About Khecheopalri Lake
Khecheopalri Lake, originally known as Kha-Chot-Palri (meaning the heaven of Padmasambhava), is a sacred Lake for both Buddhists and Hindus, which is believed to be a wish fulfilling lake. It is located near Khecheopalri village, 147 kilometres (91 mi) west of Gangtok and 34 kilometres (21 mi) to the northwest of Pelling town in the West Sikkim district of the Northeastern Indian state of Sikkim. The local name for the lake is Sho Dzo Sho, which means “Oh Lady, Sit Here”. The popularly known name of the lake, considering its location is Khecheopalri Lake, ensconced in the midst of the Khechoedpaldri hill, which is also considered a sacred hill.
The lake is an integral part of the much revered valley of “Demazong” meaning valley of rice. This landscape is also known as a land of hidden treasures blessed by Guru Padmasambhava.
The Khecheopalri Lake is also part of Buddhist religious pilgrimage circuit involving the Yuksom, the Dubdi Monastery in Yuksom, Pemayangtse Monastery, the Rabdentse ruins, the Sanga Choeling Monastery, and the Tashiding Monastery.An interesting feature of the lake is that leaves are not allowed to float on the lake, which is ensured by the birds which industriously pick them up as soon as they drop into the lake surface.
The Khecheopalri Lake and the Khangchendzonga National Park are conserved from the biodiversity perspective with ecotourism and pilgrimage as essential off shoots. As a result, their recreational and sacredness values are enhanced.
According to folklore legend related to Sikkim topography, the Khecheopalri is said to represent one of the four plexus of the human body namely, the thorax; the other three plexes are said to be represented by Yuksom (the third eye), Tashiding (head) and Pemayangtse (the heart).
The mythological links to the origin of all the lakes in Sikkim make them sacred and so is the case with the Khecheopalri Lake. Many legends are narrated such as: Guru Padmasambahava preached to sixty-four yoginis here; it is the residing place of the Goddess Tara Jetsun Dolma and the Khecheopalri Lake is her footprint; the lake represents the Goddess Chho Pema; footprints of Macha Zemu Rinpoche are on a stone near the chorten (stupa) near the lake; Hindu god Lord Shiva meditated in Dupukney Cave that is situated above the lake and hence worshipped on “Nag Panchami” day at the lake; a Lepcha girl named Nenjo Asha Lham was blessed by the lake goddess and was gifted with a precious gem which was lost, and it is the belief of the local people that the gem is hidden in the lake; the lake water has curative properties and hence permitted to be used only for performing rites and rituals; and with all these legends, the lake is called a “wish fulfilling lake”.
The climate prevailing in the lake region is monsoonal. The maximum and minimum temperatures recorded are 24 °C (75 °F) and 4 °C (39 °F).
Flora and fauna
The lake is surrounded by a broad-leaved mixed temperate forest. However, the vegetation in the lake comprises Macrophytes, Phytoplankton and Zooplankton.
Macrophytes comprised Aponogeton monostachyon, Ceratophyllum sp., Monocharia vaginalis, Scirpus sp.
The Phytoplankton species are a composition of different families namely, Chlorophyceae (18) which is the foremost group, Chrysophyceae (15), Cyanophyceae (11), and one species each ofCharophyceae, Euglenophyceae, Dinophyceae and Cryptophyceae.
The Zooplanktons recorded are: 7 rotifers, 5 protozoans, 2 each of copepods and cladocerans, and 1 each of ostracods and isopods.
The fish species recorded in the lake are: Cyprinus carpio, Danio aequipinnatus, Garra sp., Schistura sp. and Schziothorax sp.
The avifauna recorded in the lake, particularly in the festive season when they gather in the early hours of the morning (dispersed with human presence) at the middle of the lake are: grebe(Podiceps ruficollis), common merganser– Mergus merganser, large cormorant (phalacrocorax carbo), little cormorant (phalacrocorax niger), common teal (Anascrecca), tufted duck (Aythya fuligula), white breasted water hen (Amorornis phoemicurus), moorhen (gallimlachorophy) and crane brown Amaurornisbi colour. The lake is also a resting-place for Trans-Himalayan migratory birds and supports commercial and recreational tourism. Trans Himalayan migratory birds visit the lake.
A scientific study was, therefore, instituted (the first such study in India of a sacred lake in a temperate zone) with the objective of quantifying the sacredness value of the lake and the related recreational value of the Yuksom-Dzongri-Goechha La corridor. The study was carried out by gathering interactive information from tourists who visit the lake throughout the year (both national and international) and local community on their perceptions for conservation and tourism. This study has established that monetary values need to be attributed to conservation of the site for biodiversity and pilgrimage through regulated ecotourism. This could also usher in economic development, closely linked to conservation.
The placid waters of the lake are visited by many pilgrims and tourists. From the main gate, where there are small shops and road ends to the lake is about a ten to fifteen minutes walk through a lovely tropical forest.
As the sacred Khecheopalri Lake is known as a “wish fulfilling lake”, folklore and legends associated with it are many. The folk lore has generated deep religious interest and as a result lake’s waters are permitted to be used only for performing rites and rituals. Consequently, a religious fair, one of the largest festivals, is held here every year for two days in Maghe purne (March/April), which is attended by a large number of pilgrims from all parts of Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and India. They offer food material to the lake and carry waters of the lake as Prasad (substance that is first offered to a deity and then consumed). People believe that Lord Shiva exists in “solemn meditation inside the lake”. During this festival, pilgrims float butter lamps in the lake on bamboo boats tied with khadas (scared scarves), in the evenings chanting prayers as mark of reverence, along with many other food offerings.