When the renowned botanist, Joseph Dalton Hooker crossed the Dongkha La during his travels across the eastern Himalayas, he described it as the riskiest pass that he had ever crossed. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that not many travelers attempt it. Located at a height of more than 18,000 feet, this pass is high up in the eastern Himalayas in Sikkim. It opens on the other end to face the roof of the world i.e the plateau of Tibet. Dongkha La might not be the average tourist’s cup of tea but for passionate trekkers, however, just the spectacular landscape around the Dongkha La makes the laborious journey to it worthwhile.
What to see
The trek to Dzongkha La takes you through a stunning hillside carpeted in a riot of colors with alpine flowers such as blue poppies, Eranthis, rhododendrons, etc. On the way, you will cross two little lakes, one of which the river Donkiachu originates and flows into the valley of Lachung.
Large granite peaks welcome, as you approach the snowy expanse of the Dongkha La. On the east towers, you can find the peak of Pauhunri which is the highest peak in East Sikkim while the north is encircled by the rising peaks of the Chola range. The view of the Tibetan plateau is simply beautiful that covered in snow, which is flat as a tabletop. From here you can also see the portion of the plateau that points into Sikkim known as the Cholhamu Plateau. The reason behind minimal rainfall in the roof of the world is because of these very high mountains of Sikkim that prevent the moisture-laden air from entering the Tibetan Plateau. Shining like an emerald about 300 meters below is the Tso Lhamo Lake. Look towards the west and you will see the Teesta River as it snakes across the Lachung valley splintering into several smaller branches.
When to reach
The pass is inaccessible during winters i.e. between November to February and monsoons i.e. between June to September for obvious reasons. The months between March to May and October are the safest time to trek to the Dongkha La Pass.
How to reach
Though experienced drivers have been known to take a vehicle up to the pass, it is rare and hence, the only way to get here is by foot. The Dongkha La falls on the way from Yumesamdong or Zero Point in Yumthang to the Tso Lhamo Lake. The 8 km long trek is only advisable if you are an experienced trekker. The ascent to Dongkha La begins with a walk along the slender Dongkiachu river. The climb is relatively moderate until you come closer to the pass, at a distance of about 100 meters when it gets steeper making for an almost vertical climb. The high altitude also causes the air in the region to thin making it difficult to breathe. Due to this, it takes a minimum of 5 to 6 hours for an average walker to reach Dongkha La. Once you finally reach the pass, a steep downhill slope of about an hour and a half will take you to the vast expanse of the majestic Tso Lhamo, one of the highest lakes in the world. Go further west for about 5 km and you will reach Gurudongmar, another one of Sikkim’s scenic lakes.