Lake Issyk-kul

Asian Geographic - - Front Page -


Ar­chae­ol­o­gists dis­cov­ered the re­mains of a 14th- cen­tury Chris­tian monastery on its north­ern bank. His­tor­i­cal car­to­graphic records sug­gest that this could be the burial site of Apos­tle Matthew, one of the 12 well-known dis­ci­ples of Je­sus Christ.

Dis­pute Over the Holy Ground With the holy lake revered by Bud­dhists and Sikhs alike, both faiths have long staked a claim to a shrine built be­side it. Be­liev­ing that the lake is holy, an In­dian army reg­i­ment of Sikhs started con­struc­tion of a gur­d­wara — a place of wor­ship for Sikhs that trans­lates into ‘ house of the guru’ — on its bank, at the In­dia-china bor­der in 1997 after de­mol­ish­ing an ex­ist­ing old stone struc­ture, the Sang­phur. The Sang­phur was the place where the lo­cals of this re­gion have for cen­turies burnt in­cense and herbs in rev­er­ence and wor­ship of Guru Rin­poche as well as the lo­cal deities that resided in the sa­cred lake and the sur­round­ing moun­tains.

The Sikkimese peo­ple be­came fu­ri­ous at what they con­sid­ered an il­le­gal con­struc­tion at the place that had been sanc­ti­fied by Guru Nanak. In 1998, the Lachen Pipon — the elected head of the lo­cal com­mu­nity who is the equiv­a­lent of a vil­lage chief un­der the tra­di­tional ad­min­stra­tive sys­tem of Lachen and Lachung called dzumsa — openly chal­lenged the army’s claims that the Lachen­pas (the peo­ple of Lachen) sup­ported the con­struc­tion. The Sikkim gov­ern­ment got in­volved and formed a com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the dis­pute. The con­struc­tion was halted by the For­est Depart­ment as the manda­tory clear­ances had not been ob­tained from the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, For­est and Cli­mate Change. Lo­cal Bud­dhists claim the monastery was built by them and doc­u­ments sub­mit­ted by the Nam­gayal In­sti­tute of Ti­betol­ogy proved that Sikkim is a Bud­dhist place of wor­ship as claimed by the lo­cal peo­ple.

The Sang­phur has an in­scrip­tion that reads: “It is fur­ther be­lieved that Guru Rin­poche per­son­ally con­se­crated the site, where Lepcha Bud­dhists built a monastery in 1788 AD and named it Tsungth­ang Ridgzin Choel­ing Gonpa.” In 2001, the gur­d­wara was handed over to the Lachen monastery by the In­dian Army, and the monastery ap­pointed a lama to look after and main­tain the lake. The place was re­named Seva Dharma Sthal, which means ‘wor­ship place for all re­li­gions’ Strangely, it was re­ported that the shrine is closed to Sikhs. De­spite the re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal un­der­cur­rents sur­round­ing the site, pil­grims and tourists con­tinue to go there just to mar­vel at its mag­nif­i­cence and dwell in its spir­i­tual at­mos­phere. ag

The lake used to re­main frozen through­out win­ters, leav­ing the lo­cals with no source of wa­ter, but it is be­lieved that the guru placed his hands on a por­tion of the lake and it started melt­ing mirac­u­lously.

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