First of all, let me introduce Sikkim from a tourist’s point of view. Though Sikkim is a small state it will take more than a week if you want to travel across the length and breadth of the state. For short tours, it can be planned as 3 separate plans: East and North Sikkim, East Sikkim and Silk Route, West, and South Sikkim. Apart from these you can have customized adventure trips like trekking to Kanchenjunga Base camp. There are several other trekking routes too. Here I will share my travel experience of North Sikkim.
The best Season to visit is March-April. During this time of the year, you can still find snow in higher altitudes and along with that, the valleys will be full of flowers, a scene to be cherished for a lifetime. Another favorable time is October because you will be able to celebrate the festivities with the Indian Army. You will get snow but no flowers during this time of the year. Avoid winter, as snow blocks the road and you will most probably be sitting in Gangtok itself.
North Sikkim is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the entire Eastern and North-Eastern India. If Ladakh is too far from you, don’t worry, you have Sikkim.
Tourists should realize that Sikkim is one of the cleanest states in India. The citizen proactively maintains the cleanliness of all the tourist areas and they will expect you to do the same.
Lastly, before jumping on to the main part of the story a few life hacks:
1. North Sikkim is known for its altitude. Carry medicines accordingly. Carry camphor too as your nose and ears may get blocked due to altitude. People with serious breathing problems and High BP please avoid this journey. Rest, please acclimatize yourselves are spending a day in Gangtok and next day tries visiting East Sikkim where you find an altitude of 14000 Ft.
2. Vegetarian people are in for real trouble. Eggs and chicken are easily available but tasty veg food is difficult to get in homestays especially.
3. A general trick for visiting any hilly area. If you have ladies in your group, always search for hotels before sunset. I am not being sexist but the system is. People know that if it’s getting dark you would be desperate to find hotels and they will charge a high price. I have visited so many hill stations with my Mom and I have found little to no exception to date unless it’s a big 5-star hotel with standard SOP.
4. You will hear rumors that near Gurudongmar lake there is no oxygen and you will faint. That is a lie. Yes, oxygen is less .If you stay calm and composed nothing will happen. If you run around or panic you will have breathing troubles and vomiting. There is Indian Military to help you in every corner of Sikkim including Gurudongmar. But this place is heaven on earth and is worth visiting. Your 4 wheeler will take you to the lake’s edge.
5. If you visit during Dussehra / Diwali, you can experience the unique hospitality of the Indian Army. They worship their newly acquired tanks and guns. If you stop by to see, they will come running towards you to share some sweets. They miss their families and they see their families in the visitors.*Don’t ever try to take photos of Army installations. Your entertainment can cause harm to our nation.* Apart from this, you can find several check-posts where Army will serve you free pakodas and tea. You can click photos with them after taking permission. Even in normal times, the only source of hot water, food, or any medical help is the Army check-posts.
6. Avoid small cars. Remember, Sikkim has landslides every year and Army rebuilds the roads every year. Still boulders are there throughout the area.
*Recently airport has been opened in Pakyong, Sikkim. Please explore that option too. I visited Sikkim before this airport was functional.
And Here’s My Itinerary
Day 1: Reach New Jalpaiguri by train or Bagdogra Airport in the morning. From outside the railway station, you will get paid/prepaid/shared cab, jeep, or bus. You can also avail of bus service from Siliguri which is nearby. You will be transferred to Gangtok. On the way, you will find the beautiful Coronation Bridge connecting Sikkim, Bengal, and Bhutan. Teesta river will accompany you for a long time. There is a river rafting facility near the Sikkim Gate. Hotels near MG Marg are costly. You can search for accommodation elsewhere but make sure that you are close enough to visit the iconic MG Marg in the evening. If you are staying far away, it’s not safe to venture out on dark hilly roads at night.
Day 2: Visit East Sikkim. You can book a shared cab if you want to travel up to New Baba Mandir and Nathu La. But the main thrill lies if you travel up Nathang valley to Old Baba Mandir. Check if Nathu La is open on day 1 itself. Old Baba Mandir is the original structure built by the Indian Army which is believed to be the abode of the spirit of the legendary Baba Harbhajan Singh. This place is 14000 Ft high. You might feel uneasy at this height but if you can adjust here, the rest of the journey becomes easier. The surrounding valley is beautiful too. On your way, you can also enjoy Kupup Lake and spend some time near Changu Lake. Yak ride is available here. Return to Gangtok. Many people go further from Old Baba Mandir to Zuluk but it will unnecessarily stress your body whereas you need to save energy for the next 3 days of the journey.
Day 3: Pre-book a four-wheeler for a 3 days trip to North Sikkim. Lachen is our destination on day 3. You will find many falls en-route. At Chungthang you can witness two rivers meet Lachun Chu and Lachen Chu. At Lachen homestay, you can see mountains all around and also the snow-capped ones at some distance.
Day 4: Start journey before sunrise. It takes some about 4 Hours to reach Gurudongmar depending on the traffic. Thangu valley is beautiful beyond description. You can walk down to the centre of the valley. There are small streams from molten ice flowing through this valley. But a word of caution: Strong winds of temperature beyond freezing point blows across this valley. The route to Gurudongmar will remind you of Ladakh. You can witness the “Cold Desert” surrounded by snowcapped mountains and wide straight roads – a biker’s paradise. Once reaching Gurudongmar Lake you can carefully walk down the stairs beside the Gurudwara to reach closer. This is definitely one of the top 3 places I have visited alongside Chandrashila in Uttarakhand and Havelock in Andaman. Return and stay at Lachung. * Height of the lake is 17000 Ft.
Day 5: Journey starts early morning to Yumthang valley. You will be asked to wear boots as soon as you reach Yumthang. But these boots are mostly not suitable for snow. Carry your own boots. We were lucky to get snowfall here. The valley will be full of flowers in March April. You can find wild yaks roaming. Further up you will reach the Zero point where you will get snow everywhere. You can buy wine, beer, tea, coffee, eggs from the locals here but obviously at an inflated price. You can visit the hot spring near Yumthung too. There are time slots reserved for gents and ladies to take a dip in that warm pool. Return to Gangtok.
Day 6: On your way back to NJP station or Bagdogra Airport, do visit Rumtek Monastery. The Sikkim tour is incomplete without visiting a stupa or a monastery.
If you don’t have 6 days, you can club your east Sikkim tour with the Silk Route tour plan for a later visit.
And Finally my most cherished photo…
Arka is an engineer by accident, an MBA by choice and a thorough travel enthusiast. He has travelled extensively across North, East and South India.
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