A lake at 3753 m(12,310 ft)! Impossible you will say but it is a fact. Changu lake is situated 35 kilometres from Gangtok on the Gangtok – Nathula highway The stretch of the route just below Karponang, 15 kilometres from Gangtok was particularly dangerous. Its steepness resulted in many mules slipping to their death into the ravine below. Karponang is at an altitude of 3000 metres: an ascend of 1500 metres from Gangtok in less than 15 kilometres.
Slightly less than 10 kilometres away from Karponang is 15th Mile or Kyongnosla which lies on a saddle on the Chola Range and from where a panoramic view of part of Gangtok and other surrounding hills can be obtained. The road has less gradient and the vegetation adopts an alpine nature. About a kilometre ahead of Kyongnosla and about five minutes walk from the roadside is the TsetenTashi cave which is about twenty feet high and so named after a naturalist of Sikkim who was also the Private Secretary to the Chogyal.
Changu Lake, which is hardly 20 kilometres away from the famous Nathula Pass and about 400 kilometres from Lhasa, falls in the restricted area and hence an Inner Line Permit, which can be obtained from the Police through the Tourism Department or travel agent, is required by visitors to visit this place. Foreign nationals are also permitted to visit this lake. Photography is now allowed and in fact parts of a few Hindi films have been shot here.
Its cool, placid water harmonises with the scenic beauty around which is doubled by its reflection in the lake. A small temple of Lord Siva is constructed on the lakeside. Primula flowers and other alpine vegetation grow around the lake, which has an average depth of 15 metres, lending a pristine beauty to this place. A footpath along the lake takes one to a resting shed – a walk of about half a kilometre. During the winter months, the lake becomes frozen. The lake itself derives its water from the melting snow on the mountains around it. The lake has a few rainbow trout and if you are lucky you may catch a glimpse of them.
Rides on yaks and mules are also offered at the lake site. Tea and snacks are available at the shopping complex about 200 metres before the lake. It has a pay-and-use toilet. Some of the stalls even keep offer jackets, snowboots and gumboots on hire.
Because of the high altitude, heavy woollens are required to be worn here throughout the year. There is no facility of accommodation for the tourist. It is advisable to visit the lake before noon as usually during the afternoons the weather becomes inclement. Those with breathing problems should avoid exerting themselves too much because of the scarcity of air at this altitude.