Friday, October 30, 2009

Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim, India – One of the highest lakes in the world!!

Of days gone by...this April during my solo all India motorcycle journey

I had visited Tsomgo (Changu) lake the previous day and my motorcycle was still parked at Gangtok. The next item on my agenda was North Sikkim and I had gotten inner line permits for those too.

Three jeeps left together from Gangtok towards Lachen in North Sikkim. It was a large group comprising of a student group from Calcutta University studying geography, a couple of tourist families and then me and my hotelier friend who organized this entire tour. As we set off from Gangtok, we came across some of the worst landslide spots in the country. A 20 km section consists of 30 landslide zones and there are landslides every day. Locals actually have names for each landslide and consider B2 as the most dangerous one.

After slowly crossing this landslide zone, we went on with our journey. The entire route was extremely picturesque and green. A lot of waterfalls dotted the hills and we stopped at one of the famous places to admire the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. After a brief stop for lunch, we headed towards Chungthang. This is the main town in North Sikkim and is situated at the confluence of Lachen Chu and Lachung Chu and thereby gives birth to the Teesta river. It wasn’t easy reaching this place owing to landslides again. We got stuck in a couple of areas and to make matters worse, one of the jeeps in the group had a damaged rear tyre. It was close to 9 pm in the night when we reached Lachen with stiff knees, butts and necks. And to add misery, it was raining and very cold. This was the place where we would spend the night and acclimatize to the low oxygen levels before we proceeded to Gurudongmar Lake the next day. After a simple dinner, all of us tucked in into cold beds.

It was an early wake up call for us. We had to be back in Lachen for lunch coz the weather at Gurudongmar is known to deteriorate post noon. As we ascended from Lachen the terrain started getting bleaker and browner. We were leaving all greenery behind. And once we had our breakfast at Thangu and crossed the army camp at Giagong, the terrain turned into that of a desert. The area from Giagong to Gurudongmar and behind makes it one of the highest cold deserts in the world. It was a fun drive through the desert, but for a couple of weak spots where I had to get down and push the jeep which had gotten stuck in small rocks and slush. The others preferred to stay put in the warm confines of the jeep.

It was great when we finally reached Gurudongmar lake. A slight hint of snowfall made it even better. Gurudongmar Lake is one of the highest lakes in the world located at an altitude of 17,100 feet (5,148m). It lies on the north side of the Khangchengyao range in a high plateau contiguous to the Tibetan plateau. The stream emerging from the lake is one of the source streams of the Tista river. The entire view was fabulous. It is very difficult to imagine a lake of this size situated in the middle of the cold desert and I guess that is the beauty of nature’s bounty. It is said that the entire lake freezes in winter with the exception of one small portion which has been blessed by Guru Padmasambhava. And it is he who lends his name to the lake, which is scared for the Sikkimese, Hindus and Buddhists.

We were at the lake only for about 10 minutes when the wind started to pick up. Soon, it became a snow blizzard. All the others ran into their respective jeeps. I was chilled to the bone, but I wanted to go and shake hands with those brave Indian soldiers who patrol this area in spite of such hostile conditions, acute mountain sickness and in such a remote India-China border area away from family. These soldiers deserve a thorough round of praise and a salute at the very least!!

To see India through the eyes of a motorcyclist’s lens, visit the album below.

my solo all-india motorcycle journey

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  1. the road to Gurudongmar is almost non-existent - but it is so worth it when you finally reach there... (nice blog - going through your archives :))

  2. Yes it sure is. Thank you for your wonderful comments Charukesi!

  3. is there any Inner Line permit neeeded for Indians to visit this place/lake ??
    Is so where to get ?

  4. Yes! These permits can be arranged by yourself at Gangtok or through your travel agent/tour operator. It generally takes a day for the permits to get done.

  5. I'm planning for a motorbike trip to entire region of sikkim sept till mid oct, please let me know with the following info

    we are group of 15 both guys and girls, how will be the terrain (north, south, east and west), is any place considered risky for women

    what place will require multiple layer of clothes to keep ourself warm and where we can wear normal attire

    how will be the road and weather conditions


  6. Such a beautiful place. Isn't it. Gurudongmar was never on the bucket list, since none of the foreign tour/travel sites have it in their list. But definitely one of the best experiences I have ever had. Here's my recount of it-