13 October 2006

Sikkim Rulezzz......

Sikkim a small state situated in the North East, known for its lotteries [Sikkim State Lotteries].
Well I had a passion on visiting this non-commercialised natural splendor during my bachelor hood. With much luck I managed to convince just 1 guy [Amar] and start off on the 15th of September 2006.

North Sikkim and East Sikkim if time permits with a limited budget of 20k which included travel, food accommodation and purchases.

Canon Power Shot S400 + 1 spare Li-ion battery [Rs.1300/-] + 1GB [Rs.1300/-] + 256 + 32 MB CF cards
MTR Ready to eat food packets [Uppama & Puliyogre]

We took a flight from Bangalore to Kolkata. Kolkata->Siliguri by kanchakanya express [night journey] to reach Siliguri by 8am on 16th Morning. Siliguri->Gantok by road. The road to Gantok was pretty rough due to heavy rains, landslides and heavy machinery plying on the road due to dam construction across Teesta River. The drive from Siliguri to Gantok supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive turned out to be a 6 hr drive. Gantok is situated on top of a hill in layers. One can walk from end to end using the narrow steep passages. MG Road (litter free zone) was the most happening place where we got to see happening crowd.

Gantok MG Road at Night

4th Point of Contact:

The 4th point of contact helped us with the accommodation and planning out our itinerary. See the Pictorial representation of the contact. Bhanu also helped us get our passes done for Nathula and Changu Lake the following day.

17th Sunday [Nathula pass, Changu Lake & Baba Mandir – Rs.350 per person includes permit]:
Nathula pass is where an Indian can get closest to China. This is situated at 14,200 feet. It was the first time I got to feel altitude sickness, running just 20 steep steps up made my head go spinning and body craving for oxygen. Only 400 tourists are permitted to visit Nathula on 4 days a week. This has army camps and foreign tourists are not allowed. However photography is permitted in Nathula. The weather was misty and visibility bad. We were allowed to shake hands and pose for Photographs with the Red army. Changu Lake is another commercialized beautiful lake. It did not interest us, but it is on the way to Nathula. Baba mandir is another attraction, temple built in memory of an army officer who was killed in a freak accident. Quality food was cooked and served by soldiers.

18th Monday [Destination North Sikkim! – Rs.12000 3days 2 nights]:
Tourism in North Sikkim was open to the Public starting from year 2004, North Sikkim is the most beautiful part of Sikkim with a very few tourists visiting. This was the best of my trip. We passed by Tashi View point, where we got a glimpse of Kanchanjunga range.

We were traveled the whole of day to halt at Thangu for the night. The journey was amazing with a lot of breathtaking views all along the journey. Thangu has no electricity supply; you get to feel the rustic life out there. We got royal treatment and had no complaints! The night sky was extremely clear after a heavy downpour, I managed to take a couple of snaps of the night sky, the camera did not co-operate well due to the extreme cold and strong winds.

Tashi View point: Kanchenjunga Mountain range

Next morning we got to see life in Thangu, it’s just amazing with mostly Tibetan refugees who fled the China invasion on Tibet. With clear skies the sun was shining bright accompanied by cold and strong winds. Our next destination was Gurudongmar Lake. The journey anywhere up Thangu is amazing. We got to see some wild yaks along our journey and Rocky Mountains with snow covered peaks.

Gurudongmar Lake
No trip to Sikkim is complete without Gurudongmar. The lake is considered holy by Sikhs and Buddhists. The lake freezes during winter and one can walk over the frozen lake; however the risk is accessibility, during winter the snow can cut off access roads between Thangu and Gurudongmar. There was literally no road; it was just a series of trails that lead us to Gurudongmar. This is a high altitude lake situated at 17,300 feet. It is a cold desert with strong winds and breadth taking scenery. Breathing gets tougher with every step. The terrain is rocky and snow covered.

Gurudongmar Lake

I took a long brisk walk over the surrounding rocky terrain taking snaps whenever possible. There was no sort of wild life around. The periphery of the lake was carpeted by small blue flowers.

Gurudongmar Lake

Gurudongmar Lake

Chopta Valley:
Chopta valley is just 20 km drive from Thangu, it is just another wide valley. Strong winds blew against us, it was quite an experience. Without wasting much time we left to Lachung where we halted for the night. From where we left to Yumthang and Yumesongdong.


The drive from Lachung to Yumesongdong is again breathtaking with lot of beautiful valleys, greenery and winding roads. We had to bribe a local police to get to Yumesongdong as we did not have a tourist permit. The journey ends at ZERO point where the road ends. One has to walk for about 2hrs to get to Sulphur springs, however we did not have much time for that, I just went up one of the snow caped mountains the trek up was pretty uncomfortable with strong chill winds and the high altitude. I managed to get some good snaps of the adjacent peaks and valley.

Drive to Yumthang Valley

Yumesongdong drive

Yumesongdong Valley view

We were in the wrong season and hence did not get to see the 5 species of flowers that bloom all across the valley. We just got to see the valley and took bath in the adjacent hot sulphur spring. It smells like shit, but soon got used to it. The water’s just too warm to resist, we stripped and got into the water spent about 15 minutes and started our long journey back to Gantok.

Drive to Yumthag

Wild Yaks Near Gurudongmar Lake

Yumthang Valley

On reaching Gantok we realized a cyclone was on its way after a Low pressure area had developed in and around Sikkim It was obvious that everything from now was screwed big time and beyond our control. I had to give up on trekking plans. After much thought and re-planning with the help of a local tour operators we visited Ranka Monastry, Rope way and left to Darjeeling .

Ranka Monastry
This is an hour and half from Gantok, it is the 3rd largest monastery in Asia. We were the only tourists out there. We were actually disturbing the prayers. But they don’t seem to mind, we were well treated. Without spending much time we left to the helipad so that our pal [Shiven] would fly to Bhogdagra in time from Gantok. On reaching the helipad we realized the chopper would not take off. He took a solo-cab to Bhogdagra not sure what happened to him after that!

We head back to Gantok and left to Darjeeling hoping things would turn out brighter there. It was dark when we made it with continuous downpour. Our day was screwed with no options we decided to take a stroll around the City and ended up in INOX watching `Pyaar ke side effects` for 60bucks that’s damn cheap for a 7:30pm show!

Next day after having woken up at 3:30am we got ready and left to Tiger Hill [Sun rise point]. The weather was bad. After making it to the peak by 5 am we only saw thick cloud cover and more clouds everywhere. It was raining too! We knew our day was screwed by then. We were back in our lodge by 7 am. After breakfast we decided to cross over to Nepal. We figured out Pashupathi was the closest town in Nepal and decided to get there. The culture out there was no different, the same old Chinese faces and Hindi speaking crowd. It was just a shopping centre with not much to see except the Duplicates of Nike and Rebook which seem to be the best buys out there.

Next morning we left to the Railway station to catch the World Heritage train to Ghuum. But due to bad rains and not many tourists the train was cancelled. Typically the train service starts at 10:00 am. It’s powered by a steam engine, pretty amazing, but with a heavy price – Rs.240 [Darjeeling – Ghuum - Darjeeling]. That’s way too expensive but it didn’t matter to us we just took snaps and left to Siliguri.

The weather had got worse our journey back wasn’t pleasant! We had to cancel and claim 50% refund on our Train fares as Trains were delayed by 8 hours due to heavy rains and flooding. Amar convinced me that Bus was a better option to experiment with. To begin with we got cheated off the ticket pricing seeing our desperation. The tickets ideally costs Rs.300, we ended up paying Rs.450 per ticket for an AC/Sleeper! Next the bus scheduled to depart at 20:00 hours arrived only at 21:30hours and departed 15 minutes later.

24hr Bus Journey:
Typically a bus journey between Siliguri and Kolkata takes 10-12 hrs. But this turned out to be a 24hours bus Journey. The bus wasn’t maintained, the AC vents were crude, and it was a canon aiming busts of Air straight at us. I found a workaround to get away with it, Aquafina water bottle was of the right diameter, and we capped the canon. There was no seating/sleeping comfort the width was 1ft 6in wide and 5ft 6in long per person. The 24 hour delay forced us to advance our flight by 24 hrs J, the price was Rs.1500 +wake up call to Amar’s pal at 6 am who took care of the rescheduling. We stayed on Tea, biscuits and Chocolates, the bus occasionally got stuck up in traffic and we could take a leak at irregular intervals.

The 24hrs bus journey ended close to Kolkata Airport. We decided to lodge close to Airport to avoid further delays the following day. We were slightly disoriented and lost appetite after the long journey. We had dinner and crashed. Next morning we started quite early to reach DUM-DUM Airport quite comfortably. We took the Emergency Exit seats – These seats are quite special for three reasons. 1- In case of an emergency you stand better chances of survival. 2- You get maximum leg space and 3- You get a personal briefing by the cabin hostess on emergency procedureJ!

- No trip to Sikkim is complete without a visit to Gurudongmar
- Thangu is the place where you should halt in North Sikkim.
- Always take the Train in North East, never trust travel agents outside Sikkim
- Carry MTR food packets if you are vegetarian – esp. North Sikkim
- It is not just the Destination but the Journey as well that’s amazing in Sikkim
- Private transport not allowed, you need to go through tour operators in Sikkim.
- You need to spend at least 2 weeks to see the best of Sikkim
- Roads connecting Siliguri and Gantok are prone to land slides due to heavy machinery on account of Dam construction; so avoid that route and get to Gantok either from Darjeeling or Bhogdagra.
- Best times to visit Summer – you get to see flowers; Winter – you get to play around with snow; Off season – with no tourists around you get better experiences