My sister couldn’t contain her joy and even did a little dance in the back seat of the car where she was seated alone. I was occupying the front seat with our driver, Lalu. Her fervent and silent prayers had been answered. Lalu had just received a phone call that the road to Gurodongmer Lake had opened up.
Gurodongmer Lake was one of the main reasons I had planned our Sikkim trip. Situated at an altitude of 17,800 ft, Gurodongmer is one of the highest freshwater lakes in the world. It is considered sacred and is located in North Sikkim, just 5 Km. south of China border. Having experienced the divinity of another such high altitude holy lake, Chandrataal in Spiti Valley, I was keen on experiencing the same at Gurudongmar.
However, just a week before leaving for Sikkim I got to know that the road to Gurudongmar was closed. Usually it opens around March end but the heavy snowfall that happened this winter was responsible for this. I was upset but kept thinking that it may just open by the time we go. While I made peace and decided to be open to possibilities, my sister (my travel companion yet again) sent out silent prayers to the mountains to make it happen for us. And serendipity happened! The day we had Gurudongmar on our itinerary, the roads miraculously opened up.
Legend About Gurudongmar
Gurudongmar Lake is named after Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Dongmar means ‘red face’, and the lake supposedly represents the angry side of Guru Padmasambhava. Apparently, Guru Padmasambhava visited this lake on his way from Tibet and had felt a divine reverence towards the place. The lake used to remain frozen for most part of the year and could not provide drinking water to the local people. They prayed to the Guru, who placed his hand on a part of the lake and ever since that part never freezes even in sub-zero temperatures. Gurudongmar Lake has been revered and respected since then. The Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak, the spiritual leader of Sikhism, had once passed by this lake when he had traveled to this part of India and had blessed it.
Nature conspired and things worked out according to our wish. We felt blessed. Not only did the road to the lake open up, we woke up to mountain peaks glowing in the morning sun – indications of a bright and sunny day. And, it was just that! The sky remained a clear blue throughout the day, something which never happened any other day during our stay at Sikkim.
The lake is about 67 Km. from Lachen and the entire route is exquisitely gorgeous. We started from Lachen at about 5.00 AM. As the narrow bumpy road snaked up, the snow draped mountains started making their grandiose appearance and with every turn the mountains got bigger and prettier. I was busy gorging on the surreal surroundings when, Lalu called out that the temperature was 4 degrees. “No wonder I’m feeling so cold,” I said aloud to myself! At some places either side of the road wore a purple hue with a liberal dose of Primulas scattered all around.
Soon we were at Thangu, the last civilian inhabited village before the lake. Here we ran into a traffic jam as a vehicle had gotten stuck in the muddy road. We stepped out of the car. The sun shone sharp but the cold was sharper! We couldn’t stay out for long and had to get into the vehicle. After about an hour here, we continued our journey and arrived at the Giagong check post at 15000 Ft., 11 Km. before Gurudongmar Lake. The Army checked our permits and we continued to the final stretch where the dusty bumpy road gave way to sleek tarred road. On some stretches, there were heaps of snow on either side of the road, clearly indicating that the road had just been cleared.
Just before the lake, the landscape changed dramatically to a barren desert land with patches of snow. Pretty soon we were close to our destination. The deep blue sky playfully provoked us and we decided to get off the car and walk the rest of the way. The thin air was apparent and every step seemed like a huge effort. We climbed a little hillock and there it was, silent and quiet right before our eyes.
I expected still blue waters, instead all I could see was a huge expanse of white – the lake was completely frozen. The frozen lake was nevertheless enchanting exuding a charm of its own. The part of the lake that does not freeze did have the azure blue water though. We walked around for a while. The temperature was -2 degree centigrade. The sun was blindingly bright, the skies were clear, and the wind was cold. The peace emanating within us is something that no words can explain. Numerous colourful prayer flags fluttered, as if sending messages of peace and calm to all the visitors. We sat down for a while exchanging no words taking in the glorious surroundings – the frozen lake with the rugged snow-covered mountains at it’s far end.
I found myself silently wondering if I wanted to come here again to feel the stillness of the unfrozen blue waters or if I wanted to keep this frozen view in my mind forever.