A Road Trip to North Sikkim - Gurudongmar, Lachung, Yumthang

Wednesday, April 23, 2019

Hindi Lover? Read this post in Hindi here.

India, being a seventh-largest country by area is a place of spectacular landscapes, cultures, different types of food and people! Sikkim alone, a very small state in the northeastern parts of India constitutes different variety in all these categories!

Sikkim
Sikkim

The Himalayas, a word made by conjunction of two Sanskrit words - Him (meaning "snow") and Alaya (meaning "home") making "Home of Snow" is the youngest mountain range in the world. Himalayan range goes over many parts of the Sikkim making it the perfect destination to visit and embrace the beauty of the home of snow.

These were my few of the main reasons I wanted to visit Sikkim.

My Road trip to Sikkim

It was the starting of summer when I planned to visit Sikkim. Sikkim is mainly divided into four districts - East, West, North, and South. Closed roads due to heavy snowfall had put me in the doubt. I started watching videos to make a list of the places I want to visit and if it was the right decision to go there in April.

Finally, I booked my tickets!

The seed was already sown in my mind and the heart was ready! I booked the tickets, packed my bag, kept the stuff to deal with the temperature. I rented a motorbike - Bajaj Avenger Cruise, 220 CC to roam for the coming five days!

Journey to the destination - Bagdogra Airport, Siliguri

I started my adventure from Madurai, Tamil Nadu. There are no direct flights to Sikkim. I had booked a flight to Bagdogra, West Bengal. I reached around 8:30 am in the morning and hired a taxi to pick up my bike from Siliguri which is 10 km from the Airport. The distance between Siliguri and Gangtok is around 120 km. You can hire or share a direct taxi from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok or take a bus from Siliguri to Gangtok.

Bagdogra Airport, Siliguri, West Bengal
Bagdogra Airport, Siliguri, West Bengal


Morning 10 am, I started my two-wheeler journey to the heart of the Himalayas.  I had seen snow mountains in the past but from a distance. It was my first break to go in the lap of Himalayas. I was very excited and full of energy. 



Where to rent a bike in Sikkim

There are many places you can find on Google to rent bikes in Gangtok, Sikkim or Siliguri. I wanted to explore my full journey on the bike and hired from Darjeeling bikes,  Siliguri. You can ask a bike provider to arrange permits for your journey to North Sikkim and Nathula Pass.

Stations of the Quest 

I had traveled for the past 5 hours in the wonderful weather on a cruiser bike next to the river Teesta. I made a stop to enjoy the Teesta river bridge view.

Teesta River Bridge
Teesta River Bridge

Teesta Bridge, Bridge View
Teesta Bridge, Bridge View

On the way after entering in the Sikkim state, I enjoyed the yummy lunch. The food menu was healthy, very simple and flavorful.



First Day - A warm and cold welcome in Sikkim

I decided to stay overnight in Gangtok city. In sync with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, this city clearly states what has to be done to keep the environment and people safe. The city is the central hub where people reach from the rest of the world to visit other parts of the Sikkim. Tourism is one of the main sources of income in Gangtok. There are many hotels available inside the city and outskirts of the city if you want to enjoy a peaceful stay looking at nature.

M.G. Marg Market, Gangtok

I went to the M.G. Marg market in the evening to enjoy famous Momos (Dumplings) and tea in the cold weather. This area is famous for tourists and food. You can purchase warm clothes, souvenirs or any other item you had missed to pack.




Journey to North Sikkim - Lachung, Lachen, Gurudongmar Lake, and Yumthang Valley

Second Day - Starting the "real " Adventure

It was a sunny morning and I had left my hotel early in the morning to collect the Permit.

You need a permit to visit North Sikkim - Lachung, Lachen and Nathula pass. You can get a permit by visiting the "Home Department" at Manan Bhavan or can be easily obtained by contacting the licensed tourist companies in the Sikkim.

NOTE: Keep at least 5-6 copies of your permit to submit at check posts.

After waiting for 2 hours finally I got the permit and started my journey to the first destination - Lachen. The roads were empty and the views were beautiful.

The first viewpoint I stopped was the Kanchenjunga Mountain range viewpoint. The glimpse of white snow on the rocky mountain makes your eyes shine. There is a small cafe on the road. You can enjoy a warm cup of tea sitting on the terrace and adoring the mountain view.

Kunchenjunga View Point
Kanchenjunga View Point

Make sure you get your vehicle tank filled at the last Petrol pump at Mangan in the North Sikkim. Keep an extra tank or few bottles filled if you wish to stay longer in the North Sikkim. There are no further petrol pumps available.

I stopped at Mangan for lunch at one in the afternoon. The wind had started and it was getting a little colder. I could see the white snowy Himalayas from the backside of my restaurant. They were shining bright and calling me.

Himalayas View from Mangan
Himalayas View from Mangan


There were patches of rough roads on the way due to frequent landslides that slowed down my journey but made it more adventurous and memorable!



I came across a few wonderful waterfalls on the way and made a stop at Naga Falls to enjoy lovely tea.

Naga Water Falls, Sikkim
Naga Water Falls, Sikkim


After crossing the first check post to the North Sikkim, drizzling had started and I had to wear a rain jacket and pants to keep myself dry. People were astounded to see me as I was traveling solo on a bike. They greeted me with respect. Most of the bikers visit in groups. On the way to Lachen, road patching was going on and all the vehicles were stalled. I was able to make my way on the two-wheeler. The roads from there were mostly lonely and kept going on for hours.



Freezing cold rain! 

As the sun started to come down, heavy rain had started and there was no sign of ending it. I kept going further to the North. The altitude was rising and the temperature was decreasing. I was wearing biker gloves that got fully wet and were unable to hold the freezing raindrops. My hands got swollen and I couldn't even find a place to stop in between. At last, I was able to make it to Lachen at 5 pm in the evening. I had a warm comfortable homestay for the night. The rain did not stop later in the night and I was afraid if it was going to stop by the morning. 


Third-Day - An Early Morning start to the Gurudongmar Lake

Finally, the rain had stopped in the middle of the night. The sun came out at 4:30 am. I had a good night's sleep and felt very fresh the next morning.

Gurudongmar lake, located at the northernmost part of the Sikkim, visible from China border has an altitude of 16,500 ft (5000 meters). Air gets thinner there and one can feel a lack of Oxygen. 

To visit Gurudongmar lake, you need to start around 5 am from Lachen. It is 80 km from Lachen and takes about 5 hours to reach there. You are not allowed to visit the lake afternoon due to the heavy storms.  

I started my journey at 5:30 am. I could hear the sound of all taxis going up North since 4 am. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was up in the east and snow at the tip of the mountains making me keep staring at them.

Mountain view from the Lachen Hotel
Mountain view from the Lachen Hotel

I started moving and following the taxis. As I kept going towards the North, the altitude was rising, the mountains were getting whiter. First the greener mountains with snow at the tip of them then the forest mountains fully covered with snow.

On the way to Gurudongmar Lake
On the way to Gurudongmar Lake

Samdong Cafe

After riding for about one and a half hour I reached a cafe in the heart of the snowy mountains. It was like a wish came true in that cold. I literally had three cups of tea before further starting my ride.

Samdong Cafe, Near Thangu Valley
Samdong Cafe, Near Thangu Valley

With the time, the day was getting brighter, forest mountains were now gone and rocky mountains packed with snow had started. My eyes were glittering and I was enjoying my ride. The route was tough. It was wet and slippery due to snow melting down from the mountains. My average speed was 10 km per hour. 

Thangu Valley

I reached the Thangu Valley check post. Wet mud of height up to 10 inches had covered a small area due to broken road and melting snow. I could not save my shoes in that and get all covered in mud. I made a stop there to take some beautiful photos.

Thangu Valley
Thangu Valley

After getting my permit checked at Thangu valley, I grabbed some Popcorns. It is advisable to grab something to chew and keep yourself hydrated when going on higher altitudes. It keeps your systems running! It was all army area on the way and we were not allowed to take pictures due to security reasons.


Final Check post

I reached to the final check post at 10:30 am in the morning. Army soldiers at the check post were very welcoming and helpful. They have opened a Cafe near the check post. You can have unlimited tea and biscuits free of cost!

Final Check Post, Gurudongmar Lake
Final Check Post, Gurudongmar Lake

Final Check Post, Gurudongmar Lake
Final Check Post, Gurudongmar Lake

My travel partner did not want to go further!

The lake is 15 km away from the final checkpoint. The road is good. I had covered 14 km smoothly with the bike. There is a steep hill climb of 1 km to reach near the lake. My bike broke down due to a lack of Oxygen and the engine did not start. I tried pulling it to the lake but it was hard for me as well. I decided to leave my bike at the same place and hitched a ride on a taxi going towards the lake. Finally, I made it! Yay!! I didn't want to go back after reaching so close! Due to the rough roads and bad weather, it took 6 hours for me to reach there. 


Gurudongmar Lake View!

It was freezing cold with a temperature of -(negative) 15 degrees Celsius. The wind was blowing and the lake was frozen! Yes, it was frozen! I was shivering and at the same time, I was enjoying that proud moment. I tried to capture a video but due to extreme cold, I was not able to speak properly.

Take a look at the lake below and describe it by yourself!  I just don't have words. This the most beautiful scenery I had seen in my entire life.

Frozen Gurudongmar Lake
Frozen Gurudongmar Lake

Watch the video below for 360 degrees view of Frozen Lake!



The storm had started making the surroundings colder. I decided to head back. By the time I reached the check post, it started snowing! I stopped at the Cafe for a while and enjoyed hot tea sitting next to a Kiln. After struggling with low Oxygen, cold temperature, and wet roads I made back to the Lachen at 5 pm in the evening.  I had plans to go to Lachung on the same day but I was tired and decided to stay in Lachen for the night.

Fourth Day - Yumthang and Lachung - Thank God I did not skip them!

After sleeping for almost 11 hours, I woke up at 7 am in the morning and planned to visit Yumthang valley and reach back to Gangtok on the same evening. The morning was very beautiful, warm and the sky was clear. My shoes were wet due to the mud and rain. I tried to dry them but there was very little time. I packed my stuff, had a good cup of morning tea and left the stay. The roads were empty but rough. The route to Lachung diverts from Chungthang. I kept moving and did not stop anywhere on the way.

Lachung Valley
Lachung Valley

Yumthang Valley 

I had reached to Yumthang Valley at 10 am. Earlier, I was planning to skip it as I had already lost a day but few of the locals encouraged me to must-visit. I was hapPy I listened to them and came here.

Yumthang Valley, Sikkim
Yumthang Valley, Sikkim

Yumthang Valley, an open area, surrounded by beautiful snowy mountains, water flowing in the river creating musical sounds and warm weather. It was all very perfect! This view was astonishing and had impressed me a lot. What else I needed? Momos and a good Maggi! Well, I had both of them with ginger tea ;) I felt so fresh after visiting there. My mind was very clear and filled with satisfaction.

Yumthang Valley, Sikkim
Yumthang Valley, Sikkim

Check out 360 degrees video of the Yumthang Valley.


Due to a lack of time and fuel, I could not make it to Zero Point and had to return back. In case of emergency, you can get bottles of Petrol 2 km further from the Lachung valley towards the road to Gangtok. 

I had plans to visit Hanuman Tok in the evening in Gangtok. I started back around noon. While coming back I unwittingly made a wrong turn which turned out to be an alternative route to Gangtok via East Sikkim. The road was quiet and clean. I reached to the Hanuman Tok at 5 pm in the evening. I kept my riding speed and made a couple of stops for tea.

Hanuman Tok from Ramayana

A famous Lord Hanuman temple in Gangtok is known for an event from the Ramayana. It is said that when Lord Hanuman was returning with the Sanjivani medicine mountain, he made a stop there for rest. Temple is situated higher than the city on a hill. The top of the hill was very calm with the pleasing sounds of birds chirping.

Hanuman Tok, Gangtok
Hanuman Tok, Gangtok

Hanuman Tok, Gangtok
Hanuman Tok, Gangtok

Fifth Day - Nathula Pass, East Sikkim or Namchi, West Sikkim?

After visiting Hanuman Tok, I reached back to my hotel in Gangtok. I had only one day left of my trip and by the night I was in dilemma to visit Nathula Pass and Tsongo lake or explore few areas from the West Sikkim. After talking to my hotel manager, I got to know that Namchi was a good place to visit to see the temples and little of Sikkim culture. I was unsure till morning and finally decided to skip Nathula since I had already seen a lot of snow in my journey to North Sikkim.

I took a chance and headed towards the West. I wanted to make my journey more adventurous and use my remaining time of the trip wisely. I looked into the map for the route to Namchi and came across a non-famous route via Temi Tea Estate I had visited Munnar in Kerala and was already a fan of Tea gardens. I grabbed this as an opportunity to visit the Sikkim tea gardens!

I took the diversion from the main route at Singtam and entered into the village roads. Actually, there were not any roads! My average speed was 5 to 8 km per hour. There was a lot of road construction work going on and had to face wet and hard mud throughout the journey. 

After riding for non-stop 3 hours on the humps, I made it to the Temi tea gardens. These gardens were as beautiful as Munnar tea gardens. I had fresh tea and Maggi there. I purchased some freshly manufactured tea for home.

Temi Tea Estate
Temi Tea Estate

I had plans to visit Char Dham temple, Samdruptse, Ngadak Monastery in Namchi and reach back to Siliguri by the night. Suddenly, it started raining heavily and I had to cancel my plan to reach back on time. On the way, I made a stop to the beautiful temple of Sampdruptse, Namchi. The Lord Buddha temple is built on a mountain and gives you an amazing panoramic view of the nearby areas and the city.

Samdruptse

Samdruptse, Namchi
Samdruptse, Namchi


Heavy rain kept going on and off on the way. I stopped for lunch as my last meal of the Sikkim and reached back to Siliguri in the evening. My hotel in Siliguri was in front of the Toy Train track. I got a chance to see a train coming back from Darjeeling.

An Evening at Bidhan Market, Siliguri

After completing a bike ride of 850 km in the last five days I returned my bike and decided to take a tour of the famous Bidhar Market in Siliguri and try some local food. I tried Pani Puri, Pakoras, Chana Zor Garam. They were all very delicious with an authentic taste of West Bengal. I purchased some Darjeeling tea for the home as well. 

Goodbye to the incredible journey

The time had come to say goodbye to this unforgettable journey and return back to usual life. I boarded a return flight the next morning and came back to Madurai with lots of lasting memories with me. I will never miss a chance to go back there again and relive all those moments.



Tip: Make sure you pack your stuff as per the weather forecast to shun any undesirable moments.

I hope you lived the moments with me. Let me know your thoughts!

Hindi Lover? Read this post in Hindi here.
A Road trip To North Sikkim - Gurudongmar, Lachung, Yumthang Cover

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