North Sikkim is one of those places on earth that redefine our definition of beauty in several ways. While some of us prefer rugged terrains, a majority of us prefers lush green hills and then there are some that marvel at the mesmerizing flowers blooming in the wild. North Sikkim is an amalgamation of all these and more.
Considering the fact that it spreads out over varying altitudes, a trip to North Sikkim will ensure that you experience a bit of everything that Nature bestows upon us, humans.
While all the aforementioned information caters to the poet in us, there is a calculative accountant within that raises eyebrows at the possibility of an overstretched budget.
Well, here’s good news! North Sikkim is much cheaper in comparison to other hilly areas like Mussoorie, Nainital, Manali, Jammu & Kashmir, Dharamshala etc. If you choose the right time to visit, you might even experience fresh snowfall that will remain etched in your heart forever.
North Sikkim is also a photographer’s delight. There are so many vivid colours, textures and varying landscapes to capture that your camera will be your best travel companion on the trip!
North Sikkim: The Main Attraction
Among all the wonderful places in North Sikkim, the major point of attraction is Gurudongmar Lake. When you book a package of North Sikkim, tour planners will invariably highlight the name of this lake. If you are wondering why to imagine a partially frozen lake at an altitude of 17,800 feet that is surrounded by snow-covered mountain ranges all around.
The lake is placid and the surroundings are nothing less than overwhelming. It would not be an exaggeration to call it a paradise in the midst of nowhere.
However, reaching Gurudongmar Lake, at once, is not possible or permissible. This is because a majority of North Sikkim lies on sensitive border areas and there is a list of permits that need to be taken before and during the journey, at significant spots. There is also a scientific reason to take halts and make the trip a three-day long process.
The lake is situated at a very high altitude and people travelling from plains will naturally find it difficult to adjust to the varying levels of oxygen as they go higher up.
Hence, almost all trips to North Sikkim have halts so that the body is acclimatized to the changes as gradually as possible.
This is where places like Lachen, Lachung and Yumthang Valley come into play. They serve as a means to an end. Lachen and Lachung are small villages where tourists are generally put up on their way up to Gurudongmar Lake or on their way down to Gangtok, Sikkim.
However, it will be a sin to not mention how these means spell divinity by themselves. Lachen and Lachung are breathtakingly beautiful villages. They are idyllic and dream-like and the people that live there are some of the most industrious human beings you will come across.
Best Time to Visit
There is no denying the fact that North Sikkim is, majorly, a difficult terrain. It is essential that you prepare yourself for the frequent changes in oxygen levels, landslides, unannounced halts, unfavourable road and weather conditions.
You can choose to visit in the months of March and April and from September to November for the perfect weather but if you are more adventurous, you could also plan trips in the winter months of December to March. However, you are more likely to experience very rough roads, heavy snowfall and extreme temperatures.
All said and done, words cannot begin to describe the thrill of the journey. Despite the altitude issues, the landslides, the rough roads and freezing temperatures, it is nothing less than an experience of a lifetime.
How to Get There
Assuming that you will begin your journey from Gangtok, the only way for tourists to reach Gurudongmar Lake and the places on the way is via car. If you book a package, you will be given an option of hiring the car exclusively for yourself or travel along with a couple of other groups.
The maximum number of people travelling in 1 car is around 10. You may or may not get the option of choosing your seats, depending upon the seasonal rush.
You will be required to reach the taxi stand of Gangtok by 9 A.M. and you will be accommodated in the car as per your package.
Main meals are generally included in the package but if you buy anything from the shops on your way that is your own expense. There will be several halts on the way, for toilet breaks and meals.
The distance from Gangtok and Lachen is around 121 Km and the cars take the North Sikkim Highway to reach there.
Lachen and Lachung are situated at a distance of 2 hours from each other and since there is no proper accommodation facility beyond Lachen, tourists need to spend the night in the hotels or home stays of Lachen.
The journey to Gurudongmar Lake begins the next morning and could be as early as 5 A.M.
The weather conditions of and around the lake are most favourable in the first half of the day and worsen as the day passes. This is why it is recommended to reach early and depart before the winds get rough.
The first halt on your way to the Lake is Thangu that takes around 2 hours from Lachen. Gurudongmar Lake is around 40 Km from Thangu and due to the rough terrain, it takes close to 4 hours to reach.
Lachen- The Idyllic Village
Gangtok to Lachen
Expect a Roller Coaster Ride Through the Bumpy Roads
It takes not less than 6-7 hours to reach Lachen from Gangtok. On the way from Gangtok to Lachen, you will be able to witness the meandering Teesta River. The colours of the river range from a sapphire blue to emerald green, depending upon the colour of the sky in different patches of the journey.
Your first halt will most likely be at Tingchim. This is where you can have your simple lunch of rice, lentils and curries. It might not be a fascinating meal but it will fill you up sufficiently. You might even witness people from the Border Road Organization repairing stretches that have been damaged by landslides.
Depending upon your package, your driver may or may not stop at Naga Waterfalls.
The next brief stop will be at Toong Check Post. This is where all your documents and permits will be thoroughly checked and entries will be made in log books about the details of the trip and the car.
As the car inches towards the town of Lachen, you will notice that paved roads will gradually give way to typical mountain roads with curves and hairpin bends.
The air will start feeling thinner and colder as you go higher up. It will be late evening by the time you reach Lachen.
If you are welcomed with a cup of hot tea in your hotel, make sure you drink it right away because it will get cold in minutes from being served.
What Does Lachen Look Like?
Lachen will instantly look like a place cut off from the world. Its serenity is unmatched and the warm welcome of the locals is like a bowl of piping hot soup to comfort you in the chill that reaches your bones. You might be surprised to see how the locals go about in single layers of clothing, especially if you visit in the summer months, while you could be shivering habituated to the extremities of weather.
Situated at an altitude of 9,000 feet and “Lachen” originally means, ‘Big Pass’.
It is majorly a grassy valley that is also spotted with forests of conifer and Rhododendrons. Lachen Chu, a mountain stream, passes right through the heart of the valley and cuts through the village, making deep gorges as it flows.
The roads of Lachen require frequent repair and maintenance work because of landslides and especially during the monsoon months.
However, that does not deter the village from looking as picturesque as ever. There are only 250 houses in the village and the inhabitants migrate to the valleys in summers to avoid facing the extremities of weather.
Apart from it being visually appealing, Lachen is also home to the oldest Monastery in Sikkim that was built in 1858. The Lachen Monastery had a small start, with not more than 6 monks but it received monetary aid from Sikkim government and was reconstructed.
If you wish to buy local tokens of remembrance for loved ones back home, then the Handicraft Center of Lachen will be a pleasant surprise. The locals, originally called the Lachenpas, are skilled craftsmen and they weave shawls, blankets, carpets and bags from yak and sheep wool that could serve as perfect souvenirs.
You will also find several hard-working women spend ages weaving these pieces of beauty.
The Tourist Information Center of Lachen will help you buy maps of the local area and postcards as well.
Nights in Lachen are cold and you will love the dining area of your hotel or homestay where you can expect a large fireplace. Most tourists are found warming themselves up in front of the fire and relishing a simple meal of rice, mixed vegetables, fries and chicken curry.
The hot steam rising up from the bowls of curries laid out for dinner is the kind of warmth one seeks for while on a vacation to the hills. You could take a stroll out on the streets after dinner but if you can’t really brave the cold, you could curl up under layers of quilts in your room and sleep well.
Best Time To Visit: March-April and September-November
Distance from Gangtok: 121 Km
Height: 9000 feet.
Click on the link to know more about Lachen: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know
Gearing Up For Gurudongmar Lake
You will be asked to wake up by 3 AM the next morning so that your car can depart at 4 AM to take you to Gurudongmar Lake.
Early mornings in Lachen are beyond beautiful. As it is time to depart this pretty village, you will be greeted by the orange hue of the early morning sun and the golden glow on the snow-capped mountain ranges. Preserve your camera’s battery life because you will soon witness places that could partially be justified with photographs.
If you are lucky, you might even receive fresh snowfall on your way to the lake. You will come across army barracks, uninhabited villages, frozen patches of valleys and landslide damages.
The car driver will stop at Thangu. This is the last civilian settlement area where your permits will be checked and you will also receive medical facilities if you require them. You will get your breakfast here. It mostly comprises of buttered toast and eggs or Egg Maggi. Once you cross this check post, you are literally on your own as there is hardly any habitation ahead.
The last check post is Gaigaon, at 15,000 feet. Your permits and papers will be checked for the final time at this checkpoint.
In a few miles from Thangu, you enter a desert valley of sorts. You may or may not experience breathing difficulties or nausea at this altitude. Staying calm helps in avoiding the condition from getting worse. There is uniqueness about the desert valley that leads up to Gurudongmar Lake.
It is a long stretch of gravel and black sand, coming together in patches. It looks formidable yet spellbinding. All you will come across is one herd or two of yaks and a handful of herdsmen around.
While you huff and puff inside the vehicle and wonder at the vast stretch if desert valley in front, your car will take a steep uphill road and reach your destination in a matter of minutes. There it lies; both breathtaking and intimidating at the same time; Gurudongmar Lake is a feast for the eyes.
You will have to get off the vehicle and walk towards the lake. Reaching the edge of the lake could be difficult unless your lungs are trained to withstand the thinness of air since you are required to go down a flight of stairs. However, the beauty of the lake and the surroundings are so stunning that you could simply stand over the cliff and take it all in.
An Interesting Bit
Gurudongmar Lake is spread out over 290 acres and is surrounded by snow-covered mountain ranges all around. You might even feel that the ranges are floating away on the lake itself. It is nothing short of ethereal. The most interesting thing about this lake is the fact that it never freezes completely.
There is a religious belief around this lake that explains this phenomenon. The lake is the primary source of water for the locals.
It is believed that while Guru Padmasambhava was on his way back from Tibet, the locals had pleaded for a solution to their perennial problem of water. He was moved by their pleadings and had touched a part of the lake that never freezes and is also considered sacred. Several locals believe in the fact that drinking this water could resolve fertility issues of women.
There is also a temple next to the lake where tourists can offer prayers. You will notice brightly coloured flags all around that are individual prayers of people who visit.
Gurudongmar Lake is not just a tourist destination but it also a marvel that you can only experience and words will never do justice to its beauty.
However, it is also a very difficult journey and a majority of tourists never make it to the point. They are either halted by landslides or the lower levels of oxygen make them sick way before they can reach. It is extremely windy and you might have to hold on to your partner if you are walking around.
Best time to visit: March-April and September- November
Distance from Gangtok: 173.5 Km
Height: 17,800 feet
Click on the link to know more about Gurudongmar Lake: Don’t Plan Before Reading These 19 ‘Must Know Before You Go’ Facts
Your journey back from Gurudongmar Lake could be exhausting. All the additional work that your lungs have been doing in order to keep pace with the decreasing levels of oxygen in the air, will make you feel sleepy and groggy. However, you can expect the picturesque landscape of Chopta Valley to charge your cells.
If you are the type that loves visiting the hills in the monsoon months, then you will experience the wonders of Nature spread out in this valley itself in the months of May-September.
It will be filled to the brim with rhododendrons, primula and other flowers that bloom in the wild. If you prefer the summer or the winter months, you will witness a completely frozen valley that has a charm of its own.
While going downhill from Chopta Valley, you will have your first meal of the day that usually comprises of bread, butter/jam, boiled eggs, thick noodle soup, Egg Maggi etc. If you experience nausea, dizziness or headache while going uphill, this meal will help you settle down because your glucose levels will be stabilized after a while.
Lachung – The Green Hamlet
Your journey from Lachen to Lachung will take around 2 hours and although the roads could be damaged in places, the view around is mesmerizing, nevertheless. Lachung can easily be called the green hamlet because it has lush greenery all over. There are pretty wildflowers growing in bunches that are never tended to but they grow out with all their might.
Most Picturesque Town Of Sikkim!
Joseph Dalton Hooker had labelled Lachung as the ‘most picturesque village of Sikkim’ in ‘The Himalayan Journal’. It is undoubtedly a spot of indescribable beauty and thus becomes the perfect destination for relaxing holidays.
Lachung is less cold in comparison to Lachen and you can take easy strolls to experience the rustic vibe that hangs in the air of the village. Apart from the wildflowers and the greenery, Lachung is home to innumerable fruit orchards and glacial rivers that cut through the heart of the hamlet and add to its beauty.
If you have been troubled by the polluted air of bustling cities then Lachung will rejuvenate your lungs with fresh, crisp and cold mountain air. While in Lachung, if you crave quality Tibetan food, you could ask your car driver to point out places where you could eat meals that are not part of the package.
There are quite a few restaurants in Lachung that serve delicacies like Mixed Meat Noodle Soup, also popularly known as Thukpa.
Lachung is a quintessential part of the itinerary of travellers on their way up to or down from Gurudongmar Lake. While you will invariably have a package tour of the nearby tourist destinations, it is wise to have an idea of what other spots you could cover while at it. Some of these spots are ‘Zero Point’ or ‘Yumesamdong’.
If you love trekking, then this could be a great adventure. Yet another point of tourist interest is Mt. Katao that spells unending fun for tourists who are on the lookout for snow adventures. There are activities like snow-tubing, skiing as well as snowboarding on Mt. Katao. However, it is strictly paroled by Army Officials and you will need permits to visit the mountain.
While the winter months give you trekking opportunities, the monsoon month of June will let you experience an unmatched cultural extravaganza of Lachung known as the Saga Dawa Festival.
It is a Buddhist Festival that traces the three significant events; birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha. Lachung hosts folk art functions and other ceremonies, along with serving exotic cuisines as part of the celebrations.
Best Time to Visit: March-April, June, September-November.
Distance from Gangtok: 110 Km
Height: 8,600 feet above sea level.
Click on the link to know more about Lachung: Everything that You Ever Wanted to Know
Yumthang Valley – The Valley Of Flowers
On your way down from Lachung, you will come across a strikingly beautiful valley of flowers that are known as Yumthang Valley. If you visit the valley in the summer months, you will be greeted with sweet-smelling, brightly coloured flowers that bloom all over the valley.
The scent is intoxicating, to say the least. The main point of attraction is the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary that is home to forty different species of Rhododendrons and other plants. You will also come across stick-like flowers growing in certain places and if you take a closer look, they will give out a heady scent.
These are used to make incense sticks in Sikkim. It is strictly forbidden to pluck flowers from the valley and any form of non-conformity will lead to fines.
If you visit Yumthang Valley during the summer months, you can witness the meandering river, Yumthang Chu that cuts across the majestic valley. It could be completely or partially frozen during winter months.
The valley offers yak rides to tourists during winter months when frozen ice forms a sheet over the valley and it is a thrilling experience to ride a yak over it. There are not many food options in Yumthang Valley. Whatever is available is either quite expensive or not great, taste wise.
If you have a package, you will have your breakfast included in it. The simple options include momos, Maggi, bread and jam/butter, boiled eggs etc.
You cannot really put up for the night at the valley. This is because it almost always experiences unfavourable weather conditions all through the year. You can cover this major tourist spot during the day time. The only place to stay the night is a forest resort house that requires permits to put up at. The nearest hotels are in Lachung where you could stay the night.
Best Time to Visit: March-April
Distance from Gangtok: 140 Km
Height: 11,800 feet above sea level.
Click on the link to know more about Yumthang Valley: Complete Answer to All Your Questions
5 Tips To Make The Journey More Memorable
North Sikkim gives you a range of options as far as vacationing is concerned. There are waterfalls, lush green valleys, blooming wildflowers, stunning snow-covered mountain ranges, overwhelmingly beautiful lakes and fresh mountain air. Listed below are 5 tips that can make your journey a lot more memorable if you are well-prepared:
- Study maps before heading out to know the place you are visiting. It will not only fill you with confidence but also help you in case your car breaks down or there is a sudden landslide on the way.
- Carry a first aid kit because these are all remote areas and medical attention could be difficult to access. You will need inhalers and anti-nausea pills if you have asthma or motion sickness.
- Carry additional batteries for your camera and power banks for your phones. You will mostly be travelling by car and the hotels you put up at might not have charging points or electricity.
- Plan your tour in advance so that you can pick your seats in the car and sit comfortably all through the journey.
- Experiment with local cuisines, visit local fairs, festivals and events and participate in them as much as possible. The beauty of a place is largely included in its food and festivities.
North Sikkim is an experience that you are bound to remember for the rest of your life. Visiting once will never be enough. It is a vast stretch of unmatched beauty that is best enjoyed while travelling through the heart of the hills. Book your trip right away for a complete rejuvenation of your mind, soul and body.
Planning your North Sikkim Trip:
It makes a lot of sense to Club North Sikkim trip. That way generally this can be covered in 3N4D short trips to larger trips like 7N8D days. The main places that this trip will cover is the two beautiful hilly cities Lachen and Lachung along with Gurudongmar Lake (One of the highest altitude natural lakes in the world), Chopta Valley, Yumthang valley and Zero Point. Generally, tourists cover these in a 4N5D trip.
We at Nomadic specialize on trips in the North Eastern parts of India. We send thousands of people to Noth Sikkim Trp every year. You can get a quotation and free consultancy from us.
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