Cholamu: Highest lake of India
Himalayan range is abode of many of world’s high altitude lakes, many of these high altitude glacial lakes fall in India. World’s 14th highest lake and India’s highest lake is Cholamu lake.A mighty elevation of 18000 feet from the sea level takes Cholamu lake to the top of the “highest lakes” list . While coming down the slope around 300 feet from Donkiala pass ( 18300 feet ) , one gets the first glimpses of this rather moderately sized , almost frozen lake.
at Thangu before Cholamu lake , almost frozen
Donkiala pass is the north most Sikkim route which leads to Tibet border, which is just 5 kms from Donkiala pass. This special geographical location of Cholamu lake makes it special and also makes it a very sensitive army area with Chinese army always putting pressure on international borders.
Cholamu Lake , India's Highest lake (18000 feet) (Image Courtesy : Rajesh Verma)
Cholamu lake and Gurudongmar lake are connected by road (9 KM)
Cholamu lake being just 5 – 6 kms away from the Tibet border , is nearly off limits for commonplace tourists . One needs special permits, from Army and Sikkim police/administration to visit Cholamu lake. A normal tourist permit will only be issued to visit Cholamu Lake only when one has Army’s permit in place. Normally foreign nationals are not allowed to visit north most areas of Sikkim (this is unlike ladakh where both foreign nationals and Indians are allowed to visit tso Moriri Lake which shares its borders with China). Only Indians can get these special permits to visit two of the highest lakes in India that falls in this region, Cholamu Lake and Gurudongmar Lake.
Gurudongmar lake ,India’s second higest lake (world’s 15th highest ) at height of 17100 feet
(just 9 km away from Cholamu lake)
Getting permit for Cholamu lake :
If you are on a family trip with your beloved wife and kids, forget visiting Cholamu Lake , better opt for Gurudongmar lake ,if weather permits, for which one can get permit rather easily . Almost no travel agency will risk their vehicle and driver in this treacherous terrain, that is why if you ask them to arrange a permit for Cholamu lake , they will simply deny going there or at worse they will suggest you it is impossible to get the permit .
You must do following to acquire the required Restricted Area Permit (RAP)
- First thing first get your own vehicle , you need to submit details of your vehicle to get the permit.
- Visit The Department of Home, Government of Sikkim.This is located at Tashiling Secretariat, Gangtok
- At the secretariat submit your vehicle details your identity proof and your residence proof along with your passport sized photographs (keep sufficient copies of each ,may be 10 or so )
- Home department will issue letters addressing to (1)Inspector General Police, Gangtok (2) GSO-1, Black Cat Division, Indian Army, Deorali (3) the district collector of Mangan 4. sub-divisional officer of Chungthang (4) One copy for you. Collect all the letters yourself and submit them to respective departments to expedite the process.
- make sufficient copies of the above letters issues by home department for your journey.
Foreign nationals can also get the Restricted Area Permit (RAP) but process is different for them. Contact your respective embassies before embarking on your journey to this area.
Reaching Cholamu lake
Best time to visit Cholamu lake is October and November, one can expect clear sky during this season of the year. Visiting Cholamu lake just after the monsoons is not a good idea if you are planning to visit this lake on your bike. By that time most of the roads would be washed away with rains, and Border road organization (BRO) must be busy patching up the road as fast as they can during this time period.
The journey starts from Gangtok , state capital of Sikkim , one can reach Gangtok from NJP or Siligudi ,these are the nearest railway station . Nearest airport is Bagdogra (Siligudi).
Gangtok (4,715 ft) ------ 66 KM ---> Mangan (3950 ft) -----34 KM ----> Chungthang (5600 feet)
Till chungthang the route is same for both,if you are planning to trek up to the lake or ride your thunderbird to Cholamu lake.
IF you are on your vehicle then head towards Lachen
Chungthang (5600 feet) ----- 22KM ---> Lachen (9,800 ft) ----- 30KM - ----> Thangu (13000ft) ----- 40 KM --> Cholamu lake (18000 feet)
If you are trekking with your team then head towards Lachung
Chungthang ---- 25 KM-- > Lachung (9,600 ft) ----25 KM -- -> Yumthang Valley (11,800 ft) ---- 32 KM -->Zero Point (zadong) / Yumesamdong (16000 ft) (trek starts from this point) ------- ---> Donkaiala pass - --- -> Cholamu lake ( 18000 feet )
Zadong - Cholamu trek route
Facts about Cholamu lake
- Cholamu lake is India’s highest lake and world’s 14th Highest lake.
- Cholamu lake is very near to Gurudongmar lake (45 Mins drive).
- Maximum depth of the lake is around 5.5 meters or 18.3 feet .
- Many people believe that Cholamu lake is the source of river Teesta , which is not entirely true,actually river Teesta originates from a smaller glacial lake Khangchung (some 100 – 200 feet farther from Cholamu lake ) .
- British botanists and explorersof the 19th century Joseph Dalton Hooker mentions cholamu lake in his “Himalayan Journals” about his 7th November 1849 survey of Lachen Valley
"Beyond this I recognised a hill of which I had taken bearings from Donkia pass, and a few miles further, on rounding a great spur of Kinchinjunga, I arrived in sight of Cholamoo lakes, with the Donkia mountain rearing its stupendous precipices of rock and ice on the east. My pony was knocked up, and I felt very giddy from the exertion and elevation; I had broken his bridle, and so led him on by my plaid for the last few miles to the banks of the lake; and there, with the pleasant sound of the waters rippling at my feet, I yielded for a few moments to those emotions of gratified ambition which, being unalloyed by selfish considerations for the future; become springs of happiness during the remainder of one’s life. The landscape about Cholamoo lakes was simple in its elements, stern and solemn; and though my solitary situation rendered it doubly impressive to me, I doubt whether the world contains any scene with more sublime associations than this calm sheet of water, 17,000 feet above the sea, with the shadows of mountains 22,000 to 24,000 feet high, sleeping on its bosom. "
6. Cholamu Lake should not be confused with Oracle Lake ( Lhamo la-tso) (17,388 ft) , Lhamo latso is situated in Tibet near Lhasa.
Image Courtesy: Regina Joseph