Located at various altitudes, often surrounded by forests or snow peaks, Sikkim is home to many big and small lakes, some on popular tourist routes, some tucked away at the end of a hardy trek route. Each lake is beautiful in its own way. Most are a photographer’s delight in fair weather. But do remember, most lakes are considered holy and revered by the local people. So do follow rules, and do not litter. Here are seven of the popular and easily accessible lakes of Sikkim.
A must on every Gangtok visitor’s itinerary, this lake is about 40km by road from the state capital. While you may visit the lake for itself, you can also combine it with a trip to Nathu La from Gangtok. Perched at over 12,000 feet, the character of the lake and its environment changes with the season, shimmering blue in spring and summer, frozen in winter. During summer, the lakeside is usually covered in flowers. In tourist season, kiosks selling food and souvenirs fill the lake side. You can also take a yak ride along the bank.
Wear adequate warm garments, gloves and appropriate shoes according to the season. Owing to the altitude, the weather can be unpredictable. So start your return journey as soon as the weather begins to falter. Best to start early in the morning (say around 7am) from Gangtok, so that you can start the return journey by noon. In winter, the mountain road is often covered in snow, so check with local authorities before planning a visit. Visitors require a permit to visit the area and it is best arranged through a government approved travel agency. For this, you will require a photo ID proof and two passport size photos.
Read: Nathu La: The High Road
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A popular stop on the Sikkim Silk Route, it is also known as the Elephant Lake owing to its shape. Perched at over 13,000 feet, the lake comes as a visual relief on the arduous journey. If you want to extend the lake tour, you may also check out the Menmecho Lake.
Located at one end of Aritar town (about 70km from Gangtok), the Lampokhari Lake is said to be one of the oldest natural lakes of Sikkim. Perched at a little over 4500 feet, this boot-shaped lake (1,120ft long and 240ft wide) is surrounded by verdant slopes. A paved path encircles the lake. You can take a walk down to the monastery at the bottom end of the lake. You may also go boating.
Known as the Wish Fulfilling Lake, this is a much revered lake of Sikkim. Khecheopalri Lake It is about 35km by road from Pelling. It can be combined with a trip to the Kanchendzonga Waterfall. From the village car park, you have to walk down to the lake through a forested path. The ticket counter is just next to the gate. There is also a monastery here. You can also buy fish feed at the small shops near the entrance. The path continues as a forest trail with prayer flags on the side. If you want to climb to the wooden bridge (viewing platform), you have to leave your shoes behind. You may feed the fish in the lake from here.
Surrounded by scores of colourful prayers flags, the lake nestles in the middle of tree covered mountain slopes. It is said that the lake is considered so holy that not even a leaf from the trees is allowed to fall in the water. Should a wayward leaf float towards the water, according to local belief, a bird will come and pick it up.
The forest of prayer flags around the lake, lying off the motorable road that travels upwards from Yuksom bazar, is an indication of how sacred it is for the local people, who believe it has wish-fulfilling powers (the other being Khecheopalri, also in West Sikkim). It is said that water from this lake was used during the coronation ceremony of the first king of Sikkim. The lake nestles in the middle of an alpine forest. A narrow track goes down to the water. There are lots of fish in the lake. Usually, a bag of puffed rice is kept at the ticket counter and you may take a handful to feed the fish. The Kathok Mela (usually held in February) draws a large number of pilgrims from across the state.
Open: 8am to 4pm. Ticketed entry.
It is the tale associated with this lonely and little known lake that makes it interesting. A forested trail from the Rinchenpong town market leads to this algae covered lake. According to local reports, in 1860, when the British forces were making inroads into Sikkim, the Lepcha inhabitants of Rinchenpong poisoned the lake, which was the only source of water then. With many of the soldiers dying, the British beat a retreat. A motorable road above the lake leads to an old but reasonably maintained bungalow which belongs to the Roads and Bridges Department of the state government of Sikkim.
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Tucked away in north Sikkim, this lake has seen a rise in popularity over the past few years. Framed by the snow peaks, the lake (17,800 feet) is a shimmering blue stretch of water. Associated with the memory of Guru Padmasambhava (who introduced Buddhism to Sikkim in the eighth century), it is considered extremely holy. It is also said that Guru Nanak visited the lake. Local people believe that it is divine power that prevents the lake from freezing up completely even when the mercury dips drastically. Cars go up to the fringe of the lake. If you are feeling adventurous, follow the prayer-flagged stepped path further down to the water. But remember, it can be a steep climb on the way back.
You have to start very early in the morning (say by 4am or so) from Lachen to visit this lake, about four hours’ drive away because the security personnel looking after the area do not allow entry after 11am. Do wear weather-appropriate attire, keep yourself hydrated, and do not rush. Turn back to base if you face breathing difficulties. Indian tourists have to obtain a permit from the police check post to visit the lake; foreigners are not allowed to visit. But do check with Sikkim Tourism for the latest regulations.
Find the complete OT guide to the lake here.