Sikkim – The land of mystique. The least populous state in India but much scenic than many…. With this trip I had set my flag in three Indian states within the Himalayan range. Only Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh to go now!
|25/3||1||Bangalore – Siliguri – Gangtok|
|26/3||2||Gangtok- Tsomgo -Gangtok|
|27/3||3||Gangtok – Lachen|
|28/3||4||Lachen – Gurdongmar lake – Lachen – Lachung|
|29/3||5||Lachung – Yumthang valley – Lachung – Gangtok|
|2/4||9||Darjeeling – Siliguri – Bangalore|
First the long flight to Bagdogra from Bengaluru via Kolkata. From there to Siliguri which is 12 KM far from the airport by shared taxi (100 Rs) and then to Gangtok the capital of Sikkim in another shared taxi (300 Rs).
The cleanest state capital in India goes to sleep very early like many other hill stations, so try to pre book the hotel rooms if you don’t want to roam around in the night with the stray dogs.
The thing with Sikkim is that everything goes with a package here. You need an inner line permit to travel to North and Eastern part of Sikkim and only Sikkim registered vehicles are allowed there. In order to avoid all these hassles contact your Hotel people, they will arrange everything (shared / private vehicle, permit, rooms & food) for you. I know there isn’t much thrill about this but there aren’t many options left unless you want to try independently and get the permits and vehicles.
Tsomgo lake and Baba Asharam are the two places in today’s bucket. The heavy snowfall happening for the past few days has made the Nathula pass ( India- China border) closed.
The one day tour to Nathula, Tsomgo Lake (or Changu) & Baba Mandir cost 850 Rs if I remember correctly but since Nathula was closed it came around 500 Rs.
It is march end already but nature is still in winter hangover as it unleashes thick layers of mist and lights snowfall throughout our way on the road which snaked across the valley towards China. The jeep was jammed pack but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the stupendous views outside as we climbed up, thanks to the window seat.
From the restaurant we stopped for the short break, I lent a pair of snow boots. Believe me, if locals say it is covered with snow up there don’t hesitate to lend them unless you want to spoil your pretty shoes up there at the lakeside.
Finally, the destination, Tsogmo Lake – the glacial lake situated at a height of 3753 meters is sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus. By looking at the surroundings, for a moment I thought I got stuck in a black and white movie. It was just snow white everywhere with few parts of black rocks exposed like a Dalmatian dog’s spots!
The yaks carried the tourists through the buzzing crowd gathered near the lake, while I roamed around and played in the snow. The light drizzle soon became a snowfall…. Nature was always kind enough for me to bring down the snow while I am at the Himalayas, though one time at Gangotri it was little more than I wished for! The mist slowly came into the party making the other end of the lake totally invisible.
The reflection on the beautiful Tsogmo lake makes it looks like an inkblot. Unfrozen water with the help of snow coated mountains is clearly in for a show today. I could spend days here just looking at this breathtakingly beautiful lake. But of course the taxi driver and the other passengers have their own priority, don’t they? Spending couple of hours at the lake we started back to Gangtok.
“Now the government says there are no poor people in Sikkim. You people come here stay at Gangtok, go to Lachen and Lachung, visit all the tourist spots and say how beautiful Sikkim is. But have you ever traveled to the inner villages and see the condition of the people there? No, nor does these government officials” – Praveen, driver.
Back to Gangtok by evening. A small walk through MG Road now, the busiest part of the cleanest city in India. It is time for some hot chicken momos to keep me fed.
Today starts the 3 days & 2 nights North Sikkim tour package. 2800 Rs tour package includes shared vehicle, food, accommodation & endless Bollywood music. If you are a solo traveler chances are that they will put you in the very last seat in the back like a spare tire.
The 5-6 hours of a ride to Lachen is like any mountain road journey in the Himalayan range, with plenty of streams and waterfalls throughout the way. There were 4 couples in the jeep apart from me making me the only bachelor but by the time we reached Lachen all of us become very friendly.
As the cold gripped and the lights faded away in the small village of Lachen, I went outside for a walk through the road that filled with numerous Army barracks on both sides. “Tomorrow we have to start very early for Gurudongmar lake.” says Anand our driver before going to sleep after his exhausting driving.
How early? Around 4.30 AM! The engine roared and the fog light tore the darkness away in the road that leads to the northern point of Sikkim where India ends.
Slowly the sun peaked from the east making the mighty mountains kissing its rays. The snow capped mountains of Himalayas always has its own charm, especially during the dawn. The ride through the steeped curved roads continued….
After 4 hours of ferocious drive through the steep hilly roads from Lachen we finally arrived at ‘15000 feet cafe’ run by the Indian Army. The climb ends here. Past this, it is just flat barren terrain with the recently asphalted road stretching till my eyes can see.
This region is so much different than any other place that I have ever been to. It took me few minutes to realize that we are driving around 5000 meters above the sea level through a flat road!
Its the Tibetan plateau – known as the ‘Roof of the world’ and the above picture tells you why. Starting from here the plateau lay for thousands of kilometers to the North chewing up almost the entire western China region.
And then there it is, the Gurudongmar Lake itself. From the east end, the majestic Gurudongmar peak with her neighboring peaks guards this spectacular lake which was frozen by then. Completely understandable in this minus temperature.
The cold breeze carried the clouds around the lake. I stood still and gazed her beauty. Certainly one of the most beautiful places that ever been to in my life!!
Situated at a height of 5430 meters it is the 17th highest lake in the world and 2nd in India. Sacred to both the Buddhists and Sikhs the Gurudongmar Lake is just 5 km far from the Chinese border. The half an hour allocated here is clearly not enough to absorb the beauty of this land but that is certainly good for our health since none of us were properly acclimatized upon reaching here.
The relative altitude of the Lake side (5430 M) may cause you AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness ), so always drink plenty of fluids or take Diamox tablet before reaching the Lake side. If it persists go back to the Army camp immediately. They have oxygen masks and medicines for the tourists.
Now a long way back to Lachen and post lunch a drive to the village of Lachung. As the cold gripped the picturesque village of Lachung where there is no shortage of army barracks just like at Lachen, I had a black tea to keep me warm.
To the final destination – Yumthang valley it is, known as the Switzerland of India.
Three hours of drive from Lachung and you are in the heaven on earth! That nickname was rightly gained.
All tourists were stunned by the beauty of this valley where the tall greenish Devdor trees covered the banks of a bustling river runs through the snow conned mountains.
The first thing that came to my mind while I was at that valley was a famous line said by the old Persian poet by seeing Kashmir – ‘If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!’
Zero Point – 18 kms far from Yumthang, won’t be included in the package. You have to pay extra cash if you wish to go there. The reason is complete mystery to me.
With that, the packaged tour comes to an end. Back to Gangtok again by evening. Its still raining here at the capital.
Next item on my bucket list is to see the Mt Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. Pelling provides breathtaking views I heard, so Pelling it is.
Gangtok to Pelling by shared taxi (200 Rs). There are two services to Pelling from the new taxi stand near to MG Road. First one starts at 7.30 AM and the last is at 12.00 PM. You have to pre book the tickets from the counter at the stand. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the tickets for either of them so had to settle with Geyzing which is just 8km far from Pelling.
It was a very misty morning at Pelling making a man standing 10 meters far invisible. The hope of seeing Kanchenjunga faded away but not the mist. It just kept coming. But I was not ready to give up, thus Darjeeling came in to picture. But before that just a quick sightseeing of Pelling.
First the very old Pemayangtse Monastery. Built in the starting of 18th century it is one of the oldest and premier monasteries of Sikkim.
Then Rabdentse – the ruins of the three century old capital of former Kingdom of Sikkim. The path to the fort through the woods was heavenly thanks to the cold mist, though I got lost somewhere in between.
All this was done with the help of Sooraj bhai, my taxi driver for the day. Now its time to leave for Darjeeling via Geyzing – Jorthang in a shared taxi. 100 Rs for Geyzing to Jorthang and another 120 Rs to Darjeeling from there.
It was a clear evening at the Queen of the hills – Darjeeling. Hope this is the case for tomorrows as well as it is the perfect weather to see Mt Kanchanjunga.
How wrong can I be?! The climate at Tiger Hill – the famous spot to see the mighty mountain, put the one at Pelling to shame. The huge crowd gathered on the hill sadly started walking back with disappointment.
Like at Sikkim here also the tour was arranged by the hotel people. The morning tour included two more spots also for which I didn’t bother to get up from the seat at all in that rainy climate.
Another cab came around 9.30 AM for the next round of sightseeing called the 5 point tour but the climate was the villain again at many spots.
The best part of today’s trip was the visit to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute which is right next to the zoo.
The famous institute which once ran by the legendary mountaineer Tenzing Norgay himself shouldn’t be a spot to miss at all while you are in Darjeeling. It includes a small museum with a wealth of information about mountaineering.
And of course, how can I forgot the world famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railways!
The 130 years old Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO heritage site is the highlight of Darjeeling. Unlike the toy trains at Shimla and Ooty the DHR tracks are really close to the road and it often crosses it casually as you can see!
The Victorian era steam engines are an integral part of Darjeeling Himalayan Railways, keeping its heritage as it is.
The final day. Time to say goodbye to Darjeeling. First I need to get to Siliguri by shared taxi (210 Rs) and then fly all the way back to Bangalore. Just as I started from the taxi stand a giant wall appeared on the right side. There it is… The mighty Kanchenjunga.
At last nature showed me mercy. So does my taxi driver. He stopped for some time to capture few snaps of that stunning mountain. This could be the least exciting picture of Kanchenjunga that you may have seen but I don’t care! Now with a great satisfaction of seeing all the things that I had planned, a long journey back to Bangalore starts now.