Indians love planning holidays in exotic locations. More often than not, these exotic holidays don’t just cost a fortune, but also peace of mind. After all, traveling for what feels like 200 years is no joke! Most of us cannot take a trip abroad on a whim, but if it’s not the “foreign” tag you are chasing, then India has her own share of incredible landscapes that are perfect dupes for some of the world’s most iconic destinations. One such place is Sikkim’s Gurudongmar Lake, a perfect foil to Jokulsarlon Lake in Iceland.
Jokulsarlon Lake Iceland
Jokulsarlon is a natural wonder par excellence and is visited by thousands of tourists all year round. The icebergs found here are ancient, some older than a thousand years. Fed by meltwater from these glaciers, Jokulsarlon Lake looks different each time one visits it (global warming is real, guys).
Chunks of ice glisten in the sun, much like diamonds, making for a really stunning view. You may also occasionally find seals hangint out on icebergs trying to sun themselves or catching fish. Cinephiles may find it familiar – movies like Die Another Day, A View to a Kill and Tomb Raider have been shot here.
The pristine beauty of this place is definitely worth the days of travel it takes to get here. It is not just the views of the lagoon that you are going to savor, the journey to this gorgeous lake is nothing short of magical.
Now, for most of us, a trip to Iceland will remain a distant dream. But the silver lining, and yes, there is a silver lining (don’t worry, we won’t just talk about the places you can’t visit) is that hidden away in the far reaches of Sikkim, there is a lake that bears an uncanny resemblance to Jukulsarlon. It doesn’t cost a small fortune and days to reach here, though it does come with its own set of caveats.
Jokulsarlon Lake v/s Gurudongmar Lake
Located at a height of 17,100 ft above the sea level, Gurudongmar Lake is among the 15 highest lakes in the world. Unlike the Jokulsarlon Lake in Iceland, which has been appropriated by the mythopoetic machinery of Hollywood, Gorudongmar has religious as well as spiritual significance. It is believed to have healing powers and visitors like to carry some water back home with them.
While both the places draw tourists looking for some peace and quiet, one entails an expenditure of 1.5 to 2 lakh on just the flight tickets, while the other affords an epic road trip experience under INR 20,000.
Sure, the road trip is back-breaking, with thousands of hairpin bends and hundreds of kilometers of difficult roads, but the views are well worth the considerable trouble. The freshness in the air, the smell of snow, the enormous frozen lake shining brightly under the soft rays of the sun, the vast expanse of the bare and barren land are sure to stay with you for a lifetime.
A lot of travel bloggers are of the opinion that ‘no amount of pictures or adjectives do justice to this creation of nature! You will have to see it to believe it!’ And we agree with them. Completely.
If you are visiting in the summers, the Lake shines like a giant emerald amidst the snow-capped peaks. You can pay your respects at the small monastery beside the lake, which is tended to by a frail monk who single-handedly takes care of the monastery. Catch your breath, ponder over how the monk survives the bitter cold and try to make sense of how nature manages to create something so stunning and pure. Don’t forget to carry some holy lake water with you for good luck!
Best time to visit Gurudongmar Lake
Anytime between November and June is a great time to visit the Lake. Summers are quite pleasant and every summer an annual yak race is organized in the Thangu valley by locals, which is quite interesting to witness. Find out more about the event and plan your trip accordingly. You can also explore other equally stunning places in your itineraries such as Lachen, Gangtok and Pelling. Winters are unbearably cold but equally beautiful. It is also one of the best times to witness Gurudongmar Lake in full glory. The Lake freezes completely and looks like a giant crystal, with sunlight bouncing off to a million different directions.
Things to keep in mind
- There is no public transport available till the Lake. A private cab/ vehicle will be your only reliable option.
- Try leaving early around 4 am, opt for very light snacks on the way before you proceed you to Thangu.
- Stop for breakfast in Thangu, because you would not find any roadside eateries elsewhere. Try to come back to Lachen by Lunch because the weather is unpredictable.
- You will need an Inner Line Permit to visit Gurudongmar Lake. Check online for more details or ask the staff of the hotel you are staying in. They will connect you to a travel agent or similar entities.
- On the way to Gurudongmar Lake, you will cross the Giaogong Army Checkpost which stands at an epic altitude of 15,000 ft. You need to cross the checkpoint between 7:30 am and 10:30 am in the morning. You also need to exit by 12:30 pm.
- To reach the lake, get a car on rent in Gangtok and try to reach the Lake before noon to be able leave in an hour or so.
In conclusion – Gurudongmar is a stunner. It may not be an exact replica of Jokulsarlon in Iceland, but it is equally breathtaking, uniquely humbling and an experience that one would be hard-pressed to forget!