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Travel

Gurudongmar Lake, the highest freshwater lake in the world.

At a dizzing 5154 mtr above sea level, Gurudongmar Lake is highest fresh water lake in the world, which civilians are allowed to visit. The blue lake, offers breathtaking views of snow capped mountains and an endless tundra landscape.

This is part two of my trip to Gurudongmar Lake, which primarily focuses on my experience at the lake. If you wish to know about the route and the what all to expect on way to Gurudongmar, please read part one of the blog:

After a back breaking journey of 6 hours, we had reached the edge of Gurudongmar lake. In our hotel in Lachen, the night before a fellow traveler had shared his experience of Gurudongmar lake, and had advised us to be extra cautious at the place. He had experienced altitude sickness and difficulty breathing, when he visited the lake the day before.

  1. Altitute Sickness and Oxygen Depravation:
  2. Taking it slow
  3. Religious Links
  4. Gurudwara/Monastery at Gurudongmar Lake
  5. Walking along the Lake
  6. The magical view
  7. Conclusion

Altitute Sickness and Oxygen Depravation:

The lake is at an altitude of over 17000 ft, and hence if one has Altitude Sickness, they must avoid visiting the lake. Oxygen levels are really low, hence people with respiratory issues are also advised not to visit. Headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath are common once on top. Hence for everyone planning to visit, keep your will strong and slowly walk along the lake’s shore, don’t get excited and run around. Excitement can kill in those heights.

Taking it slow

The lake was unique, nothing like anything I have ever seen. The azure water, which was partly frozen, the barren hill one one side and snow clap peak on the other. A clear blue sky creating the perfect enclosure to this amazing sight.

Gurudongmar Lake in November

As I started walking towards the lake, I started feeling a tightness in my sinus, my breaths automatically getting more frequent and my heart racing. I knew it was the low oxygen level taking its toll on my body. I remembered what the fellow traveler had told me the night before. “Take it slow”, and hence I stopped, gasped a few deep breaths and took a couple of minutes to compose myself.

Our cab had stopped at the edge of the Lake, that is elevated to about 20 meters, and I had to climb down in order to touch the water of the lake. It had to be done, as I was not going to return back from this point, no matter what my body was saying. After composing myself for about 2-3 mins, I started my descent down, stopped a few times in between as I didn’t want to push myself too hard.

When finally I reached down, touched the prayer flags that line the shore, I felt confident that I could walk a few meters more and catch a glimpse of the snow clad mountain and fully frozen section of the lake.

There is a paved road around the lake, which tourists and pilgrims use to walk around the lake. Yes, the lake is also a pilgrimage sight for Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, in order to understand the same, we need to take a look at its history and relevance to all these religions.

It is believed that Guru Padmasambhava, who is also known as Guru Rinpoche in Tibettan Buddhism had once visited this lake while on a journey from Tibet to India. Seeing the lake he deemed it to be worthy of a divine place. Since then followers of Buddhism have been carrying water of this lake, for religious purposes.

A similar story also involves Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, who once visited the lake. Followers of Sikhism also believe that drinking water from this lake increases the Virility and Strength.

Gurudwara/Monastery at Gurudongmar Lake

In the year 1997-98, the Indian Army Sikh Regiment, who are posted at the Sikkim-China border constructed a Gurudwara at the bank of the Lake. It was opposed by the local Sikkimise people, who revered the lake as a Buddhist Religious site.

A high level commitee was formed by the Govt of Sikkim, which after analyzing the documents furnished by the  Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok, and a few years of research decided that the lake indeed was a Buddhist religious site. As an aftermath to this, the gurudwara was handed over to Lachen Monastery in 2001. Since then the it is referred to as “Sarv Dharm Sthal” or a “Place of worship for religions”. People however also refer to it as “Gurudongmar Monastery” or “Gururdongmar Gurudwara” depending upon their faith.

Walking along the Lake

The lake is huge and covers an area of 118 hectares or 290 acres, however only a small portion of it is visible owing to the hill’s topography from the edge or the parking area. Its only when I started walking along the lake that I realized the true size of it. The road that didn’t seem too much from the top started to look like it will ever end.

I took regular breaks every few steps to ensure I was not exerting myself too much. I needed to conserve my energy for returning back. The edge of the lake was completely frozen in a thick layer of ice, the middle of it still had liquid water.

On my way I could see other tourists sitting on the rocks beside the lake, gasping for air, breathing through handkerchief containing camphor. Camphor is recommended for these heights as it aides in Oxygen intake and retention, I however didn’t have any so had to rely purely on walk-rest-walk principle. Despite having a decent number of tourists around, the only sound I could hear was my heart beat and deep breaths.

The magical view

Finally after walking about 300 mtrs in around 20 mins, I reached the place where the lake bent, and nothing beyond it was visible from the parking. Now that I was in that spot, I was able to soak in the true beauty of the lake in its full glory.

The sky and the lake had the same colour, blue, which was separated by a snow clad mountain. The sun was shining bright, but the temperature at the place was a freezing. The distant greyish brown mountains provided for some much needed contrast to this whole picture. I will cherish the view for the rest of my life.

Conclusion

The emerald blue waters of the lake shimmer under the bright sunshine while the stunning snow-capped mountain peaks form a truly spectacular backdrop for the lake. Absolutely stunning, peaceful and pristine are the only words those come to mind for this lake, which is possibly one of the most majestic places I will ever visit in my lifetime. The lake was worth the pain and every penny spent. A true marvel of untouched nature.

Gurudongmar Lake in November 1

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