When a sparkling blue lake in the middle of a cold desert with crystal clear sky above leaves you in tears, you know you are at Gurudongmar lake, the jewel of North Sikkim. Dramatically perched atop cascading hills, 18000 feet above sea level, the place makes you breathless, literally. Even the harsh terrain, sub-zero temperature and close proximity to China do not deter people from visiting this gem of North Sikkim. After having heard so much about this gorgeous place, husband and I finally made it there.
As beautiful as this place looks, it is equally difficult to reach. Here is how you can plan your journey to Gurudongmar Lake.
THE DAY BEFORE
The only way to reach Gurudongmar is from Lachen via Thangu. So the first step is to travel to Lachen through the curvy and rough roads. Be prepared for traffic jams, long convoys of Indian army trucks, landslides, sudden change in weather and heavy rainfall. We travelled for almost seven hours from Gangtok to reach Lachen at 7 pm. It was pitch dark and luckily it poured only after we checked into our homestay. The place was in ruins and looked like a bus shelter. Located in the wilderness with no market place around, we had to settle with the bad food cooked in the dirty kitchen. Our room was in bad shape. Though on our request they changed our room, we could not sleep at all. I don’t want to talk about the horrible night.
Since your travel itinerary would include a night stay in Lachen, do read reviews online in advance. Also, your travel agent or driver would have obtained your entry passes which are verified while entering Lachen. (All tourists need to have permission to enter North Sikkim in advance).
WHAT, WHEN, HOW
Post spending one night in Lachen, you would be required to leave early morning for Gurudongmar after another bumpy ride of almost five hours. Once the Sun touches the mountain tops and the balmy sky brightens, you would get the incredible, to-die-for mountain view. The sun played through the tree tops, painting the mountains velvety green while we watched, mesmerized.
CHECK POST BREAKFAST
All vehicles are checked and passes re-verified at Gurudongmar entrance which starts around 7.00 am. Since tourists leave from the hotel at dawn, breakfast is served at cafes or tiny home stays at the checkpoint. While our driver was out for our passes verification, a warm Sikkimese family served us breakfast in their home kitchen with authentic antique aesthetics. A river flowing by, a foggy mountain view, friendly furry canines, the movement of army vehicles and the chill in the air multiply the excitement to witness the lake. Advisable to eat well here and take washroom break, since no settlement is found ahead.
LAST CHECK POST
Post a journey of about two hours you are required to halt again, where the passes are checked for the last time by army officials. It was here when I saw water frozen and restless female tourists in makeshift washroom queue. Don’t expect luxury here because even Indian army personnel work very hard to arrange basic necessities for themselves. Yet they serve the nation with a smile.
THE JOURNEY AHEAD
Vegetation starts to vanish as you ascend higher. The intimidating brown mountains, the herd of massive yaks and little streams of rivers with a thin layer of ice greeted us. You would be enticed to get off your car, but the narrow roads and difficulty in breathing wouldn’t let you. Though the last 15 kilometers through barren landscape towards the lake point is smooth.
AT THE LAKE
Finally, when we got off the car to witness the marvel of nature, I was speechless. My fatigue vanished at that splendid view. The pains we took to reach here proved to be worth it. The sight was too good to be true! The shimmering blue water of the lake looked so inviting with the clear sky beautifully embracing the towering mountains. I stared at the blue stretch with brimmed eyes, breathing slowly, trying to forget the low air pressure. Gurudongmar is indeed the jewel of North Sikkim
At this high altitude, it is recommended to move out within half an hour or else the low pressure takes a toll on you, causing nausea, breathlessness, rapid pulse or hallucination. Soaking in the beauty as much as we could, we bid goodbye to Gurudongmar, the shimmering jewel of North Sikkim. The place is etched in my memories forever.
On the way back, your driver would take you to Chopta Valley or Kaala Pathhar if mentioned in your itinerary and then back to Lachen for lunch.
Some safety and health tips for Gurudongmar:
-In case you have an ill, aged person or a child with you, do not take them to Gurudongmar. Lack of oxygen gives rise to several problems. Mind you, medical facilities are not reachable, so are phone networks.
-Since it is located in the northernmost mountains of Sikkim, the place remains cold throughout the year. Needless to say, you would wear warm clothes and carry extra as well.
-If you have altitude or motion sickness, carry medicines with you.
-Advisable to keep ready to eat food with you, especially if you are travelling with elder or younger ones.
-Plastic water bottles (the packaged branded ones) are not allowed anywhere in North Sikkim. Carry your own sipper lest you should be penalized. Packaged juices are available and surprisingly allowed to be sold, but please do not leave the trash there. Non biodegradable plastic tucked between rocks or popping out in water, is a huge turn off. Plus, plastic remains in the ecosystem forever , polluting the planet. It shows the least amount of respect one has for the planet, humanity and self.
P.S- This trip was in October 2018.
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