We were told to sleep early by our driver since we planned to start our journey towards Gurudongmar Lake as early as possible. Starting early is important since there is a very short window of opportunity within which tourists need to visit Gurudongmar Lake and return. Usually, at this altitude of 17,000 feet deep within the Himalayan range the weather can dramatically change and the best bet would be to start early and return early. The entire movement of tourists is carefully controlled and monitored by the Indian Army since its close proximity to China border and also the high altitude requires them to double check on all visiting tourists.
Usually all vehicles start departing at 4 AM in the morning but Suraj Lama our driver convinced me to start an hour early at 3 AM since he was aware that I was into photography and according to him the earlier that we depart then we would be able to reach Gurudongmar Lake at a perfect time to get pure blue skies.
Honestly, sleep did not come, one due to the high anticipation and second due to the high altitude I was worried about myself and my daughter. My wife was an athlete thus I am sure she would be fine so is my daughter very energetic thus actually the main worry was me myself.
There was a waterfall right next to my hotel window and the sound of the water flowing at the dead of night was real magical. It was bitter cold but felt so peaceful.
Woke up my wife at around 2 AM and with sleepy eyes, she packed up for the day ahead, dragged my daughter out of bed and clothed her with layers of warm clothes. In the meantime, I went outside to check on Suraj our driver. It was freezing outside, in the darkness I saw him cleaning the windshield, he was surprised to see me so early as most tourists do commit to starting early but delay up to 5 AM.
We pack ourselves inside the vehicle and it was freezing inside, Suraj then played Buddhist chants on his car music system, these apparently are morning prayers which according to him is important as a part of the journey since we are heading to the land of the gods and these prayers will protect us from any danger. Even Suraj himself was reciting the prayers and it was blissful. It felt so beautiful, the silence only was broken by the words of a prayer.
Finally, we started our journey towards Gurudongmar Lake, in the darkness, the winding roads looked ever more dangerous but I was confident in the driving skills of Suraj. We crossed waterfalls, army barracks and also stretches of road where there were heavy damages from landslides.
As we travelled on the sun started coming up and the snow covered peaks started glowing like gold with a blue hue all around. It was so cold that my camera started malfunctioning as I tried to press the shutter nothing would happen, sometimes the LCD screen would warn that “No lens is attached”. These are tell-tale signs that we were now in a place which is beyond the normal functioning range of the camera. I quickly wrapped the camera in a blanket trying to warm in back to normalcy.
By now there were patches of snow all around us, must have been for the previous night. We stopped for some time so that my daughter could play with them but these were very hard frozen ice. We stopped at Thangu which is a military check post where our driver got the permits checked, this is also the last major military check post with medical facility thus it’s customary that the representatives from the Army medical team will come to check on all the tourists.
An officer approached our vehicle and asked if we all felt fine, even though I was bit nervous but I responded with a loud “Jai Hind” as is the custom here. He asked us to pay special attention to our daughter and if faced with any sign of uneasiness and we should return back.
After a bit of climbing, there was an absolute desert valley, it felt as if we were going on a flat land but somewhere high in the Himalayas. Surprisingly I saw some local Yak herdsmen moving around with the herd, at this altitude they must be having lungs of iron to walk around.
The desert was unlike anything I had ever seen with patches of gravel and black sand. By now the sun was up and it was the beautiful bright blue sky. Our jeep headed straight towards Gurudongmar Lake and we were probably the first tourist vehicle for the day.
Suddenly the dessert gave away to ice and there it was right in front of us Gurudongmar Lake. No sooner that we stepped out we could feel the atmosphere crushing us. Every breath was a struggle every step was a slow and painful process but the beauty of the lake surpassed all of these. Bluish green water with snow-capped mountains in the backdrop it looked heavenly. It was a wise decision to start early as the sky was as blue as it could get.
It is recommended not to spend more than thirty minutes up here and our energy was up within five minutes. Some people go for a walk around the edges of the lake but this was not my cup of tea. There used to be a Gurudwara here once but now this is just a generic temple where an attendant stays to monitor the lake. In reality, the lake is huge but due to the obstruction by large peaks only a small section of the lake can be seen by the tourists whereas the rest of the portion remains hidden.
By now my head was spinning and had an extreme headache, these were signs of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and returning was the best option.
Our next stop was at Chopta Valley, well not exactly at the valley but from a viewpoint. The valley looked in colours of various shades of green with small rivulets carving patterns on it. During April-May, this valley erupts with a riot of colours and. Moving on we stop for breakfast at a small hut where we were provided with hot noodle soup. The pain in my head was in a buzzing state and a couple of spoons of soup did help to relieve it.
By the time we reached back to Lachen it was around 11 AM and I collapsed to the bed and rested for nearly three hours to recover. We were told to get ready for our next destination Lachung which was planned after our lunch.
Hope you have enjoyed the journey along with me, see you in the next destination of Lachung.
Destinations covered on this trip:-
Other locations around Sikkim covered in my blog:-
Nathula Pass Day Trip: https://indianvagabond.com/2016/07/19/nathula-pass-day-trip/
Lachen – Lachung Driver: Suraj Lama – 94749 81411
Bagdorgra / New Jalpai Guri to Gangtok Driver: Glorious Minj – 96792 77580
Kolkata tour operator: Endeavour Tours (Mr. S. K. Bhaumik) 98303 06159, 84204 96704
Gangtok tour operator (for Lachen / Lachung local coordination): Mystic Himalayan World Travels 94347 22166
Gangtok Hotel: Hotel Norbu Gang 99330 04494
Approximate Cost: – (as on October 2014)
Bagdogra to Gangtok = Rs. 2,200* (Toyota Innova) * Return will also be the same
Lachen & Lachung Tour Package = Rs. 18,000* (2 nights and 3 days inclusive of food / transportation / lodging) * Rs. 2,500 will be charged additionally for Zero Point or Katao (this needs to be paid directly to the driver)