Gurudongmar Lake, Sikkim, India

Lake Locations:

India - Northeast - Sikkim -

One of the highest elevation lakes in the world and the second-highest in Sikkim province, Gurudongmar Lake is nearly inaccessible to the average Indian traveler and officially off-limits to those traveling from a foreign country. Located at 17,150 feet, the beautiful lake maintains a milky hue year round due to the glacial flour in the melt waters that fill it. Named in honor of Guru Dongmar-also known as Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion-legend describes the Guru visiting the lake and bestowing blessings on the local herdsmen. The lake lies below a mountain peak of the same name. The stream leaving Gurudongmar Lake contributes to the headwaters of the Teesa River.

Frozen much of the year, the lake contains a small area that never freezes. This open water is attributed to Guru Dongmar who performed a miracle so that local herdsmen would have water for their stock year round. The Guru also gave special properties to the lake’s water to bestow virility, as these same herdsmen complained that the high altitude had affected their ability to sire children. Because the lake was revered by several religious sects, the Indian government constructed a small gurdwara (place of worship) for use by all religions near the lake. Devout visitors often carry small bottles of the lake’s waters with them when they depart. No permanent inhabitants live at this high altitude, and the gurdwara is the only permanent structure. The lake has regular visitors, however, but most stay for only a short time; the oxygen level at this altitude is so low that altitude sickness almost invariably occurs within a couple of hours.

Due to Gurudongmar Lake’s proximity to the Tibet border, the entire area is under the control of the Indian Army. Permits are required to travel to the lake and must be obtained by a licensed tour guide. Located 95 miles north of the city of Gangtok, the rough track is passable by vehicle most of the year, except monsoon season (June to September). Temperatures are moderate during the spring (May and April) and autumn (late September to early December). Gurudongmar Lake is beautiful in the winter, but temperatures can be inhospitable.

The bone-jarring route to the lake passes several lovely waterfalls among the lush green mountainsides at lower elevations. One that visitors usually stop at is called the Seven Sisters. This is actually a single waterfall that consists of seven stages and is best seen during wet, rainy weather. These and a few other sights are accessible by foreign tourists as far as the village of Thangu. Most visits to the area stop overnight at the village of Lachen which is supplied with several small guest houses. Although the distance isn’t far, the trip will take three to four hours due to the condition of the road. Shortly beyond Lachen, visitors must produce three copies of their Sikkim police permit and an army letter of permission at a military checkpoint in order to continue on.

Although foreign tourists cannot visit Gurudongmar, one place in the vicinity they can enjoy is Yumthang Valley-the ‘valley of flowers’. Located a few hours north of Gangtok after the road forks toward Lachung, Yumthang Valley is home to the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary. Again, this trek usually takes two days, and permits are required of all visitors, obtained through tour guides. After an overnight visit at a guest house in Lachung, visitors eventually reach the ‘valley of flowers’ alongside the Teesa River, showcasing 24 different varieties of rhododendrons, a profusion of bright poppies, iris, primula and other blooming plants. The Kashmir state flower, the rhododendron, has admirers around the world, and over 1000 named varieties have been cultivated. A rest house is the only permanent residence in the valley, and the entire valley is closed between December and March due to heavy snow. Skiing occurs on the slopes surrounding the valley.

Even though foreign tourists are limited in areas near the Indo-Chinese border, there is still plenty to see and do in these high mountainous areas. A number of hiking trails are available into the Himalayan foothills closer to Gongtok. Many temples, stupas and monasteries are a cultural delight to visit. Small museums dedicated to the several religious sects that share the area are a pleasure to visit as their colorful artwork is a unifying cross-cultural visual treat. Festivals are often in progress, with colorful costumes and unusual customs and rituals on display.

Handicrafts and local artwork can be purchased for reasonable sums. Different ethnic dishes delight the palate, and numerous small hostels and guest lodgings are available to those adventurous enough to risk a less-than-five-star experience. The people of Sikkim are friendly and the atmosphere serene. The trek to Gurudongmar Lake may not be available to everyone, but other attractions in the area make up for its loss. Make sure any trip to India includes at least a visit to North Sikkim and the majestic Himalaya Mountains. You will find plenty to pique your interest and engage your senses. Come see the rhododendrons and stay for the festivals.

Things to do at Gurudongmar Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Waterfall
  • Museum

Gurudongmar Lake Photo Gallery

Gurudongmar Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Shoreline Length: 5 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 17,150 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

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Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

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- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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