All You Need To Know About Sikkim's Gurudongmar Lake

One of the highest lakes in India and the world, Gurudongmar Lake, with perennially frozen peaks around, offers a mesmerising and awe-inspiring natural spectacle
All You Need To Know About Sikkim's Gurudongmar Lake
All You Need To Know About Sikkim's Gurudongmar LakeUnsplash

Gurudongmar, one of the world's highest lakes, is located on the Tibetan border at a height of 17,800 feet. It enjoys a stunning setting, with perennial snow peaks all around. On a sunny day, the lake reflects the surrounding peaks and blue sky. You get spectacular views of the Khangchendzonga mountain range from here, as well as of Mount Siniolchu, one of the state's tallest peaks.

The lake is situated in North Sikkim, five kilometres from the Tibetan (Chinese) border, on a high plateau that connects to the Tibetan Plateau. The lovely alpine lake is cast in the shade of Khangchen Gyao, a venerated mountain in Sikkim. The Gurudongmar glacier feeds the lake, one of the primary sources of the river Teesta. The lake is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Sikhs.

Back Story

Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim
Gurudongmar Lake in North SikkimShutterstock

The lake takes its name after the eminent Buddhist guru Padmasambhava - also known as Guru Rinpoche, founder of Tibetan Buddhism - who visited in the 8th century. He travelled from India to Tibet and stopped at several locations along the way, including this lake. According to a popular folktale, the towns near the lake had a severe water shortage each winter. After receiving a request for assistance from the locals, Guru Rinpoche blessed the frozen lake, causing some of it to melt. Interestingly, locals say that one area of the lake never freezes, not even in the coldest winters. They attribute this to divine power. The lake's holy waters are thought to have miraculous healing properties, making it one of the most significant pilgrimage places for locals. A different version of the same legend gained popularity when the Indian army established a base close to the lake due to Sikh soldiers who believed Guru Nanak, not Padmasambhava, had dedicated the lake.

A Wealth Of Diverse Life

A yak stands by the lake
A yak stands by the lakeShutterstock

Yaks and blue sheep are only a few high-altitude animals prevalent in the lake region. If you're lucky on your trip, you might come across the ephemeral Bhramhakamal, a stunning white flower renowned for its extraordinary healing powers. The largest wild ass in the world, the kiang, as well as the Great Tibetan sheep, Tibetan gazelle, Tibetan wolf, and elusive snow leopard, all call this region home.

An Early Journey

To visit this lake, which is about a four-hour drive from Lachen, you must leave early in the morning (say, by 4 am or so), as the security officials in charge of the region do not allow entry after 11 am. You can stop for a quick snack while travelling. Foreigners are not permitted to visit the lake, Indian tourists must receive a permit from the police checkpoint. But make sure to ask Sikkim Tourism about the most recent rules.

Places To Visit Nearby

Lachen

The hamlet of Lachen
The hamlet of LachenShutterstock

To help your body adjust to the elevation before travelling to Gurudongmar, base yourself in the village of Lachen (about two hours away), where you can explore the old wooden dwellings built on stone foundations and embellished with beautiful window frames. Ensure you get the consent of local residents before taking pictures of them or their houses and farms. The Nyudrup Choeling Gompa is a 20-minute walk from the town and in a stunning setting with sweeping views of the hills and plains nearby. This area is abundant in beautiful rhododendrons, orchids, and alpine vegetation.

The Tsopta Valley and Thanggu

Thanggu valley in Sikkim
Thanggu valley in SikkimWikimedia Commons

Thanggu, which is as far as foreign tourists are permitted to travel, is located close to the Tibetan Plateau and is about 32 km ahead of Lachen. Before heading to the picturesque Tsopta Valley, just 2 km away from Thanggu by road (or 5 km one-way as a fantastic option for a day trek), you may indulge in a delicious supper here. Beautiful rhododendrons and orchids are abundant here among the alpine greenery in this lovely location. Those with extra time may do the two-hour hike up to a few caves.

Travel Tips

High altitude sickness and breathing issues are common among travellers to Gurudongmar because of its high altitude. Consult a doctor before making your plans, and have all required medications close at hand. Motion sickness is common due to poor roads. Dress for the extreme cold, and cover your mouth and ears. Stay well hydrated.

Read up on the updated requirements regarding permits on the Sikkim government website. Ensure that your documents are ready. Reach out to the agents or the hotel front desk if you don't have any papers.

Getting There

It takes about seven hours to reach this lake from Gangtok by car. The lake is about three hours away from Lachen. The nearest airport is Bagdogra near Siliguri, about 124 kilometres from Gangtok.

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