Day-3: Gangtok to Lachung:
Lachung is a small village near Tibetan border situated at 9,000 ft. It is a very scenic place – for that matter, entire Sikkim is a scenic beauty. On 5th
May, day time temperature forecast was 6°C and night temperature forecast was 1°C.
We were told that taxi will arrive anytime between 9 and 11! This is a major (and common) problem in Sikkim. Taxi operators have formed a cartel and they dictate the terms.
In Sikkim (eastern part of India), sun rises early. Unless it is raining, there is broad day-light by 5.30 in the morning in summer. And you have to wait till……..may be 11 for the day to start!
In Sikkim, taxi operators ply on specific routes. Eg, taxis on Gangtok-Lachung-Gangtok route do not keep luggage carriers (I don’t know why...). We were allowed to carry a small handbag, only with one pair of clothes and woolens, leaving rest of the luggage in Gangtok hotel.
Gangtok to Lachung is 6-7 hrs drive. We started at 10.30 and reached Lachung at around 6.30.
On the way there are several waterfalls (they are - everywhere in Sikkim). We stopped at
“seven Sisters waterfall”, “Naga waterfall” and “Bhim Nala” waterfall (aka Amitabh Bachhan fall – because he did some shooting there). There is one hydro-power dam – Chung-thang dam. In monsoon, it is very likely that one may come across many smaller, temporary waterfalls all along the route.
There is nothing much to see at Lachung except enjoy and admire the scenic beauty. Our hotel – Lachung Eye (peak season rate ~6000) was located at the highest point in Lachung and had nice view of the village and surrounding mountains from our room. Room facilities were ordinary. Dinner was ordinary.
Sikkim is a plastic-free state (almost). Packaged water bottles are not available / allowed except at Pelling – that too in 2 L and 5 L packing. One-liter bottles are banned. So, you have to carry your own re-usable bottles and refill at the hotel. Definitely a good move to preserve the nature, but without proper substitute, it can be a health hazard (as we experienced). Unfortunately, the tour operators do not advise on carrying our own reusable bottles. Our fellow traveler was caught using one liter plastic bottle and was asked to go and dispose it at designated
place and pay a token fine of Rs 10 for garbage disposal. We knew about this and we were spared.
End of Day-3. Day-4 : Lachung to Zero Point to Gangtok
Lachung to Yumthang Valley of flowers is about 1.5 hrs and Zero point is further about 1.5 hrs. Thus Lachung – Zero Point – Lachung is 6 hrs drive plus halts. Followed by Lachung to Gangtok. Nearly 12 hours of travelling.
As per official itinerary, only Yumthang valley (of flowers) was included. If you want to go to Zero Point (last civilian point), you need special permission and have to pay Rs. 4,000 extra to the driver (for ‘special arrangement’ and covering Zero point). Everybody who goes to Lachung invariably goes to Zero Point.
Yumthang is a valley surrounded by mountains and is known for the seasonal flowers. April and May are supposed to be the best time to see flowers. Now, to see the flowers you need eyes to see them. Aptitude to enjoy them. Leisure to digest the views. Drivers are interested in their halt-for-food. Tourists are interested in reaching Zero point for which they have paid extra. Our co-travelers
were busy discussing politics and thus, the freebee of flowers were forgotten. We noticed only about 5-7 varieties of flowers from the speeding vehicle and could not capture any on camera. There is a small river about 500 meters from the tea stalls. That is all about Yumthang valley.
Zero point (15,300 ft) is an inferior version of Rohtang Pass (11,500). One can move around for half a kilometer from the parking area and there is ice to play with.
You may call me paranoid, but 15,000 ft is not a safe place to play in ice. No medical facility within several hours of driving. You depend on Indian Army for rescue in case of any mishap or AMS. Indian army is not meant for foolhardy, mis adventurous tourist lured by greedy taxi drivers and cunning tour operators. Govt is busy collecting permit money. I wonder why no gujju has thought of starting oxygen hut there? Again, good quality tea and coffee were available for just 20 / 30 rupees.
After about an hour or so, we settled back in the vehicle and the real show started out side! Snowfall started and the public simply went crazy.
Dancing and shouting and enjoying……trying to forget that temperature back home is 45°C!!
We saw snowfall twice in those 6 days and it rained for 4 out of 6 days. Along with heavy woolens, carrying an umbrella is also a must.
Back to Lachung hotel for lunch. Not worth eating. Almost skipped.
Some tour operators include Lachen (extra two days are needed). Lachen is very much like Lachung. Nothing there. From Lachen, one can go to Gurudongmar Lake (on extra payment) at 17,800 ft. It is said that the lake water does not freeze even in winter.
Reached Gangtok at 8 pm amidst heavy rain. Really scary drive in the mountains with heavy downpour.
Hotel Keepsa Residency and Spa (peak season rate – 6000).
End of Day-4.
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