Few months back I was having a chat with one of my friends in which he mentioned that his dad recently went to sikkim for some work and the word got stuck in my head. When I got back home the two things that I could relate with Sikkim was Gangtok (its capital that we all learn when we were young) and cleanest state (read it somewhere) so the curiosity started increasing and with that increased my knowledge about the smallest state of india(in terms of population). Reading about the place I decided it to be my next destination and fortunately I had days off in the coming month and it was a good time to visit the place.
Sikkim the landlocked state is surrounded by Nepal,Bhutan,China and West Bengal is a wonderland for nature lovers as you can spot waterfalls and a wide variety of exotic plants everywhere.The people are very honest, hardworking & concerned about nature and that is the biggest reason behind it being the cleanest state, people don’t litter things on the road and they don’t even pee publicly. Moreover they don’t even let you do that and you might be scolded for doing that.
Few queries that everyone had due to lack of information about the north east were about
- Tension with china & terrorism (it is very peaceful last war was in 1967 since then no such incidence unlike the indo-pak border)
- Permits (you need them but not a big problem ill cover them in detail in my travel guide)
- People (they are mostly Nepali and are open to everyone)
Few things that you should know before going
- You need permits for going to north Sikkim and east Sikkim so carry min 4 passport size photos.
- Nathula is closed on Monday & Tuesday plan accordingly.
- It is a bit expensive for budget backpackers.
- Carry with you a rainproof jacket coz it can rain anytime in gangtok.
- Booking your trip from njp station might be the stupidest decision of your whole trip, the guys there will charge you double for what you will get in gangtok and won’t respond to your complaint calls.
- Foreign nationals can’t go everywhere and they need to be at least two people accompanied by a guide if they want to trek. Your go to place is altitude travels near tourist reception centre mg marg, they specialise in arranging treks for foreigners, you can easily find someone to accompany you for the trek.
- There are shared jeeps for most of the places that are shared by 10 people so book front two seats for you if you want to travel comfortably.
- Internet is not smooth in most places except Gangtok so preplan your trip and have all the important info that you want saved on your mobile or laptop.
Lets talk about my trip, I booked my tickets 2 months back and got them for 7k roundtrip to delhi, this was my first time flying with vistara and it was really as they say “fly the new feeling” for me. The service was good and the big surprise for me was that I wasn’t expecting a single meal and I got a full meal plus a snack as my flight had a small halt at Guwahati airport. This new venture of Tata and Singapore airlines deserves a thumbsup and I would love to fly with vistara again.
I spent 10 days and covered north,east and west spending 25k (food, travel, accommodation).
I reached Bagdogra airport at about 14:30 and was already very happy with the service I got in my flight and took a shared innova to gangtok for ₹750. You can also go from bagdogra to siliguri and then take a shared jeep to gangtok it can save you ₹200 but I chose comfort over saving.
Reached Gangtok at around 19:30 and checked in to my already booked place in Mg Marg called Go Hills. It was a kind of hostel that had two 4 bed dorms and a private room. I booked the dorm bed for 700 but to my surprise I was alone, had a chat with my host and then left for dinner. I had already searched a lot of travel blogs for nice places and had Khan Uncle’s kitchen on my list it was close to my place but was full and I had to wait for half an hour for a table, so I chose to use their takeaway counter and ordered a chicken wrap and it was good. After having the wrap I went for a walk and came across a shop serving softy which are very famous on hill stations so I decided to have one and went back.
I was supposed to go to nathula pass today and I prebooked that but due to bad weather it was cancelled so I decided to take the gangtok day tour with two other people (we shared the same cab from aiport to gangtok).It was a 10 point tour for ₹2000 but believe me out of the 10 only 3 or 4 were worth going like the banjhakari falls, Himalyan Zoological park(you can see the famous red panda), Rumtek Monastery & Tashi viewpoint (if the weather is clear), force your driver for these 4 points instead of all the 10 points. He will try his best for not going to rumtek but now is the time to show your negotiation skills.
After completing the day tour he dropped us at Mg Marg and we decided to meet for dinner at Khan Uncle’s Kitchen, meanwhile I started to search for a good travel company to book my trip for North Sikkim and I was successful in booking a good trip for three of us for ₹5k each. It was 2nights 3 days and our own reserved car. We met later for dinner as decided and the restaurant was yet again going full and we have to wait for our table, the food was good and so was today’s day.
We had to leave for lachen today so I woke up early, packed everything, went for my breakfast at the bakers cafe, met the other two and left for vajhra stand where the ride was waiting for us. It was a new bolero car but the driver was missing and then he came with his bright and cheerful aura. The guy was nice, warm and gave details about everything that we pass
ed by. I noticed a pattern of things while travelling in Sikkim everywhere you travel, you are accompanied by a river or its tributaries and you will find waterfalls everywhere as if they are municipal water supply but unlike them water is flowing 24×7. This time we were accompanied by Teesta river and saw naga falls (the biggest I saw in Sikkim) and a lot of small unknown
waterfalls on our way to lachen.
The weather and the scenes around were a treat to watch.
The 7 hr drive passed talking, listening to the driver’s 90s collection & bit of humour. By the time we reached lachen all of us were open to each other and acted like friends, now we were 4 people instead of three. The hotel was par, I unpacked my stuff changed my clothes and went for a walk with the driver. We sat at local shop and he started his routine drinking schedule and people were coming and we were having random conversations with people, some in hindi and some in nepali (which I was just guessing).Then came the time for dinner which was not even par and I used pickle for flavours and went to sleep early because tomorrow’s day was meant to start early.
Woke up at 5 had a splash of water on my face, brushed my teeth and hurried down for the ride, as we were already late for the 7
hr drive to gurudongmar lake and back. There was partial light outside and we started our journey @5:30 and this time we were accompanied by rangit river & clouds and then there was sun rising from the snow covered mountains and the scene was so mesmerising that you could look at it for hours. With the rising sun the temperature began to rise and became more comfortable, we stopped at the breakfast point and that was a small shop overloaded with people, everyone going to the lake stopped there. The roads were bad and continued to become worst till the time we were 14km away from our destination, and then there was 14 km stretch of fresh & smooth tarmac, while the max speed of car earlier was 40 this time it was easily crusing at a speed of 80.
Finally we reached the lake and it was not that big but it was at a height of 17,800ft and people were facing oxygen problems. The lake looked normal but a quarter part was frozen (in the month of may) on the far end.I being better than everyone else (in my head) decided to complete a walk around the lake.
So I started walking and there were around 20 strangers who were walking with me and then slowly some stopped at a point taking selfies, so we were 3-4 left now and I was at the front with the camera in my hand recording the walk and kept on walking and suddenly I realised I was walking alone (the other 3 also stopped back). I decided to continue towards the frozen part and as I went ahead some strange noise was hitting my ear drums and it was weird and I could see foot prints of animals on the ground and I was scared as hell, I looked back but my friends were far so I didn’t bother going back to call them and continued ahead. As I went towards the frozen area that noise kept on increasing and so were the no of scary thought in my head and suddenly I felt unconscious, I was waking for around 20 mins at a height of 17800ft and my body was low on oxygen. I sat down for a while and decided to go back, I just turned around and started walking back and don’t remember a single thing properly how I walked back. I reached back to my friends and sat at a rock for 10-15 mins and became normal but still I was having minor headache. They told me that they were looking at me going there and there was a point when I was too far to be visible and they were worried and then the driver told me that i was lucky enough not to encounter a snow leopard. I went back to the car & rested there for a while, in the meantime everyone came back and I was fit again for the journey.
We reached back our hotel had lunch, packed bags, and were on our way to lachung. We reached our destination in 2.5hrs and it was very much similar to the previous one, the only difference was that the hotel this time was average. I was too tired to complain so I decided to sleep while the other two wanted their bedsheets to be changed. I woke up and went on the terrace for star gazing that was the only time I missed my dslr, which I sold recently because it was having some issues. The sky was clear, the moon was close to full and the light of the moon falling on the snow-covered peaks was giving an impression of some wonderland away from our earth. The dining hall was full and I had wait an hour for my turn, but even that wait was of no use because the food was pathetic. I left the food went to the shop bought two lays ate and went sleep.
Today I woke up at 5 and got ready but the driver was missing, I called him and he told me that he is staying in some other hotel. He came and we left for yumthang valley at 6, the valley was not that interesting so I was a bit disappointed. The driver asked for another 3k to go to zero point and after a bit of a discussion we decided to go and it was a good decision (you will know why). The road to zero point was bad(in terms of driving but beautiful all around) and I was again doubting my decision as I was not much impressed by the lake and yumthang valley but when we reached there all my doubts were gone. All I could see was snow covered mountains infront of me, I got excited and stepped out of the car and had one good look of the mountain because I was seeing snow this close after a long time. I was too excited to walk on snow that instead of taking the small bridge to cross the river I jumped on the stones to reach the other side. I started hiking and wanted to go to top, it was again more than 15000ft and oxygen was less so you have to hike for 2 mins rest and then hike. I did exactly the same after learning from my mistake yesterday and had no problems. I met a Bengali guy and we both hiked together but he was having problem to breathe so we decided to hike together we went up and then came a point where he was tired and I suggested him to slide down. At first he was afraid but finally he went down sliding and i went further up, the wind was increasing and the temperature was -2c. Once I was satisfied that I was on top, I decided to sit there and enjoy the fast blowing cold breeze to hit my head and that was a feeling I cant explain. After sitting there for 10 mins i decided to slide my way down and covered my legs with the jacket to prevent my trouser from being wet but I didn’t help much. I met the same guy down, exchanged numbers and then we left for our hotel.
We reached hotel and I was in no mood for lunch while others were having it, I again munched on a packet of lays and biscuit and then we again started our journey back to gangtok. Everyone was tired and there was silence in the car, the driver was getting bored and he told us to get back in form otherwise he will sleep. It started raining,the sun was gone and we were again all geared up for our conversations and then came a moment when the weather, the roads and the conversations everything felt like that it should not end anytime soon.
Next part of trip Travelling across East & West Sikkim.