Khecheopalri lake is considered as a sacred site of pilgrimage by the Buddhists. The lake is 34 km from Pelling town. Khecheopalri is most importantly a pilgrimage site but it is soon becoming a well-known tourist destination. It is no doubt one of the most beautiful natural lakes I have ever seen. The lake almost looks like a volcano crater with thick wooded hills on all sides. It looked like a landscape from a fairy-tale.
Khecheopalri is on the north-west of Pelling and on one of the lower ranges of Kanchendzonga. Further away, the mountains begin to rise towards the sky. There are small villages scattered around the lake and along with it many guest houses that run on eco-tourism.
Shared taxis for Khecheopalri lake leave from Geyzing town once in a day after 1 pm. Otherwise, the lake can be reached by hiring taxis which will cost around Rs. 2000 from Geying or Pelling, including brief stops at two waterfalls on the road.
I left Pelling around 2 pm for Khecheolpalri on a shared taxi for Rs. 80. The one-and-half-hour journey was a refreshing one, the road was blessed with beautiful waterfalls. The disadvantage of travelling in a shared taxi is that you can’t stop at the places that you want to. In a hired vehicle, you can do whatever you wish. But then, interacting with the locals and listening to them in shared taxis gives a basic sense of the place and its people. Here, election was coming soon. People were talking about it all the time.
The taxi stopped at a small village with around 10 houses nearby. I was determined that I would head for Yuksom after seeing the lake. I kept my bags at the ticket counter and told the guy at the counter that I would be back by 4 pm. My first few minutes of trying to get a cab to Yuksom proved futile as the taxis only left early in the morning. So ,I was left with no option but to stay there for the night. This was before I explored the mesmerizing lake and its surrounding landscapes. Later my mind changed. I knew I had landed at one of the most serene places. It was a slice of heaven, where the gods must have come down to swim.
A Gompa greets at the entrance towards the lake. The lake turned out to be much bigger than I had imagined or read up: a total area of 3.79 hectares. It could have been a lot bigger than what it was. Being of utmost importance to Buddhists, the lake is left just as it was. It helps in preserving in its original state. Khecheopalri is pronounced as ‘catch-a-perry.’ It is literally translates as ‘the heaven of Padmasambhava.’ The Hindus also consider it sacred. The locals gave it the name Sho Dzo Sho which is translated as ‘Oh, lady! Sit down!’ It is also an integral part of the Demazong or the rice valley, which is a much revered place.
Lots of domestic tourists visit the lake. I was surprised to find a few bells, the kind you find in Hindu temples. I was of the opinion that it was important to the Buddhists, but I was wrong. The Hindus too revere the lake and often come and pray. A small wooden board extended to the lake was the only thing that is not natural about the place. It is considered so sacred that they had to remove their shoes before entering the deck. Buddhist and Muslims alike come and make wishes, sprinkling the lake water on their head and faces. The water in the lake is also believed to possess curative properties. They believe wishes made here too come true. For a layman like me, the school of fish in the lake itself was a great attraction. Locals don’t eat fish from the lake. They considered everything sacred and believe fish from the lake are poisonous.
One interesting thing about the lake is that there were no leaves on the water, even though it is surrounded by forest. It is believed that birds do the arduous job of removing leaves from the lake. To what extend it is true can’t be ascertained. It is a place where myth become reality and vice-versa.
Colorful prayer flags flutter near the lake and add substance to the place as a serious pilgrimage site. The best view of the lake though is seen from a vantage point about a half-an-hour climb from the lake. Climbing the steep climb through the forest without proper road or steps was a lot more difficult than I had imagined. I was to head back at the Khecheopalri counter before 4 pm and retrace my bag.
By the time I reached the vantage point, I was panting for breath. The viewpoint had a small house and seats. Looking the lake at sunset was an amazing sight. The lake resembles a footprint. People always find ways to connect with a myth. Here, it is believed that it is the footprint of goddess Tara Jetsun Dolma.
Climbing down another route, I found houses along the way. There were beautiful guest houses looking down on the lake. I imagined it to be wonderful to wake up to that view everyday. But the locals have a hard life dependent mostly on traditional farming. The more adventurous of the folks have begun exploring the tourism business with things like running a homestay or a guest house. I ended up staying at a homestay surrounded by complete greenery. With no proper road running into small villages, it was amazing to just live on basics, at least for a day without being bothered by anything, even your phone.
The lake was formed by the force of ancient glaciers and took some 3500 years. Today, it is one of the wonders of nature.