From the easy to reach Tsomgo Lake near Gangtok to the high altitude Green Lake, Sikkim is home to many beautiful lakes perched at a wide range of elevations. While most lakes are open to tourists, the Chho Lamu (in north Sikkim), origin of the Teesta River, is still out of bounds. However, you may check with Sikkim Helicopter Service, which sometimes runs heli-tours over the glacier and lake subject to terms and conditions. Before you go, do remember that the people of Sikkim revere nature, believing its mountains, rivers, lakes and caves to be the abode of holy spirits. So do respect the local sentiment and do not disrespect or litter the lakes and their surroundings.
No trip to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, is complete without a visit to the Tsomgo (Changu) lake, about 35km from the city and 15km ahead of Nathu La. Perched at over 12,000 feet, the beauty of this alpine lake changes with the season – flowers in summer, blue sky in autumn and snow in winter. The short cable car ride (ticket: Rs 325 per head as of 2019) and the upper station perched at 14,500 feet offer a panoramic view of the surrounding snow peaks and the lake below. The area receives heavy snowfall and you will need weather appropriate clothing and footwear.
One of the rare lakes of Sikkim where boating is allowed, it is usually visited by those on a trip along the state’s Silk Route. Perched at over 4,000 feet, it is located in Aritar village. A paved walking path, overlooked by verdant hill slopes, surrounds the lake. There is a monastery dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava at the far end. But to enjoy a complete view of the footprint shaped lake, you have to trudge up to Mankhim Temple hill top.
This holy ‘wish fulfilling lake’ is about 35km from the popular touristy town of Pelling in west Sikkim. A short walk through a forested trail will lead you to the lake. Although surrounded by green hills, not a leaf can be seen littering the water. According to local belief, should a leaf fall, a bird comes and picks it up. A prayer-wheel lined boardwalk leads to the edge of the lake. You have to remove your shoes before taking this walk.
If you are holidaying in Rinchenpong village in west Sikkim, you can take this moderately uphill trek. Otherwise, you may have to convince a local taxi to bring you here. Surrounded by alpine vegetation, the lake looks tranquil, the quietness broken by the chirping of birds. It is said that a local 18th century ruler ordered the poisoning of the lake – the only source of water in the area – to resist the British army who wanted to occupy the area. Apparently, his plan succeeded and the British departed after many of their soldiers died from drinking the poisoned water.
This tiny alpine lake is a popular stop for high altitude trekkers on their way to Goecha La from Dzongri (the end point of a lesser arduous trek from Yuksam, about 40km from Pelling). In summer, cattle herders bring their sheep and cattle for grazing by the lake shore.
The journey to this glacier-fed lake perched at 17,800 feet, and surrounded by snow peaks, from the nearest touristy town of Lachen (about 70km away, north Sikkim) is as exciting as the beauty of the lake. You will be reminded of the cold desert of Ladakh. However, you may experience shortness of breath at this altitude. In severe respiratory trouble, seek help from the army camps located on the way or descend to Lachen immediately. You may carry a portable oxygen cylinder. Veteran travellers suggest starting early as the weather usually deteriorates noon onwards and not spend more than 15-20 minutes at the lake site. The area remains snow-bound for the greater part of the year and weather appropriate clothing and footwear recommended.
You have to be a high altitude trekker to reach this lake (perched at over 16,000 feet) in north Sikkim. A round trip from Lachen, including rest days, takes 11 to 12 days. Camping gear, guides and porters required, and can be arranged through authorised trekking agencies in Gangtok. The route encompasses varied landscapes, including river valleys and forests, moraine fields and ridges, etc. On clear days, the skyline is filled with snow-clad peaks.