Sunday, 30 November 2014

Gurudongmar Lake at 17000+ ft above sea level


We had put an alarm of 3:00 am but could gather courage to get out of the warm bed at 3:30 am. Just at that time there was a knock at our door. The hotel boy had come to give us hot tea to start our day. By 4:00 am we were ready and in our car. It was freezing cold. I was wearing two thermals under my jeans, two thermals under a pink colour very warm sweater, three woolen socks, a cap and a pair of gloves. Beside this I was carrying one more pair of gloves, two jackets and a shawl (Just in case I need it).

Snow Capped Himalayas
The Snow Capped mountains
Google Map from Lachen to Gurudongmar Lake to Lachung
Lachen - Thangu - Gurudongmar Lake - Lachen - Chungthang - Lachung
It was dark and the road was very bumpy. After a while we could make out the outline of the mountains, could hear the Teesta River flowing down, and could hear the crumbling sound of the stones under our tires. It is rightly said that when one sense doesn’t work other senses work at twice the efficiency. Since we were not able to see much were able to hear more intently.

En route Gurudongmar Lake
On the way to Gurudongmar Lake
To say that there is a road to Gurudongmar Lake will be an understatement. The road from Lachen to Thanggu is treacherous. It is so bad, that by the time you reach Thanggu your back might be hurting. But it is worth it as with every passing minute you will notice that the scenery is getting more and more beautiful.  

Road to Gurudongmar Lake
The Tough Ride

Road to Gurudongmar Lake
The Dusty Roads
Breakfast At Thangu Village

We stopped at a small village called Thangu for breakfast which is at the foothills of Gurudongmar Lake. It is the last habitable village on your way to the lake. Thangu is the village located at a picturesque location with mighty snow covered Himalayas on all sides. It has its own moment of glory when most of the tourist heading to the sacred lake stops at this village to have breakfast and acclimatize for onward drive.

Thangu Village
View from Thanggu Village
For breakfast Sherpa took us inside a shop which was selling stuff like warm clothes (Jackets, gloves caps etc), popcorn, chips, sweets and candies. Inside the shop was a dimly lit kitchen. In the middle of the kitchen a fire was lit. On this fire there was a pot of water for boiling. Surrounding the fire was a metal sheet which works like a table. Since it is made of metal it becomes warm because of the fire burning nearby and the tourist touch the table to keep their hands warm. The boiling water is used to make tea, maggi, boiled egg etc.  

Thangu Village
Another view from Thanggu
The hut quickly warmed us up and what followed was a conversation with the old man serving us breakfast. He spoke about life here in winters and how they keep themselves warm. There are no schools here and therefore the kids go to hostels located at lower altitude. The kids here start their education late as they should be old enough to be sent to the hostel. Also the kids normally study till Std 8th and then do miscellaneous jobs to earn money. Most of the boys in this area become drivers. In winters majority of the people of this village recede to lower altitude as it becomes unbearably cold here and the entire village is covered with snow.

We had a simple breakfast consisting of bread, butter, jam, maggi, boiled egg and tea. After a warm breakfast and appreciating the natural beauty around, we started our ascent towards the sacred lake.

Thangu Village
At Thangu
Change in Landscape

Post Thanggu, one can notice the change in the landscape as the ascent begins. The lush green mountain gave way to rough brown mountains which are mostly seen in Ladakh region. Trees give way to bushes. After driving for a while the topography changes and the plateau starts. The cold wind of the morning was accompanied with bright sunshine. As far as you can see, you will find barren mountains with shades of several colors. A long, bumpy ride to the lake with nothing but barren mountains with snow scattered over them at some place and a dusty road is a sight to remember and an experience to be felt.

The Army checkpoint after Thanggu is the last point for you to decide whether you want to continue or not. This check point has medical facility that can treat you for Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). There is also a cafeteria where you can have piping hot tea or coffee and warm yourself up.

En route Gurudongmar Lake
Views en route Gurundongmar Lake
Finally, It's Gurundongmar Lake

After a post card perfect pictures of the region, we finally reached Gurudongmar Lake which was sheer beauty. At 17,300 ft above sea level with snow capped mountain in the background, it was a sight to behold. With its blue and mirror like water the lake is splendid.  The colour of the water is a different shade of blue which cannot be described. We looked at the lake spell bound for a few minutes to register the sheer beauty of this place. We were under the spell of Mother Nature; it is a place which you would never want to leave. It was silence all around; complete peace prevails at 17,300 ft.

Gurudongmar Lake
Paradise on Earth

Gurudongmar Lake Information Board
Want to know about the Lake?

Gurudongmar Lake
At 17,100 ft above sea level
Sherpa was quick to advise us not to stroll down to the lake (some 50 ft below us) as ascending back might take a toll. The oxygen level is only 4% here as compared to normal oxygen level of 21%. You can make a visit to the Gurudwara located near the place where the vehicles are parked. The location of the lake is sensitive, China being some 10 km away.

Gurudwara at Gurudongmar Lake
Gurudwara at the Sacred Lake
The lake is considered sacred by the Sikkemese people. Legend says that hundreds of years ago the lake used to be frozen throughout the year. Once when a renowned priest was passing through the area, the local people requested him to help them in this matter. The guru is said to have touched a part of the lake and blessed the locals. It is said that since then that part of the lake does not freeze even in extreme cold conditions.

Teesta River
Teesta flowing in full swing
Back to Lachen

After spending some 20 mins with one of the most beautiful thing I have seen, we started our return journey to Lachen. On our way back we came across several groups of Yaks. We again stopped at Thanggu for tea. The drive on these mountains is very tough. Therefore it is advisable to let the driver relax and rejuvenate with a cup of tea as often as he wants.

Yaks in Sikkim
It's breakfast time for Yaks
On our way back, we saw Chopta Valley which was nothing exciting.

Chopta Valley
Chopta Valley
The return journey was uneventful. All of us were quiet in our own world. Reached our hotel at 1:00 pm; just in time for lunch. At 3:00 pm we headed to Lachung which is another small town where we will rest for the night. For going to Lachung we again have to go to Chungthang and then proceed to Lachung.

Local kids in Sikkim
Taashi with local kids
Lachen Village
Lachen Village
Lachen to Chungthang to Lachung

Our room was booked on the top floor of Hotel Fortuna. It was dark by the time we reached Lachung and the entire town was already in their respective homes.

Car washing in Sikkim
Drivers washing their SUVs

Fire to keep warm
Burning waste to keep ourself warm
Lachung is a simple village with no four/five star hotels, posh restaurants, resorts or flea market. This place was making me feel close to nature. And trust me, it’s a good feeling.

Fuel Filling in the car
Filling fuel bought in black
Washing car at a waterfall
Car being washed near a waterfall on the roads
It was not as cold here as Lachen or probably we have become used to the cold by now. Our room was on the third floor and the dining area was on the second floor. Since it was evening and we were hungry, we called for pakoras and tea.

At 8:00 pm sharp we went to the dining area to enjoy the delicious soup. We were the only people in the hotel and thus there was no buffet but we were served al-a-carte. After the soup we had vegetable, dal, chapatti, rice, papad and salad. After a fulfilling meal, we called it a day and headed to sleep.

Read about our journey from Gangtok to North Sikkim.

Points to remember:
1. As the sun sets early here start your day early.

2. Only SUVs are allowed for excursion to North Sikkim.
3. To visit Gurudongmar Lake you need to be an Indian citizen and should have valid permits. The permits can be arranged by the travel agent through whom you are taking the North Sikkim Trip.
4. Book an Innova, Bolero or a Xylo for a comfortable travel. As the roads are bad travel in Sumo or Maxx can be cumbersome.
5. You start very early (ard 3:30 am or 4:00 am) in the morning from Lachen for Gurudongmar Lake. As the day proceeds, the conditions at the lake are in hospitable and wind blows at high velocity.
6. Gurudongmar Lake is at an altitude of 17,000 + ft above sea level. People having breathing or heart problem should avoid visiting this place. Children too are generally not allowed.
7. If you feel the symptoms of AMS, don’t proceed to Gurudongmar Lake. There is no medical facility at the lake and AMS can be life threatening.
8. Although the distance between places is not far because of the rough terrain it takes a considerable time to go from one place to another. So plan accordingly.
9. Please carry warm clothes including sweater, jacket, cap, mufflers, socks and gloves. 10. Wear shoes and not sandals or chappals. It is very windy so plan accordingly.
11. Be easy on steps and while walking. Avoid brisk walk or running at high altitudes as the oxygen level is low.
12. If you are feeling mountain sickness have chocolate of popcorn. It helps.
13. Sikkim is plastic free zone. Please don’t litter and maintain the beauty of nature.
14.Expense of the day:
We had booked the North Sikkim Tour with Tibet Tours & Travels for Rs. 9,450 per person. This covers the cost of travel in Bolero (Zero Point and Mt. Katao in Lachen is not covered in this package), 1 night stay in Lachung, 2 night stay in Lachen and food.
Therefore, today there was no expense other than already paid to the travel agent.

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