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GURUDONGMAR LAKE

Gurudongmar Lake , Situated at a height of 17,800 feet, it is considered one the most sacred lakes by the Buddhists and Hindus alike. The beautiful and awe inspiring lake (190 kms from Gangtok) remains milky in colour throughout the year. According to a legend, since the lake used to remain frozen most of the year, it was not possible to use its water for drinking purposes. When the Guru Padmasambhava passed by, while returning from Tibet, the local residents are reported to have approached him for providing source of water.The Guru obliged. A portion of the lake touched by him does not freeze in extreme winter. Since water of the lake is considered sacred, visitors carry the ’blessed’ water in bottles.

There is no proper tourist accommodation beyond Lachen. So almost all tourists, visiting Gurudongmar Lake stay at Lachen overnight before proceeding to the lake next morning. And along with the lake, a typical tour also combines a visit to Chopta Valley, a beautiful valley located in-between Lachen and Gurudongmar which gets covered with flowers in spring and with snow during winter.

Lachen is a small village located in north Sikkim at an altitude of 8,838ft with about 250 village families and few hotels & small shops. Its original inhabitants are known as Lachenpas who are a Sikkimese Buddhist community. They are mostly ship and yak herders. Although the distance to Lachen is only 121kms from Gangtok, it can easily take 6 to 7 hours to reach the place by car depending on road conditions. Tourists usually come to Lachen on the way to the famous & picturesque high altitude Gurudongmar Lake which is located further up at an altitude of 17,800ft near Indo-China (Tibet) border.

From Gangtok, you need to take the North Sikim Highway. The road passes through villages like Phodong, Mangan, Tong etc before reaching Chungthang a village which is about 95kms from Gangtok and takes about 5 hours or more to reach. The road at Chungthang bifurcates. The one towards right goes to Lachung which is about 22kms towards north and onward to Yumthang Valley. The road on the left known as Lachen road goes to Lachen which is about 26kms from Chungthang and takes over an hour. Since boath Lachen and Lachung are close to each other, many tourists make a combined a visit of Lachen/Gurudongmar lake with Lachung & Yumthang Valley.

Lachen means "Big Pass". This small village at an altitude of 8,838ft is a valley with grassy land and scattered forests of Rhodendrons and conifer. The mountain stream Lachen Chu flows through it in deep gorges and on the other side of the river are large mountains with pine forest and snow peaks. While tourists get to Lachen mainly to visit Gurudongmar Lake, there are reasons to spend some time in Lachen itself. Lachen Monastery is one of the oldest in Sikkim and built in 1858. It was then a small hut like structure with only 6 monks. But later in 1977 with financial aid from Sikkim Government, it was reconstructed to its current form. The Monastery follows Nyingma Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Couple of noteworthy artifacts in the monastery includes a stone in a casket having footprint of Kham Gomchen who stayed at the monastery, another stone looking like a decorative container which has been kept on the altar and preserved by the monks as a religious artifact. You should also visit the Handicraft Center of Lachen located in the market area. The original residents the Lachen pas have been weaving carpets, shawls, blankets, bags etc since ages. They are made of yak and ship wool. This is a great place to see many such samples and watch some of the local ladies weaving them. There are wood crafted items as well like Buddha’s idol. Gurudongmar Lake , 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 (by 4am) because you need to be back by lunch time. The weather near Gurudongmar usually starts becoming bad as the day  progresses, so you need to leave the lake area and start for Lachen by around 9:30am. But the early start is not a problem because the daylight here breaks very early too.

Your first stop is at Thangu, a tiny hamlet with only handful of villagers and a large army base. Thangu is a valley with lush meadows located at an altitude of 13,000ft and about 27kms north of Lachen. It takes about 1hour 15 minutes to reach Thangu from Lachen. Within an hour or so the altitude changes by over 4,000ft. So you can imagine how steep the road is. There are a few stalls here where you can take tea and have your packed breakfast. You can distinctly see the change in foliage as you get to Thangu. From green forests or large trees, the foliage changes to mostly smaller bushes. If you visit during May/June, you can see the valley full of beautiful alpine flowers. From November onwards, the valley gets covered with snow till March.

From Thangu the distance to Gurudongmar is about 40kms (i.e. 67kms from Lachen). Although the distance looks short, it will require about 4 hours to reach Gurudongmar from Lachen (so about 3 hour from Thangu). From Thangu onwards you are on high alpine plateau, there is hardly any vegetation and you will see rocky mountains all around other than some scarce rhododendron bushes. Thangu in fact is the last Civilian Settlement along this route.

This road known as Gurudongmar road 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 (5,430m) 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. On one side of the lake there is a small temple of Guru Padmasambhava.

On your way back from Gurudongmar, stop at Chopta Valley located at 13,200ft near Thangu. It’s only 2kms from Thangu towards Gurudongmar. So while returning, Chopta Valley will come first and then Thangu. This is a picture perfect valley. During summer and monsoon (May to September) the valley is carpeted with flowers such as primula, rhododendrons and several different kinds of wild flowers.

How to visit
You can visit Lachen and Gurudongmar lake only through tour operators who are registered with Sikkim Tourism Department. Being a protected area, you need to get Protected Area Permit which the registered tour operator can arrange. But you need to get that done in Gangtok at least one day before you start for Lachen. Foreigners are not allowed in Gurudungmar Lake, they can go only up to Chopta Valley. The permits are usually checked at Mangan and then again at Tong.

Suggested Tour Plan from Gangtok (Only Lachen/Gurudongmar)

Day1: Reach Lachen from Gangtok, overnight stay at Lachen.

Day2: Start early (by 4am), visit Gurudongmar lake & Chopta Valley, return to hotel, have lunch and
proceed to Gangtok. Overnight stay at Gangtok.

Combined tour of Lachen & Lachung

Day1: Reach Lachen from Gangtok, overnight stay at Lachen.

Day2: Start early (by 4am), visit Gurudongmar lake & Chopta Valley, return to hotel, have lunch and
proceed to Lachung. Overnight stay at Lachung.

Day3: Star early, visit Zero Point, Yumthang Valley, return to hotel, have lunch and proceed to
Gangtok. Overnight stay at Gangtok.

Best time to visit Lachen/Gurudongmar
April to May is a great time to go as the rhododendrons are in full bloom during this time. Beginning of December is also a great time to see snow covered Chopta Valley, walk over frozen river, and if roads are open then onwards to Gurudongmar to see the frozen lake circled with snow mountains.

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