Sikkim, often considered as the “unexplored paradise”, has an annual tourism more than the total population of this tiny state! What make Sikkim truly miraculous is the nature and the constant efforts of the locals to live in harmony with the blessing called mother Earth!
The land of dancing clouds and snow clad mountains!
Fondly embracing lakes, streams and natural fountains!
Home to majestic Yaks and peace seeking Monks!
Vacant roads so curvy, feels like intoxicating through bongs!
A canvas which the spring paints in color and winters leave white!
Oh Sikkim, you are a seductress and being with you is such a delight!
-The Vagabond Dreamer!
Watch this video- a compilation of a few short random videos of our Journey across North Sikkim. (The quality is very basic and the video may be blurry at times as they were all captured at random times with random phones!) Highly recommended to get a glimpse of the enchanting journey that it is!
North Sikkim district is an enchantress and doesn’t fail to give you enough hickeys! Despite of not being exclusive and secluded like it used to be a few years ago, the tourism industry here is still very basic and minimal thus helping maintain the pristine and sacred environment.
My trip to North Sikkim has been truly spell-binding and fun! Fun because this was with a group of crazy friends, although I did feel I needed some solitude at times, but the bewitching spell that North Sikkim casts, had me smitten!
This a short excerpt of my journey to this darling land (A detailed post with tips and place guides will follow soon!)
Day 1: Waking up to the sound of a Hair Dryer, I saw Pammy as she got all dolled up and dried her clothes with the drier, I realized it was past 7 and we had a long way to travel. After getting ready quick, we left for Lachen with our documents handy. The advent began with dusty curvaceous roads and within no time we eloped out from the traffic zone to a greener and better landscape.En route stopping at a small monastery and a few waterfalls, we reached the verification point where our documents got checked and permits were issued and we headed towards Lachen.
Stopped at a small town Mangan for lunch and with a few breather breaks to enjoy the striking picturesque landscape, we reached Chungthang. The momos at Chungthang cafeteria were other worldly and we hogged on them after a “not so great” lunch at Mangan.
Rains and dense fog gave us company for the entire journey from Chungthang to Lachen and the broken roads had us tired. Checked in at the hotel at Lachen where we were served amazing butter tea and steaming maggi noodles. After moments of shivering in the clouds, as the rains got heavier, we cozied ourselves in the warm beds as we had a long day ahead tomorrow!
Day 2: Almost after a sleepless night, awoken by the knocks on the door, we got dressed with as many clothes as possible and quivering with the chill, departed for Gurudongmar, early morning at 4:00 AM. Traversing through the rough roads in the dark has a thrill of its own. We made sure our driver had had enough tea and is wide awake as we were all drowsy, but once the dawn broke and we could get a glimpse of the picturesque roads and mountains, the sleep was long gone..
The rays of the sun made the snow clad mountains glisten like gold and I had lost my heart right then. Stopping at places to capture the beauty and then at our pit stop Thangu Village, we were thrilled to be surrounded by fresh snow. The temperature was below zero,after getting a long queue for using the loo and warming ourselves near the wood fire stove at a small eatery, we regained the energy to ascend ahead!
With cristmassy atmosphere and absolutely ravishing views, reached the Gurudongmar check point, BSF canteen. At an altitude of around 16000 ft, they check your acclimatization and whether or not you should move ahead.
The friendly BSF jawans were at constant service of the public, offering hot tea and water. (I wonder what this journey would be like if the BRO (Border Roads Organization) wouldn’t build amazing roads on these extremely tough terrains and BSF (Border Security Force) weren’t there to help!)
The road ahead looks like a mini piece from Ladakh- Brown, barren and devoid of any vegetation. You can feel the absence of oxygen and this might make you giddy but once you step foot at the lake- It’s all a new story! Because of the snowfall, the lake looked like it was straight out of the movie Frozen and had a thick sheet of ice on it. A white lake surrounded by naked snow capped mountains at a height of over 18,000 ft; this place sure is how the heavens would look like! After spending some incredible time here, we moved towards Tso Lhamu but were denied access as it lies in the border area and snow had the roads worsened.
En route Lachen, we stopped at an abandoned bridge which looked like it’s made of dreams. If this wasn’t Sikkim but a touristy place, the bridge would have become the attraction for numerous travelers. Moving ahead, we noticed that with the sun out and bright, most of the snow at Thangu Valley had melted. We also stopped by at the Chopta valley but due to time constraint, didn’t take the hike.
In the afternoon, I visited the Lachen Monastery and roamed around the village interacting with the locals. Aunt Suki, a lady from whom I had rented the jacket for the day served me with freshly prepared Chhang (Local liquor) which was amazing! After a night of mingling and chilling with the locals around and making a few peers, we dozed off for an exciting next day.
Day 3: We were to go downhill to the intersection point of North Sikkim, Chungthang and then head upwards to Lachung and Zero Point. With fond memories of Lachen and a good bye hug to Mrs. Suki and her cute kitten, we embarked on our journey to a magical haven where mountains meet the skies.
Stopping back at Chungthang obviously for the momos, we headed straight to the zero point. I was a little disappointed to see the traffic on the narrow passage, oh but once there you can’t help but feel like a child again! The snow, the thick clouds, and the dark mountains! If someone would ask me how you felt, I wouldn’t mind the cliché dialogue “On top of the world!”
We danced our hearts out, played crazily on the snow and made “Snow Gods” :p I kept falling as I tried stunts and wanted to climb high, thankfully it was snow and not rocks! Back at the valley, we returned the jackets we had rented from a small shop and I realized that I had snow stuck in my boots and my entire denim was soaked! (glad I had taken extra pants)
After having some local Thupka and Bread Omelets, we left to explore Yumthang valley which is delightfully gorgeous. If you remember the childhood scenery you would draw a stream, trees, a log hut and magnificent mountains behind, then that painting must have been a déjà vu from Yumthang!
The valley turns all colorful with the advent of spring and is also called the “Valley of Flowers” and though it was not in its full galore, yet we witnessed lovely purple hue of the flowers around the “Rhododendrons Flower Sanctuary”. Spending time by the stream was pure bliss and I could transport into a magical land of my own as I breathed in!
Post an amazing time here, we went to calm ourselves down in the Hot springs which had been rather commercialized and was kind of dirty so we decided to give it a bunk and went to Lachung, en route visiting the Lachung Monastery. At the night we were invited by a few locals and made merry as they played music, by the bonfire cheering to Rum, local snacks and Butter tea! Oh such an evening and these were easily some of the kindest people I have met.
Day 4: With thick fog around and a frosted window, this was a beautiful morning, An early morning walk around the quaint town as the people were all asleep except for a bunch of workers and some cattle who stared at me.
Before I could get over the hangover of this extremely beautiful haven (and my unfulfilled plans to settle down there :p) my friends pushed me in the car as we were late for Katao. Again, driving through what I would call “roads to paradise”, we reached Katao gate and were stopped by the BSF due to the area being sensitive. On requesting them, they let us go without taking our cameras and car.
Oh boy! Such beauty!! Most people skip Katao and generally you aren’t given the access to this area due to border sensitivity. Snow laden mountains and almost zero inhabitation, I just hope we were allowed to click because no words can do justice to the sheer magic of this place!
Leaving Katao, we stopped for breather breaks as we tried to capture these moments in our hearts forever. We met a bunch of cute school kids who were excited to get clicked! This time as we stopped at Chungthang, the lady on the counter smiled n asked “2 veg Momos?” She remembered us from the last time, making it so special!
As we neared Gangtok, while I was super glad of what we just witnessed, but I was sure that things wouldn’t remain the same. Bewitching North Sikkim after all had cast an irrecoverable spell upon us!
Now that you know how magical is this place and Sikkim is much more than just Gangtok, start pondering over the Sikkimese dreams about Mountains, Snow, Cloud, Momos, Cute Kids and Giant Yaks! By the time you will be done dreaming, I will upload the details and help you plan a perfect trip to this Enchanting Heaven!
Look out for the travel tips and places to visit in North Sikkim in the upcoming blog.