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Old 9th February 2017, 14:42   #1
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Default Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

I will try to keep this article short.

In 2010 I visited North Sikkim for the first time, with my college friends. I used to ride a bike then and from that time I dreamt about riding to North Sikkim. Time has passed and I shifted from bikes to cars, but the dream was still there. Many people have been to Leh and other places but very few could manage to North Sikkim. And to be honest I hardly know 2 or 3 guys who has done the full circuit in their cars. Not because its tough, because Sikkimese Govt doesnt allow private vehicles. But they do allows bikers. So cheer up if you want to ride !!!

I am always attracted to Sikkim in an unknown way. There are plenty to places you can visit in Sikkim, but the northern part has a different charm. And in January-February there are high chances you will get snow on the way. I almost lost hope few years back when I heard that private cars aren't allowed. However this time we managed to get permits till Lachen and Lachung and with some luck we could manage till Zero Point and Gurudongmar.

The plan for North Sikkim started when I was in Ipswich. Like all other plans many people showed interest initially. But as time went on only few people remained. Others had some other priorities and I am sure they missed this road trip very much. This time we used the holidays of 23rd and 26th. Our plan was of 5 days but you can extend it to 7 days if you want. You wont get bored of Sikkim. Finally 9 people where ready to go. Some of them were old friends.

Kolkata - Mangan - Lachung - We started at 00:00 hours from Dankuni toll. Arony, Dip and Sinjini honored us by seeing us off at the toll plaza. Right now the Burdwan-Morgram route is the fastest and in good condition. The route crosses many small towns and villages and at night the route is almost empty. We reached Siliguri by 9 in the morning and then headed towards Mangan. Our plan was to stay at Mangan that night and arrange for permits next morning.

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Permits for North Sikkim are given from Gangtok and Mangan. And after lot of research we found out that getting permit from Mangan is comparatively easier. Once you enter North Sikkim the road condition deteriorates rapidly. We reached Mangan in the evening. Next day (Tuesday) early morning we went to Mangan District office and submitted all of our documents. The district office opens at 10am. Our permit was granted after few hiccups. As I said Sikkim Govt doesnt allow private vehicles towards North so getting permit is not an easy task. Luckily we got ours but our permit was till Lachen and Lachung only.

On Tuesday noon after having lunch we headed towards Lachung. One can get a good view of Kanchendzonga from Mangan if the weather is clear. We were lucky enough to get that view. The picture doesn't do justice to what we saw.

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The first checkpost is after Mangan. At the check post we showed our permits and gave them a copy. Mangan to Lachung took us 5 hours including breaks. We stopped several times for tea, pee and sometime when the surrounding was scenic. The entire route is very much scenic. At Lachung we booked a homestay (Floret Hotels and Resort) which is on Lachung-Katao road. That night we were dead tired but Samaresh managed to get some bonfire after talking to the owner and it turned out to be a fun.

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Lachung - Yumthang - Zero Point- Lachung - Lachen- We were told we wont be able to go beyond Lachung, so we had to wake up early to go to the next check post and convince the army officers and take our chances. At the checkpost we didnt had to convince much. This is an off-season so there were less amount of tourists. That helped us to get past those check posts. But they warned us to drive carefully and not to push our cars too much as there could be snow on the way. Finally we were on our way to Yumthang, one of the main places to visit in North Sikkim. For those who dont know what Yumthang is - It is a valley in North Sikkim and known as valley of flowers. It is at 11000 ft from sea level. If you visit Yumthang at the right time which is after April to Oct you will see the beautiful Rhododendrons. Otherwise in winter Yumthang is usually covered with snow.

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Just before Yumthang there are many shops. They sells jackets, caps, snow boots etc and food as well. We stopped at one of them to have our breakfast. And believe me maggie didnt taste better ever. The owner also told us we wont be able to go till Zero Sikkim due to snow.

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Yumthang was covered with snow as expected. We went past Yumthang towards Zero Point. At one point we saw all the tourists vehicles were stopped and they didnt want to go further. When they saw our vehicles they said our cars wont go further. Even one of the drivers said "Baraf me rear wheel chalta hain, aapka nehi jayega". (Rear wheel drive goes better on snow, your car wont go further). This provoked us and we took our car another half kilometer until it was impossible for a two wheel drive to go. That place was 4-5 kms before Zero Point. We were both sad and happy at the same time because we couldnt make it to the top but we got a lot of snow.

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Last edited by Uprasenjit : 10th February 2017 at 17:18.
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Old 10th February 2017, 09:47   #2
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Default re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

After spending some time and when our adrenaline got down we started coming down. We took our lunch at the same homestay in Lachung and headed towards Lachen.

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When we re
When we reached Lachen it was already dark. January being an off-season most of the hotels/homestays were closed. We didnt book beforehand so we had to look around for a proper place to stay. Lachen is colder than Lachung and at that time the temperature was close to 4-5 degree. Finally around 7pm we got a good homestay with clean rooms and room heater. At night dinner was provided by the homestay and it was a usual Dal, Chawal, Sabzi meal. We did find chicken in Lachung but in Lachen it was close to impossible at this time of the year. The next day was the most challenging one so we went to sleep early.

Lachen - Gurudongmar - Lachen- Siliguri- We started from Lachen at 4:30 am. We were strictly instructed by the homestay owner that if we dont go early we wont get past the checkpost. The army wont allow us. Anis and Rohit's wife was not feeling well so they didnt come and stayed at the homestay. Lachen to Gurudongmar is 62 km which is suppose to take 3 and half hours. After Lachen the population decreased rapidly. As the height increased the trees grew taller. The bushes and small trees disappeared. The road condition is very bad with snow in places. We showed our permits at the first check post at Chungthang. I have been here before and knew there was a small shops which sells Maggie and tea here, but that was closed too in January. Around 7:30 we came to a place where a tourist vehicle was standing and there was a large area full of snow in front.

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Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!-img_7945.jpg

We got down from our car and spoke to the driver. He said that there was some large potholes beneath the ice and he wont go forward. He said his car couldnt get stuck and as there were no other vehicles it was a risk. The tourists were very unhappy about not being able to go to Gurudongmar after coming this far. The lake was only 20-22 kms far from that point. We started inspecting the place together and on the left I found some hard ice. So I thought I could manage to cross from that side. Unfortunately Elessar got stuck after going few meters. The front wheels were not getting any grip. This incident left us devastated.

After waiting sometime we saw a commercial bolero coming from the opposite side. The bolero crossed the section like a frog, jumping around. That gave us confident. We asked the bolero driver to pull our car and he happily did that. The driver boasted of being the only person that day to cross all icy obstacles and reach Gurudongmar. As time passed few more commercial cars came from Lachen and at one point all of them decided to cross the section. And if the car got stuck there are plenty of people to help. With the help of their direction we did manage to cross that section finally. I dont have the video of my car getting stuck but the below video was shot while coming back after 2 hours. While returning many cars have passed that area and the snow has melted.


The second and last check post is 16 kms before the lake. This area is a border to China and is very sensitive area. There are places where the army wants us not to take any photographs.

The last 16 kms is butter smooth single lane road. This was newly constructed because last time I was here there wasnt any road. We reached the Lake around 10:30 am. Army do not let anyone pass that area after 12. They say the wind is terrible after 12. At 10:30 the wind was more than we expected. Coupled with less oxygen made the place tough to roam around. It is one of the highest lake in the world at 17800 ft above sea level. The beauty of Gurudongmar made the difficult drive worthy. This was the second time I was seeing the majestic Lake but I was equally excited as others who were there for the first time.

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We came back to Lachen at 4pm. We were suppose to go to Upper Dzongu that day but due to time constraints we decided to drive further down, to Siliguri that night.

Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!-img_7989.jpg

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Siliguri - Kolkata - We drove the entire friday back to Kolkata on the same route. Theres nothing much to write about it. The botolbari route is always helpful but I wont suggest to take that route during night.

When we started planning for North Sikkim we were uncertain and when we came back from there it is like a dream come true. The feelings is inexpressible. Still I would not advise to take any small car to North Sikkim. Its not that the car wont go, but for a hatchback the road is too much. The suspension might take a toll. In fact I broke a part of my front bumper and one of the front mud guards while crossing some bad patches. One of my tires was punctured and changing tires at high altitude is a tiresome work. However the beauty of North Sikkim is unparalleled. The entire road trip became more fun because of the group too. Traveling in a group is always fun and a road trip is the best way to get along.

Trip Summary

Day 0/1 - Kolkata - Siliguri - Rongpo- Mangan
Day 2 - Mangan - Chungthang - Lachung
Day 3 - Lachung - Yumthang - Zero Point - Lachung - Chungthang - Lachen
Day 4 - Lachen - Thangu Valley - Gurudongmar Lake - Lachen - Rongpo- Siliguri
Day 5- Siliguri - Kolkata

I am still compiling the full road trip video and it should be an interesting one.

Last edited by Uprasenjit : 10th February 2017 at 18:32.
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Old 14th February 2017, 07:30   #3
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Default re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 14th February 2017, 10:25   #4
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Nice! Await more details and the promised video.

I was curious about the route so here is what you most likely followed:
Siliguri-ZeroPoint

and

Gorudongmar-Siliguri
Attached Thumbnails
Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!-siligurilachenbyroad.jpg  

Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!-gurudongmarsiliguribyroad.jpg  

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Old 14th February 2017, 10:35   #5
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Default Re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

Superb pics - the group clearly had a lot of fun. Threads like these make me want to head out on another road-trip again .

Would love to know how FWD compared vs RWD on the tough parts.
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Old 14th February 2017, 12:04   #6
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Default Re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Uprasenjit View Post
At one point we saw all the tourists vehicles were stopped and they didnt want to go further. When they saw our vehicles they said our cars wont go further. Even one of the drivers said "Baraf me rear wheel chalta hain, aapka nehi jayega". (Rear wheel drive goes better on snow, your car wont go further). This provoked us and we took our car another half kilometer until it was impossible for a two wheel drive to go.
Hello Uprasenjit.

Its a nice trip you made. Just that I am a bit scared looking at the way you guys tried to go over the snow, considering that you didnt have suitable tyres, snow chains, all wheel drive on your vehicles. You have been lucky to move over fresh snow and not skid and slide which happens over snow converted into ice. It wasn't a wise thing to do. The local taxis didnt go ahead because they know the consequences having plied there for years together.
It for things like this that tourist vehicles come from far and venture into difficult territory without adequate preparations, backups that sometimes forces the local authority to not allow permission to visit the places for out of state registration. I had this expericience just two days back when I talked to the Inspector of Police here in Gangtok for permission to take my friends ML registered vehicle to Ngathang. He had to relent when I said I would take care they wouldnt do anything silly.
Safe driving. Happy exploring.
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Old 14th February 2017, 16:08   #7
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Hello Uprasenjit.

...go over the snow, considering that you didnt have suitable tyres, snow chains, all wheel drive on your vehicles. You have been lucky to move over fresh snow and not skid and slide which happens over snow converted into ice. ...

The local taxis didnt go ahead because they know the consequences having plied there for years together.
... I talked to the Inspector of Police here in Gangtok for permission to take my friends ML registered vehicle to Ngathang...
Couldn't agree more!

But I have to add that I did not find the taxi drivers any more skilled at driving on ice/snow in those regions (Arunachal, for one) than the average driver from the plains. Though the reason they are alive and well is they have the smarts not to try driving on ice in the first place.

@Dr_MNC_SK - I hope you can use your connections with the Inspector of Police and have the Army or the Border Police give them some basic training.
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Old 14th February 2017, 16:12   #8
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Originally Posted by mvadg View Post
Couldn't agree more!

But I have to add that I did not find the taxi drivers any more skilled at driving on ice/snow in those regions (Arunachal, for one) than the average driver from the plains. Though the reason they are alive and well is they have the smarts not to try driving on ice in the first place.

@Dr_MNC_SK - I hope you can use your connections with the Inspector of Police and have the Army or the Border Police give them some basic training.
I recently travelled to Arunachal (Tawang Bumla Sangester) and I do reciprocate your feeling, as to the driving attitude of the local Taxi Drivers out there, but unbiased here (Sikkim) I feel they are much better and take only calculated Risks (Well, morons exists everywhere).
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Old 14th February 2017, 16:57   #9
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Default Re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

Thank you all.

Quote:
Originally Posted by GTO View Post
Superb pics - the group clearly had a lot of fun. Threads like these make me want to head out on another road-trip again .

Would love to know how FWD compared vs RWD on the tough parts.
I drive an EcoSport which has a terrific initial. I had to rev hard everytime there is a slope. Overall the TUV definitely performed better. The problem of a front wheel in the mountains is if the front wheels are stuck on an incline the car will get stuck, whereas a rwd can push the car forward. Also, the leaf spring of the TUV was better on rough road than coil springs.

As of RWD vs FWD in the difficult terrain like snow the EcoSport performed better. You just have to make sure that the front wheels are not stuck anywhere. I will share a video later when on a rough patch of bad roads + snow the TUV jumped terribly whereas the EcoSport glided.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr_MNC_SK View Post
Hello Uprasenjit.

Its a nice trip you made. Just that I am a bit scared looking at the way you guys tried to go over the snow, considering that you didnt have suitable tyres, snow chains, all wheel drive on your vehicles. You have been lucky to move over fresh snow and not skid and slide which happens over snow converted into ice. It wasn't a wise thing to do. The local taxis didnt go ahead because they know the consequences having plied there for years together.
...
Yes we were not prepared but we did take calculated risk. We moved past the tourist vehicles because I had an EcoSport and the snow was fresh. We stopped once we started getting black and hard ice and came back from that point. We were with our families and safety is the first and foremost priority for us. Ofcourse we tried to have fun, but within limits.


Pardon my ignorance, the local drivers can be very good but they have very limited knowledge. For example they dont know on ice a fwd is better than a rwd. Most of the tourists vehicles are Bolero and they dance on ice, hence they didnt want to go forward.

I would love to meet you next we I am in Gangtok.
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Old 14th February 2017, 18:07   #10
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Default Re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

Fantastic share.
Do keep up the good work of the detailed sharing of your drives.
Regards,
KD
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Old 14th February 2017, 19:54   #11
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Default Re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

What a fantastic read this was! Rated 5*. Excellent set of pics and hats off to the drivers for successfully completing the trip in this terrain without damaging the cars. You guys just rock

Your North Sikkim trip irked the memories of our North Sikkim trip (http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...backs-suv.html (Sailed through North Sikkim in Sedans, Hatchbacks and an SUV) ) and i can relate through the pain or rather fun?!, you guys went through while driving. The roads here are super bad. In comparison to Ladakh i would say, the driving terrain of North Sikkim is tougher than the general Ladakh tourist circuit.
I sincerely hope Sikkim Government makes the permit procedure easier so more people can enjoy this terrain in a self driven way. But again driving in this terrain is really risky at places so the current scenario has both pros and cons.

Sharing a video from my North Sikkim trip!
My Etios took all these beatings without a single rattle!


Few pics from our trip-

Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!-img_4778.jpg

Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!-img_4793a.jpg

Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!-img_4821.jpg

Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!-img_4828.jpg
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Old 15th February 2017, 08:47   #12
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Default Re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

Thank you Samba. Here is the full video, do watch it in HD and full screen -

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Old 15th February 2017, 12:54   #13
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Default Re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

Wonderful coverage of a fantastic trip of which I have been a part from conception, but alas couldn't make it to the actual trip. Some regions and terrains can be conquered only with confidence of ready support. I feel north Sikkim is one such region. I guess I will not venture their alone and therefore it's a missed opportunity for me. Hope you guys plan the route once more so that I can join in comfort of experienced support.

On a lighter note, I do not find "leaf springs" under my TUV. Guess I need to create a ruckus at the service center and get them.

Congratulations and thanks for sharing!
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Old 15th February 2017, 15:45   #14
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Default Re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

Superb pics and videos Uprasenjit, rated 5 stars. It has been a long time since I had last visited North Sikkim. In 2008 January the terrain was not this treacherous as it looks in your videos. Your log is enticing me to go there again

Quote:
Originally Posted by Uprasenjit View Post
I drive an EcoSport which has a terrific initial. I had to rev hard everytime there is a slope.
I think you meant Ecosport has terrible low end torque!


Quote:
Originally Posted by mi2n View Post
On a lighter note, I do not find "leaf springs" under my TUV. Guess I need to create a ruckus at the service center and get them.
This is wicked

Quote:
Originally Posted by Uprasenjit View Post
Yes we were not prepared but we did take calculated risk. We moved past the tourist vehicles because I had an EcoSport and the snow was fresh. We stopped once we started getting black and hard ice and came back from that point. We were with our families and safety is the first and foremost priority for us. Ofcourse we tried to have fun, but within limits.

Pardon my ignorance, the local drivers can be very good but they have very limited knowledge. For example they dont know on ice a fwd is better than a rwd. Most of the tourists vehicles are Bolero and they dance on ice, hence they didnt want to go forward.
This is a debatable topic. I have been going to the hills for more than a decade now and have found that there is a common trait among all the drivers from the hills, be it Sikkim, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Ladakh or Arunachal. They look down upon the drivers from the plains. Over the years I have learnt to filter out their comments and opinions. If I had blindly listened to them, neither would I have done the Chushul to Mahe route, nor would I have ever reached Sandkaphu. Saying that, I am indebted to the people of the hills for saving me on several occasions. If I had not listened to them in those situations, I would be typing this from another world.

Last edited by noopster : 20th February 2017 at 22:39. Reason: As requested
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Old 15th February 2017, 15:47   #15
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Default Re: Compact SUVs road-trip from Kolkata to North Sikkim - 17,800 ft!

Great travelogue with some crispy pictures. Nice videolog too.. rated 5*. It is always fun to have this kind of trip in a group. I have visited the place thrice which includes one bike trip with my wife and one car trip with full family. When I visited the Gurudongmar in bike there was absolutely no road after Giyagaon camp. However if you allow me I will share some pics from my trips.

My Travelogue - http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...-my-diary.html (Kolkata to North Sikkim - Drive to relive the golden pages of my diary)

You guys are really fast, completed North Sikkim trip in 5 days from Kolkata.
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