Mountains are mountains everywhere you go and oceans are oceans on every beach, why is it then that we travel to far off lands to see more mountains, more oceans, more trees, and more waterfalls? In all my travels I have realized that although the pictures of all snow-capped peaks or soaring seas look alike, every place has a different vibe, a different tune in its noises, a different story to tell and a different flavor to itself; and one has to be there in that air to hear that tune or taste that flavor, for it cannot be documented or recreated. It is as if every place has a soul and we can learn all the facts about a place through research but we can’t get to know it until we come face to face.
Then again facts are important for you to plan a great trip. It’s mid of November and I have just returned from my trip to North Sikkim and I am here to share all that you need to know about Sikkim to plan a perfect trip. I started my trip with Gangtok and then covered Lachen, Gurudogmar lake, Lachung, Yumthang, Zero Point Yumesamdong and the came back to Gangtok before leaving Sikkim.
I had to fly to Bagdogra airport and take a cab to Gangtok but soon the Pakyong Airpot near Gangtok should be ready and the travel will become so much easier. They also have choppers to take you from Bagdogra to Gangtok and back but they have fixed times, a baggage limit of 10 kg per traveler and are sometimes canceled due to weather conditions. If you want to take a chopper it’s always best to book one while going to Gangtok and not while coming from there to catch a flight so if it is canceled you don’t end up missing your flight. There are chopper rides available for sightseeing too. For details and best prices visit the official website of STDC.
Gangtok has a very progressive yet traditional vibe. I recommend going to Gangtok on a weekend if you want to enjoy the best of both worlds. On weekends the pubs are alive with the sound of live music which I am a sucker for. They also have casinos but most are digital casinos, for a good casino experience I recommend Mayfair Gangtok. For a touch of culture, there are museums and monasteries one should not miss. There are many more experiences that Gangtok offers like paragliding, hang gliding, river rafting, cable cars, treks, mountain biking etc. Visit thrillophilia for more details.
Don’t forget to visit MG road for a lovely stroll and souvenir shopping, and The Taste of Tibet for the best dumplings (momo) in town. I highly recommend their steamed pork dumplings and the local beer called Hit, it is so smooth to taste yet really strong, It hits hard. 😉
There are places around Gangtok like Tsomgo Lake, Nathu La Pass that you would want to visit for which you will need to book a vehicle in advance and have them apply for your permits.
While visiting Sikkim, especially North Sikkim you will need permits to go to a lot of locations since these are restricted areas very close to the national border of India. The best thing to do is to reserve a vehicle in advance, preferably a good SUV since roads are rough and sometimes not there at all. Your agent will need a copy of your ID proof and some passport size pictures and he will get your permits ready.
If you want to experience snow the best time to visit is February, March or towards the end of November which is when the snowfall starts and the valleys start transforming into a cloud. We missed snowfall but luckily it was cherry blossom season and I am so glad it was. On our way to North Sikkim, we came across many Pink Cherry Blossoms, some beautiful waterfalls and lovely views of the snow-capped peaks that we were approaching.
Lachen And Lachung are scantily populated beautiful countryside locations and on clear nights you can see more stars than you ever thought possible. Most of the hotels offer unrealistic views of the snowy peaks of Himalayas and are covered in snow themselves during December and January. For these two months, one cannot go any higher since roads are blocked due to heavy snowfall and landslides. Although, when one does go higher any other time of the year, it’s magnificent.
Gurudongmar lake at an altitude of 17,800 ft, is surrounded by colorful prayer flags and mountains on all sides, some rocky, some covered in snow. The only sound you hear is the sound of the gushing wind and your chattering teeth. Lake was starting to freeze on the edges when we visited it, so were we but it was still one of the most beautiful experiences I had ever had.
Being from a warm place I was so cold that all the jackets in the worlds weren’t enough, I had to use the blanket I carried for the commute to keep myself warm. It didn’t work. On our way back from Gurudogmar we stopped at an army canteens that served life-saving hot dumplings (momos) and free coffee to the travelers. You could say I am alive today because of those dumplings.
Zero Point had beautiful frozen streams and grand snow covered mountains with some small tents on the side in which they sold Maggie, eggs, tea, coffee and alcohol to keep you warm. On our way back from Zero Point, we stopped at another army canteen (Jalebi Point) for Some hot Samosa (Fried Indian snack) and Jalebi (Crispy Indian dessert) and if that wasn’t enough one could also stop in Yumthang for a dip in the hot springs. Yes, Sikkim has Hot springs too! 🙂
There are other places around you can cover if you have more time on your hands, and I hope you do because a short trip to Sikkim just doesn’t do justice to it.
A few tips to make your life easy there:
- Carry cash, you won’t find ATMs after Gangtok.
- You will need a chapstick and a lot of moisturizers (no matter how oily you think your skin is), also sunscreen, snow reflects sunrays!
- If you are from a warm place, you will need layers of warm clothes and a blanket for your commute.
- Woolen socks, scarves, warm boots, and gloves will save your life. you can either bring them or buy them in Gangtok, don’t count on buying or renting them later unless your driver assures you that they are available at that time of the year.
- If your hotel in North Sikkim provides a heater but not a humidifier, try putting a big bowl of water in front of it before going to bed, makes breathing easier.
- Carry a bottle (plastic/metal) for water so you can keep yourself hydrated. To avoid littering, disposable water bottles are not allowed in Lachen.
- If you experience motion sickness then you should carry motion sickness medication since you will be spending a lot of time on mountain roads. Don’t worry, as long as you don’t get sick, it could be a really good thing considering the view.
Wish you a lovely trip & safe travels!
Photo Challenge – Transformation
Photography and write-up © Copyright 2017, Niharika Jaiswal