The Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim is a mystical experience, says Anuradha Varma
You can’t afford to nap when travelling through Sikkim. The landscape changes as you move from north, south, east or west. The sun’s rays coming in through the car window make you somewhat drowsy as you drive through the miles to visit Gurudongmar Lake. You suddenly wake up to mountains covered in snow for endless stretches. And you swear never to nap again on this trip!
Sikkim is not an easy state to discover. But, patience is amply rewarded by the sights and sounds around. A trip to North Sikkim, where the Gurudongmar is located, is demanding, but it more than makes with the sheer awe and joy of being in the midst of unspoilt nature.
Be prepared for your cellphones to stop working when you reach North Sikkim. Keep at least two days aside for the visit as most of the time would be taken up by the travel time on road. The roads are winding and as you make the climb up the mountains, there are several sharp turns that take your breath away.
We drove down seven hours from Gangtok to La Chen in North Sikkim, spotting several waterfalls on our way, and camped for the night there. Be prepared for adventures at every turn in this state. We stayed at an inn, run by a young girl, who was our go-to person for everything, from hot water to food. The meals, however, don’t offer much choice since one has to eat whatever is available. Most of the supplies arrive from Gangtok and in case of a landslide, the options get even more limited. In one case, our driver had to obligingly cart meat and eggs for our hosts. It’s common for people to stock grocery supplies for a year, reserving one room in the house for this. And, one also sees yak meat hanging near the fireplace, like we did as we went up for dinner to our hosts living room on the night we arrived. Yak meat is seasonal, so much so that when one person from our group enquired after the ceremonial yak tail, she was told that “it isn’t in season”!
We woke up early the next morning to start on our drive up to the lake, which takes around four hours. The closest village is Thangu, at about 14,000 feet and tourists require a permit as it’s located close to the Indo-Tibet border. The entire region is controlled by the Indian Army.
While the destination is worth the effort, the journey itself is part of the experience. Words fail you as you drive past mountains covered in snow, with some showing visible signs of massive landslides. If there was ever a place where one feels close to divinity and witness to God’s work, it is here.
We were advised by our hosts in Gangtok to eat a lot of popcorn as we made the ascent to help with our breathing. It’s not recommended to spend more than hour at the lake as breathing is difficult. However, this can vary and while our driver suffered a nose bleed at that height (a first, he said!), two others in our group were quite comfortable walking around the lake for over 20 minutes. As for me, I would come in for a breather into the car and be out again. We were there for around 30 minutes totally. Luckily for us, there were no other tourists and we could bask in what can only be termed a divine experience.
Named after Guru Dongmar (originally Guru Padmasambhava), the lake is considered sacred and is among the top 15 highest lakes in the world. It’s revered by Buddhist, Sikhs and Hindus. The water is said to have curative properties.
Surrounded by snow-clad mountains, you can also see the breathtaking Mount Siniolchu and Khanchendzonga from here. It’s also one of the sources of River Teesta, flowing through Sikkim, West Bengal and Bangladesh to merge with the Bay of Bengal.
Standing at 17,000 feet, Gurudongmar Lake offers an almost other-worldly experience. A quiet descends upon you when you are in the vicinity of the gleaming waters, surrounded by mountains in the distance.
While the lake remains partially frozen throughout the year, a part of it miraculously never freezes over and even from a distance, one can hear some gurgling emanating from that section. One of the unexplained mysteries of Gurudongmar Lake!
We made our way back to La Chen, still filled by awe after the mystical experience. The sight of the gleaming waters, the gurgling sound from within, the pristine snow-capped mountains all around and the feeling of being one with nature and a witness to the earth’s natural wonders is not something one will forget in a hurry. A trip to the lake and Sikkim as a whole, and North Sikkim in particular, is highly recommended. The best time to visit is from November to June.