Thursday, 27 November 2014

On our way to Untouched North Sikkim

DAY 3 – GANGTOK TO LACHEN

Not the ones to be confined to malls and markets we dedicated three days of our trip to North Sikkim. The attraction of tough terrain, Leh – like plateaus, sacred lake and enormous heights seemed very exciting and thrilling.


Bridge in North Sikkim
One of the many bridges that we crossed

Bridge with prayer flags
Bridge with beautiful prayer flags
We had already booked our North Sikkim Package through Tibet Tours & Travels. A 3 nights & 4 days package for Rs 37,800 (Rs. 9,450 per person) included travel in Bolero, stay and food for four people (and a 3 year old child). Gurudongmar Lake which is some 65 kms from Lachen is off limits for foreigners and Indians need to take permits to visit the Lake which will be arranged by your travel agent. For the permit you need to provide 2 passport size photographs and copy of valid photo ID. Foreigners can now visit till Thanggu village on Lachen route and till Zero Point on Lachung route (Earlier they could visit only till Chungthang).

Road to North Sikkim
Road to North Sikkim
We wanted to start early around 8:00 am but the travel agent told that he has to take the permit and will be able to leave at 10:00 am. At 9:50 am I received a call from him saying that he has procured the permits and is on his way to pick us up.

Sherpa (I call him Sher Khan Sahab) - our Bolero driver – was the best thing that happened to us. Knowledgeable, polite, a local Sherpa and a very careful driver – Sherpa provided us the true essence and insights on Sikkim. 

Bolero Driver
Sherpa - Our Sher Khan Saab
Our first destination was Lachen, 180 kms from Gangtok, where we are going to spend our night. We started from Gangtok at 10:00 am with the required permits in place. Just on the outskirts of Gangtok we saw our first point – Tashi View Point.
 
Tashi View Point
Tashi View Point
After driving on the curvy road for an hour or so we saw Seven Sister Waterfall.  The seven sister waterfall is not seven waterfalls as the name suggests. It is a waterfall which falls on seven steps. The same cannot be seen from the road. One has to climb up through the stairs near the waterfall to witness the same.

Seven Sister Waterfall
Seven Sister Waterfall

Distance Sign board
Taashi next to a road sign at Seven Sister Waterfall - Lunch after 37 Kms & Tea after 65 Kms
The road to Lachen is full of lush green landscape and numerous waterfalls and bridges.  We stopped over for lunch at 1:00 pm at a small village called Mangan. The place for lunch was pre decided by the travel agent and was a part of the package. After a delicious meal and a well deserved break from the car we were again on our way to Lachen.


North Sikkim
Welcome to 'North Sikkim'

En route Lachen
En route Lachen

En route Lachen
En route Lachen

From Mangan to Chungthang the road is really rocky. Debris and loose rocks all around. We took a tea break at Chungthang from where the road splits – left for Lachen and right for Lachung. Please be aware that you mobile network will work only till Chungthang. Post this only BSNL networks work.

Pink Tree
Isn't the tree beautiful?
We reached Lachen around 6 pm and it was pitch dark. It is a small town at an altitude of around 9,000 feet. The town was silent and there was no soul on the road.

On the way to Lachen
Scenery while driving

To North Sikkim
View from road
The travel agent had made our one night stay arrangement in Hotel View Point. Our room was view facing and on the second floor. The room was huge (spacious 1 room kitchen by Mumbai standard) with wall to wall carpet, TV and geyser. (Pls note getting a geyser and a TV is a luxury in this part of the country). It was very cold here. All of us changed in our warmest clothes and ordered for hot tea. It was so cold here that the tea has to be consumed as soon it is poured in the cup or else the tea will be ice cold.

Roads to Lachen
The narrow roads
Lachen is a simple small village with simple people. It is one of the most idyllic hilly villages I have ever visited. It’s simplicity was its charm.

Hotel View Point Lachen
Hotel View Point, Lachen
The dinner was served at 8:30 pm on the fourth floor restaurant. Please note that packaged water is banned in Lachen. Even after wearing so many warm clothes we all were feeling cold. Post our dinner we called it a day as we were all very exhausted after eight hours of bumpy ride.

We all were very excited for tomorrow as this will be the day when we will scale to an altitude of 17000+  ft above sea level to the sacred Gurudongmar Lake. And to reach the lake we have to start our drive early… very early…

Points to remember:
1. As the sun sets early in this part of the world, start your day early.
2. Only SUVs are allowed for excursion to North Sikkim.
3. Book an Innova or a Xylo for a comfortable travel. As the roads are bad, travel in Sumo or Maxx can be cumbersome.
4. Although the distance between places is not far because of the rough terrain it takes a considerable time to go from one place to another. So plan accordingly.
5. You require one full day to reach Lachen. There are travel agents who might suggest to start late from Gangtok. It is recommended to start early and enjoy the beauty of the terrain and keep taking breaks and do justice to them and your health.
6. Only Indians can visit Gurudongmar Lake. A permit is required for the same which will be arranged by your travel agent. You need to provide 2 passport size photographs and copy of photo ID for the permits.
7. Please carry warm clothes including sweater, jacket, cap, mufflers, socks and gloves. Wear shoes and not sandals or chappals.
8. Be easy on steps and while walking. Avoid brisk walk or running at high altitudes as the oxygen level is low.
9. If you are feeling mountain sickness have chocolate of popcorn. It helps.
10. Please remember that most of the day will go in travelling in the car. Make regular stops en route to exercise those weary limbs and to enjoy the magnificent views.
11. Your constant companion, your mobile network will work only till Chungthang. In Lachen only BSNL network works that too occassionally.
12.  Sikkim is plastic free zone. Please don’t litter and maintain the beauty of nature.
13. Expense of the day:
We had booked the North Sikkim Tour with Tibet Tours & Travels for Rs. 9,450 per person. This covers the cost of travel in Bolero (Zero Point and Mt. Katao in Lachen is not covered in this package), 1 night stay in Lachung, 2 night stay in Lachen and food.

Therefore, today except spending a little on mineral water and snacks there was no expense other than already paid to the travel agent.