Gurudongmar Lake, also known as Gurudogmar Lake, is one of the highest lakes in the world, located at an altitude of 17,800 ft in the Indian state of Sikkim. It is a lake which is considered sacred by both Buddhists and Sikhs. The lake is named after Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, founder of Tibetan Buddhism who visited the lake in the 8th century.
It is the land of Yaks, blue ships and other high altitude animals of Sikkim and Tibet. The snow-fed milky water of the lake is one of the major sources of Teesta, the most important river in Sikkim and North Bengal.
It lies in the North side of the Khangchengyao Range and is encircled all around by snow-covered mountains, the sacred lake freezes during the winters except at one spot, which the devout believe has been specially blessed. The Indian-Chinese border is just a few kilometers away from the lake.
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 the lake he felt that the lake was worthy of veneration as it represented the divine location of Dorje Nyima or Chhoedten Nyima. As the lake remained frozen most of the year with no possibility of providing for drinking water needs, the people of the area appealed to Padmasambhva to help them. Then the guru agreed to help them and placed his hands on a small part of the lake area which stopped freezing during winter thus facilitating the source of 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 in the lake and then he considered it a good augury to enter the mainland of Sikkim, then known as Demojong. It is now said that the lake grants a boon to any pregnant woman offering prayers at the lake.
In another fable traced to the 15th century, Guru Nanak during his journeys had, while on his return from Tibet visited Sikkim and passed through the lake. He was requested by the local people of Gurudongmar village to help them make the lake a drinking water source as it remained frozen throughout the winter period. Nanak then touched a part of the lake with his stick and from then onward a part of the lake has remained snow free throughout the year. The villagers had also told Nanak that their “virility” had been affected by the high altitude. Nanak. Therefore, blessed the lake and told the villagers that “whoever takes the water of this lake will gain virility and strength”. Since then both the lake and the surrounding hills came to be known as Gurudongmar.
Tour to North Sikkim requires special permit (Inner Line Permit). The permit is given to Tourists through an authorized tour operator. Only Indian tourists are allowed to visit Gurudongmar Lake. For international tourists, the tour is limited to Chopta Valley a few kilometers before the lake.
The lake is located at an extreme corner of India. The nearest tourist accommodation at Lachen is 45 km (3 hours) away. A typical tour starts at Gangtok from where Lachen is about 120 km (6 hours). After overnight stay at Lachen next morning you may visit Gurudongmar. You should start early in the morning and be back to Lachen latest by lunch time. As the day progresses weather in the high altitude begins to worsen.
Road to Gurudongmar
The first phase of the journey starts at Lachen at 8800 feet and in next 30 km reaches Thangu at 13000 feet. As you gain altitude you will find the green forests of lower altitude gives way to smaller trees and bushes. Beyond Thangu is the second phase of your travel. The road towards the lake from Thangu passes through the high alpine pastures carpeted with occasional rhododendron bushes. One can get a prized view of rare Sikkim Rhubarb peeping through the bushes in inaccessible terrain or of a herd of mountain sheep grazing in the distant valley. In this area you will find little vegetation or people. Apart from Indian Army, there is no human habitation here. The gravel road through the valley gives you a unique view of a barren land. Just before you reach the lake the road takes a right turn and goes uphill to reach the lake.
Special Note for Travellers
The terrain leading to Gurudongmar is very hostile and yet very beautiful. The land resembles Tibetan plateau, vegetation is very limited and the road is through stony moraine like unpaved path. Due to proximity to the Chinese Boarder, landmines are not uncommon and presence of Indian Army is ubiquitous. Due to high altitude breathing problems may also arise. Tourists are suggested to spend little time at the high altitude and come down to Lachen soon.
Despite the hardship and difficulty, a visit to this lake may last as an experience of a lifetime.
Visit Gurudongmar Lake with Sikkim’s friendliest Travel Agent, Royal House Tours & Travels, Gangtok.