Gurudongmar lake, one of the highest and the holiest lakes in the world situated at 5430 m is a popular religious pilgrimage for many Sikkimese. The lake which has been known for its piousness now stands at a centre of conflict between two communities.
It all started in 1997 when army allegedly built a Gurudwara at the shore of the lake claiming it to be related to the Sikhism founder, Guru Nanak.
Likewise, news was fanned across the country of this very Gurudwara being demolished by locals.
This led to the court’s intervention with the case still going on at the High Court of Sikkim.
Although status quo has been maintained, Sikh groups and political parties particularly Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has continued to pursue this case in all levels.
Apart from the legal procedures, they have regularly submitted their demands to the Chief Minister(s) of Sikkim, previously Pawan Chamling and now to PS Tamang (Golay).
The Sikkimese believe that the lake is blessed by none other than Guru Padmasambhava, who is said to have visited the lake to test an omen. He is regarded by the believers as the patron saint of Sikkim.
Chief Minister, PS Golay, during his recent visit to Delhi received a courtesy call on 19 June by a Sikh delegation led by SAD chief, Sukhbir Singh Badal alongside Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal demanding restoration of the Gurudwara at Gurudongmar to the Sikhs.
In the past, the government of Sikkim had then constituted a high level committee to examine the issue and submit a report. Documents furnished to the committee by the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok, agreed with the claim of the local people that it was without a doubt a Buddhist religious place. This was accepted by the committee. The building constructed by the Sikh regiment was then handed over by the army to the Lachen Monastery on 6 July 2001, in the presence of the Sub Divisional Magistrate, Chungthang, North Sikkim. The monastery then placed a lama as a watchman at the lake entrusting with the task of maintaining it.
Sikh groups have also written to high profile centre ministers and the President of India to intervene in this matter, it is learnt.
However, in Sikkim many see this as an attempt to destroy the unique historical and religious heritage of the state.
The opinion in Sikkim is that during 97-98 period there had been concerted efforts by 20 Punjab regiment to turn a traditional holy shrine of Sikkimese Buddhist into a Sikh pilgrimage.
Being an ecologically sensitive zone, it was then reported by the media and the one of the first to object was the state forest department as the required permissions were not obtanied for the construction of Gurudwara.
The lake is fresh water and used to be very clear; the bed of the lake could even be seen from the middle of the lake. With time, pollution seemed to have lurked and the water seems muddy. The lake has now a white tinge and has obscured visibility.
Also many have questioned as to why the army of a secular nation is indulged in constructing a religious site of one particular religion.
Meanwhile, as tourists from all over the country throng at this holy lake making it a popular tourism destination, the Sikkimese eagerly await a positive decision through the court.