According to Hindu legend, the creation of these lakes is linked to the epic drama ‘The Churning of the Milk Ocean’, from the Bhagavata-Purana. This legend relates that the gods had become weakened and had been usurped by the asuras (demons). The gods appealed to the supreme god Vishnu for help, and he suggested that they should regain their power by drinking the miraculous amrita, the nectar of immortality, which they could obtain by churning the cosmic milk ocean, thus bringing the jar with amrita to the surface. However, Vishnu advised the other gods to treat the asuras diplomatically by suggesting them to jointly churn the ocean. When the amrita was brought to the surface, Vishnu would ensure that the gods got hold of it.
To perform this stupendous task, the gods and the asuras uprooted the mountain Mandara, placing it upside down in the ocean, and coiling the giant, many-headed naga (serpent) Vasuki around it. By pulling alternately at each end of Vasuki, the mountain would act as a gigantic churn, thus bringing the amrita to the surface. However, the mountain began sinking into the ocean floor, so Vishnu assumed the shape of a gigantic avatar (incarnation), named Kurma, half man, half turtle, dived to the bottom of the sea, and placed Mandara on his back, thus supporting the churning.
Finally, the jar with amrita surfaced, whereupon a fierce battle between the gods and the asuras ensued, the latter grabbing the jar and running away with it. Again, the gods appealed to Vishnu, who assumed the form of a new avatar, Mohini, a beautiful goddess, who seduced the asuras and managed to get hold of the jar of amrita, thus preventing evil from becoming eternal, and preserving the good.
The churning, however, was extremely painful to Vasuki, who began spitting out large quantities of venom. This was noticed by the supreme god Shiva, who swallowed the poison to save the other gods, which made him suffer terribly from fever and thirst. To relieve his sufferings, he went into the Himalaya in search of water, but found none. He now cast his trisul (trident) on the rocks, whereupon gigantic springs emerged and created 54 lakes. Shiva lay down to quench his thirst from the second largest of these lakes, which was later named Gosain Kund. (Gosain is another name for Shiva.)
Below the surface of this lake is an oval rock, which devout Hindus regard as Shiva, resting on the serpent Vasuki. On this rock is a smaller stone, which is regarded as a Shiva-lingam (a phallus-shaped symbol of fertility). The river, which drains the lake, is called Trisuli Khola, named after Shiva’s trident. (Read more about the god Shiva, and about Hinduism in general, on this website, see Religion: Hinduism.)
Most of this area is only accessible on foot. A road has been constructed to the villages of Dhunche and Shyabrubesi, situated at the western border of the park. From here, you must hike for two days to get to the Gosain Kund area, and for three or four days to reach the Upper Langtang Valley, near the Tibetan border. From the village of Sundarijal, in the Kathmandu Valley, a four-day-hike will take you to Gosain Kund, via Tharepati. In most settlements are small hotels, in which you can eat and sleep. However, the area around a high-altitude pass, the Ganja La (5106 m), is uninhabited. If you camp in the park, you must bring a stove and kerosene, as usage of firewood is prohibited.
At higher altitudes, the broad-leaved forest gives way to conifers like silver fir, hemlock, and blue pine. Clearings in the forest, called kharka, are utilized as grazing grounds, and for harvesting hay. Vegetation in these clearings is lush, comprising plants like various species of saxifrage, a white umbellifer, Selinum wallichianum, a red lousewort, Pedicularis megalantha, a teasel, Dipsacus inermis, and a creeping, cloudberry-like bramble, Rubus nepalensis, which has delicious, slightly sour, red fruits.
From Tharepati, situated on a ridge at an altitude of c. 3,600 metres, there is a gorgeous view towards mountains in Tibet, dominated by Shishapangma (8013 m). Further up from Tharepati, the trail becomes stony and difficult, leading through a beautiful and intact forest of maples and oaks, in which countless streams are crossing the path. Various herbs grow on the forest floor, e.g. a blue-flowered meadow-rue, Thalictrum reniforme, and several species of balsam (Impatiens).
This area is home to three gorgeous species of pheasant. Danfe, or monal (Lophophorus impejanus), is the national bird of Nepal, in Nepali called ’the bird of nine colours’, in allusion to the brilliant plumage of the cock. The name of the smaller blood pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus) refers to the red, tear-shaped spots on the cock’s breast. (A picture of this species is found elsewhere on this website, see Plant hunting in the Himalaya – The rhododendron valley). The third species is the above-mentioned satyr tragopan.
Ayethang is a hamlet, situated at an altitude of 4,050 metres. From here, a steep trail leads up through forests of rhododendron and dwarf bamboo, and later scattered juniper shrubs, to a pass, Laurebina La (4609 m). The trail passes by several of the sacred lakes, e.g. Surya Kund, Ganesh Kund, and Bhairab Kund, leading to a group of hotels near the larger Gosain Kund, situated at an altitude of 4,400 metres. This area has an interesting alpine flora, comprising e.g. Cyananthus lobatus and Codonopsis thalictrifolia, both of the bellflower family, a cinquefoil, Potentilla peduncularis, a beautiful composite, Cremanthodium oblongatum, and the blue Kashmir corydalis (Corydalis cashmeriana).
The trail from Gosain Kund heads west, passing by two other lakes, Nag Kund and Saraswati Kund, and then follows a ridge down through dense thickets of Rhododendron anthopogon, in Nepali sun pathi. Dried flowers of this dwarf shrub are utilized as tea, and its branches are burned as incense in temples and on house altars. The northern side of the ridge is covered in a splendid forest of silver firs. From a Buddhist monastery, Sing Gompa, two trails lead down, one heading south towards Dhunche, the other west towards the village of Thulo Shyabru, from where another trail leads down to the subtropical part of the Langtang Valley.
Here and there, the forest floor is covered in dense growths of dwarf bamboo, and clearings are often taken over by two beautiful shrubs, Lyonia ovalifolia and Pieris formosa, both belonging to the heath family. Two species of ground-living orchids, Calanthe tricarinata and C. plantaginea, are often encountered.
The village of Thulo Shyabru has a beautiful location, situated along a ridge at an altitude of c. 2,200 metres, surrounded by terraced fields, on which wheat, buckwheat, and potatoes are cultivated. In the forest below this village, near the Langtang Khola River, inflorescences of Himalayan dogwood (Cornus capitata) are very conspicuous in spring, displaying showy yellowish bracts, which surround the yellowish-green flowers. Lush forest covers the river banks, comprising e.g. two oak species, Quercus lanata and Cyclobalanopsis lamellosa. In summer, bird life is abundant here, and a huge chorus of cicadas make a racket. A monkey with whitish fur and a black face, the pale-armed langur (Semnopithecus schistaceus), is often observed feeding in the trees, and with luck you may also see the beautiful yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula).
The south side of the river is covered in lush forests. Landslides are frequent in this area, and in the course of a few years, these landslides are often invaded by Nepalese alder (Alnus nepalensis) – a typical pioneer tree, which, over time, forms light forests. At an altitude of c. 2,500 metres, the broad-leaved forest gives way to a mixed forest of spiny-leaved oak (Quercus semecarpifolia), the leaves of which resemble those of European holly (Ilex aquifolium), and various conifers, such as silver fir, hemlock, and Himalayan spruce (Picea smithiana), the latter having its easternmost populations in this area. Hemlock is easily identified by its cones, which are no bigger than blackbird eggs. In May and June, a profusion of epiphytic orchids, Pleione hookeriana, are blooming on the moss-covered conifers in this zone.
On the forest floor, a number of Arisaema species, of the arum family, are encountered, some of which are rather bizarre. Their inflorescence comprises a large, leaf-like spathe, encircling a club-like spadix, on which numerous small flowers are clustered. In some species, spathe as well as spadix end in a long, grotesque thread, which is sometimes up to one metre long. The spathe of several species, e.g. A. nepenthoides, resembles a cobra with its hood spread out. In autumn, a cob-like cluster of red berries is formed around the spadix. The latter two properties combined have given these plants their Nepali name, sarpa ko makai, meaning ’snake maize’. This genus comprises altogether 17 species in the Himalaya.
Most of the inhabitants of Langtang Village are Buddhists, which is obvious from the many fluttering prayer flags on the houses, and a chorten, the Tibetan version of a Buddhist stupa – a domed building, which often contains religious relics, e.g. bones or ashes from a holy man. Along the trails, many mani walls – flat stone slabs with carved mantras – have been constructed. Over time, these mani stones are often covered in colourful lichens. On the rocky slopes along the valley, you may spot small flocks of Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus), a species of wild goat with short horns and a reddish-brown coat. On the chest, the buck has a flowing light-brown mane.
The mountain slopes in this area are covered in forests of Himalayan birch (Betula utilis), mixed with the rare Nepalese larch (Larix himalaica), and dense shrubs of Rhododendron campanulatum cover the forest floor. In these forests lives the rare Himalayan musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster). This little, deer-like animal has no antlers, the male instead having large canines in the upper jaw, with which he fights with other males for territories. On the lower belly the male has a gland, excreting musk, with which he marks his territory. The smell from the gland will also lure females to him. In India and China, the pheromone from this musk is much utilized as fragrance in e.g. perfume, and it is also widely used as an aphrodisiac. In many places, the musk deer is threatened by poaching.
Between June and September, the meadows along the river in the Upper Langtang Valley, near the Tibetan border, display a profusion of flowers, e.g. several species of cinquefoil and saxifrage, a sulphur-yellow primrose, Primula strumosa, a violet pea flower, Gueldenstaedtia himalaica, a roseroot, Rhodiola bupleuroides, and Morina polyphylla, a prickly plant of the morina family. Along the river, you often encounter a large, noisy wader, ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii), which is only found in Central Asian mountains. Its nest is placed among pebbles in a river bed, or in glacial moraine.