Outstanding! Amazing! We were practically out of words as we stood in front of the Gurudongmar Lake. With the cold breeze biting right into us and our teeth chattering, we looked at the lake with our eyes wide open. Rest of our face was covered because of the strong chilly wind that was blowing around the lake. Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim is one of the most beautiful destinations of Sikkim. Usually, a trip to the Gurudongmar Lake is combined with Lachen, Lachung and Yumthang Valley and we had done the same thing.
It was the month of April when the weather was supposed to remain clear. But our arrival at Lachen was met with quite a heavy downpour. For a moment it seemed that we would not be able to visit the lake as it rained so much. But the night’s rain proved to be a blessing in disguise. The weather was clear the next morning. The chilling cold seemed to be the only problem but that was tackled with jackets and scarfs! And the best part was that the place did not have many tourists that day. Not that Gurudongmar Lake gets as many tourists as in Pangong Tso, but that morning there were only 4 cars near the lake. This is quite a rare occurrence for the season.
- 1 Where Is Gurudongmar Lake?
- 2 Legend of Gurudongmar Lake
- 3 Journey to Gurudongmar Lake: Our North Sikkim Itinerary
- 4 Why should you visit Gurudongmar Lake?
- 5 How to reach Gurudongmar Lake?
- 6 How to Reach Gangtok?
- 7 Best time to visit Gurudongmar Lake
- 8 Is permit required for visiting Gurudongmar Lake?
- 9 Suggested Itinerary of North Sikkim
- 10 Pocket Pinch: Indicative cost of Gurudongmar Lake – Yumthang valley – North Sikkim tour package
- 11 Where to stay in Lachen?
Where Is Gurudongmar Lake?
Gurudongmar Lake, one of the highest lakes in India at an altitude of 17800 ft (5340 m) is one of the holiest places in Sikkim. Situated in North Sikkim, the lake is only 5 km south of the China border. One can reach the Lake through Lachen and Thangu.
Legend of Gurudongmar Lake
In Buddhist circles, Sikkim has been known as Beyul Demajong or Guru Rinpoche’s Hidden Land. Gurudongmar Lake is considered to be one of the 108 “Tso-Chen” or major holy lakes of the Demajong and is believed to be the abode of the local guardian deities. The lake is named after Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.
During the eight century AD, Guru Rinpoche (also known as Guru Padmasambhava) had visited the Tibetan Chogyal (King) Trisong Detsan. He informed the king that in future Tibet’s sovereignty might be subjugated and there might be a decline in Buddhism. The Chogyal requested Guru Rinpoche to search for places where the Dharma might be kept alive. The Guru after completing his spiritual quest selected four different lands around Tibet. He first arrived at Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim and later went on towards Tashiding in West Sikkim. Here he found his Beyul Demajong or hidden land where he hid his treasure teachings in caves and sacred places to be later revealed when Dharma was in danger.
The lake usually remained frozen for most of the year with no probability of providing drinking water to the local people. Legend has it that the locals prayed to the Guru to help them. The revered Guru then put his hand on a part of the lake which has since then refrained from freezing. Gurudongmar Lake has been revered and respected since then. Guru Rinpoche also saw this as a propitious sign that welcomed him to this land.
Devotees also believe that by offering prayers at the lake and doing a parikrama (going around the lake), one can be blessed with a child.
Journey to Gurudongmar Lake: Our North Sikkim Itinerary
Sikkim happens to be one of our favourite destinations. Being closer to Kolkata, the rural getaways in Sikkim are one of our coveted weekend getaways. This time we had decided to take a longer break and explore the beautiful North Sikkim.
Day 1: Gangtok – Mangan – Lachen
We started our journey towards Lachen from Gangtok and you will probably do the same thing. Visiting North Sikkim requires a permit. The permit can be obtained only through registered travel agents in Sikkim. We hired an entire car for our North Sikkim trip that included Gurudongmar Lake and Yumthang Valley for 3 days. If you are a solo traveller, you can ask the travel agent to club you with other travellers. It will save you some bucks.
We started from Gangtok after breakfast and started our journey towards Lachen. Though Google map shows that distance to be only 100 km and time required as 4.5 hours, the road conditions are not that great and it takes a minimum 6 hours to reach Lachen. Include the stops in between, and add another hour to the journey. But these stops are good. Our car took the route through Phamtam and we stopped briefly at the Seven Sisters Falls. Well, do not confuse this with the Seven Sisters Falls at Cherrapunji. They are different.
The next stop was at Mangan and then at Singhik Viewpoint. The weather was cloudy and so we could not get a clear view of the mountains. We continued our journey towards Chungthang, the place from where the road bifurcates towards Lachen and Lachung. We decided to go to Lachen first and so took the road towards the left. Lachen is situated about 26km from Chungthang and takes about an hour to reach. From Mangan, you can actually see the River Teesta flowing side by side all the way up to Chungthang. The source of Teesta is the glacial lakes like Tso Lhamo at a height of 5330m.
We reached Lachen by afternoon. We walked around a bit, but it started raining soon and we had to return to our hotel room.
Lachen literally means “big pass” as opposed to Lachung which means the “small pass”. The village is located at an altitude of 9000ft above the sea level and the Lachen Chu flows through the deep gorges amidst the pine and conifer forests. At Lachen, you can visit the Lachen Monastery and the Handicraft Centre in the market area. There you will get blankets, carpets, bags made of yak r sheep wool woven by the Lachenpas or the inhabitants of Lachen. As I said before, rain played a spoilsport that day and we were confined to our hotel for most of the time.
Lachen also has a few small shops where you can grab some snacks and a few drinks too. In the evening, we entered into one such shop to have some Maggi or snack. We ended up staying there and had a bamboo glass full of local alcohol or “Chee”. Nothing beats the pleasure of having a glass full of Chee sitting in front of the fire in cold weather and sharing stories with the locals. The shop was full of locals and mostly the drivers of the tourist vehicles. We two were the only odd ones there. But we never felt that we were out of place. They accepted us as their own and we were more than happy to be a part of their family. Isn’t this we all want and enjoy when we travel?
Day 2: Lachen – Thangu – Gurudongmar Lake – Chopta Valley – Lachung
We had started quite early as suggested by our friendly driver (He is the same driver who had suggested us to visit the beautiful Dzongu). You have to start as early as possible because you get to visit the only in the morning within a short span of time. Also, it takes around 3 and a half to four hours to reach Gurudongmar Lake from Lachen. Also at the High altitudes, you cannot predict the weather.
The road from Lachen to Thangu was quite a bumpy one. We stopped at Thangu located at an altitude of 13000 ft, the last point of habitation in this area. We could hardly see any people there barring the few in the tea stalls. The sun was sharp, but the cold was sharper! We had some tea in one of the shops and without any further ado, started towards our final destination. Apart from a couple of other tourist vehicles and army vehicles, there was no human life to be seen around.
Soon we were on the final stretch of the journey. We realized that it was final because the dusty bumpy road gave way to a sleek, black pitch road. It was a welcome change. The landscape has already changed giving way to a barren and arid hue. The black roads running through these barren landscapes with the blue sky above and soft cotton-like clouds in them provided for a breathtaking scene. The car then took a turn and screeched through these arid lands towards our coveted destination.
Gurudongmar Lake was long since on our bucket list, and we were quite excited as we approached the lake in our car. As we stood in front of the late, we felt such peace within us. The feeling could not be expressed in mere words. The partially frozen lake was in front of us. Numerous colourful prayer flags were flowing in the air as if sending the message of peace and calm to all the visitors.
It was biting cold there as I mentioned before. We could hardly keep my hands out of my jacket pockets, it took a lot of willpower to bring our hands out to even take photographs! The surroundings of the lake were quite clean and well maintained. There is a staircase leading towards the sides of the lake. You can go around the edges of the lake, but remember not to exert yourself. There is a small temple where an attendant stays.
We spent a few memorable moments here and then we were back to our car.
On our return journey, we stopped at Chopta Valley. It is not really a valley, but a viewpoint of the valley below where you can see the crisscrossing rivulets and the numerous trees. Come April and May, the valley blazes with colourful rhododendrons. Once again, do not confuse this one with the Chopta Valley on way to Tunganath Trek!
We reached Lachen at around 12 noon. After rest and a heavy lunch, we were ready for our next trip towards Lachung. We reached Lachung towards afternoon that day.
Day 3: Lachung – Yumthang valley – Zero Point – Lachung
The next day we started from Lachung towards Yumthang Valley. I have covered this in a separate post. After visiting Yumthang Valley, you can carry onwards towards Zero Point or Yumesamdong too. Visiting the Zero Point will charge you another Rs2500 per vehicle. After your visit to Yumthang valley, you can either return and stay back at Lachung or travel back to Gangtok.
We went to Dzongu, the Lepcha Reserve Area after our visit to the Yumthang Valley.
Why should you visit Gurudongmar Lake?
- Because it is one of the highest lakes in India situated at an altitude of 17800 ft.
- The landscape is simply breathtaking. The vast blue lake I amidst the barren hilly terrain is sure to mesmerise the travellers.
- The place is venerated among all the religions. There is a Sarv Dharma Sthal near the lake.
- The journey itself is exciting. With the varied landscape of Lachen, then Thangu and finally the Lake itself, it is a roller coaster of a ride. But a word of caution; this trip is not for those looking for luxury travel. The road conditions are quite bad and the 4 hours of car journey is going to take a toll. If you really love the Himalayas to endure these hours of pain, then this trip is definitely for you!
- The view of the Chopta Valley is an added attraction.
How to reach Gurudongmar Lake?
Gurudongmar Lake is about 68 km from Lachen, the last properly inhabited place. Lachen, on the other hand, is 120 km from Gangtok. To visit Gurudongmar and Yumthang valley, you need to get a permit from Gangtok. You can get the permit only through a registered travel agent.
It is recommended to get your trip to North Sikkim arranged through a travel agent. Public transport to Lachen is non-existent. You will get shared sumos to Mangan, but after that, it is quite doubtful. Even if you manage to reach Lachen, you will not get any public vehicles to Gurudongmar Lake. If you are travelling alone, talk to the travel agent to tag you with similar travellers looking for travel partners. You will save a lot of money in this way.
It is recommended to start your journey from Gangtok and reach Lachen. After the night stay at Lachen, visit the lake the next morning. As stated earlier, you have to start quite early.
How to Reach Gangtok?
The nearest airport to Gangtok is at Pakyong. But flights to Pakyong are not yet regular. Bagdogra is the next nearest one. From Bagdogra, you will get private cars to Gangtok. If you are looking for shared transport, then you have to come to Siliguri SNT stand from where you will get buses and shared sumos to Gangtok. The nearest Railway station is New Jalpaiguri. You will get both private and shared vehicle from NJP or Siliguri to Gangtok.
Best time to visit Gurudongmar Lake
If you want to see the blue waters of the lake, then visit during the months of May, June, September & October. The weather remains cool and the lake is not frozen during this time.
July and August are not recommended because of the rainy season and poor road conditions of Sikkim. You can also visit during the winter months of November to February, but often roads towards Gurudongmar Lake are closed during the months of December and January due to snowfall. Chopta Valley takes a beautiful look during this time. If roads are opened, you can travel onwards to see the frozen Gurudongmar Lake encircled by the snow-capped mountains.
March and April is also a very good time to visit. The lake usually remains partially frozen during this time. This is a good time to see the blooming rhododendrons at the Chopta valley and Yumthang Valley.
Is permit required for visiting Gurudongmar Lake?
You will need a permit to visit Gurudongmar Lake and North Sikkim. The permit can be obtained only through registered travel agents in Sikkim. You have to get the permit done at least a day before starting your trip to Lachen.
Foreign tourists are not allowed to go to Gurudongmar Lake. They can only visit up to the Chopta Valley. However, they will require a Protected Area Permit (PAP) to visit North Sikkim. All foreigners should travel in a group of two or more in protected areas wherever allowed. Solo foreigners are not permitted in protected areas. Additionally, foreigners should apply for Protected Area Permit through tour operators who are registered with the Sikkim Tourism Department. These permits are usually checked at various places.
The same restriction applied to senior citizens above 65 years.
Suggested Itinerary of North Sikkim
Only Lachen and Gurudongmar Lake
Day 1: Gangtok – Lachen. Stay at Lachen for the night
Day 2: Lachen – Thangu – Gurudongmar Lake & Chopta valley – Lachen – Gangtok.
Start early by 4 AM and proceed towards the lake. On the return stop at Chopta Valley. Have lunch at Lachen and then return back to Gangtok. You can also stay back at Lachen and start for Gangtok the next day.
Gurudongmar Lake and Yumthang valley
Day 1: Gangtok – Lachen. Stay at Lachen for the night
Day 2: Lachen – Thangu – Gurudongmar Lake & Chopta valley – Lachen – Lachung.
Start early by 4 AM and proceed towards the lake. On return stop at Chopta Valley. Have lunch at Lachen and proceed towards Lachung. Stay at Lachung for the night.
Day 3: Lachung – Yumthang Valley – Zero Point – Lachung – Gangtok
Start early (by 7 AM), visit Zero Point, then stop at Yumthang Valley, return back to Lachung to have lunch and then proceed back to Gangtok. You can also stay back at Lachung and start towards Gangtok the next day.
Pocket Pinch: Indicative cost of Gurudongmar Lake – Yumthang valley – North Sikkim tour package
The cost of North Sikkim tour package can vary according to high and low season, category of hotel and the category of car you choose to travel.
A 3 days/2 nights tour package from Gangtok to Lachen (Gurudongmar lake) and Lachung (Yumthang Valley) can cost around Rs25,000 for 2 persons in high season for a mid-range package. This would include your stay in a mid-range hotel in AP plan, local sightseeing on the way in a vehicle like Sumo, Bolero or Max. In low season, the same package might cost around Rs20,000. The cost includes the permit fees, accommodations, vehicle and food. Before finalizing ask for what is offered in the package.
Please note that an extra amount of Rs2500 per vehicle is needed if you choose to visit Zero Point from Yumthang Valley.
Where to stay in Lachen?
There are a number of hotels, homestays and also resorts in Lachen of various categories and budget. Your tour operator will be booking the accommodation as per the budget you choose. If you have any particular stay in mind, let him know.
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