Sikkim - The mystic Northeast

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May 7th 2016
Published: January 22nd 2018
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It is not easy to get rid of the taste of Northeast India. You go there once and you will keep going there. It was the same case with us - last summer was Assam and Meghalaya and this summer it was Sikkim. Sikkim is a small state nestled between Nepal and Bhutan and is home to the third highest mountain peak - Kanchendzonga or Kanchanjunga. What more can you ask for when you are in the lap of the majestic Himalayas. Sikkim is also credited to be the first 'fully organic state'of India. This means all the agricultural produce is completely organic and you can eat anything without being concerned about the pesticides. It also has banned the use of plastic bags and stayfoam.

Since the nearest airport to Sikkim is Bagdogra (in West Bengal), we flew Calcutta - Bagdogra and then took a taxi to Gangtok from Bagdogra. Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim. We need a permit to enter Sikkim. We had forgotten to get our photographs for the permit, so we stopped somewhere on the West Bengal border to get photographs clicked. We arrived in Gangtok pretty late in the evening - it was dark and cold (though it was summer time). Our hotel was somewhere on the outskirts of Gangtok atop a hill. The location was good but the cold weather was not! The caretakers of the hotel were in their early 20s and were from Darjeeling;all bustling with energy.

We landed in Gangtok on Monday and had planned to visit Nathula pass and Tsmogo lake the next day i.e. Tuesday. Little did we know that Nathula pass is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and got to know about it only when we spoke to the hotel staff. We could have waited till Wednesday to visit Nathula but we did not want to disturb the itinerary, so we decided to drop Nathula pass. However, we visited Tsmogo lake and Baba mandir on Tuesday. The drive to Baba mandir was very scenic with snow capped mountains and beautiful lakes lining the road. Baba mandir is built in memory of a brave soldier who died on the battlefield.

West Sikkim is mainly Kanchendzonga National Park and people trek to watch the third highest peak in the world at sunrise soaked in the golden rays of the rising sun. North Sikkim comprises Lachen and Lachung areas.
As we had planned for North Sikkim, we drove to Lachung the next day via Singhik passing some of gorgeous valleys on the way. Mt.Kanchendzonga is visible cleary from Singhik, but to our bad luck, the sky was completely covered with clouds and we couldn't catch even a glimpse of the mountain. Our driver said that October was the best month to watch mountain peaks as the clouds would have cleared after the monsoon. And here we were, in May !

Lachung is 116 kms from Gangtok but takes nearly 5 hours to reach. There are also shared jeeps that ply between Gangtok and Lachung daily for Lachung sightseeing. That's a good way to meet fellow travellers and locals. Lachung is a small village and is situated at an altitude of 8858 ft. We reached Lachung late evening just when it was about to get dark. The view from the hotel verandah was breathtaking. The snow capped Himalayas and the fog slowly rising above appeared more like a perfect painting. The village was settling down for dinner. We also learned that during winters, it snows heavily in this area and the village is cut off from the other parts of Sikkim. I just couldn't take my eyes off the mountains. The tranquility when you are in the vicinity of mountains is simply amazing. Nobody can walk away without falling in love with these majestic Himalayas.

Next morning, woke up to the sight of the beautiful mountains and got ready to drive up further North to Zero point. We started a little early and passed Dobang valley and Yumtang valley on our way to Zero point. Yumtang valley is famous for rhododendrons which were in full bloom and the valley looked so colourful with the different colours of these flowers. Rhododendrons bloom during April - May (summer) and can be found in so many colours ! We reached Zero Point and I was surprised to see a line of SUVs parked behind one another. Well, this meant the SUVs had brought tourists like us and Zero point was going to be crowded. But due to the weather going bad with cold winds hitting hard against the face, many people opted not to get out of their vehicles and hence Zero point less crowded. Zero point is at an altitude of around 15,000 ft . There were small patches of
snow around. With temperatures dropping further down, we decided to start back from Zero point.

After driving through the zig-zag roads, we were back at Yumtang valley. We got down of our vehicle and strolled around. There was a natural hot water spring spot and we walked up to that place. The views of the valley from that place were stunning. Fog rising up the snow capped mountains with the pine trees lined up in front of the mountains and a river flowing past assures the fact that nature is very beautiful and tranquil. After having spent quality time with the nature in Yumtang valley, we headed back to our hotel in Lachung for lunch. We had some good delicious food for lunch and started towards Lachen. Since we had booked a hotel belonging to the same hotel chain we stayed in Lachung, a cook from Lachung hotel accompanied us to Lachen as they were running low on cooks in Lachen hotel .

Lachen is approximately 50 kms from Lachung but takes around 2 -3 hrs . The drive is an absolute bliss. River gorges, waterfalls, foggy green mountains , bridges ...

We reached Lachen by evening, checked in to the hotel and went out for a short walk. Lachen is a small village similar to Lachung. At dinner time, we were told that next day we would have to start by 4:30 am !! We had planned to visit Gurudongmar lake the next day and had to wake up at 4 am ! Gurudongmar lake is at an altitude of 17000 ft. And why did we have to start so early to reach Gurundongmar lake? Because it takes approximately 3 hours from Lachen to Gurudongmar lake and the weather plays spoilsport during noon times because of the high altitude. So one has to go early and start back by early noon. This made sense but I was really unsure of waking up so early in that bitter cold. The cook that had accompanied us from Lachung told us that he would wake up early and pack us some sandwiches. How very considerate!

We managed to wake up and get ready by 4:30 am , I must say a feat in itself ! The kind cook packed us some sandwiches and we started towards Gurudongmar lake. It was pitch dark and we could see headlights of other vehicles carrying tourists to the lake. Since Gurudongmar lake lies very close to the Indo - China border, the stretch has a lot of army camps. There are many check-posts along the road as well. Our driver had to stop at every check-post and get the permit signed. As we started ascending, it got very cold. At around 7 am, we stopped at a small shack for tea. Tea is a bliss at these times. The shack had a small room inside with a small bonfire at the centre. The room was filled with fellow travellers and we had to shove our way towards the bonfire to get some warmth. A lady that owned the place was busy taking orders and preparing tea and maggi. We had to wait for some time to get her to take our order for tea. We ate those sandwiches that the cook had packed for us, sipping hot tea with it. We did not want to get out of the warm shack but we had to if we were to see Gunudongmar lake. We reached Gurudongmar by 7:30 ish.

Gurudongmar lake is considered holy by the locals and there is a small temple adjacent to the lake. The lake was calm and we could see the reflection of the snow covered mountains in the water. So refreshing ! And again, there are chances of altitude sickness at the lake. So, after having spent a little time there, we started back to Lachen. Reached Lachen by lunch time, ate lunch , checked out of the hotel thanking the cook and drove towards Dzongu.

It takes around 3 hours to reach Dzongu. Dzongu is a tribal protected area and one has to obtain a separate permit to enter Dzongu. We had booked a homestay Dzongu Lee and the landlady had kindly obliged to arrange for the permit. A right turn from Mangan village and a drive leading to the other mountain leads to Dzongu. We checked in at the homestay and were shown our room. The homestay was a big house with rooms on the first floor and a big kitchen on the ground floor. The family that owned the homestay stayed in a house adjacent to this building. The house was almost on the edge of the cliff and the view from the room window was just lovely ! The balcony opened to the view of this beautiful valley and we could see and also hear the river flowing. With lush greenery on all the sides , my lungs felt very active! We freshened up and were served tea. Later that evening, the landlady came with a long bamboo cup filed with millets and there was a bamboo straw as well ( No plastics! ). When we ashed her what that was, she said millet wine ! Having never tasted millet wine, we took a sip from the bamboo straw and it was quiet good. When asked how it was made, she said, the millets are fermented and then as you drink, you have to fill your cup with water, leave for few minutes and then take a sip . You can repeat this several times until you feel the millets have given away all their fermented flavour.

We got to talking with the landlady and learned that most people come here for treks. If we trek to a certain point, Kanchendzonga can be viewed from there. But since we were running short of time, we couldn't afford to do that trek. That night, we met the landlady's family in the kitchen and talked. We were served local delicacies including thukpa. While we got talking, the landlady mentioned about a hot water spring that was famous for its healing powers and told us that it was close by and that if we wanted to, we could visit it the next morning. We said goodnight and returened to our room and decided to go to the hot water spring the next morning.

In the morning, we were served momos and a vegetable greens sides for breakfast. So yummy, I must say! After the breakfast, we got into our vehicle and drove towards the hot water spring. After about 45 mins, we reached the place. It was a building with two sections - one for men and one for women. There were waiting rooms outside the main hot water pool area. Luckily for us, there were no other people waiting, so we directly went into the pool area. The hot water from the spring flows into the small pool where one can bathe or just sit and relax. Everyone is given about 15-20 mins and after that , you have to come out. The water is then drained and made ready for the next user. We used the pools and paid the caretaker the fee and left feeling quite refreshed. After we were back at the homestay, we packed and thanked the landlady and her family for having had a wonderful time at their homestay and bid goodbye to Dzongu.

Reached Gangtok early evening. Since we did not have nothing much to do, we decided to go to Mahatma Gandhi Road (MG Road) - the main market area of Gangtok. We took a shared taxi from the hotel to the main taxi stand. MG Road is at a walking distance from the taxi stand. MG Road is a small street with Mahatma Gandhi's statue at the start of the street. The road is divided into two by a median and benches in the centre. With shops and restaurants on both sides of the road, it was indeed a busy street. The rolls and momos from 'Roll House' were the best! Savouring the momos, we walked along the street, popping in and out of the crowded souvenir shops.

The next morning, we flew out of Sikkim regretting the fact that Kanchendzonga wasn't kind enough to give a glimpse of herself. However, we plan to go for the Sandakphu trek to catch Kanchendzonga at sunrise.

Additional photos below
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23rd January 2018

Another world
You had me at 'momos for breakfast'! :) Thanks for sharing this little travelled part of India with us - it has made me consider a new trip. Gurudongmar Lake is truly stunning. Safe travels! Cheers, Ren
24th January 2018

Thanks Ren ! Yeah, momos are a must try when in the Himalayan region :)

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