Clear, pristine, and glistening, Himalayan alpine lakes hold up a mirror to the breathtaking beauty that surrounds them. Imposing peaks cast their awe-inspiring reflections on the waters even as soft, puffy, white clouds glide across their surface. When the sun goes down, and the heavens turn inky blue, the lakes reveal the incomparable beauty of the cosmos as the stars come out and fill the skies above and the waters below with a million sparkling dots.
No matter what the setting, be it nestled amid towering mountains or appearing from afar as a drop of brilliant blue set in a meadow of green, alpine lakes never fail to stop us in our tracks, fill our hearts and minds with emotions we just can’t name and quite simply… takes our breath away.
Alpine lakes are found above the tree line, over 10,000 feet, and are almost solely fed by glaciers.
When we reached out to some of our most experienced trek leaders to find out their top picks, each one of them, without exception, turned into a poet.
Without further ado, here are our top, most beautiful Himalayan alpine lakes to trek to in India (in no particular order) –
1. Kedartal Lake
As you read, you will notice that most lakes have found a place on our list, either due to the beauty of the setting or the colours of their waters.
Kedartal Lake stands out because the journey you must take to get to it propels it into the list. Situated at an altitude of 15,485 feet, the lake is guarded by some of the country’s most magnificent peaks, including Mt Thalaysagar, Mt Gangotri, Mt Jogin, and Mt Bhrigupanth, and Manda Parvat.
Trekking to Kedartal Lake is no cakewalk and involves climbing from 11,000 feet to 16,000 + feet, with steep ascents and descents and the (in)famous Spider wall. According to Senior Trek Leader Dushyant, the effort is entirely worth it. He says, “You start your trek from Gangotri, and that region is one of the holiest in the country. The climb itself is very steep. When you reach Kedartal Lake, you are out of breath. The aura of that whole place is such that you feel you have done something big. There is such a sense of achievement. You see this serene lake stretching to meet the glacier at Mt Thalaysagar’s feet. You get goosebumps looking at the lake and the peak. Depending on the weather, the lake looks blue, emerald, grey, or all three at once.”
Mt Thalaysagar on the Kedartal Lake. Picture by – Ashwin Srinivasa.
No matter how many treks you have done or how experienced you are, Kedartal will test you and bring out the human in you. The Kedartal Lake is your reward.
Best time to visit – If experiencing a frozen lake is on your bucket list, then going from mid-May to the end of June is ideal. However, if clear views and a glassy lake are what you are after, the best time to visit is from mid-September to the end of October.
“If you get to camp there, especially in autumn, you see an amazing mirror image of Mt.Thalay Sagar in the lake itself. You will see the golden colour of the peak in the lake during the golden hour,” points out Dushyanth.
2. Samiti Lake
One thing is for sure. You will have to work hard to get to Samiti Lake. Set at an altitude of 13,779 feet, it appears only on Day 7 of the Goechala Trek. But once you witness the raw and rugged landscape in which the lake is set, you just might forget all the effort you put into getting there.
Dhaval describes what makes this lake special. “If the waters are still, it will give you a perfect mirror image of the surrounding mountains. There is a point in the lake where it reflects Mt. Pandim. This is truly the highlight of this lake.”
Samiti Lake reflecting the hues that surround it.
Vijeet also points to the rocky terrain of Samiti Lake, which he says adds to its virgin beauty.
The other highlight of the lake is the chance to spot blue sheep and an incredible variety of avifauna.
Best time to visit – Dhaval recommends visiting during September and October for clear skies and unforgettable mountain reflections in Samiti Lake.
3. Gadsar Lake
Part of the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, which is often called the most beautiful trek in India, Gadsar Lake was a top pick for many of our trek leads. Appearing on Day 4 of the KGL trek, the lake was cited as a favourite for many reasons – an enchanting setting, brilliantly coloured waters, and not to forget the local tales associated with it!
“You cross the Gadsar Pass and enter the Gadsar Valley. 4-5 km after crossing the valley, you come across this beautiful lake surrounded by tall mountains. When you see the valley from far, you will think it is yellow grass. But when you see it up close, you realize it is yellow flowers. So dense are the flowers around the lake that it gives the impression of grass. The lake is not so big, but the setting makes it one of my absolute favourites,” recollects Trek Leader Dhaval in great detail.
A gentle stream flows into the Gadsar Lake. Picture by – Ashwin Srinivasa.
Dushyant views the lake from a different perspective. “My God! What a beautiful colour the lake has. It’s royal turquoise blue. And since we spend only a short time here, it is even more special. In those 15 mins, you just embrace the full beauty of the lake,” he declares.
Dushyant Sharma, Slope Manager & Trainer
Gadsar Lake is often referred to as ‘Demons Lake’ by the locals. The belief is that if you go too close to it, you will get pulled inside. Nobody dares to go down near the lake. This adds to the mystery of the lake.
4. Satsar Lake
The Mesmerizing Satsar Lake. Picture by – Nithyam.
“The one I like the most is the one that is completely hidden away and is not visible from the trail at all. From our campsite, it’s about half an hour of hiking. Not many trekkers venture out to find this. It’s unexplored and very secluded, and that’s what makes it very unique and beautiful. There are big boulders, and the surrounding is very raw, which makes it very special. When you go to that lake, you feel like you are in an untouched world.”
Dr Dhaval Jajal, Head of Video
I have visited this particular Satsar Lake at least twice, and whenever I leave that lake, I always feel like I’ve left a part of me behind.
5. Nandkol Lake
With six major lakes and plenty of unnamed lakes on the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, each one more stunning than the other, it’s tough to get noticed. Despite the fierce competition, Nandkol Lake got singled out by Dushyanth, and how!
He relives the sights and emotions he associates with Nandkol Lake.“There are many reasons I like this lake. First, it’s the last lake on the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. You feel you are done with the trek, want to cherish those moments, and don’t want to leave that setting. The second reason is that it is on the foothills of Mount Harmukh. That’s what makes it very powerful. The meadows around this lake are gorgeous. It’s a fabulous place to camp. There is nothing like having an evening chai there, thinking you have successfully finished your trek. However, the most amazing thing is that around 4 or 5 p.m., the water is moving, and there are a lot of ripples in it. And when the sunlight hits it, the water sparkles a lot. It feels like there are millions and millions of pearls in the lake. It’s just stunning.”
The shimmering Nandkol Lake. Picture by – The shimmering Nandkol Lake. Picture by – Manasi Bhalerao.
Cold temperatures and the lack of nutrients inhibit the growth of algae, moss, and other life, lending alpine lakes clear water quality and brilliant colours.
Best time to visit the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek lakes – “During the 1st to 2nd week of July, you’ll get to see quite a few icebergs floating on the lake, which adds a lot of drama to the whole scenery. If you are visiting during the second half of July or the beginning of August, you will get lots of flowers, which are also very pretty, but the icebergs would have melted,” says Dhaval.
6. Ghepan Lake
This was one that almost didn’t make it to the list! Our Trek Leaders Ravi and Ayushi had just returned from their exploration trek in Lahaul and could not stop gushing over a lake they had come across. They had just stumbled upon Ghepan Lake. After hearing the excitement in their voices, we knew this one simply had to be included.
Ravi vividly recollects how Ghepan Lake took the No.1 spot on his list of favourite lakes.
“We had heard about the lake from many people and seen pictures too. And in all those pictures, the colour of the water was a deep Pacific blue. We felt that all these images were fake. It was on Day 2 that we got our first glimpse of this lake. We caught sight of the snout of the lake from where the river originates. That part was deep blue, and we simply could not believe that that was the original colour. As we climbed up, our view of the lake kept expanding, and the colour was just so UNREAL.
The striking blue-green of Ghepan Lake. Picture by – Jothi Ranjan.
Ravi Ranjan, Senior Slope Manager
I’ve been to many lakes that look blue when the skies are clear. But when we went to Ghepan Lake, the weather conditions weren’t excellent, and it was cloudy, but still, the waters were blue. It felt like someone had added some blue liquid into it. It’s such a treat to your eyes that you won’t feel like leaving that place.
The other thing I noticed was that mountains surrounded the lake, all above 5500 meters tall and set in a very silent zone. There are hanging glaciers on almost all of the mountain peaks, and from these, you have waterfalls coming out, and you can see them joining the lake.
The other aspect that makes this lake extraordinary is the feeder or from where the water comes in. I have seen many lakes that are formed by a single glacier. But, I have not seen a lake created by three different glaciers, but Ghepan is one such lake.”
Best time to visit – Ravi suggests the months from July to mid-September to head on this trail.
7. Chandratal Lake
There is untruth and truth in including Chandratal Lake in the list of ‘Top Alpine Lakes Treks In India.’ You don’t trek to Chandratal Lake. You take a vehicle and drive to it. But on the other hand, you visit the lake after four and a half days of solid trekking through the Hampta Pass, which we think qualifies it to be part of the list.
Syama paints a picture of Chandratal Lake for us. “It’s set in Spiti, which is altogether a different world. The lake has brilliant blue waters. The entire landscape is barren, with massive snow-capped peaks on the horizon. Chandratal is so remote and quiet, and the vast landscape makes you feel humbled as you drive to the lake. If you drop a stone on the other side of the mountain, you’ll hear it here!
Reflections at Chandratal Lake. Picture by – Jothiranjan.
The lake is incredibly pretty, and depending on the angle from where you see it, the colours change. I also like it because I’ve spotted various birds here. Ruddy shelduck or Brahminy duck, Winged Lark, Rosefinch, Yellow wagtails, Snow Finch, Snow pigeons are just some of the bird species you can spot,” he says.
Best time to visit Chandratal Lake – The spring months are best for spotting various birds near the lake. Summer is when the environs around Chandratal are dense, lush, and green and autumn promises clear skies and unforgettable views of the mountain ranges.
8. Gokyo Lake
Trekkers rarely talk about this lake (technically a group of 5 lakes) that sits right off the Everest Base Camp trail via Gokyo Ri. We don’t blame them. After all, the trek affords views of some of the biggest mountains in the world, including Mt.Everest, Makalu, and Lhotse. And that can be a tad distracting!
But, located in an incredibly harsh environment, at altitudes ranging from 15,400 – 16,400 feet, and surrounded by some of the most imposing peaks, the setting around Gokyo Lake can’t get any more dramatic or powerful.
The view from the Gokyo Ri summit. Picture by – Santhosh Govindara julu.
Syama recollects his trek to Gokyo Ri – “When you trek to Gokyo Ri, you get views of Mt.Everest on one side and a group of 5 blue lakes down below on the other side. You keep climbing right next to the lake. For most trekkers, when they ascend, the big mountains' views steal the show. But when you are coming down, the sun is hitting the lake, and the lake starts changing colours and showing different blue shades. The descent takes 2-3 hours, and the angle keeps changing. And that makes the experience unforgettable.”
Best time to visit – With clear skies and blue waters that reveal turquoise, cobalt, and cerulean tints, October is one of the best months to head on the EBC trek via Gokyo Ri.
9. Tarsar Lake
With yet another Kashmir lake finding its way to our top alpine lakes list, the popular notion of Kashmir being ‘Heaven on earth might be starting to make sense, no?
This time it is Tarsar Lake from the Tarsar Marsar Trek.
One of the best aspects of this trek is the multiple perspectives you get of Tarsar Lake – the opportunity to experience it up close and then revel in its beauty from afar.
Trek Leader Syama rates Tarsar as one of the most alluring lakes he has come upon. “Tarsar is outstanding and insanely beautiful! When you camp near Tarsar, you can hear the gentle sound of the water, and the stream, which lulls you to sleep at night. Of course, the lake takes you away with its beauty at the campsite, but the real beauty is when you climb up from Tarsar to Sundersar. With every step you take, the view keeps getting better and better,” he says.
The picturesque Tarsar Lake. Picture by – Kishan Harwalkar.
Syama Krishna, Trek Leader
Kashmir Great Lakes has some genuinely stunning lakes, but the beauty of the Tarsar Marsar Kashmir Trek is that the lakes are very accessible. You can see the lakes during sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and starlit nights. You are not left with the feeling of wanting more of the lake experience on this trek.
10. Marsar Lake
While the charm of some lakes lies in their proximity, the enchantment of other lakes lies in the fact that they are off-limits. Marsar is one such lake, and the mystery and lores surrounding it add to its allure.
Marsar falls on Day 4 of the Tarsar Marsar Trek, but unlike Tarsar and Sundersar, which you can see up close, trekkers can only view and appreciate the beauty of this lake from 1,500 feet above. Going near the lake is verboten! The lake is elusive and often hidden by a cloud cover.
The local belief is that if humans go near Marsar lake, the water levels will rise and engulf the people nearby. Picture by – Braham Gairola .
Trek Leader Vijeet talks about the irresistible attraction of this lake and says, “Marsar pulls you towards it. The lake calls out to you and has a hypnotic beauty. The locals are petrified of going close to it or touching the waters. Because of the legends associated with the lake, nobody camps around it. It is an isolated lake.”
Tarsar Lake is considered to be sacred and blessed by the locals. In contrast, Marsar is known as ‘the lake that kills.’
11. Sundersar Lake
Dubbed the ‘Prettiest Trek in India,’ it is natural that all three lakes on the Tarsar Marsar Trek find a place on our list. Day 5 of the trek will find you journeying across picturesque meadows leading to the banks of Sundersar Lake.
Vijeet talks about his reasons for picking Sundersar – “While we have many treks in Himachal, Kashmir, and Uttarakhand that go past beautiful alpine lakes, very rarely do we get to camp right next to them. Sundersar is one rare opportunity where we camp very close to the lake.
Getting up close and personal at Sundersar. Picture by – Raina Gupta.
But the real reason this is my favourite is that the moment you open the zipper of your tent, you see it right in front of you. Sundersar is not very windy, so the water gets still, and on clear days you get to see the reflection of the Milky Way in the lake at night. It feels like there are thousands of fireflies in the lake. And from around 1 am, you can see the Milky Way tearing the lakes into two halves right at the centre!
Best time to visit – The Tarsar Marsar trek is open from the first week of July until the first week of September, and honestly, there is no wrong time to visit. However, Syama recommends the beginning of July to witness a fantastic contrast of colours – the blue waters of Tarsar Lake with pristine white floes set against the fresh green of the meadows and mountains surrounding it.
Vijeet Shaw, Trek Leader
We recently had a stargazing session with the Assistant Trek leaders at Sundersar Lake. Seeing the night sky reflected in the lake, they could not hold back their emotions, and everyone broke down. The comets and meteors shooting across the sky appeared as bioluminescent creatures gliding across the lake. Such is the experience at Sundersar,” recounts Vijeet
12. Ruinsara Tal
On the Har Ki Dun Ruinsara Tal Trek, history meets culture against the backdrop of the extraordinary beauty of the Himalayas. And in the midst of this sits the Ruinsara Lake.
Indiahikes founder and CEO Arjun talks about the undeniable charm of the lake and the trek.
“Ruinsara is a very underrated alpine lake. The journey to Ruinsara, for me, is one of the highlights. You go through valleys that keep changing colours and then snake through a Bhoj forest before you get to Ruinsara. It’s an incredibly beautiful lake surrounded by meadowy grasslands and white top mountains with snow patches feeding it. If you go during the right time in the evening, you will see the sun’s rays glinting off the surface and the reflection of the mountains on the lake. There are so many stories associated with the trek and lake. Some say that this is the path the Pandavas took. So many famous trails start there, so you are standing in a cauldron of history.”
Ruinsara Tal in the month of Sep. Picture by – Subhash.
Arjun Majumdar, Founder & CEO
Uttarakhand is not known for alpine lakes. All we think about is Kashmir. But if you are ignoring the Har Ki Dun Ruinsara Tal trek, it’s a huge mistake. You can easily spend an entire day at Ruinsara Tal and not move a muscle.”
Best time to visit – “If you are going early in the season, around April and May, you will see the area around the lake covered in grass and snow. There is a great contrast in colours.
If you are going during September, it’s just after the rains, and the entire surrounding is lush green. And then if you go later in the season, the grass turns a beautiful golden brown,” mentions Arjun.
Memories of Water
It is believed that water carries memories but can memories of water trigger emotions in us? We believe it can! And a conversation with Arjun Majumdar, CEO, and founder of Indiahikes, who has trekked to innumerable lakes, cemented that thought.
How wonderful and unusual that when he asked him for his favourite alpine lakes, each one was for the emotions they had evoked in him and had little or nothing to do with the beauty of the lake or even the setting.
Here, in his own words, are his most memorable lake experiences.
“I remember the first time I stepped on the shores of Samiti Lake. It was the first alpine lake I had trekked to. This was much before Indiahikes.
The colours of the lake were brilliant, but when I got closer to the lake, I realized that the waters were crystal clear. You can see 10-15 feet into the water. It is clear as a swimming pool. The vision of that lake stayed with me.”
While daytime views of the lake stayed in his mind, the nighttime experience would move Arjun. Set to trek further to Goecha la in the wee hours of the morning, Arjun got up before the rest of his team and wandered near the lake.
“On Samiti's dark absolute still waters, a reflection of Mt Pandim stared at me. I could see every snow patch, every crag, and every gully of the great mountain.
Overwhelmed at what I was seeing, for the first time in my life on a trek, tears welled up in my eyes. That night I cried for everything I loved and despaired. I wondered why I was alone.”
Arjun went on to talk about the Roopkund Trek, which was a turning point in his life.
“Everything in my life is linked with Roopkund. It’s not about the lake or the beauty of the lake but everything associated with it. The birth of Indiahikes started with the Roopkund Trek. One of the trekkers from that trek ended up becoming a partner at Indiahikes. Her name is Sandhya.
I also had a chance to go to Roopkund Lake in the evening, and not many people get the opportunity to do that. I remember telling my team to return to the camp because it was getting dark. They all left, and I lingered back. I was there all alone, and I remember the golden light on the mountain face all around me, and I just teared up, and I was left wondering what I had done to deserve this!
When we asked him for more lake stories, he recounted an incredible experience at Marsar Lake that left us speechless!
“Marsar Marsar is a very elusive sort of a lake. Elusive because from where we see it, from the top of a ledge, there is usually a cloud cover and getting a glimpse of Marsar is very difficult.
I remember we went to Marsar early, at around 7.30 am. We were standing with the sunlight just over our shoulders and falling on the lake. The view of the sparkling blue lake bathed in the morning light of the sun was mesmerizing. But then I saw a spectacle that I’d never seen before.
From down the valley, through the gorges, a huge bank of clouds just barreled in, curved its way through, rolled in, and covered Marsar Lake in a matter of 10-15 mins. And that was it. Marsar was no longer visible.
Which alpine lakes have you trekked to, and which ones left you speechless? Tell us in the comments!