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Myths and Legends of the Himalayas

Creation of the World

Formation of the Himalaya

Mount Sumeru

Origin of the Ganges


Shambhala and Shangri-La


Credit:Compiled from multiple sources by Pragya
Somewhere between the borders of southeast Tibet and northeast India, the Yarlung Tsangpo River, which flows in the Indian subcontinent by the name Brahmaputra, takes a sharp turn near Mount Namcha Barwa, and plunges deep into the bowels of the earth, forming the mighty Tsangpo gorge. A “Five Mile Gap” existed between the place where the Tsangpo plunged into the gorge and the place from where the Brahmaputra emerged and flowed down through Assam. This previously inaccessible canyon, on later explorations, was found to be the world’s largest canyon, with a depth of 17,657 ft. It was believed that lying deep within the gorge was the “Hidden Falls of Brahmaputra”. The region where the fabled waterfall was believed to exist has been referred in several Buddhist religious texts as “Beyul Pemako”, which literally means ‘hidden lotus land’. In Tibetan mythology, Pemako is also believed to be the earthly representation of the Tibetan goddess Dorje Pagmo and every cliff, cave and river is believed to be a part of her body. The texts speak of it as a sacred land, within which is concealed the doorway into Yangsang, one of the 21 ‘beyuls’ or earthly paradises that were rendered invisible by the Buddhist tantric master Guru Rinpoche, to be used as hiding places in times of danger. The Buddhist termas or hidden texts describe Yangsang as a hidden paradise of bliss and contentment, reached only by those with pure souls. Some texts have referred to the fabled Tsangpo falls as one of the secret entrances into this mystical land.
For thousands of years, the notion of a hidden paradise located near the fabled waterfalls of the Tsangpo gorge had tantalized the imagination of mankind. All expeditions to locate the fabled Tsangpo falls however had been unequivocal failures. Ian Baker, a writer, tantric scholar and explorer based in Nepal, first learned of beyuls in 1977. He was immediately obsessed and began to pore over ancient Buddhist texts and have audiences with high Buddhist lamas to understand how a beyul could be reached. Fascinated by the accounts of the fabled waterfall of the Tsangpo River and the associated myth of Yangsang, he became determined to find both. Between 1993 and 1998, he conducted half a dozen expeditions through Pemako with the dual purpose of discovering the fabled falls of Tsangpo and finding entry into the hidden beyul beyond it. After great trials and tribulations, Ian Baker and his national Geographic-sponsored team finally succeeded in discovering the fabled Tsangpo falls on November 8, 1998, which he renamed as “The Hidden Falls of Dorje Pagmo”. Using modern climbing equipment, they descended into the gorge and measured the falls, finding them to be 108 ft in height. However, he was unable to find the entrance into the mystical land beyond the falls.
The explorers found Pemako anything but the “land of honey and nectar” that the termas had described while their taxing journey through the land. Yet, Pemako retains its mystic charm and there is a continuous influx of tourists and trekkers into the region year round. A melting point of various tribal cultures, the region has coexisting settlements of Adi, Memba, Khampa, and Mishmi tribes. The Adis and Mishmis were the original inhabitants of the region, while the Membas and the Khampas migrated from Tibet in the eighteenth and twentieth century respectively. Some believe that the real Pemako lies in the mental realm and the gateway to it is yet to be unlocked.