Possibly the most exciting part of visiting North Sikkim is making a trip to the Northern part of the state. Renowned for its beauty, gushing waterfalls, snow clad mountains and glacier fed lakes and gushing waterfalls, life in this part of Sikkim is tough. Only local drivers have the guts to navigate their vehicles through these treacherous roads and you come back with a new admiration for the toughness of people living in the high Himalayas.
Which places does the tour cover?
We took a shared cab from Gangtok, and paid Rs.3500/person for a shared vehicle with a capacity for 10 people. To read more about Gangtok, read my blog post Sightseeing in and around Gangtok.You can however get it for Rs.3000/person as well. A private vehicle will cost you between Rs. 18000-Rs.20000. Just go to different tour operators.
You can either opt for a 2 days 1 night trip or for a 3 days 2 nights trip.
We opted for the 3 days 2 nights trip. The trip covered the following places:
1. Lachung: We started around noon the first day. After having lunch at Mangan, the major city in North Sikkim, we moved on to Lachung to stay the night there. The village is the starting point to go to Yumthang valley, also known as the valley of flowers. Lachung is located at an altitude of 2700m.
2. Yumthang valley: A scenic drive through the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary with many different varieties of rhododendrons, blooming in different shades of red and purple take you to the Yumthang valley. The valley is situated at a height of 3564 m. You will also see many wild yaks on the way. A variety of beautiful tiny purple flowers bloom all through the valley making it come alive with colours. The other flowers that bloom are poppy, iris and primula.
At the scenic point, a river runs through the valley dividing the landscape in two , on one hand are green tree covered mountains and on the other hand are the snow clad mountains.
3. Zero point: Winding roads through snow clad mountains will bring you to a place where you can play in snow. It’s quite exciting for those who like playing in the snow. Gloves, boots and jackets are available for rental at Rs.50/person. You can also rent them at Lachung. You need to pay Rs.3000/car if you want to see the zero point.
After that we headed back to Lachung for lunch and left for Lachen.
4. Lachen: This postcard village, located at an altitude of 2750 m was our home for the night. We left early in the morning the next day for Guru Dongmar.
5. Guru Dongmar: Located at an altitude of 5430 m, Guru Dongmar is one of the highest lake in India. Fed by glaciers, the lake remains frozen for half the year. According to the ancient Buddhist legend, when Guru Padmasambhava entered Sikkim from Tibet and saw the lake, he though it was divine and thus worthy of veneration. People asked him for help as they couldn’t get water from the lake as it remained frozen for half the year and Guru Padmasambhava put his hand at one corner, which remains unfrozen all through the year. The lake is sacred for Buddhists, Sikhs and the Hindus. Prayer flags surround the lake and a small shrine has been made there.
We stopped for breakfast at Thangu. While outside was freezing, inside was cosy with a warm burner around which we were all seated.
The way to the lake has views of spectacular mountains covered in snow, that give way to tundra landscape spread out all around you. Wild yaks can be seen grazing on the slopes.
The lake was completely frozen when we were there. It was crystal clear, when unfrozen, until a few years ago but increased tourism has caused degradation and the waters have now become murky. That’s what I have heard.
It isn’t advised that you strain yourself there due to high altitude. The local people however can go around the lake in 3 hours. I was told this by our indefatigable Lepcha driver, who belonged to Lachen.
Foreigners need to take a special permit to visit Guru Dongmar from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi.
6. Kaala Patthar: Our driver casually mentioned about this place, in line with his cool demeanor , about this place and if we would like to visit it. We decided to go. The extra charge per vehicle is Rs 3000. This was perhaps the most scintillating part of the entire trip. Never in my life would I have thought that I could have seen such high mountains so close up. I found myself neither capable nor deserving of the feat, but technology comes to aid for the likes of me. A road has finally been made and tourists are allowed. It mustn’t be good for the environment but close encounter with nature helps foster love and admiration and a will to lead a life that is in sync with nature. If you have to choose between Kala Patthar and Zero point, I would recommend Kaala Patthar.
We returned to Lachen for lunch and left immediately for Gangtok. We had flat tire twice on our way back but made it to Gangtok by 10:15 PM.
What documents are required?
Your identity card, a photocopy of the same and two passport sized/stamp sized pictures.
What all does the tour include?
Accommodation for two nights, lunch and dinner on day 1, all three meals on day 2, breakfast and lunch on day 3. Rs.3000/vehicle needs to be paid if you want to go to Zero Point and kala Patthar i.e. Rs.6000 for both.
Useful tips: 1. Enjoy but don’t exert yourself too much due to high altitude.
2. Plastic bottles are not allowed beyond a certain point but tour operators conveniently forget to mention this point. It causes nothing but unintended plastic pollution, so carry reusable drinking bottles.
3. Carry camphor with you. If you feel breathlessness, it helps relieve it. My mother used it and it gave her relief.
4. Keep eating popcorn, chocolates, ginger(preferably with sugar) to avoid motion sickness and keep yourself hydrated.
5. Immerse yourself in the glory of nature and please don’t litter. People with me did so unfortunately.
6. Don’t click pictures of Army camps.
This is the usual trip that everyone takes. If you want to explore more, you can trek to those places. One such trek is the Green Lake trek. The cost per day is Rs.5000/person and you can decide to do it in 10 to 15 days based on your stamina. All equipment and supplies are carried by Yak.