Enchanting, rejoice, reminiscing, beauty, peaceful, enlightening, calm, and serene: these are the words blown at me by some travelers when I asked them about one of the highest lakes in the world and in India. Gurudongmar Lake lies at an altitude of 18,300 feet, with temperatures ranging between -6°C to -7°C. It is about 190 km away from Gangtok and about 5 km from the South of the Tibetan (Chinese) border. The nearest village from where you can approach the lake is Lachen in North Sikkim, which is situated 45 km away.
Gurudongmor Lake lies in the north side of the Khangchengyao range and is encircled by enchanting snow-capped mountains. It will leave you all excited and make you helplessly click pictures as soon as you get there. The lake has clear crystal blue water, and the sky above, which is a deep blue, looks like an exact replica of the lake itself. The snow-covered peaks and glaciers decorate the lake with perfection, making it more attractive and splendid. The lake has a surface area of 118 hectares, which is approximately 290 acres, and the entire stretch is astoundingly scenic. The splendid beauty of the place attracts admirers from all across the world. Non-locals need a permit to visit this place, and foreigners need to get a special permit issued by the higher authorities of India. The permit can be easily obtained by providing the necessary documents to a travel agent who will procure the permit for you before your arrival to Sikkim.
Myths Surrounding the Lake
The snow- and glacier-fed icy water of the lake is one of the major sources of Teesta River, the most vital river in Sikkim and North Bengal. The lake freezes during the winter except at one spot, which is believed to have great religious significance for Buddhists and Sikhs. The lake is named after Guru Padmasambava also known as Guru Rinpoche- founder of Tibetan Buddhism, who visited this lake in the 8th century. Because the lake remains frozen most of the year with no possibility of providing for drinking water needs, the people of the area pleaded with Guru Rinpoche to help them. Guru Rinpoche placed his hands on a small part of the lake area, which stopped freezing during winter, facilitating drinking water to the people. Since then, the lake has been considered sacred and is believed to possess magical powers. That is why devotees carry the water back home in containers. According to another legend, when Guru Padmasambhava visited the lake, he saw an auspicious phenomenon and then he considered it a good omen to enter the mainland of Sikkim, then known as Demojong.
The mesmerising Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim
Some stories even say that in the 15th century, Sikh Guru Nanak Dev ji passed through the lake while on his return from Tibet. He was asked by the local people of Gurudongmar Village to help make the frozen lake a source of drinking water during the winter period. He touched a part of the lake with his walking stick, making the lake free of snow throughout the year. The stories also say that he blessed the lake, declaring to the villagers that “whoever takes the water of this lake will gain virility and strength.” According to this story, disputed by the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, the lane and the surrounding hills derive their name from Guru Nanak’s visit.
This is why there is a cold dispute among the Buddhists and the Sikhs over the ownership of the lake and its myths.
Safety Measures and Precautions
They say, “Every beauty has a price,” and Gurudongmar Lake is no exception. It is one of the toughest places to visit in North Sikkim because of the altitude—17800 feet high—and the road conditions are worrisome. The lake can be reached by road only from Lachen and via Thangu. The road from Thangu to Gurudongmar passes through a rugged surface, which comprises high alpine pastures embraced by rhododendron trees. It is not recommended for heart patients and people with breathing problems to visit this place due to the low density of oxygen levels in the atmosphere near the lake. Also, for precaution carry an oxygen cylinder, which is available at the gate before entering, and make sure to carry or eat some food in the army canteen in and before Thangu. Thangu is the last stop where you can find shops. I advise you to visit this place between October and April as the winter is extremely cold. Make sure you do visit this place at a leisurely pace, and if you happen to be here in winters then you can visit Chopta Valley too. Stop at Thangu and other places in between to click some mind-blogging pictures.
Bucket List-Worthy Destination
The first time I visited this lake I was filled with joy and excitement. I was awestruck and felt so jubilant and perky; I couldn’t help but just sit there and gaze at the divine lake for as far as I could see. This is one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to. One gets to see the diversity of nature and vegetation that of resembling Tibet’s and the view of North Sikkim Himalayan ranges wonderfully wrapped in the snow while travelling to this place.
The untouched beauty of the lake and its pristine surroundings will guarantee you an experience of a lifetime, and the stunning natural beauty of this place will make you forget the hostile road, the hardship of travelling here, and the unwelcoming biting cold.
If you do not visit this place, you will surely miss out on something really incredible and amazing in your life, so, what are you waiting for?! Dust out that travel bag and head out for a real thrilling experience that will not fail you for a second. This place will disconnect you from the materialistic world filled with noises and will connect you with the homeland of nature and its variance.
And dear readers, all I can say is “we are what we see.”