Of all the destinations that I have been to so far, North Sikkim demands fearlessness and patience like no other. It certainly isn’t the right place for the fainthearted souls. The treasures held in the pristine land of North Sikkim deserve more words of praises than I can ever come up with. Read on and you’ll know that I am not exaggerating at all. I hope you soon make it here and you shall realize why it feels like more of an accomplishment and you will let yourself this feeling sink in.
Gurudongmar Lake is set at an altitude of 17,800 feet- where the level of oxygen dips substantially and the temperature is always subzero (less than 0oC). The moment you reach this place, you would want to simply pause and savor Nature’s beauty at its best. I’m sure you must have heard about the Teesta River. Gurudongmar Lake is the source of this river. If you happen to have enough time at hand, you can even for go for river rafting on the Teesta River.
Dramatic, varied and remarkably beautiful, North Sikkim’s another great highlight is the Yumthang Valley, although mandatory permits and rushed tours can make the visit more stressful and less rewarding than it needs to be.
To visit as well as explore the north at a slower pace, it is preferable to start heading Gangtok from Darjeeling or from one of the delightful Kalimpong villages. Organizing a trip further north from there, rather than as one long slog from Gangtok, can heighten the pleasure as well as your appreciation of the place. And once you reach the timeless and unadulterated Lachen, you would want to do nothing but freeze time and spend all your days here.
Without any further ado, let me tell you how exactly you can reach this pure and breathtaking destination on a budget not too harsh on your pocket.
Nestled close to the Himalayas, the nearest airport to North Sikkim is Bagdogra (Siliguri) and the nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri (NJP). If you are on a shoestring budget, you can hire one of the shared SUVs available outside the airport and railway station to Gangtok. It will take about 4 hours to Gangtok and cost you only 250INR.
Once in Gangtok, you should basically just relax for a day because the journey up North is going to get just as tiresome as it would be admirable. Treat yourself to a mug of beer (or whatever it is that you prefer!) at one of the many bars and savor this beautiful city. I will suggest you book your stay in and around M.G. Marg or Tibet Road. This locality seems to be bubbling with life and has some of the poshest yet economical hotels.
I wasn’t much interested in local sightseeing in Gangtok. Instead, I was more excited about heading up towards the North of the Sikkim. To eliminate the chances of an unexpected hassle, I read a few blogs and approached some travel agencies. I signed up for a package for 2 nights and 3 days which cost 2500INR. The package included Gurudongmor Lake, Yumthang Valley, and Zero point.
Remember to carry Passport size photos and photocopies of your ID cards. Sikkim, being bordered by 3 countries, it asks for permits (RAP and PAP). The travel agents take care of getting the permits so you wouldn’t need to worry about that.
The following day, I was told to reach the Vajra Taxi Stand where you will be greeted by a blinding number of Gypsies getting in and out every minute. As I along with my folks had not reserved a private cab, the package covered an SUV shared by other travelers who were all very homely and welcoming.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might have noticed how all my trips involve some kind of mishap. This trip was no exception. Our SUV came with its own set of issues. A lot of times it wouldn’t self-start and some people would have to push the vehicle to get it moving again. On our way up, we came across the Seven Sister Falls. The view across the valley is awe-inspiring. Eventually, we reached Lachen. At an altitude of 8500 feet, the temperature in Lachen was 8 degree.
We had an early dinner (included in the package) and called it a night as we had to leave as early as possible the next morning for Gurudongmar Lake. Throughout the whole time, I was anticipating the temperature at the lake. When I looked it up on the internet and saw it was -11o, it almost felt like I froze to death. I didn’t want to worry my fellow travelers by sharing the news about the temperature and so I stayed quiet.
The next morning, we woke up at 3 a.m. The lake is near the Indo-China border and it takes about 4-5 hours to reach the base point of the lake. The army does not let anyone stay close to the lake after 11 a.m. owing to the possibility of blizzards, which is almost a daily occurrence.
Upon reaching the lake, some of us faced breathing issues. Fortunately, I didn’t. Over the past few years, I have been doing cardio regularly which surely did help a lot in this instance. I dared to walk up to the glaciers. Having accomplished this steep walk, I was washed over by a subtle sense of pride. About 7 years back, I had a bad case of bronchitis but it didn’t bother me at all that day and I cannot thank God enough for that.
We got to stay there for around 30 minutes but we sure traveled 10 hours in total all the way back and forth just for that. But it was worth everything and even if I want to describe, words won’t do justice.
The same day, we reached Lachung from Lachen. We were all tired but all the tiredness was immediately washed away by the spectacular beauty when we finally reached there.
The itinerary for the following day involved Yumthang Valley (Valley of Flowers). We reached the valley in about 2-3 hours. All of us wanted to go to Zero Point so we rented snow boots (the snow boots required 250INR per head). I was giddy with delight because even in summer I was getting to experience a snowfall! You run the risk of getting frostbites if you stay in the snow for more than 30 minutes. I wrapped a few layers winter clothes around my feet to avoid hypothermia.
On our way back, we barely escaped a tragic accident. The steering wheel of our car failed. Fortunately, our driver realized at the before it was too late and everyone got off and took a lift from other SUV’s to get back.
We were supposed to get back to Gangtok that day but with the sequence of bad lucks that was already rolling, I wasn’t much surprised when we had to halt for over 12 hours because of a terrible landslide. A lot of people went to Gurudwara and the entire North Sikkim had come to a standstill. All the hotels were booked in no time on a first-come-first-served basis. We had to request for shelter in a house. The family was generous enough to allow all of us to stay in their house for the night. They served all of us with warm and delicious dinner.
This is how things finally fell into place. This experience will never be forgotten and forever be cherished in my heart.
For those of you who are planning to travel to North Sikkim soon and visit the destinations that I did, I have mentioned the details concerning the package which should remove any kind of confusion:
Firstly, let’s get the basics right. Which travel package would suit you and why?
There are zillions of travel agencies in and around Gangtok and there are two packages in general that you will come across.
1st Option: 2 Days & 1-night stay which costs 1200-1500INR.
Day 1: Head to Lachen (5-hour ride on rough terrain) Stay over at Lachen.
Day 2: Early morning start to Lachung followed by Yumthang Valley and Zero Point (250INR per head). Return to Gangtok.
P.S. This package doesn’t cover Gurudongmar Lake. Don’t believe even if any travel agencies insist otherwise! That’s a hoax.
2nd Option: 3 Days & 2-night stay which costs 2500INR.
This package Covers Gurudongmar Lake and also your trip to Yumthang Valley and Zero Point.
“The road is bad” would be an understatement. However, the view across the valley more than makes up for all the tiring journey. All in all, it is a trip you can’t get enough of. Happy Traveling!