Sikkim, a former kingdom, is a Buddhist state in northern India, next to the Tibet border. Mt Kanchenjunga is visible from every hilltop and is the protecting deity of Sikkim. Most mountains and lakes are considered sacred and temples have been built near them.
I spent several weeks at Burtuk Monastery near Gangtok, teaching English to the novice monks. Here I met a monk named Karma who invited me along for a trip to visit the holy Khecheopalri lake. The trip to the lake takes many hours along winding roads, past small villages and waterfalls.
Karma's family is from this area, where his father, grandfather and others before them spent many years meditating in sacred caves on the mountains here. The Lepcha village here has a nice temple near the lake with a huge prayer wheel inside.
The lake is visited by many pilgrims, who attach hundreds of prayer flags to trees around the holy waters. People pray here at this "Wishing Lake" lighting incense and candles, while rotating the many prayer wheels that line the boardwalk. This clear lake is surrounded by dense forests, it is believed that the birds do not allow even a single leaf to float on the lake surface.
From the lake at 1800 meters, a narrow trail winds through the forest to a ridge 3 km away, where a small village and gompa are located. Some of Karma's relatives live here tending their fields and cows.
We continued our trek past farmhouses and fields to a thick forest and overgrown trail leading to a holy cave at 2400 meters. We were joined by couple of kids and a cousin of Karma's.
Reaching the top opened up the views to the hills and villages below, with views of Mount Pandim (6691m) and other peaks.
Khecheopalri lake is seen below, as a giant footprint in the landscape, the shape is believed to be a footprint of the Goddess Tara.
This holy cave and a small house nearby has been used by many generations of Buddhists for meditation.
There are many other holy meditation caves in the mountains of northern Sikkim, some as high as 13,500 ft, such as the one north of Lachung where a trail leads into the alpine forests past old chortens such as this one.