only in Tibet you can sights like this without a tourist in sight.

We did find two young girls though, residents of a tiny village in the direction of the glacier. They invited us to their village, and even though we desperately wanted to visit, we had to get back before dark, or we would be stuck here overnight. The solitude and serenity of this lake is special and one that is surely missed. The Kham regions of Western Sichuan are remote and difficult to access, but sights like Yilhun Lhatso make the journey entirely worth it.

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