TODAY -

Khecheopalri Lake, where birds keep a watch !

S Balakrishnan *



“Patience, Patience!” I told myself repeatedly. We were waiting-which seemed indefinite-on the banks of Khecheopalri Lake for a leaf to float by and fall on the lake surface, only to be picked up immediately by a bird. But no luck; the trees were a bit away from the edge of the lake and it was not autumn either for the wind to carry a falling leaf.

We could not witness the legend come true before our eyes but neither did we notice any leaf on its surface. So we diverted our attention to a group of Nepali devotees performing some Hindu puja/ritual on the lake fringe. The Khecheopalri Lake, I understood, was sacred both for Buddhists and Hindus of Sikkim. Hence washing of legs & hands is prohibited, a board warned; also, feeding of the fish thriving in the Lake.

Khecheopalri Lake is one among the 534 lakes that dot the tiny Himalayan State of Sikkim. The periphery of this lake resembles a foot. Situated in West Sikkim at an altitude of 5938 ft.(1700 m), Khecheopalri covers an area of 11.56 ha. Originally known as Kha-Chot-Palri (meaning the Heaven of Guru Padmasambhava), it is locally called Sho Dzo Sho, which means "Oh Lady, Sit Here"! ‘Kechepuri’ is the colloquial name.

According to a folklore legend related to Sikkim topography, the Khecheopalri is said to represent one of the four plexus (in human anatomy, a network of nerves or vessels), namely the thorax (chest). In Sikkim the lakes are variously called as Chhokha or Tso or Chhona (in Tibetan/Bhutia), Chho (in Lepcha) and Pokhari (in Nepali).

Estimated to have formed 3,500 years ago, Khecheopalri Lake is located in Khecheopalri village, 147 kilometres (91 miles) west of Gangtok. It is 34 kms (21 m) to the northwest of Pelling town, an important tourist town.

The lake is surrounded by Ramam mountain, the catchment area; the valley is also called Ramam valley. A small stream drains the excess water of the Lake round the year. The Lake serves as a pit stop for migratory birds from and to Himalayan areas.

As Khecheopalri Lake is a sacred Lake no other tourism related activity is permitted here. It is safely situated within reserved forest area. It is estimated that up to 10,000 people annually visit this Lake, including devotees from Nepal & Bhutan.

Two legends surround the creation of this Lake – As this Lake got polluted in its earlier location, the presiding Goddess of the Lake, Tara Jetsun Dolma, requested a Lama to lead her to a new place. The Lama carried the water in a pitcher and, as led by Tara, came to this new chosen location. As he poured the water from pitcher into a small hollow, it slowly increased and created a Lake, the new residence of Jetsun Dolma.

Another legend goes likes this – Once this area was a pasture land that later turned into a bushy area with weeds that itched on touching. Once hundreds of conches showered from the sky and water thundered out from below to form a lake. The surrounding hill is said to look like a sitting Tara with one leg folded and another touching the earth.

Back in the 1980s, I was twice very close to Khecheopalri Lake visiting Pemayangtse/Tashiding but could not visit the Lake. I could have walked down the trail from Pelling to Khecheopalri in around 5 hours but I had other plans – the Thulo Thangka & Bumchu festival. So, it was a long wait of 30 years until 2014 when I could at last sprinkle the sacred waters of the Lake on my balding head. We got down from the vehicle and walked down for 15 minutes through the winding sandy trail to the Lake fringe.

A small dormitory of a lama was shrouded in dhoop and cooking steam. Footwear is to be removed here to reach the sacred Lake. Five-coloured Buddhist prayer flags / festoons were fluttering along the way and on the banks of the lake. We noticed heaps of small stones delicately placed one upon another by praying devotees. Religious prayers /inscriptions in bright colours adorned the moss-covered rocks in Tibetan script.

I could, from my earlier Sikkim connection, decipher “Om Mane Padme Hum!” We gently rotated the prayer wheels that lined the corridor leading to the Lake, hoping to attain heaven. How greedy could I be ! The atmosphere was so serene – placid waters throbbing with fish, greenery all around, fluttering prayer flags and pleasant June weather! What more could one expect ! This was heaven, indeed. But we could not rest forever at this heaven.

We had to rush to Tashiding but the cab driver was already sulking, spoiling our mood and refusing to touch Yuksom en route. A few Nepali priests wait there to do rituals or bless you with the traditional tikka – on payment, of course. Well, one thing I must record here – the lack of restroom facility as in most of the tourist/pilgrimage spots. Will the tourism planners think about it, especially Sikkim being a cold place.

The small souvenir shop near the archway to the Lake was stocked with puja items, local handicrafts/handloom items and authentic antiques/curios. We haggled without success and bought just only one unique piece for 500 rupees – a small metal Buddha bound in leather, designed as arm band. I would have loved to loot the shop but my wife’s advice was “Give up desire”! ‘Are we not in the Land of Buddha?’ she reminded me.

A true lake is defined thus – one that has some liquid water round the year. Thus, a high altitude lake which freezes solid all the way down to the bottom during the winter may be disqualified as a lake. A true "lake" must occupy at least 1.0 hectare. Sikkim has the credit of having India’s highest lake - Chholhamu Lake near Donkiala Pass in North Sikkim at 5300 m !

Khecheopalri Lake is believed to be a wish fulfilling lake. What could be my wish ? Nothing but a leisurely revisit to the Lake to witness the legend become true - of birds picking up leaves that float down to the Lake’s surface. Also, a pradakshina of the Lake, muttering all the while “Om, mane padme hum –Om, the Jewel on the Lotus- with a prayer wheel in my right hand. Nothing more, nothing less!


* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on February 06 2022.



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