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Old 7th June 2013, 15:11   #1
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Default Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

A trip to North east India was a long pending one. Never visited that side of the country till now. As rest of the NE states have some political or border issues, we have zeroed in Sikkim. It was a good decision. Thoroughly enjoyed our trip – Excellent weather, beautiful landscapes, majestic Himalayas, friendly people, good food.

Then the next steps. Did the flight bookings. When I started to finalize the itinerary and do the bookings, realized that places like North Sikkim and Nathula pass would need permits. Checked with couple of travels to book an SUV for North Sikkim. They have quoted high amount (later realized that the amount is justified for the effort a driver has to put up to drive in North Sikkim). So got all my hotel, travel with in sikkim, permit bookings done thru a travel agent. We have the vehicle (Xylo) with us from Airport pick-up on the first day to airport drop on the last day.

Day1: Flight from Bangalore - Bagdogra. Reached by noon. Had lunch in Siliguri, reached Gangtok by evening 4PM. Felt a little queasy when we started to reach Gangtok which is at a height of 5500 ft. But it did help us to get acclimatized to higher altitudes and prepared us to do North Sikkim. Went to the mall road and got a hang of Gangtok, tasted Momos.

Day 2: Started from Gangtok towards North Sikkim, our first destination being Lachen. Lo we met with our first blocker. BRO (border road organization) were relaying a portion of the road some 10 kms from Gangtok and stopped all the vehicles on both sides. After a delay we progressed forward.

Sikkim is a beautiful tiny state located amidst Himalayas, most of its cities/towns/villages are on mountain ridges, with rivers Teesta, Lachen Chu and Lachung chu passing by. The vistas offer a visual treat. Entire journey is enticing and refreshing. We would have seen some 30 to 40 small to big water falls on the way, some of them crisscrossing the road we are passing through. The hills are connected by small wooden bridges. We could see tiny towns and villages scantily thrown as we passed. All the houses had small to large gardens in front of their houses with colorful flowering plants. Apr/May is flowering season in Sikkim, our eyes are treated to 50+ varieties of flowers.

It was pouring heavily by the time we reached Lachen, it was extremely cold in the evening at an altitude of 9600 ft. Lachen is a nice little tiny village, kind of a stop-over before proceeding to Gurudongmar lake. Just as we reached Lachen, our driver met with 2 of his acquaintances (they are in their early twenties) who said that Gurudongmar lake is closed due to a land slide and will not open for the next 1 or 2 days. We were totally disappointed. We checked in to our hotel (will call it a home stay rather than a hotel) and are offered much needed hot tea to warm up. They have pictures of the lake put up in their house. With heavy heart and hope we asked the homestay owner if Gurudongmar lake is open for visit. He said it is very much open for visit and the weather is going to be fine by morning. Our spirits were up again. Our driver said that these youngsters would have been drunk (To beat the cold, everybody drinks alcohol in Sikkim. It is one of the highest consumers of alcohol) and might have been joking about the lake being closed. We were served hot Dinner in their Kitchen-cum-Dining room, straight from the stove on to our plates. So visualizing what we have in store for the next day we went to sleep.

Day 3: Our trip to Gurudongmar lake is a thriller. We started at 4AM when it was still dark. The road is narrow and rocky with no railing and the edge of the ridges looming above us at some of the places, the only light been that of the head lights of our Xylo. We asked our driver if the road is going to be like this for the entire stretch. He said this is much better, and the road will get even worse as we proceed. We prepared ourselves for it and waited for the first rays of the sun. We could not see anything in the dark except for the shadows of the huge mountains and the sound of the birds. Dawn slowly started to set around 4.30 followed by light, we could suddenly see that we were surrounded by the mighty Himalayas. We started climbing from around 9500 ft and reached to an elevation of 17,200 ft to reach Gurudongmar lake.

Most of North Sikkim is unlivable due to its tough terrain, and cold weather. The only reason people including the locals visit these places is for tourism. Sikkim shares its border with Nepal and Tibet. We could see Border Security Forces/Army camps at a lot of places. Only Indians are allowed to visit some of these places like Gurudongmar lake, zero point etc due to the proximity to the border, for security reasons. Hence even we Indians would need permits to visit.

On the way we stopped at Thangu at around 13000 ft altitude, for breakfast. It has 2 small kiosks the only sources of food. We were the first ones to reach there. All they had is Maggi, bread toasts and tea. It was very cold. The kiosk guy lit up the breakfast table (The table has a groove in the center to put firewood and light it up so that it provides warmth). He heated up the bread pieces in a big vessel and served them along with jam while he prepared Maggi in another big vessel. By the time we finished our breakfast, there were lot of tourists who started coming in for breakfast.

We finally reached Gurudongmar lake. The view of the crystal clear lake with its blue waters surrounded by the Himalayas is a visual treat to watch. It is one of the highest altitude lakes in the world. There is a shortage of oxygen in this place. We were told to tread very slowly step by step and not talk loud so that we save the limited oxygen we could inhale. For this reason kids below 10 years, old people, people who suffer from ill-health are not allowed to visit this place. We returned to Lachen, had our lunch and started towards Lachung.

Day 4: Lachung is fairly a big place compared to Lachen. It also has better facilities. It is surrounded by huge mountains some of them with snow. The view from our hotel is beautiful, with the snow mountains on one side, and a nice little water fall on the other side. By this time we got used to the heights, weather and felt much comfortable. We started in the morning after breakfast and first visited Zero point. It is called so as the road ends here to hit the Himalayan range and the other side of the mountains is the border area with Tibet. We played on the snow mountain – did snow balls, slid in the snow, climbed up and down, it was fun. We experienced light snow fall on our way back. We also visited Yumthang Valley – called valley of flowers. More than Yumthang valley, the 5 to 10 kms stretch of journey to this valley is beautiful. We could see big bunches of different colors of Rhododendron flowers and other flowering trees that brought color and beauty to this place. Back in Lachung for lunch and started back to Gangtok on the same day.

At some of the places all along North Sikkim, we could still see the remains of the earth quake that hit Sikkim in 2011 (Our driver along with his SUV got stuck in North Sikkim during the 2011 earth quake for 2 months until he was airlifted by the Army. He had to leave his vehicle and go back for it months later after the rubble was cleared).

Day 5: Stayed and relaxed in Gangtok. Visited the various places Gangtok has to offer. Did some shopping too.

Day 6: Started towards Pelling, west Sikkim. Our driver offered to drive us to Namchi in South Sikkim which is a deviation. We said why not. This is not included in the itinerary; we paid him some additional money for this. It is more of a pilgrimage with its Char dham temple, a huge statue of Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava, shirdi saibaba temple etc. Visited Temi tea garden too. West and South Sikkim are relatively more populated, we got to see more of the locals in their traditional dresses (they call it Baakhu), their traditions etc which we could not find in cosmopolitan Gangtok.

Day 7: Did Pelling sightseeing. Got to see the historical places/traditions of Sikkim like its ruined fort @ Rabdantse, Monasteries etc. We could see Buddhist culture everywhere, monasteries with its prayer wheels and chortens, Buddhist prayer flags flying on top of the houses.

Day 8: back to Bagdogra and Bangalore.



Tips:
1. Don’t jam pack your itinerary with places. Plan enough time between place to place, as landslides can happen anytime taking your planning for a ride.
2. Having a good and experienced driver, especially for North Sikkim is important. The roads are non-existent, water-falls crisscross the road, no railing, very narrow roads, mandates a good driver for your own safety.
3. SUV is much preferable for these drives. Most of the travels generally offer Tata Sumo. Book a Xylo/Scorpio instead. They would charge some additional money for this.
4. Start early for sight-seeing in North Sikkim. Weather takes a U-turn after noon.
5. Nathu La is not open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays
6. Try Sikkim food – Momos, Thukpa, their pickles
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Old 7th June 2013, 15:20   #2
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Gurudongmar Lake - Panoramic View
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-s1.jpg

Gurudongmar Lake - Crystal clear water with a perfect relection
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-s2.jpg

Gurudongmar Lake - Another view
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-s3.jpg

Zero point
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-s4.jpg

Gangtok - Panoramic view
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-s5.jpg

Temi tea garden
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-s6.jpg
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Old 7th June 2013, 16:35   #3
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

I am assuming this is a teaser post.

The pics of Gurudongmar lake are breath-taking. I hope you can post some more pics and some more details.

I was not aware that kids and old people cannot visit such places.

Can you reveal the details of the travel agent who made the arrangements for you?
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Old 7th June 2013, 17:32   #4
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Quote:
Originally Posted by vasanthn21 View Post
I am assuming this is a teaser post.

The pics of Gurudongmar lake are breath-taking. I hope you can post some more pics and some more details.

I was not aware that kids and old people cannot visit such places.

Can you reveal the details of the travel agent who made the arrangements for you?
Will post more photos. Gurudongmar lake is the only place in Sikkim where kids/old people are not allowed. I did not see this restriction anywhere else during our trip. Kids can be safely secured at the army check post at Giagong. We have seen a family who did that. We have got the bookings done through Yak and Yeti. They did a fairly good job.
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Old 7th June 2013, 17:38   #5
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Daisyb, thanks for sharing. The NE is always a place that many (myself included) want to visit, but never get there. Please post pictures of the flowers, if you dont mind. Do the locals speak Hindi? And do provide the travel agent's details, as requested in the previous post.
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Old 7th June 2013, 17:40   #6
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Great panoramas. What is the significance of zero point? Why it is called so?
And more pics please!
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Old 7th June 2013, 18:12   #7
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Quote:
Originally Posted by daisyb View Post
Will post more photos. Gurudongmar lake is the only place in Sikkim where kids/old people are not allowed.
Have heard that is the new rule that kids below 8 years are not allowed to proceed further to Gurudongmar Lake .

Almost some 5 years ago or so, during our self-drive travel, there was no such restriction. We travelled to the lake point with our 4-yr-old child in the month of April - having spend almost 2 hours over there, he became a little bit drowsy as the effect of high altitude became more pronounced.

I do believe a child is much more less susceptible to adults, in fact during our trip quite a few of the adult visitors were having adverse effects. From Lachen 9k feet, one travels to 18k feet of Gurudongmar in around 5 hrs or so - as such those vulnerable to heights do suffer.





Quote:
Originally Posted by Dodge_Viper View Post
Great panoramas. What is the significance of zero point? Why it is called so?
Zero point of hill is the point from where an overall panoramic view is possible.

Over here: Emerging from the clouds, the Zero Point plateau (4,450m) is the highest point accessible by road in the Eastern Himalayas. The journey here is through the famous Tibetan Plateau - that extends from the great Himalayan mountains of Tibet all the way to Sikkim.

Last edited by adc : 7th June 2013 at 18:28.
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Old 7th June 2013, 20:30   #8
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Sikkim is indeed a place that is very close to our heart. Planned and visited it in 2011 a couple of months after that devastating earthquake.

Thought we couldn't do North Sikkim, we went to Peling and Gangtok and had a wonderful time there. Have always dreamt of returning to North Sikkim and visiting the awesome and enigmatic Gurudongmar lake. We will do it one day for sure.

Now coming to your travels, a very nice narrative all that Sikkim has to offer and yes please do post more pics of the lake and other places you visited. Some question that would help fellow travellers like us in our next visit-
  1. How much did the North Sikkim leg of the tour cost (travel, food and stay) and the options you evaluated before choosing this operator (contact details please)?
  2. How may days in total was the North Sikkim tour and please share the itinerary of this leg?
  3. How many members were there in your North Sikkim journey and which were the places (hotels, rooms) that your were put up?
  4. How was the experience at Gurudongmar and effect of altitude on you and if you took any precautions?
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Old 8th June 2013, 00:44   #9
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Great post, daisyb !

I visited Gurudongmar lake on 27th May (last to last Monday) - awesome! We added Ravangla to our plan (same path you take for Namchi); nice sleepy town for a great relaxation, post all the ups and downs of the roads to North Sikkim. Posting a thread soon on that.

As for the name 'zero point', another explanation I heard (went there in 2009 ; http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...verywhere.html (My Sikkim trip ... Greenery, greenery everywhere!)) was that, beyond this point is the no-man's land between India and China [Tibet].
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Old 8th June 2013, 08:49   #10
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

thanks Daisyb, it appears that you had a wonderful trip. Can you please fill in more details of the total cost, homestay you were put up with, cleanliness in restaurant.

If possible please do share the time line with the dates and it will be very helpful.
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Old 8th June 2013, 10:51   #11
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Great trip. North east is truly beautiful, with breathtaking views. I went there in 09, and the memories are still fresh. Your photos rekindled those memories, thanks for that.

How are the roads? I found that the main culprit for comparatively lesser tourist turnout in inner routes like Gurudongmar lake etc was extremely bad roads. Are the roads improved now?

The small villages enroute to Gurudongmar lake where one has to stay are really fairy tale villages. I remembering waking up at 4am to enjoy the serenity of Lachung.

Did you get to see the famed view of Kanchanjunga from Pelling? When I went there, it was hidden behind fog, so I didn't get to see it. What's the best season to visit Pelling to get sureshot views without fog?

For enjoying the real beauty, one should venture ahead of the usual Darjeeling/Gangtok points to the lesser visited points, like you did. Kudos!
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Old 8th June 2013, 11:17   #12
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Sikkim is very close to my heart, went to Gangtok for our honeymoon trip last year.

Did you visit Tsomgo (Changu) lake ? It too is very beautiful.

The Gurudongmar lake is famous for the fact that one part of the lake never freezes.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, had visited this place as part of his travels worldwide. The lake is named after him.
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Old 10th June 2013, 12:57   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bomi View Post
Daisyb, thanks for sharing. The NE is always a place that many (myself included) want to visit, but never get there. Please post pictures of the flowers, if you dont mind. Do the locals speak Hindi? And do provide the travel agent's details, as requested in the previous post.
Sure, will post more pics including flowers. Yes, most of the locals speak Hindi. Did not feel difficult at all to communicate. Although Sikkim has many official languages, most of the people out there speak Nepali. Lot of people seem to have their roots in Nepal and migrated to Sikkim. The travel agent we have got the bookings through - Yak and Yeti www.yaknyeti.com. They did a fairly good job



Quote:
Originally Posted by Dodge_Viper View Post
Great panoramas. What is the significance of zero point? Why it is called so?
Thanks. There are lot of versions to it. But from my udnerstanding this place is called Zero point as the road ends here to hit the himalayan mountain range. There is no road further ahead. The other side of the mountains is the border area with Tibet.


Quote:
Originally Posted by adc View Post
I do believe a child is much more less susceptible to adults, in fact during our trip quite a few of the adult visitors were having adverse effects. From Lachen 9k feet, one travels to 18k feet of Gurudongmar in around 5 hrs or so - as such those vulnerable to heights do suffer.
The higher altitude is not the only reason. Although Zero point is also around 17000 feet, I dont think there are any issues with the place. The oxygen near Gurudongmar lake is less. We have noticed that the greenary also reduces as you go closer to the lake. Hence people feel the exhaution and other adverse effects

Quote:
Originally Posted by girishglg View Post
  1. How much did the North Sikkim leg of the tour cost (travel, food and stay) and the options you evaluated before choosing this operator (contact details please)?
  2. How may days in total was the North Sikkim tour and please share the itinerary of this leg?
  3. How many members were there in your North Sikkim journey and which were the places (hotels, rooms) that your were put up?
  4. How was the experience at Gurudongmar and effect of altitude on you and if you took any precautions?
We got the hotels (3 star), vehicle (Xylo) with airport pickup on start day to airport drop on last day, food - Breakfast included on all days, all 3 meals included during North Sikkim trip. We are 6 people - 2 couples and 2 kids. Trip dates are 12th May - 19th May. The total costed us 1Lakh.

Places - North Sikkim (Lachen, Gurudongmar lake, Lachung, Yumthang valley, Gangtok, Pelling). All sight seeing in these places along with parkings is included in the total cost. We payed 2.5k separately for Zero point. Travels dont include this in the total cost.

North Sikkim duration - 2 nights and 3 days (one night in Lachen and one night in Lachung). Itenerary is covered in my travelogue

Gurudongmar lake - we rentes thick jackets near Thangu valley, we already had caps and gloves. Other than these we did not take any special precautions. We walked very slow and maintain calm.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ku69rd View Post
thanks Daisyb, it appears that you had a wonderful trip. Can you please fill in more details of the total cost, homestay you were put up with, cleanliness in restaurant.

If possible please do share the time line with the dates and it will be very helpful.
Hotels - Lachen - Gurudongmar Lodge, Lachung - Apple Valley Inn, Gangtok - Sonam delek. All are 3 star. Sonam Delek might be between 3 and 4 star. I will rate all of them good. Friendly people, very neat and clean, excellent service.

Cost and timelines, I answered already just above.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ani_meher View Post
How are the roads? I found that the main culprit for comparatively lesser tourist turnout in inner routes like Gurudongmar lake etc was extremely bad roads. Are the roads improved now?

Did you get to see the famed view of Kanchanjunga from Pelling? When I went there, it was hidden behind fog, so I didn't get to see it. What's the best season to visit Pelling to get sureshot views without fog?

For enjoying the real beauty, one should venture ahead of the usual Darjeeling/Gangtok points to the lesser visited points, like you did. Kudos!
Roads in North Sikkim are still non-existant. To some extent the earthquake in 2011, frequent land slides, water falls crisscrossing the roads might be the reason. But I think BRO (border road organization) can do a better job in improving the roads. I noticed that tourists are lesser in Gurudongmar lake compared to Lachung/Yumthang valley reason might be the roads. We could not see Kanchenjunga from Pelling although the weather is relatively clear. I dont think there is a specific season to be able to see. it depends on how lucky you are. Weather in Sikkim is very unpredictable. The clear weather can suddenly change. When we visited Zero point - the weather was beautiful. After an hour or so, mist suddenly covered the whole place and we experienced light snow fall.


Quote:
Originally Posted by DCEite View Post
Did you visit Tsomgo (Changu) lake ? It too is very beautiful.
We had Tsomgo lake in our itenerary and got the permits too. But we cancelled the trip and relaxed on that day in gangtok.

After visiting Gurudongmar lake, we thoguht we could afford to skip Tsomgo lake. Gurudongmar lake place remains to be my favourite of all the places we visited in Sikkim.
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Old 10th June 2013, 17:55   #14
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Gurudongmar Lake
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-gurudongmar-lake-04.jpg

Gurudongmar Lake
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-gurudongmar-lake-08.jpg

Gurudongmar Lake
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-gurudongmar-lake-11.jpg

On the way to Gurudongmar Lake
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-gurudongmar-lake-16.jpg

On the way from Lachen to Thangu - Taken this photograph at 4.30AM in the morning
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-lachen-way-thangu-03.jpg

On the way from Lachen to Thangu - Taken this photograph at 4.35AM in the morning
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-lachen-way-thangu-04.jpg

On the way from Lachen to Thangu - Taken this photograph at 5AM in the morning
Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling-lachen-way-thangu-05.jpg

More photos comming shortly
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Old 11th June 2013, 18:00   #15
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Default Re: Sikkim - Gangtok - Himalayas, Heights Calling

Wow Daisyb,

Amazing trip. Sikkim is among the top favorite places to visit list and I hope one day I would be lucky enough to go there. The pics are awesome. Please share more pics and tell us more about your experience. Looking for more.
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