Mary Ann Issac
Dhankar Lake Trek
Updated: Aug 27, 2020
Dhankar Lake in Spiti-Lahaul district lies at an altitude of 4140m (13582 ft), and is located above the centuries old Dhankar monastery (3894m ;12775ft).
To reach Dhankar Lake, one has to trek a distance of 2.5 kilometres from Dhankar Monastery. The short distance might make this trek sound fairly easy, but factor in the high altitude from which the trek starts and the altitude of the lake, and the trek becomes a lot harder.
Oxygen levels are lower at high altitudes, and unless you regularly hike/trek at high altitudes, be prepared for breathlessness, and fearing your heart could explode at any moment (LOL, though it won’t).
The monastery is the best place to photograph Dhankar village which lies behind it. The white houses scattered across different levels of the rugged mountain, is a stunning sight.
We set out on our trek up the steep mountain trail, and as soon as we did, I realised how hard it was going to be for me. There were a couple of people from our group who decided it was best to sit the trek out.
At any time during the trek if it feels like you aren’t comfortable doing it, the route back to the monastery is straightforward. There aren’t multiple trails, it’s just one way up & down. The monastery has a cosy cafe with resplendent views where one can while their time away.
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I was fairly unfit, but I desperately wanted to see the lake, so I kept going. Since I have done a few treks before, ( none of which were at such a high altitude) I knew I should just pace it to suit my comfort, and not try to keep up with the group. There were a few members of the group who with not much difficulty reached the lake in record time! I stopped every few metres to wait till my heart stopped racing, took in the stunning views around me, and of course took so many pictures!
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One thing that still stays in my mind is how our guide Sonam, who does this trek every week with a new group, climbed all the way up wearing socks and slippers! Post the trek, I told myself that I will get fitter, so I don’t have to struggle so much the next time I decide to put my body through this! (though hoping to be as good as Sonam on a mountain trail is asking too much of myself.)
We met many people on the trail coming back from the lake, of whom the two people whose images that have stayed in my head, are of an elderly couple, well into their 70s! They were so proud that they had completed the trek, and were encouraging us to finish it! I must say, they truly were inspiring!
There were others who were coming back after giving up half way as well, but I tried to think of the elderly couple who made it all the way to the top!
Every now & then when we would come across those on their way back down, & we would stop them to ask how much further we would have to go- and all of them as though pre-planned, would say, just another 5-10 mins, which made us feel like we are almost there, and gave us the energy to keep climbing. But 5-10 mins would go by, and we still would be nowhere near the lake, and we would ask again, and get the same answer!
It felt as though I would never make it, and the further I climbed, the further the lake seemed, but in some way I feel all those people fibbing about the distance, helped me make it. I’m not sure if I would have made it to the lake as fast as I did if everyone were to tell me that it was still ways off.
The trail to the lake is narrow and rocky with a lot of loose pebbles on the path, and at some parts gets extremely narrow with just enough space for one person to pass through. There are no barricades along the path, so it is quite the adventurous trek!
Finally, I see a burst of colour from the distance, I know what it is going to be as I'm now accustomed to seeing prayer flags and stupas at the most remote locations in Spiti. But seeing the stupa meant that I'm almost at the end of my arduous trek, and I couldn't help but smile!
The final stretch of the trek is through flat terrain, for which I was ever so grateful! As I quickened my pace at the sight of water, I wasn’t sure what I was feeling, as I was proud of myself for having made it to the lake, but was the lake all that I hoped it would be?
The water was not a beautiful colour, and the hills around it were nothing magnificent, though there were some beautiful snow clad peaks in the distance. The view en route the lake was of the surreal landscapes which now I consider typical to Spiti, and climbing up that steep, rocky mountain trail was made easier in hopes of seeing more of these breathtaking views. But Dhankar Lake itself was a little disappointing, maybe because I just had such high hopes. My high expectations aside, the lake was a serene place to be, and I did enjoy a few moments of silence, with a calming cool breeze on my face.
I finished the trek in 54 minutes; there were a few in the group who finished it in 45 minutes-kudos to them!
After spending a good amount of time reflecting in silence, and photographing the lake, we head back down the trail. Like everyone knows, going downhill is a lot more fun, but it pays to be a little careful, as a couple of us slipped a few times on the loose pebble, which was quite scary considering how close we were to the edge of the mountain!
It was quite the sense of achievement after we finished the trek, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to try something challenging!
Leave me a comment below to let me know what you think, or if you have any questions!