Gurudongmar Lake

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


I have been away from my Blog for a long time, taking a break and vacationing. I love the majestic Himalayas and whenever I am planning for a vacation the hills calls me. I have a bucket list of Himalayan places that I want to visit before I die, Gurudongmar is one of them. Leh / Ladakh being another top of the list. Though Leh just do not seem to be chalking out yet, but I am thrilled and accomplished that I could check Gurudongmar from my list.

A little heaven called Sikkim is one of my favorite state to visit. I have been to many places there and it's northern frontier being the most thrilling one. It's known to be the most dangerous also when it comes to road conditions and climate. Landslides are so frequent and snowfall in winter is so heavy, that most of the times the roads are blocked for tourists by the Indian Army. 

Gurudongmar Lake, a holy lake for the Buddhist community, also one of the source of the river Teesta lies far north at an altitude of 17800 ft ( around 5.5 km ) above sea level. It covers miles and miles of area. Though from the view point only a portion of the lake is visible, to see the whole lake one has to walk miles, which is just not possible in that extreme cold, low oxygen weather. Surrounded by snow covered mountains with its crystal clear blue water on a clear sky day is just breath taking. Sadly, the climate did not co-operate with us, what we got was a sight of a grey lake with no sight of all the snowy mountains. It was only clouds all around us. It's so pure and pristine that in the picture above you can actually see the reflection of grey clouds in the water.

We made Gangtok our base as all the cabs starts from here. The trip can be booked from any of the numerous tours and travel companies of Gangtok. It is a trip of 2 night / 3 days covering Lachen, Gurudongmar, Lachung and Yumthang. The cost per person covers everything from stay, lunch, dinner and breakfast.  The first night stay is at a small picturesque village called Lachen, from where the journey to the Lake starts the next morning as early as 3 am. The journey from Gangtok to Lachen is a long one taking around 7 hours. In between the driver did stop for sight seeing en route at the Naga Waterfalls, also at several army and state govt check posts for permit verification. Road condition is mostly good except in some regions where it's extremely bad with curves, bends, slopes and also very muddy due to contiguous rain. The driver stopped for lunch in Mangan and afternoon tea in Chungthang. Lunch was done at a hotel associated with the tour company and it was simple rice, daal, sabzi, egg or chicken curry. In North Sikkim, you would not have any choice of food option, it would always be set menu and a simple one. I would advice not to over eat, as these simplest of food tastes incredibly good in the hills and one can get carried away easily. We literally hogged !!

The next stop was at a small town called Chungthang, from where the road gets divided to Lachen and Lachung ( to reach Yumthang valley). Here we stopped for tea. From Chungthang it takes around an hour to reach Lachen. The road was also good in most parts here, made of pitch, else but few places where it goes through flowing steams so it is muddy and bumpy. It was raining continuously, so the road had become even more muddier and landslide prone. And that's where we got stuck for hours on our way to Lachen. We were stuck in a traffic jam due to landslide and it took some time for the road to clear up. Then a car got stuck in the mud and stones, so much so that it sunk into the mud till its bumper. Just imagine what state of utter scare the tourists inside the car must have been. There was no scope of getting out of the car. It was raining heavily, the mud was almost calf length deep and slippery. One small slip can end them down the hill. After a lot of pulling and maneuvering when the car was pulled out of the mud, the rims of the wheels were twisted and tyres were completely damaged and ripped due to the pressure from the rocks and mud. After a long wait we managed to reach Lachen at very late at night at around 9 PM almost 4 hours late. There are plenty of good accommodation available in Lachen now, at least from the look of the buildings from outside. 5 years ago, there were only handful of cottages, but now there are tall buildings having rooms with attached bathrooms and geyser for hot water, if only there is electricity. If you are booking the complete package, you have to stay in the places they offer you. We were accommodated in a Bhutiya home stay, where the family had already cooked dinner of rice, daal, sabji and omlette. The rooms were nothing fancy and not much clean either but thankfully the beds looked clean. It had twin beds, with blankets and attached bathroom with geyser. Not sure for how many days the bed sheets has not being washed. I am pretty sure we slept in the same bed sheets used by the occupants the previous night. Who can blame anyways, for a place where electricity and water is a scarcity, and raining most of the time, it is difficult to wash and dry bed sheets and towels. We were literally in the clouds, the room and the beds felt wet and very cold. We had our dinner by 9:30 pm and retired to our beds. The lady of the home stay was literally running after us to finish our dinner at the earliest, so that she can go to bed and we can also get rest to wake up in the middle of the night to start for Gurudongmar.

We were asked by the drivers to get ready by 3 am as all the cars would start off at the same time. So we woke up, rather stayed half awake till 2:30 am. There was no electricity, and waking up to darkness and getting ready with mobile torch in freezing cold was one hell of a task. But still the excitement in us got us ready and out the door by 3 am and we started off for Gurudongmar Lake on Day 2 in the darkest of hour. The visibility of the road was only till area the headlights of the car would light up. Must say guys, traveling in darkness in the rain on muddy roads, high up in the mountains with steep gorges is the most thrilling and scariest journey of my life. All the people in our car was asleep else but me, my husband, another friend and of course the driver, who by the way was trying hard to keep his eyes open. I was literally counting time for the dawn to break, as the ride in the dark was pretty scary.

Slowly the dawn broke, and it is such a beautiful sight. The mighty hills waking up to light, one of my the most cherished experiences till date. The journey to the lake takes almost 6 hours from Lachen, with couple of stops at multiple army check posts for permit papers verification and another stop at a small Bhutiya village for breakfast. The breakfast was of bread and jam which was supplied by the tour company to the driver when we started in Gangtok, and he handed that to the Bhutiya family in whose cottage we stopped for breakfast and tea. The family addresses to the tourists, steams up breads in momo pans, serves tea of Yak milk. All the cars of the same tour company goes to the same cottages every time. She also prepared tea and maggi, for those we had to pay and rent outs hollow fill jackets, coats, caps etc. There was wood burning fire place which kept the cottage warm. While we were shivering even with our layers of warm clothes on, the lady of the house was running around in her track pants and t-shirt. Seemed like, the weather was not cold enough for them !! I kept myself warm with tea and hot maggi. She had a kitty cat, with whom I found a little place of joy amidst all the noisy crowd of tourists.



On route to Gurudongmar Lake
On route to the last army camp


After breakfast we continued our journey. Almost 90% of the area on the route was under Defence land and military base so photography was strictly prohibited. Most of the army area is under CCTV surveillance, so I did not even try to sneak a click. I could not click most of the beautiful landscapes on the way due to that. You really have to visit to see it. Our last stop was at the last army camp for last permit verification, after that its the final destination. In the base there is a cafe, run by the army where they serve coffee and hot water to drink for free. They also sell thermals and caps for tourists who might have missed to pack some at a very cheap rate. The army personnel are so nice and humble. All had big smiles on their faces and when we was talking to them, it felt as if we have known each others for a long time. There were such positive vibes from them. One soldier told me : "Madam, tourists aatein hain to humein accha lagta hai" ( We like when tourists comes ). I felt tourists make them feel connected with the rest of the country. Their patriotism is beyond comparable. In winter the temperature goes below to -30 degrees, and they survive each day so that we can have a good nights sleep. If you are going to bed peacefully tonight after reading this post, you know whom to thank.


Gurudongmar Road at 17000ft

From the last stop to the Gurudogmar lake, the road is pitched, and the 10 km stretch journey has the best sights ever. The terrain is barren devoid of any trees, so the oxygen level in the air is very less.



I am finally here, Yayyyy
Lets pose, Hello Stranger in the background, Thank you for being my frame.

Beside the lake there is a Buddist gompha, and also one small stall where men from near village sells coffee, boiled grams, maggi and also brandy shots. It was very cold and I was having a little trouble in breathing. You have to cover your head, nose, ears, or else you will faint. We saw a tourist faint. Though we did not get a good view due to cloudy weather, but we did get drizzle of snow fall. It was  very little, however much, it was the first snow fall of my life, so I was beyond ecstatic. We stayed there hardly for 10 minutes as the freeing cold wind was making us feel dizzy. On the way back I was feeling terribly ill due to lack of oxygen but still awake along with the driver, while rest of the people in the car fell asleep. Just as soon we entered area with trees and better oxygen level, everyone woke up. The discussion on the beauty lake and the terrain kept our journey back to Lachen engaged. The sight of the landscapes on our way back which we could not see in the darkness was so beautiful, with rhododendrons, pines, firs that not for one second I felt that let me doze off for a bit. I enjoyed every bit of it.

I hope you enjoyed reading my travel post. The post is a long one, but I have so many other Do's and Dont's to share for visiting Gurudongmar. I am going to do separate post on that.



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