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Gurudongmar Lake at Sikkim: The Sacred Spirit of North-East

  • Post author:Suvankar Das
  • Post last modified:May 22, 2023
  • Reading time:26 mins read

Every year, numerous tourists flock to Sikkim, enticed by the breathtaking mountainous landscapes of this small northeastern state in India. However, only a select few venture to discover the profound essence of the region and its heavenly gem, Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim. Surprisingly, some remain unaware of this hidden destination, while many others shy away from overcoming the challenges that come with its lofty altitude of 18,000 feet!

Fortunately, during our recent journey to Sikkim, we made the wise decision to witness the unimaginable beauty of Gurudongmar Lake, and we were utterly captivated by its grandeur. I am thrilled to share my personal experience with you, so that you can meticulously plan your next trip to Sikkim and ensure that Gurudongmar is a cherished part of your itinerary.

Geographic Definition of Gurudongmar Lake

Located in the northern region of Sikkim, Gurudongmar Lake stands as one of the highest-altitude lakes in India, reaching an impressive elevation of 17,800 feet. Positioned within the Kangchengyao range at the northernmost tip of Sikkim, it sits in close proximity to the Tibetan-Chinese border, approximately 5 kilometers away.

The lake is nourished by a perpetually frozen glacier nestled against its scenic backdrop, which is visible below. Although the lake itself spans a considerable area and stretches over 5 kilometers in length, from the specific viewpoint you can see a certain part due to obstruction by the hilly landscapes.

Gurudongmar Lake at Sikkim - panoramic view
Gurudongmar Lake at North Sikkim – Panoramic view

Due to such high altitude, the landscape around the lake is almost treeless, rocky, and dusty. You can compare the plateau with a cold desert. You’ll find some tiny plants, rare algae, and fungus around the lake. Breathing problem is a common incident there, experience by several tourists. So, it is suggested to take caution and follow some tricks (discussed below) to avoid any illness.

Sacred Essence of Gurudonmar Lake

Gurudongmar Lake holds great spiritual significance for the local Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu communities. They believe that the lake’s water possesses a sacred essence, blessed with magical powers to heal ailments and fulfill wishes. According to local folklore, a remarkable aspect of the lake is that a portion of it never freezes throughout the year, even during the bone-chilling winter when temperatures plummet to as low as -30 °C. This extraordinary phenomenon is attributed to the blessings of Guru Padmasambhava. Since then, devout locals have been carrying the holy water of the lake for various purposes, considering it as sacred and potent.

A similar narrative involving Sikh Guru Nanak Dev exists in relation to the lake. It is believed that Guru Nanak Dev performed a similar act, infusing the lake water with vitality and strength, thereby bestowing it with spiritual significance.

Trip to Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim

To reach Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim, there is only one route available, but the starting point may vary based on your interest. The journey is long and not a very comfortable one, but the magnificence of roadside beauty drifts you to the dreamy heaven, offering the unmissable experience you ever had. Eventually, you will arrive at the breathtaking Gurudongmar Lake, which serves as the culmination of this remarkable adventure.

So, let’s embark on this exploration right from the very beginning.

Singhik: An incredible stopgap to start the journey

Gangtok is often favored by most tourists as the starting point for reaching Gurudongmar. However, embarking on the journey from Gangtok to Gurudongmar entails covering a considerable distance. The total span of approximately 190 km necessitates nearly 12+ hours of continuous driving on hilly roads (if drive without any break). Such a lengthy journey serves as a deterrent for many individuals, contributing to their decision to avoid the Gurudongmar trip.

Starting from Gangtok, your journey to Gurudongmar will lead you through several hilly towns and villages, including Mangan, Singhik, Chungthang, Lachen, and Thangu. Tour operators based in Gangtok organize an overnight stay in Lachen, which is approximately 110 km away and takes around 7-8 hours to reach. The next morning, an early start is arranged for your trip to Gurudongmar from Lachen, covering a distance of another 68 km and taking roughly 4-5 hours on the heavily curved hilly road. After your visit to Gurudongmar, the operators will transport you directly back to Gangtok, entailing a journey of over 12 hours!

Isn’t this too hectic? So why don’t you shorten the route to savor the trip at a more relaxed pace?

Let’s check what did we do…

In order to minimize the duration of the round trip, we opted to commence our journey from Singhik instead of Gangtok. Alternatively, one can also begin from Mangan, a small town near Singhik. These locations offer delightful guesthouses and homestays, allowing you to immerse yourself in the serenity of nature.

During our Gurudongmar trip, we found tranquility and comfort at Singhik Guesthouse, a serene haven with friendly staff and breathtaking vistas. The guesthouse offers stunning views of the majestic Kanchenjunga peak directly from the rooms, especially on clear days. The lush green mountains, cascading waterfalls, and ethereal floating clouds add to the enchanting allure of the journey. Moreover, starting from this point significantly reduces the travel time required to reach Gurudongmar.

Gurudongmar Lake at Sikkim - in front of Singhik Guest House
Near Singhik Guest House on a cloudy morning

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On the way to Lachen

After Singhik, Chungthung is the biggest town on the way, which is known as a junction in north Sikkim. Two routes divide from this point, one towards Lachen and another towards Lachung. The road towards Lachen continues up to Gurudongmar, while you can reach Yumthang valley if you are directed towards Lachung.

On the way to Gurudongmar Lake - Chuntham
Chuntham bridge (On the way to Lachen)

If you start your journey from Gangtok in the morning around 8:30-9:00 AM, you’ll reach Lachen before evening. From Singhik you can start a bit later, Singhik to Lachen takes only 4 hours.

On the way, you’ll experience beautiful lush green hilly landscapes, monasteries, and a number of bridges constructed over the streamy rivers. Near Lachen, you may see little monks are standing to welcome you!

Related Article: Dawki – The River Paradise in Meghalaya

Your stay in Lachen

Gurudongmar Lake at Sikkim.... Good boys on the way
Good boys on the way…

In Lachen, there are several homestays, your tour operator will pre-book one of those for your night stay. In this high-altitude tiny town, most of the homestays are operated by women, while men are busy in driving, cultivation, and other businesses.

In Lachen, you should not expect the comfort of a star hotel, they are just professional and strict about their rules. This is probably due to their difficult lifestyle in such a high-altitude destination. They’ll provide you hot tea, hot water, the meal at night, but everything in a timely manner and also, they prefer to speak less.

The night in Lachen is severely cold, people from a hot climate can realize it more intensely; it’s a part of the adventure, and you have admitted yourself in it to uncover something beautiful!

Related Article: The Garden of Caves — Explore the Gem of Meghalaya near Cherrapunji

Lachen to Gurudongmar

Very early in the next morning, far before the sky enlightens, you have to get ready for the upcoming delights. The road towards Gurudongmar (68 km from Lachen) is not very smooth and comfortable; frequent landslides make the roads bumpy, while frequent curves in the high altitude roads can cause vomiting tendency. But watching the beautiful nature outside the window, lets you forget all illness; it’s just amazing!

After your car will start from Lachen, you’ll start to explore more splendid landscapes all around. You’ll experience beautiful sunrise from the back of lush green mountains, evergreen forest filled with tall trees, the valley of green carpet, high current steam far below, magnificent waterfalls, and the splendid view of bloomed Rhododendron throughout the valley (if you visit during the month of April-May).

On a fine morning, the newly blossomed hilly beauty offers you an indifferent look of earth, tending you to stop your car at every turn; but it’s a long way to go, no time to stop everywhere.

towards Gurudongmar
The beautiful morning on the way towards Gurudongmar

Amazing Thangu

The first stoppage comes at Thangu, a high-altitude village (approx. 13000 ft) at the far north. The breathtaking landscape of Thangu is very different than all the on-road views; A widespread farmland far below surrounded by green, rocky, and snow-capped mountains! Yaks and horses are moving here and there. Certainly, the increasing altitude reduces the existence of big trees, resulting in the rare appearance of classified tall trees Thangu.

thangu - a small village on the way to Gurudongmar lake
Thangu: A small village on the way to Gurudongmar lake

You can take your breakfast in the local shop and take some snaps at this amazing spot for your future memory. Then start your next journey towards Gurudongmar Lake.

Related Article: Top 9 Cherrapunji Tourist Places You Shouldn’t Skip

Rapid Change of the Landscape!

As you move upward, the gardens of rhododendron start disappearing with the appearance of smaller plants. After driving a little longer, it’s only rocks and dust all around, converting to a cold desert. The drastic change in landscapes is completely unbelievable and mind-blowing! This is a real-life experience to visualize the change and classifications of plant families with increasing height.

The melted glacier near Gurudongmar is one of the originators of River Tista, the prime source of water in Sikkim & North Bengal. In the cold desert, the narrow stream of Tista passes aside the roadside, and follows you up for a long time.

After driving a bit more, the rocky mountains start spreading away, taking you to a high altitude plateau. The pitch-finished black road passes through the plane surface to infinite; signs of green are almost absent, while black, gray, and red hills are visible at a distance.

Towards Gurudongmar: mountain view from the jeep
Towards Gurudongmar: mountain view from the jeep

You can see several training camps of the Indian army on the roadside. At the last check post before Gurudongmar, you have to show the permit and your Identity card. You should note, mobile signals are not available in Gurudongmar. For any unfortunate situation in Gurudongmar, the Indian army is the only option to save you. If you don’t return after a certain time they’ll visit there to inquire.

Related: 10 Best Unisex Hiking Backpacks

Magnificent view of Gurudongmar Lake at Sikkim

The drive continues through the plateau leaving the check post behind. The mysterious red and green mountains offer you the honor of guard while the black one denotes a warm welcome.

After 45 minutes of quick driving from the check post, you’ll reach the ever-awaiting Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim.

At the first sight, the heavenly beauty will surely stun you for a while. If you visit there in the month of April-May, you’ll experience a clear blue sky, crystal clear blue water with the snow-covered mountain, and white glacier at the backdrop, which is pretty dramatic at an altitude of 17600 ft, and of course, unexplainable.

You’ll see a temple beside the lake, but no people in this area unless another group of tourists visits there before or after you. On the rocky land around the lake, you’ll find some tiny grasses, algae, and fungus. The lake water is crystal clear, rich in minerals, and pollution-free, worth collecting and drinking. As per local folklore, the water of Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim is blessed by god.

Magnificent view of Gurudongmar Lake
Magnificent view of Gurudongmar Lake

Gurudongmar Lake situates at a very high altitude, and the concentration of oxygen is low there. You can walk around the lake, but walk slowly, don’t run. To avoid any unfortunate illness or breathing problem you have to maintain a few things:

Walk slowly, don’t run, don’t be hurry in excitement.
Don’t sit anywhere for a longer time, rather keep walking slowly.
If you feel tired or dizzy, slowly go back to your car and take a nap. You’ll be fit once the car leaves the place and moves a little low altitude. If possible, tell a group member to start the car and leave the place quickly.
If you have ever felt a breathing problem in the past, then keep medicine with you.
If you are a patient with heavy breathing problems, avoid visiting Gurudonmar Lake.

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Goodbye Gurudongmar

After enjoying the 40-45 minutes, you need to get ready for the return trip. You’ll have to run a long way back. Any return journey is very sad and heart-breaking, also, a bit boring, but Gurudongmar is a place that doesn’t offer any sort of stay-facility, even up to 30 km back; so, you must have to get back for a sweet sleep after a hard journey.

Tour operators often offer the combined trip to Gurudongmar followed by Yumthang. In that case, you’ll be returned to Lachen, and after lunch, you’ll be moved towards Lachung.

In our case, we already visited Yumthang earlier, so after our lunch at Lachen, we went back to Singhik.

Explore: More Summer Destinations in India

The Best time to visit Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim

Summer is the best time to visit Gurudongmar when you can experience a splendid view of blue lake water with snow-covered mountains and glacier backdrop. The road remains open in the months of March to September. In winter the road gets closed due to heavy snowfall and land sliding. Only the Indian military uses the road throughout the year.

In early March, the lake remains partially covered by snow, and you may not experience the clear blue water, though you’ll have the experience to play on the frozen lake. Mid-April to mid-May offers the best view at Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim. It is better to avoid visiting Gurudongmar in the monsoon season (June to September); the road becomes risky due to frequent landslides and slippery tracks.

Indian tourists are allowed there with permission from the local military office. If you are an Indian you need to keep your Identity card and passport size photo with you. The tour operator will arrange a permit for you.

It’s very close to the Indo-China border, so the foreign travelers need special permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi, India. So, if you are not a citizen of India, and wish to visit this amazing place, you must arrange your permit prior to your trip.

Related: Enchanting Pondicherry – Explore Paradise Beach to Auroville

How to reach Gurudongmar?

Initially, you have to reach New Jalpaiguri railway station, or Bagdogra Airport, or Pakyong Airport. Then by road, you have to reach Gangtok or any other destination at Sikkim as per your plan. After a night-stay in your first destination, you can head for Gurudongmar via Lachen.

  • By Air directly in Sikkim: Pakyong Airport is the nearest airport to Gangtok (35 km), but this is a new airport, and flights often get canceled due to bad weather.
  • By Air via Bagdogra: Bagdogra airport is the next nearest airport to Gangtok. This is almost 123 km away from Gangtok.
  • By train: You can reach New Jalpaiguri Railway Station, which is the nearest rail station to Sikkim (Gangtok – 119 km).

Where to Start from and Stay?

Previously, I already mentioned several starting point options to reach Gurudongmar. You can start from Gangtok, which is the most common. There are a great number of hotels in Gangtok for your stay. Alternatively, you can choose your stay in Singhik or Mangan.

Gangtok to Gurudongmar via Lachen: Approximate distance is 180 km up to Gurudongmar. The distance up to Lachen is approximately 110 km from Gangtok. There are many hotels and lodges in Gangtok. You can choose anyone among those for your stay. You need to contact a tour operator in Gangtok to book your trip to Gurudongmar Lake. Sometimes the hotel authorities also arrange the trip for you if you request them.

Mangan to Gurudongmar via Lachen: Approximate distance is around 125 km up to Gurudongmar. There are a few resorts and homestays in the small town, Mangan. Munlom Nature Resort is one of the best stay options at Mangan. The hotel or homestay owner will arrange your trip to Gurudongmar Lake upon prior discussions.

Singhik to Gurudongmar via Lachen:

The approximate distance is around 118 km up to Gurudongmar. There are a few homestays and one guesthouse in Singhik. You can book Singhik guest house which is in the middle of the hill and offers you an excellent view of the lush green hilly landscape and floating clouds all around. On a clear day, you can see Kanchangangha mountain range right from your room window. The owner of the guest house and all the workers are very nice behaving. They will arrange everything for your Gurudongmar trip; just inform them prior to your visit.

 A related article you may like: 14 Best Places to visit in Coonoor Hill Station

Let’s Wrap up

Gurudongmar Lake at Sikkim is one of the most beautiful places in the eastern Himalayan range. This is also one of the best summer destinations in India. Among cold deserts or high altitude plateau across India, Ladakh and Lahaul-Spiti are most popular; however, you’ll get the taste of Ladakh on your trip to Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim. So, if you reside away from Sikkim and planning for a Sikkim trip, must include the Gurudongmar lake visit list.

If you still need to know anything else about Gurudongmar, post your query in the comment box below; I’ll more than happy to help you out.

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Dr. Suvankar Das is a scientific advisor by profession, associated with a CRO organization. He pursued his doctoral degree in Chemistry in 2015. Later, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher & scientist in a couple of institutes/companies.

Besides his scientific journey, Dr. Das is also a passionate traveler and travel blogger. He loves to share all his travel experiences with other travelers so that everyone can enjoy hassle-free holidays with their own tour plans.

He believes, the most beautiful thing in this world is the WORLD itself. so there is no way to live like a clock; rather live it like a compass!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Agnes

    Hi, Thank you for the thorough review of such beautiful places!

    It was fantastic to read your article and see the amazing photos. I’m a travel lover but unfortunately, such far-away places seem to be only dream possibilities. That’s also a reason why your post is useful: it’s for people who have been there (and you help them remember every detail of their journeys) and for others to see how wonderful places exist far from them.
    I hope you’ll share many reviews about beautiful places in the future!

    1. Dr. SD

      Thank you for sharing your insight into this article.
      If you are living far away from India, a trip to the Gurudongmar Lake at Sikkim is definitely difficult a tough thing, at least during this COVID situation; but when the pandemic situation will get over, planning a trip in India is not impossible as long as you are a travel lover.

      Many foreigners travel through India, and most of them focus on the most popular destinations; thus many beautiful places (though unconventional) remain unknown to them. In the real sense, Gurudongmar Lake is not well-known to many Indian citizens too. however, such splendid beauty should not have remained unexplored to travel and adventure lovers.

      By the way, stay safe and healthy.

  2. Nina

    I love this post. A lot of places I didn’t really know about, but I’m really impressed by the scenario of Gurudongmar!
    I really love nature in general and I’m sure that I will bookmark your site.

    I love how you explain everything; it’s much easier to realize the real taste of the place. I will be back. I love it.

    1. Dr. SD

      I am glad to know that you like the post and the place.

      This a huge world, decorated with many beautiful places. Only the internet and travel blogs can help you to know about many places you never explored. Gurudongmar Lake at Sikkim is one such beautiful place, which still remained unexplored to many.

  3. Subhra

    Gurudongmar is a very very beautiful place. After reading this article, I can feel the place once more!

    While we all are locked in the home due to COVID-19 and couldn’t plan another tour for a long time, this post really comes to me with many happy remembrances!

    I have not visited Ladakh, but the taste of the extreme environment in Gurudongmar has really blown my mind! I missed the Rhododendron bloomings, but that lake surroundings were awesome. I extinguish that in such high altitude, some flora managed to live! Those florae are totally different.
    Anyway, the article makes the memories alive. Thanks.

    1. Dr. SD

      Indeed, Covid-19 really ruling over now! Don’t know when to plan the next trip, but Coronavirus will be losing the battle soon when we all travel-lovers start marching again.

      And definitely, Gurudongmar is a destination to remember forever!

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