Madhuri Lake: A Hidden Gem in the Eastern Himalayas near Indo-China Border
This natural lake surrounded with stunning valleys and mountains is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque lakes of India. Located near Indo-China border, it is now popular as Madhuri Lake after the name of Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit.
As the wheels rolled over the treacherous road, the terrific beauty of the rugged mountains left me overwhelmed. With every bend, the magnificent mountains blended more dramatically with the blue skies, sometimes perking up the magical landscape with snowy peaks and scattered patches of colourful vegetation. The road here is a rough ride, constantly challenging travellers to sit tight in one position and the dust hardly allows one to keep the windows open if you want to go back with a healthy respiratory tract.
Constantly being tossed inside the car, it was even hard to converse with Suraj, a very dear person driving me to Madhuri Lake. Suraj’s family is into the business of renting their vehicles and conducting local tours in Tawang. It’s interesting to know from him that all men of his big family choose to drive the vehicles themselves.
I could see about 12 private vehicles in total before and after our car enroute to Bum La Pass. It’s a norm in this military area to wave vehicles up and down the route together in groups for safety and security reasons. Pointing towards the other vehicles while driving, Suraj said “All those driving these cars are my family members”, and smiled. The vehicle right before us was being driven by his father, the other one by his eldest uncle, the later by his brother and so on.
He cheerfully shared some titbits about his family. Sometimes he got philosophical. In the middle of a laugh he added, “Some have met with accidents too”, and shared about some mishaps that happened on these dangerous roads.
Truly, once you travel on such tracks, you are bound to be full of appreciation and admiration for these men who drive travellers and tourists to such challenging destinations.
Suraj increased the volume of the music player and we drove on. He had an awesome collection of Bollywood songs that were just perfect for this journey. The tremendous beauty of nature in this part of India is absolutely incredible! After visiting Bum La Pass, I was already awe-struck with the paradisiac appeal of the route. Now, we were moving towards Madhuri Lake (the name it is now popularly known as) which is one of the remotest natural lakes in India, located in Arunachal Pradesh, India.
History of Sangestar Tso or Shungatser Lake
Some homework is always needed when you travel. I did mine to know some facts about this lake. It was in the year 1950 that a terrible earthquake happened in this region. A flash flood soon occurred as an aftermath which formed this natural lake. Originally known as Sangestar/Shungatser Lake (also, Shonga-tser Tso), it is situated at a height of 15,200 ft. The Indian Army maintains and manages the location.
How did the Shungatser Lake become known as Madhuri Lake?
The 1990s was a transformational phase for Bollywood after the soulless ’80s when movies lacked new ideas, techniques, and stories. The ’90s introduced a few fresh things into Bollywood movies, including the idea of shooting song sequences at offbeat outdoor locations other than Kashmir, Himachal, and Darjeeling (locations that were very popular during 1960s and 70s).
A song sequence, “Tanhai Tanhai” in the Bollywood movie Koyla (1997) starring Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit was shot right in this location in the backdrop of Shonga-tser Lake. The song is composed by Rajesh Roshan and the lyricist is Indeevar.
Bollywood films have always had a strong influence on the Indian masses and the role of the industry is also noteworthy in having a positive impact on tourism. There has been an evergreen trend in India of marking various shooting locations and gradually including them in the tourism circuit with the tag of the particular movie, song or the actor.
Being the ’90s kid of India, I grew up seeing the enormous popularity of Madhuri Dixit. She was ruling every media — films, modeling, magazines, tabloids and the madness surrounding the star was crazy among all age groups. Her popularity even exceeded that of the leading men of Bollywood during that time. Her beauty and sensational thousand-watt smile melted hearts not only in India but beyond the LOC and across the globe.
Therefore, the fact of locally renaming the Sangestar or Shungatser Lake as Madhuri Lake comes as no surprise. The tagging of the lake with the name of the Bollywood diva helped the remote location attract attention and interest of the masses. Today, most of the locals address the lake as Madhuri Lake instead of its official name.
The Route to Madhuri Lake is a Sight to Behold
My trip to Madhuri Lake was clubbed with the visit to Bum La Pass. Since there is a fixed time of return for all vehicles heading to these locations that need to report at the Y-junction (2 PM for both up and down convoys), I visited Bum La first and then took the road to the lake. This Eastern Himalayan route hosts about a hundred natural lakes and as you pass by them, the magical scenic beauty often becomes overwhelming.
The condition of the roads, however, is troublesome due to the topography and the frequency of natural calamities. From the Y-junction, Madhuri Lake is situated about 14 km away but driving through these mountain roads will take about two hours to only reach the destination. But the incredible scenic beauty and the fantastic changes of the scenery will not let you focus on the temporary plight.
You can spot some frozen waterfalls too on the way. I was travelling during the first week of November and was greeted with snow as a result.
The Beauty of Madhuri Lake
When you get the first glance of Shonga-tser lake from the top of the mountain, you’ll realize how incredibly beautiful it is! Crammed in between the gargantuan mountains by the natural calamity, the landscape here is a testimony to the wonders of nature beyond human imagination. What makes the lake even more of an unworldly sight is the presence of upright dead tree trunks spread throughout the water body.
Once reached, the breathtaking locale will leave you enthralled for quite some time before you can actually believe that you’re standing in front of such a gorgeous creation of nature. The Indian Army has done a terrific job in setting up the infrastructure and given the remoteness of these areas, you’ll only start respecting and appreciating our Army even more when you see the hard work.
A lot of migratory birds can be spotted including Ruddy Shelduck on the lake during specific time of the year. Although I could hear the calls of a lot of birds in and around the lake, I didn’t find any on the lake water during my time of visit.
The Shungatser Café run by the Indian Army
Right beside the lake, there is a small self-service café run by the Indian Army. You can get delicious Indian snacks such as ‘Chhole Bhature’, Maggi, and hot beverages here. It’s a small room so you’ll have to stand in a queue for some time if there are a lot of visitors. You can also buy warm caps and gloves from the counter at nominal prices.
I had my lunch here and fortunately there weren’t too many visitors. So, I sat at the table beside the large glass window and took every bite overlooking the captivating Madhuri Lake and its surroundings. The army people treat visitors very well. Being a border location, it is always advisable to maintain protocols and act responsibly.
The small stretch of land adjacent to the café is developed into a park that is beautifully manicured with yellow fences, open seating arrangements, and neat pebbled pathways. Visitors can also enjoy their food from the café in the open seating area amidst the pristine surroundings. The large Indian Flag and the ‘Jai Hind’ bench beside the lake create a proud moment for every citizen!
A lean pathway heads straight to the lake from the cafeteria where there is a tiny roofed view point. The colourful Buddhist prayer flags make the place seem divine. After standing at the view point for a couple of minutes that gave me an eerie feel as I looked into the water and the mountains, I took a brisk walk by the lakeside on the fenced pathway. Even in the afternoon when the stark sun is right above the head, harsh cold winds hit the skin so hard that it felt like getting lashed.
A bridge has been built to cross the streams that serves as a fabulous spot for picnicking for the locals of Tawang.
I didn’t have much time left to explore. So I took some quick shots to capture some moments and hurried back to the car. The light conditions weren’t appropriate during the sunny late afternoon, leaving me a little disappointed with the photography as a result. I forgot to take my lens hood for the worse!
How to Reach Madhuri Lake in Arunachal Pradesh
The lake is located about 37 km from Tawang town. It can only be visited by obtaining a separate permit from the Office of the Deputy Commissioner in Tawang which also needs to be stamped at the Indian army cantonment. It is mandatory for visitors to rent a separate vehicle from any local tour operator in Tawang as no other vehicles from outside are allowed. Also note that only civilian tourists of India are permissible in this region.
Additional Information about a Day Tour to Madhuri Lake
The local tour operators offer a complete package for a day tour to Bum La, PTso, and Madhuri Lake at the rate of INR 5,000 to INR 5,500. The vehicles that are mostly used in the region are Tata Sumo, Bolero, Scorpio, and SUVs. The tour operators also help in obtaining valid permits from the designated offices when you hand over copies of your ILP (Inner Line Permit), valid ID proof, and passport size photographs.
Where to Stay
You have to stay in Tawang as there are no accommodations in the remote destination because of national security. There are several hotels available for all types of budget. Make sure to book your accommodation before visiting because that is necessary to get your ILP (Inner Line Permit) for Arunachal Pradesh.
Best Time to Visit
The months of April, September, October, and November is the best time to visit this place. For the rest of the year, the roads are closed due to extreme weather and snowfall.
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Originally published at http://mangoladydiaries.com on April 27, 2019.