Gurudongmar Lake- One of the World’s Highest Lake Sacred to Buddhist and Sikhs
Gurudongmar Lake at almost 18000 feet is one of the world’s highest freshwater lake with religious significance in Northern Sikkim, India. The lake sacred to both Buddhists and Sikhs; got its name from Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, founder of Tibetan Buddhism. It is said that when he visited the lake in 8th century; inhabitants of nearby village requested him to solve their water problem; as the lake, their only source of water remained frozen for over 6 months in a year. Legend says Guru Padmasambhava blessed the lake and since then a part of the lake remains free of ice even during winters.
Another legend says Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism and first Sikh guru also visited the lake in 15th century while travelling towards Tibet. Legend says it is he, who blessed the lake after which a part of lake never freezes. However, this claim is disputed by local Buddhists and Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok; though they accept Guru Nanak did visit the lake. Just 5 kms away from Tibetan border; the lake can be reached only by road from Lachen village via Thangu by taxi. Located 190 kms from Gangtok, capital of Sikkim; the road up to lake from Thangu is lined up with numerous pastures and red rhododendron trees. Indians can visit the lake easily; but foreigners need special Inner Line Permit (ILP) from Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi; since the lake is in a sensitive area.
Legend says, the sacred lake in Eastern Himalaya; grants boon to any pregnant woman who offers prayer. Its’ water collected as sacred water by devotees, is rumoured to have healing powers. The stream from glacier fed lake goes downstream to join the Tso Lahmu lake from where a stream flows out to join the stream coming out of Samiti lake, the place of origin for Teesta river. People visiting the lake can see in surrounding areas of Gurudongmar lake; a number of yaks, blue sheep and other wildlife that are native to Sikkim. Once known for its crystal clear water when even the lake bed was visible; it appears pollution has started taking its toll and nowadays water appears white in colour.
Tourists who want to reach Gurudongmar lake need to be physically fit; since it is a high-altitude area. Besides carrying warm woollens, dark sunglasses to protect eyes from sun rays and white blindness; tourist must keep medicines ready to tackle problems like cold, breathing difficulties, and mountain sickness. Tourists on their way to Lachen village can also visit the Tashi View Point, Kabi Lungtsok site, Mangan and Tong villages, and Phodong Monastery. As Lachen village surrounded by forests of rhodendron and conifer is the last stop before proceeding towards the lake, it is better to halt here for night. At most places in this trip; tourist get to eat/drink local dishes like chicken momos, thukpas, noodles, and masala tea. Tourist can visit Handicraft Center at Lachen; buy carpets, bags, shawls, and blankets made from yak, sheep wool. At the center; local ladies can be seen weaving exquisite handicrafts. Tourist can also buy handcrafted wooden articles and beautifully designed Buddha idols from here.
After Lachen tourists can visit Thangu and spend some time there. A lucky few can get to see the rare Sikkim Rhubarb in bushes here. Next stop is the drive to Gurudongmar Lake via Chopta Valley. Near the lake is Sarva Dharma Sthala, temple for all religions; many prayer flags can also be seen. Better to return from lake by noon as weather deteriorates by late afternoon. A visit to Lachen monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in Sikkim is worthwhile. After Lachen, tourist can visit Lachung town. An onward journey from Lachung via Chungthang village towards picturesque Yumthang valley is also advisable. Chungthang village is the place from where Teesta transforms into river from small stream. The best time to visit the lake is from April to June; and whole trip takes 2-3 days. Tourist can reach Gurudongmar via Gangtok which is connected to major Indian cities by road, rail and air via Darjeeling, New Jalpaiguri and Bagdogra respectively.