The COVID-19 has restricted us to our house only. I was remembering our memorable trips in the recent past and one of them was our visit to the Gurudongmar Lake. During May 2018, we planned to visit Yumthang valley for the blooming Rhododendrons and the Gurudongmar lake in North Sikkim. The lake is considered to be one of the most beautiful and sacred lakes in India.
We arrived at Lachen from Gangtok on the previous evening. Lachen is a town in North Sikkim district in the Indian state of Sikkim at an elevation of 2,750 metres (9,022 feet). It was a cold night but the blanket provided by the hotel was very good. We felt cozy soon under it and had a good short sleep.
We woke up at 4.30 a.m. to get ready for visiting Gurudongmar Lake, one of the highest lakes in the world. It rained and snowed here in the night. It was a very chilly morning. Due to lack of power supply, the geyser was not working and we had to skip the bath in the morning. The temperature outside was around zero degrees centigrade. We covered ourselves with two jackets and left for Gurudongmar lake.
HALT AT THANGU
Thangu is located at an altitude of 13,000 feet. It is about 30 kilometres north of Lachen. A visit to Gurudongmar Lake requires an Inner Line Permit as it is located close to the India-China border. We stopped at Thangu for the police to check our permits to proceed ahead. Permits are required to be collected from Gangtok before commencement of the trip. Indians are allowed to visit Gurudongmar Lake while foreigners are restricted till Chopta Valley and Yumthang Valley.
We had tea and also attended to nature’s call. This is the last village on the road. It also gave us some time to acclimatize with high altitude. As we go higher up, the oxygen in the air gets rarified. From Thangu onwards we were on the high alpine plateau, there is hardly any vegetation and you will see rocky mountains all around other than some scarce bushes. The terrain leading to Gurudongmar is very hostile and yet very beautiful.
Gurudongmar lake is located at a surface elevation of 17,800 ft. (5,430 m) and covers an area of 290 acres making it the largest lake in the whole of Sikkim. The lake ranks among the top 15 highest lakes in the world and is the second highest lake in India, the first being Tso Lhamo lake at a height of 18,000 ft (5,486 m), also situated in Sikkim. Lake Tso Lhamo is only 5 kms from Gurudongmar Lake but is not open for tourists.
The Gurudongmar Lake lies in the north side of the Khangchengyao range and is surrounded by snow-clad mountains making it a stunningly picturesque site — a half-frozen lake, snow-clad mountains in the background, colorful Buddhist flags fluttering in the strong wind, and a small army built a temple. The lake is named after Guru Padmasambhava — also known as Guru Rinpoche — founder of Tibetan Buddhism, who visited this area in the 8th century.
Judhajit and I climbed down to the lake. Jagrata preferred to enjoy the beauty from the top, where the vehicles are parked. There is a pavement for walking around the lake. It was however slippery as the snows melted. We were carefully trekking there. There is a paucity of oxygen at such a height, and thus, staying there for more than an hour is not recommended for general tourists.
The sacred lake freezes during the winters except at one spot, which the devout belief has been specially blessed.
The Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus believe that this specific area is blessed. In fact, the whole lake is considered holy and is believed to be having many healing powers.
A legend related to the frozen condition of the lake is linked to the visit of Guru Padmasambhava to the lake, on his way back from Tibet. When he saw it, he felt that it was worthy of veneration, as it represented the divine location of Dorje Nyima or Chorten Nyima, a mountain (6927 metres or 22,723 feet high) in the eastern main ridge of the Himalayas on the border between Sikkim in India and Tibet in China. Because the lake remained frozen most of the year with no possibility of providing for drinking water needs, the people of the area appealed to Padmasambhava to help them. The guru agreed to help and 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 devotees carry this sacred water in containers.
According to another legend, when Padmasambhava visited the lake he saw an auspicious phenomenon and then he considered it a good augury to enter the mainland of Sikkim, then known as Demojong — The Valley of Rice.
Some stories 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 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, announcing to the villagers that “whoever takes the water of this lake will gain virility and strength”.
The lake receives around 15,000 visitors annually.
Despite the hardship and difficulty, a visit to this lake will last in our memory as an experience of a lifetime. Thank God, we didn’t feel sick at the high altitude and with low oxygen level. The weather near Gurudongmar usually starts becoming bad as the day progresses, so we left the lake area early.