North Sikkim is a mystical land with many hidden and unexplored gems! A romance with this enchantress will have you smitten for life as the snow laden peaks and milky white waterfalls cast a spell on you! But planning a perfect trip to this Magical abode could be a daunting task!
I had received a great response and huge queries for details to plan a perfect North Sikkim trip after my previous publish on the same (Ever grateful to you for all the support!). http://thevagabonddreamer.com/2018/02/10/experiencing-the-wizardry-of-north-sikkim/
Here’s an effort to bring together all the necessary information, tips and most amazing places to include in your itinerary to this heavenly land!
Best Season For North Sikkim – Although North Sikkim is very unpredictable and loves to play with your plans, yet you can be almost certain of these dates for an open access to North Sikkim (I still recommend you to check before making plans because the access to this route is very uncertain).
- October- December (January and February beginning witness Heavy snow, blocking the roads)
- February End- May (Post that, monsoons start and it’s difficult to visit in heavy rains)
Inner Line Permit – You need to get a permit to Enter North Sikkim (Border Sensitivity). Carry all your Valid Documents, preferably both Original and Xeroxed. You would need- Passport Photos and an Address Proof (DL, Passport etc.)
Saviors on Rent- You can get warm Jackets, Boots and Snow Gloves on rent for a mere cost of 50-100 bucks/day. You wouldn’t necessarily have winter wears for such freaking cold; you can always rent from the local shops.
Join the Herd- If you are travelling solo or a couple and don’t wish to shell out much from your pockets, you can join any 3D2N, 4D3N or 5D4N package from a decent travel agent. They send groups of 6-10 in a car offering same services like arranging ILP, Stay, Travel, Meals and Basic Sightseeing. Package lies anywhere between 3500-8000 depending on which one you choose.
Zero Point Charges- The driver’s union of North Sikkim has fixed a driving charge of Rs. 2,500 for a drive ahead of Lachung to Yumthang Valley and Zero point. If it has not been already discussed with your agent, check with them regarding the same.
- It’s going to be FREEZING COLD. Carry enough warm wears and dress up in layers as the temperature will change during the journey and at different times of the day. Take extra pairs of Socks (woolen if possible), Gloves and Thermal wears.
- It is always advisable to halt a night at Lachung/Lachen when ascending towards Zero Point or Gurudongmar. Otherwise you may have to suffer from AMS, plus you wouldn’t be able to enjoy as you would be dead tired.
- Remember, you are travelling on the hills so the Average speed of the vehicle would be around 20-25 KMPH, with a risk of road blocks or breather breaks to click the beautiful landscapes.
- Carry Diamox with you. It’s a tablet used for Altitude Sickness, just pop one if you feel dizzy on your ascend to Gurudongmar Lake.
- It would be a boon if you carry an umbrella/Raincoat and Rainproof your Luggage if possible.
- You might not have cell phone networks on the treacherous mountains of North Sikkim, you may want to keep your loved ones informed and not rely on network alone.
- If at any point you feel the lack of oxygen, don’t try to be a hero. First try taking in deep breaths or sip in small sips of water and relax for a while. Don’t run, jump or panic (as this might increase the need for oxygen). If nothing seems to work, come down hill.
- Unless you are staying at a Luxury Hotel, the internet reviews for your stay at North Sikkim doesn’t really matter. All of them are basic and similar. The travel agents have their settings with certain Hotels/Homestays and it is preferable to stay with the bookings they have made.
- If the cold gets too much on to you, don’t hesitate to indulge in Brandy or local liquor Chhang for some warmth.
- If you dare to self drive on this route, don’t forget spare tires, toolbox, torch light etc with you.
- The Hotels would generally serve you Rice/Rotis in the meals. You may ask them in advance to prepare some local delicacies for you instead. (They might charge extra but it’s totally worth).
- Bring a Thermos along. Fill in Hot water and take while traveling to Zero Point or Gurudongmar. You can thank me later!
- You will get basic food in the Northern part of Sikkim, so if you are fussy about food, you might as well carry some instant food along. (You get packet soup, noodles etc in shops at Lachen and Lachung, just in case)
- You MUST have the momos at Chungthang Canteen.
- Try Hot Thukpa (Veg/Non Veg), Butter Tea, Chhang (local liquor), Gundruk and Timo apart from Momos.
- Wai Wai (a kind of noodle snack) isn’t available in all the parts of the country but you can find in abundance here! You have to try and maybe take some home.
Places to Visit!!
- Gurudongmar lake- Nestled at a height of over 17,800 Feet, this enchanting lake is one of the highest lakes in the World; and is nothing but a display of Nature’s magic. Legend has it that Guru Nanak (Sikh Guru) had visited the lake in the 15th century and is considered sacred and witnesses a lot of pilgrims. This 5 KM diameter lake is surrounded by Naked Mountains and you can spot a Yak or Blue sheep around if luck. If you plan a trip in the winter months, your eyes will be treated with the sight of a frozen lake which you will be lifetime cherish-able moment! The extensive height of the lake might create some breathing problems for a few, but if your health permits, I recommend you to climb down the stairs to actually feel the beauty of the lake as opposed to viewing it from just the parking spot.
How to reach?- Use Lachen as the base for Gurudongmar. It’s a 5 hour long drive from Lachen (including breaks) and you will have to leave early morning by 5 AM at max. The journey is harsh yet breathtaking and you will notice a drastic change in landscape as you ascend.
Height- 17,500 feet Approx.
- Yumthang valley- Also known as the Valley of Flowers, yumthang Valley is a paradise for the dreamers. Surrounded by Himalayan Snow capped Mountains, a river flowing through the center of the valley and mesmerizing Green Pastures and Flowers! With the advent of spring season, the land is covered with flowers and you can mistake yourself to have reached heaven! The valley is also a base to Zero Point and you can find a few shops here from where you can rent jackets and boots for the Zero point. The Hot Springs in the valley is commercialized but a must visit if you love to let nature pamper you.
How to Reach?- It’s located at around an hour’s distance from Lachung, on the way to Zero Point.
Height- 12,000 feet Approx.
- Zero Point/Yumesadong- Up above the world so high!! Zero Point gives you the feel of “On top of the world” quite literally! Covered with snow almost through-out the year. It is quite literally the point Zero as it’s the end of lands and the last outpost for civilians. The drive from Yumthang valley to Zero point is adventurous yet extremely scenic. As you romance the curvaceous roads, you might feel a little dizzy at times due to lack of oxygen and steep curves. Look out for a “jalebi point” when heading up to Zero point, the name is obviously received for the roads which look like a jalebi from up here!
How to Reach?- It is at around an hour’s drive from Yumthang valley and approximately 2.5 hours from Lachung. You can rent jackets and snow boots from Yumthang.
Height- 15,500 feet Approx.
- Katao- Many people confuse Katao for Zero Point and don’t bother to visit this amazing Indo-China border mountain. Though getting a permit to visit this enthralling haven is difficult, but if luck favors and the permit is received, one must visit the offbeat Mount Katao. It gets colorful like Yumthang during spring and is also loved by adventure junkies for its perfect snowboarding and skiing background.
How to Reach?- 24 KMs from Lachung. There is an Indian army post just before Mount Katao and ascending forward might be denied without permission. Make sure you have collected the vehicle permit in advance.
Height- 15,000 feet Approx.
- Tso Lhamu Lake- Like Katao, getting a permission to visit Tso Lhamu lake is a pain as it lies on the Tibet border. But if you are lucky and the BSF allows you to ascend ahead of Gurudongmar for this serene lake, then don’t let this opportunity slip. A pristine and hardly explored lake which is the origin of Teesta River, Tso Lhamu also happens to be almost as high as Gurudongmar which makes breathing a little difficult here too, but all worth the amazing experience.
How to Reach?- Almost 10 KMs ahead from Gurudongmar lies Tso Lhamu and can be accessed using the same route.
Height- 17,700 feet Approx.
- Lachen- Popular as a stopover resting village enroute Gurudongmar and a base for a few North Sikkim treks, Lachen has more to it than just basic home stays and hotels. As you ascend towards Lachen from Chungthang, the scenic drive beside Lachen River makes you crave for a never ending journey. You will be amazed to know that this settlement has been made available to tourists quite recently. Waking up to witness snowy peaks and a soothingly chilly breeze is very typical of Lachen as the locals welcome and greet you with open hearts.
How to Reach?- Almost a 6 hour drive from Gangtok. You have to take a diversion from Chungthang and drive for 26 KMs. Make sure to reach by the evening as it is not advisable to drive in this area after nightfall.
Height- 9,000 feet Approx.
- Lachung- Serenity and calming beauty of this village makes it one of my favorites in North Sikkikm. Situated on both the banks of the Lachung river, Lachung is a base for a number of treks and a pit stop for Zero Point, Yumthang Valley, Phuni Valley etc. The place gets colorful in spring and is full of apples during autumn. The river adds an indescribable beauty to this quaint town. A morning walk by the river is a must when staying here.
How to Reach?– Almost a 6 hour drive from Gangtok. You have to take a diversion from Chungthang and drive for 22 KMs. It is located close to Tibet border so there is heavy army movement, which might take you more time to reach than expected.
Height- 8,900 Approx.
- Thangu valley- This Valley is straight out of a fairytale! Lying on the way to Gurudongmar, travelers generally stop here for a meal and get smitten by the surroundings of this valley village. The alpine meadows of this charming valley have a number of wooden huts and army camps. It’s covered under snow for more than half of the year. If you have ample of time, I would recommend you to stay here for a night as it is higher than Lachen and yet the chills would be bearable to stay.
How to Reach?- It lies 30 KMs ahead of Lachen, enroute Gurudongmar lake.
Height- 13,000 feet Approx.
- Chopta Valley- North Sikkim never ceases to astonish you with its amazing enclosure and picturesque valleys. Close to the Thangu valley lies the enchanting Chopta which gives you a chance to walk on the frozen rivers in the winters and trek up from a blanket of flowers to Muguthang Valley. It is skipped by most travelers after doing Yumthang and Thangu, but as they say, each place has its own uniqueness and a visit to the less explored Chopta won’t fail to have you spell bound!
How to reach?- It lies at a distance of less than 20 Minutes from Thangu Village. It’s really unique to see the vegetation change from large trees to smaller shrubs as you approach Chopta Valley.
Height- 14,000 feet Approx.
- Chungthang- Standing on the confluence of the Rivers Lachen and Lachung, Chungthang is a small town in North Sikkim district. This town is special as it is believed to have been visited by Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Padmasambhava and thus is considered sacred by the Buddhists and Punjabis. Also, it is miraculous that under this climatic circumstance, there is a growth of Paddy in this town.
How to reach- Lying on the way to Lachen and Lachung, Chungthang is around 70 KMs from Gangtok.
Height- 5,900 feet Approx.
- Phuni Valley- A lesser known Skiing paradise in the Eastern Himalayas, the smooth slopes of the Phuni Valley is perfect for those who love skiing, yet want to ditch the commercialized spots. Not only is this picturesque valley a favorite for adventure lovers, but the flawless snowy background casts a spell on you and is a must see when in this region!
How to reach?- It is located at a distance of around 20 Kms from the town Lachung.
Height- 11,900 Ft Approx.
- Dzongu- Away from the crowd, hidden from the tourist trails is Sikkim’s best kept Secret known as Dzongu. Dzongu is home to the people of Lepcha community, the originals of Sikkim and is reserved for them. Surrounded by rivers and mountains on all three sides, this beautiful town has immense greens and vegetation and you feel like you are in the lap of nature literally. Get lost in the mesmerizing forests, spend an afternoon by the river and breathe in the aroma of large cardamoms as they grow in abundance here. When in Dzongu, live at a local Lepcha Homestay and enjoy their culture and organic traditional food.
How to reach?- Dzongu lies 70 Kms from Gangtok. Take a diversion from Mangan (Not towards Chungthang) and drive for 10 KMs to reach this nature’s blessing.
Height-3,000 feet- 20,000 feet.
- Mangan- District Headquarter of the North Sikkim District, Mangan is a beautiful and delightful treat for a soul seeker. Also known as the Cardamon capital of India, Mangan is home to a few of the most unique and valued monasteries of the region. Surrounded by dense vegetation on dreamy rolling mountains and a number of streams, Mangan is lesser explored by the tourists visiting North Sikkim and is all worth some time here!
How to reach?- It’s at a distance of around 70 KMs from Gangtok and 30 Kms from Chungthang and can be easily reached from the Gangtok-Chungthang Highway.
Height- 4,000 feet Approx.
- Local Monasteries- Buddhism being followed by the majority of the population of this region has resulted in a number of mesmerizing beautiful monasteries in the North Sikkim. We tend to ignore visiting small monasteries once we have visited a few large ones assuming it’s all the same. But I urge you to visit a few of the many in this region and be amazed by the colorful culture. Phodong, Phensang, Lachen, Lachung and Lingtem monasteries are a few I liked the most!
- Waterfalls- The beautiful mountains and valleys of North Sikkim are blessed with a number of streams and waterfalls and each of them are unique and wonderful treats to the sight! Bhim Nala, Naga Waterfalls, Seven Sister Falls etc. are a few of the most popular waterfalls in the North Sikkim region.
Now that you know how amazing this land is, I wonder why you’re still reading this!! Go plan your trip to North Sikkim soon. Or Message/Comment here and let me help you plan one!
Thoo Jachaey! (Thank You in Sikimmese)
Note: Some of the amazing pictures in this blog are clicked by my friend Sougata Singha!Check his instagram profile https://www.instagram.com/sinhasougata/
Also, a few pictures have been taken from Google!