Journey to Gurudongmar Lake
This is the largest lake in Sikkim, one of the highest in the world and considered very sacred by both Buddhists and Hindus. You should start from Lachen early in the morning, may be by 6 AM. Although many websites will recommend a more early start, but it will be of no point as there will be an army security outpost on the way, at Thangu, which will only allow a pass after a specific hour of the day and not before that and hence the early birds will have nothing to do apart from lining up on the road and wait.
We are at Thangu now and the barometric pressure suggested an altitude of 12500 ft. Quite a height to initiate a mild breathing problem. If this is the case with you it should be immediately brought into notice and there will be no bravery in concealing the same. This may later aggravate to a more serious condition and you are at least 6 to 7 hrs. away from the immediate medical treatment. As a preventive measure one should munch popcorns throughout this ascending road from this point and have a cup of warm coffee wherever you get a chance.
After the gate opens and after proceeding a little further a little de-tour will get you to Kala Patthar, the zone of Black Mountains towering all around you. This place will give you a chance to walk on snow and play with it in the springs if you have a desire to do that. In the winters, snow will be in abundance and you really don't need to visit such an altitude to touch the snow. The scenery all around is extraordinary and unless you receive frequent time checks from the cab driver the desire will be to sit there and enjoy the serenity and the beauty of the hush nature for hours. Here you will frequently observe herds of Yaks led by the Shepard and protected by the Shepard dog, who will be ever agile to save the entire team from external attacks, whether it is from man or wild!! Don’t go closer!!
I would like to personally recommend you to insist your cab driver to take you to this place as you wont like to miss it at any cost.
After the brief stay we were on our way to Gurudongmar which will be an hour journey from here with a steep rise of 3500 ft. more. So one word of caution for all my wanderlust friends will be not to forget munching popcorns from time to time as this really helps fighting breathing problems.
The last and the final defense check post on our way will be at Gaigaon which is at 15000 ft. and the final point where it will be decided whether you will be able to reach Gurudongmar depending on the weather and the time you reached there. The only reason of putting such restrictions is for your own safety. At Gurudongmar a strong wind initiates after 12 in the noon and anybody left back will hardly be able to bear that. So strong is the wind that you will be able to fill the vibration sitting inside a car with all its panes closed? Hence, the wise approach will be to bid your respect to Mother Nature and try to get back to the safety of your cars by 12 noon after enjoying the beauty of the blue lake of Gurudongmar.
From Thangu onwards you are on high alpine plateau (known as the Tibetan Plateau), there is hardly any vegetation and you will see rocky mountains all around other than some scarce rhododendron bushes. If you have been to Ladakh, you can see a striking similarity between the two terrains.
The road is known as Gurudongmar road and eventually splits. A narrow road on the right goes uphill to the Gurudongmar Lake, while the other one continues to Tso Lhamo Lake which is about 5kms away. From there the main road continues further north-east to the Indo-China border (another 4kms from Tso Lhamo). Tso Lhamo Lake is fed by glaciers and is one of the main sources feeding River Teesta.
Gurudongmar Lake is located at an altitude of 17,800ft and covers an area of 290 acres making it the largest lake in the whole of Sikkim. It's surrounded by snow clad mountains making it a stunningly picturesque site. During winter, the lake freezes except for one small area. The Buddhists 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. You will see Buddhist prayer flags fluttering on the sides of the lake.
The Gurudongmar Lake has been named after Guru Padmasambhava (an 8th-century Indian Buddhist master) who came here on his way back from Tibet. There is a legend associated with him and the lake. Since the lake used to completely freeze during winter and could not be used as a source of drinking water during such time, the locals pleaded to Guru for a solution.
Guru agreed and placed his hands on one point of the lake, and it is this point where the water never freezes any longer. Since then the lake is considered holy and devotees collect sacred water in containers. There is a small temple of Guru Padmasambhava next to the lake and you can see hundreds of colorful prayer flags fluttering as a cool breeze flows in from the lake.
After all the hurdles we were lucky enough to see Gurudongmar and manage to start our return journey by 12:30 PM considering everyone’s safety.
We reached Lachen after a tiring 4 hours journey, had lunch there and made a hasty start for Lachung. Again a painful and long, though picturesque journey came to an end with our checking in at the Lachung hotel late in the evening. After freshening up, we had an early dinner, chatted with friends with whom I am in the trip and called it a day early as we would be starting for Yumtham and Zero Point early next morning.