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Photo Friday Story – Exploring Sikkim

Istvan Hernadi is a Canadian adventurer and photographer. Here’s his Photo Friday story:

Exploring Sikkim with friends I met in Gangtok helped me learn about the culture of an ancient kingdom populated by the peaceful and shy Lepcha people who continue with their Buddhist traditions in the foothills of the Himalayas. I shall return to the Himalayas this year to teach at a new Business College in Bhutan and continue my quest to explore remote areas of the mountains with the help of new friends who live their traditional ways in these rugged lands.

Sikkim, a former kingdom, is a Buddhist state in northern India, next to the Tibet border. Mt Kanchenjunga is visible from every hilltop and is the protecting deity of Sikkim. Most mountains and lakes are considered sacred and temples have been built near them.

I spent several weeks at Burtuk Monastery near Gangtok, teaching English to the novice monks. Here I met a monk named Karma who invited me along for a trip to visit the holy Khecheopalri lake. The trip to the lake takes many hours along winding roads, past small villages and waterfalls.

Karma’s family is from this area, where his father, grandfather and others before them spent many years meditating in sacred caves on the mountains here. The Lepcha village here has a nice temple near the lake with a huge prayer wheel inside.

The lake is visited by many pilgrims, who attach hundreds of prayer flags to trees around the holy waters. People pray here at this “Wishing Lake” lighting incense and candles, while rotating the many prayer wheels that line the boardwalk to the shore. This clear lake is surrounded by dense forests, it is believed that the birds do not allow even a single leaf to float on the lake surface.

From the lake at 1800 meters, a narrow trail winds through the forest to a ridge 3 km away, where a small village and gompa are located.

old temple

Some of Karma’s relatives live here tending their fields and cows.

apa at the gompa

We continued our trek past farmhouses and fields to a thick forest and overgrown trail leading to a holy cave at 2400 meters. We were joined by couple of kids and a cousin of Karma’s.

farm in the hills

Reaching the top opened up the views to the hills and villages below, with views of Mount Pandim (6691m) and other peaks.

on the top

Khecheopalri lake is seen below, as a giant footprint in the landscape, the shape is believed to be a footprint of the Goddess Tara.


This holy cave and a small house nearby has been used by many generations of Buddhists for meditation.

holy cave

There are many other holy meditation caves in the mountains of northern Sikkim, some as high as 13,500 ft, such as the one north of Lachung where a trail leads into the alpine forests past old chortens such as this one.

stupa in the Himalayas at 13,500ft, Sikkim

Istvan Hernadi is a Canadian adventurer and photographer who spends much of his time exploring remote areas of the Canadian North. His hiking, climbing and skiing trips have also taken him to Europe, Asia and New Zealand. He is also a Trailpeak editor and contributes new trails and stories to the trails database website.

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