Tsongmo Lake, Sikkim, India

Lake Locations:

India - Northeast - Sikkim -

Also known as:  Changu Lake, Tsomgo Lake

Remote and beautiful describes India’s Tsongmo Lake. The high-altitude glacial lake is fed by melting snows from the surrounding mountains and is shrouded in local myth and religious observance. Located close to the border with Chinese Tibet, the lake lies along the road to Nathu La Pass and border crossing. Located in the Sikkim Province of India, the area around Tsongmo Lake is an interesting mix of Sikkimese Buddhists and the more numerous Hindu followers of India. In past centuries, Buddhist monks used to study the changing colors of the lake’s waters to divine future occurrences. Sikkimese faith healers or jhakris travel here each year on Guru Purnima, a holy day associated with the Raksha Bandhan festival, to offer prayers. Other visitors come simply to admire the lake’s extraordinary beauty.

Also called Tsomgo Lake or Changu Lake, Tsongmo Lake is especially beautiful between May and August, when a profusion of rhododendrons, blue and yellow poppies, iris and primula put forth a riot of colorful blooms along the lakefront. A large flock of Brahmini ducks make their home here, but huge flocks of other migratory waterfowl also stop at the lake on their long flight from Siberia to the plains of India. The lake becomes a birdwatcher’s paradise during the annual migrations. Surrounded by steep forested mountains, the area around the lake is perfect habitat for the shy red panda and other native species. A series of short walking paths allow visitors to enjoy the alpine forest surrounding the lake, but Tsongmo Lake is in restricted territory and one should not attempt to venture off the designated paths to avoid being challenged by military guards.

The Changu Lake bazaar offers a wide variety of interesting goods and cut flowers. A number of shops along the lakefront offer local souvenirs, crafts and yak cheeses. Locals offer yak rides on highly decorated and trained yaks, but visitors should strictly avoid any yaks not so engaged as many are semi-wild and can be dangerous. A small temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is a well-known pilgrimage destination of visiting Shaivites.

In winter Tsongmo Lake freezes over. The flowers are dormant, and the only hints of color in an otherwise starkly beautiful landscape come from the prayer flags fluttering in the mountain breezes. The road is usually open as far as Tsongmo Lake, but the portion that continues to Nathu La Pass is often impassible and extremely dangerous with heavy snows and a narrow roadway. Tourists who book travel arrangements should be aware that tours are sometimes arranged during the harsh winter months when there is little to see. Due to the lake being in restricted territory, Indian citizens are free to come at any time, but foreign visitors need to be pre-cleared for a special travel pass best arranged via a reputable tourist agent.

Due to restrictions, it is not possible to freely trek the alpine forest and mountains in the area around Tsongmo Lake. But other attractions not far away are worth a visit. Sikkim’s capital city of Gangtok is only 25 miles from Tsongmo Lake and an ideal place to use as tour headquarters. A growing city, Gangtok is filled with visitors from other Indian provinces. Plenty of visitor lodgings can be found here and are likely the best option as facilities surrounding Tsongmo Lake are minimal. Hotels, small inns and guest houses offer accommodations, while numerous restaurants, cafes and street vendors make sure no one leaves hungry.

Gangtok’s Central Market area can be hectic, so visitors seeking quieter sites will find traditional Buddhist gardens and religious edifices just outside the city center. The famous orchids of Sikkim are showcased in several botanical gardens; these orchids are the stars of the Flower Show Complex. The Institute of Tibetology is not to be missed for its exhibits of traditional Tibetan culture. The most important stupa (Buddhist shrine) in Sikkim, Do Drul Chorten, is a short distance outside of the city and well worth a visit. The Himalayan Mountains are ever-present on the horizon and add to the exotic atmosphere of the many temples and religious shrines on the most-visited list. Locally, there are walking paths to get out into the surrounding mountains to enjoy this unusual environment to the fullest.

The famous Ruimtek Monastery is about 40 miles from Tsongmo Lake and featured on nearly every organized tour of the area. The monastery is located a short distance west of Gangtok. Originally built in the 16th century by Wangchuk Dorje, the ninth Karmapa of the Buddhist religion, the monastery was in ruins until the 16th Karmapa escaped Tibet and decided the site was the ideal spot to serve as his spiritual headquarters in exile. With the mountains as a backdrop, a snowfield in front and numerous flowing streams with a river below, the site was considered auspicious for the main seat of the Karmapa in exile. With help from the Sikkim royal family and the Indian government, the monastery was rebuilt over four years and finished in 1966. The largest monastery in Sikkim, the facility is home to a community of monks who perform the rituals of the Karma Kagyu. A golden stupa on site holds relics of the 16th Karmapa. The Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for higher Buddhist studies sits opposite the monastery. Highly decorated with colorful religious paintings and icons, the monastery makes an ideal stop for visitors to experience the rich and varied culture of Sikkim.

Instability caused by Chinese suppression of the traditional Buddhist-controlled Tibetan government has spilled over into the religious-political intrigues surrounding the current Karmapa and Ruimtek Monastery. The Karmapa is second-in-command to the Dalai Llama, who also rules from exile. Factions supporting rival candidates for the 17th Karmapa disputed the traditional divination methods surrounding the selection of the next Karmapa when the 16th Karmapa died in the 1980s. Because the Karmapa died while in the United States, the traditional message was not passed regarding succession in the usual way. Occasional violence has broken out among rival factions, breaking from traditional non-violent Buddhist doctrine. The dispute is at least as much political as religious: China has a vested interest in gaining control of the Tibetan Buddhist community and, although the principals are not actually in Tibet, much of the control of the religio-political system still remains in the hands of these leaders in exile. The monastery remains safe for visitors to enjoy, however, and local intrigues shouldn’t prevent Tsongmo Lake tourists from also visiting Ruimtek Monastery.

Visiting Tsongmo Lake is an adventure, a pilgrimage undertaken by those in search of the unusual. No place else epitomizes the stark contrasts of multi-religious Sikkim. The towering Himalayas serve as backdrop to the colorful scenes in evidence around Tsongmo Lake.

Things to do at Tsongmo Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Ruins

Tsongmo Lake Photo Gallery

Tsongmo Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 12,400 feet

Average Depth: 50 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

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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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.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

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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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

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.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- 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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