There is something about high altitude lakes – you climb up the mountains, struggle through the hairpin bends and at the end you will greeted by a gleam of water body, a brilliant spectacle indeed. The Silk Route tour has several such high altitude beautiful lakes and one of the most beautiful is surely the Kupup Lake. Locally called Bitan Cho, it is one of the most sacred lakes of Sikkim, with high mountains and valleys bordering it. Owing to its resemblance to elephant, Kupup Lake is also known as Elephant Lake.
The amazing view of the lake will make you feel that nothing could be more peaceful and serene on earth. You just could not stop admiring this wonderful lake. The lake nestles at an altitude of 13,066 feet, on the way to Jelepla Pass, bordering area with China and India. It is the second highest mountain in Bhutan. The shape of the lake resembles an elephant. The right side of the lake looks like an elephant trunk and on the left, it looks like tail. The lake is also accompanied by a stunning valley. A small village called Kupup, which has only few houses and a police check post is located at the lake coast. Kupup is one of the highest villages in the region, which was a recognized transit point during the silk trade between India and Tibet. Kupup has also earned recognition in the world map, due to the Yak Golf Course, highest of its kind across the globe. This 18-hole golf course, affiliated to Indian Golf Union since 1985 nestles at an altitude of 13,025 feet from the sea level and has been included in Guinness Book of World Records.
After crossing Kupup Lake, you would find a place marked “Younghusband’s Track”. A beaten track starts from here which was used by the British Army to conquer Tibet. Led by Lt. Col. Francis Younghusband in 1903 – 1904, this was the first expedition to conquer Tibet by any European Army. The British troops began its journey from Siliguri, moved up to Rangpo, Nathang and crossed through Jelep La Pass into Chumbi Valley in Tibet and finally reached Lhasa traversing a distance of 520 kms.
Lord Francis Younghusband reached Jelep La Pass on 13 December 1903 and stepped on Chumbi Valley. It took 25 days for the troops to cross Chumbi Valley and on 07 January 1914 they reached a small outpost in Tibet called Tuna crossing the infamous Tang La, where temperatures dipped below – 30 deg C at an altitude of nearly 3 miles above sea-level. Far above the tree line, the troops had to survive in Tuna inflicted with frostbite for 3 months.Fierce battles were fought in these high mountains and the British were ruthless in killing the monk armies of Tibet. In the first major battle at Chumi Shengo, 628 Tibetan monk soldiers were killed with no casualties on the British side. Soon more skirmishes took place at Gyantse and Changlo and at the end nearly 3000 Tibetan monk soldiers were killed. Finally, on 7 Sep 1904, Lhasa surrendered and the Lhasa Convention was signed. Lord Francis Younghusband became the first European to conquer Tibet.
Located at 13025 feet above sea level, the Yak Golf Course has been listed as the World’s highest Golf Course by the Guinness Book of World Records. Initiated in 1972, the Yak Golf Course received its first makeover in 1979 by Brigadier J M Singh. However, it was completed as a complete 18-hole Golf Course under Brigadier Ranbir Singh and Col. T K Murali. Affiliated to the Indian Golf Union (IGU) since 1985, the Yak Golf Course measuring 6025 yards in length features fairways across natural mountain streams and ponds as hazards.The Golf Course arranges for Yaks for its senior members to move around. The members are also allowed to use ’preferred lie’ to prevent their clubs from getting damaged and help them complete within the score of 72. The Saragarhi Cup was the first tournament held here in 09 Sep 1979. Also, the famous Kalimpong Cup was held here in 1988.
Jelep La is a high altitude mountain pass at 13,999 feet linking Lhasa to India. It nestles between India and Tibet in the eastern part of the Sikkim in India. The word Jelep La is of Tibetan origin and it means “the lovely level pass”. It is truly the most level among all the passes between Sikkim and Tibet.The beautiful Menmecho Lake flows below the Jelep La Pass. One can savor the awesome sight of the pass, while coming from New Baba Mandir to Kupup Lake, just after crossing the Menmecho Lake on the GN Road. There are some small military settlements at the Jelep La Pass. The complete trail from Jelep La Pass to the Kupup Lake is visible. The route is quite spectacular, admired with forests of rhododendron, which in spring are in full bloom. A number of pristine hamlets dot the panoramic surrounding. On the Tibetan side, the path stretches towards Chumbi Valley of the Tibetan Plateau.
From ancient time, Jeep La Pass is playing a major role as a trade route with the flourishing trade relation, between India and Tibet. When British started to rule India, they built roads in Sikkim around 1884. In the year 1886, a small Tibetan armed force occupied the area around the pass. In May 1888, the British were attacked by the force but were warded off. However, late in the same year, in the month of September the British reoccupied the area around the pass. With the rising influence of Russia in Tibet, the British sent an expedition in 1904, via Jelep La to Lhasa, headed by Colonel Francis Younghusband. This expedition was confronted by formidable Tibetan forces. However, the British defeated them. In the absence of the 13th Dalai Lama, who had escaped to Mongolia, a trade agreement was forced on the Tibetans.
In 1947, when India gained independence, Sikkim was a monarchy. During this time, Sikkim was granted a special protectorate status and India owned the status of a suzerain nation. From that point onwards, the defense and foreign affairs of Sikkim are managed by India. After the invasion of Tibet by China in 1950, the passes in Sikkim were used by the refugees coming from Tibet. However, after the Sino-Indian War in 1962, the Jelep La Pass was closed down permanently. In the early phase of 1975, following a referendum, Sikkim became a part of India. Again, with the recent development in relation between India and China, there are possibilities in reopening the Jelep La Pass (following the reopening of the Nathu La Pass on July 6, 2006). There is a huge expectation that the opening of the pass, will lead to an economic boom in the region.