Sunday, 11 January 2015

A Trip to Sacred Gurudongmar Lake : Paradise of Eastern Himalaya! - Part-II

As the temperature was falling rapidly with the darkness, we were forced to rush towards our hotel rooms. After having dinner at 8:00 PM, we retired to bed by 9:00 PM, as we had to leave for Gurudongmar Lake by 4:00 AM in the morning. Before we could sleep, rain had started pouring in and our hope to see the pristine lake in it's glorious best was diminishing. Praying for good weather for tomorrow, we had gone to bed, leaving everything at God's will.


It was agonizing wait for the rain to stop, but all in vain. It was heavy downpour all night. The rains in mountains have got their own distinct character. When it will start raining and when it will stop, only weather god knows. We woke up at 4:00 in the morning and it was still drizzling outside. Our driver told us that we should start our journey without delay, as we had to cover distance of 70 km from Lachen to reach Gurudongmar. It was severe cold weather due to high altitude and continuous rains and we ran towards the vehicle braving the rains. As we had to reach at the altitude of 17000 feet from the 8000 feet, our vehicle had begun plying on serpentine mountain roads. As we were going up in the hills, the vegetation was reducing and the height of trees was also getting shorter. Within one and half hour, we had reached Thangu, a tiny hamlet at the height of 13000 feet. We saw a small eatery along the road and stopped for breakfast. The temperature would have been near zero at that time. Options for breakfast were very limited and we went for maggi and tea. Some tourists prefer to make night halt at Thangu instead of Lachen while visiting Gurudongmar Lake.

Having Maggi & Tea at Thangu
After energizing ourselves during our Thangu halt, we resumed our journey. As we knew that we had come closer to the lake, our excitement was palpable and knew no bound. That's the reason, we dared to venture out of the vehicle in the freezing cold to have some photographs with the Teesta river flowing amid snow-laden mountain peeks. May be, the current and speed, with which the river was flowing, saved it from freezing.

After Thangu, the rain had stopped, though weather was still very cloudy, but finally the sun smiled on us and weather became pleasant and sunny, as we reached nearer to the lake. There was no habitation except Indian Army after Thangu and concrete roads had given way to roads made of mud and gravel. 

All Nature, No Human Intervention
The last army checkpoint in the route had come and we had to stop for verification of permits. In the meantime, we enjoyed coffee at the world's highest cafeteria run by Army personnels and seeing the sign board declaring the cafe as the highest cafe in the world, i could not hold back my wish to get photographed with the same. That required permission from Army personnels deployed there and with little reluctance, they allowed us to have photographs with the signboard.
Feeling at top of the world
After a brief halt, we moved along the unpaved path and we felt that we had reached to the top of Tibetan Plateau, the roof of the world. The horizon seemed to be broadened. The view of barren lands was looking complete with herds of Yaks and blue sheeps grazing  nearby. 

Herd of Yak grazing near Lake
We knew that the lake is in the close vicinity from us, yet it was out of the sight. All of a sudden, our vehicle turned to the right from the gravel road and there it was, covered in the snow and bounded by snow laden peaks from all the sides. We had reached Gurudongmar Lake after all.

Frozen Gurudongmar Lake
At an altitude of 17100 ft, Gurudongmar is one of the highest lakes in the world and 2nd highest lake in India. The sacred freshwater lake freezes during the winters except at one spot. 
The blessed water of the lake is believed to posses the miraculous power of granting children to childless couples. Interestingly, the myth and legend of Gurudongmar is believed as reverentially by the Hindus and Sikhs as by the Buddhists. As one legend goes, Guru padmasambhav, Buddhist Monk visited the lake during his visit to Tibet and blessed the lake by touching it. That portion of lake never freezes even during peak winters. Hindu and Sikh Devotees link this incident to Guru Nanak Dev. The lake is a panoramic landscape for many like us, while it is a pilgrimage centre for many others. We saw some tourists carrying the water of the sacred lake in the bottles way back to their homes.

Sign board displaying history of the lake

Magnificent View of Gurudongmar Lake
We were in trance by just observing the surroundings of the lake and busy in capturing the lake in our camera frames. As the lake was frozen, tourists were taking a walk on the lake surface. We were advised by  an army personnel to avoid walking on the frozen surface, as it may be risky. However, seeing many tourists taking photographs posing in the lake, we also went there to have some fun in the snow. We heard some strange sound coming from deep inside of the lake, but could not understand, what was that.
Unfrozen Portion of the Lake
Gurudongmar Lake is one of the sources of River Teesta, other being Tso-Lhamu Lake. One has to seek permission from army for trekking to Tso-Lhamu lake from Gurudongmar Lake. Vehicles are not permitted to ply on this route. The Chinese Tibetan boarder is just a few kilometres away from the lake. The presence of tanks and bunkers on both sides of the roads made us notice that we are near Indo-China border.

Panoramic View of Snow-laden peaks
There is a place of worship called Sarva Dharma Sthal near the lake, where soldiers and tourists of all faith offer prayers. We also offered prayers there.
Sarva Dharma Sthal

In the company of two (rather three) Buddhist Pilgrims
 People face difficulty in breathing at such high altitude and hence it is advisable that we should not stay there for long period. At such altitudes, the weather worsens after noon and strong winds starts blowing (up to the speed of 180-200 kmph). It was 11:30 AM and the winds had started gaining velocity, so we decided to say bid adieu to the lake and started our return journey to Lachen and then to Lachung. Our trip to Gurudongmar Lake was not finished yet and while returning to Lachen, we were taken to Chopta Valley by our driver.

Chopta Valley

By 2:00 PM, we had reached our hotel at Lachen, had lunch there and then we proceeded to Lachung. It had started raining again, but this time, we were not that much apprehensive, knowing very well that the weather in hills can change anytime. 

Itinerary for those, planning to visit Gurudongmar Lake and Yumthang Valley :

Day 1 - At Gangtok
Day 2 - Travel Gangtok to Lachen; overnight stay at Lachen
Day 3 - Lachen to Gurudongmar and Chopta Valley and Back. Continue travel to Lachung; overnight stay at Lachung
Day 4 - Visit to Yumthang valley and Katao. Back to Gangtok

In the next post, we will begin journey of Lachung, Yumthang Valley and Zero Point. Till then adios!

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