It wasn’t how I thought to spend my time off during Durga Puja. But boss, as they say, life is unpredictable… and we ended up planning for a North Sikkim tour from Gangtok. What started as a proposal for two nights, extended to a six nights family tour by the time we got the bookings done. Aaram se ghumenge bhai, jaldi kisko hai! 😛
A quick overview of North Sikkim!
North Sikkim is a small district situated in the north-eastern part of India, in the lap of Himalayas. It’s a destination offering breathtaking views of the mountains, countless waterfalls, spectacular valleys, perennial rivers, calm lakes and even barren lands.
Our base for the tour was Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. But in most North Sikkim tour packages, you’ll be starting from Siliguri. It’s because the nearest railway station for North Sikkim is at New Jalpaiguri (NJP), 10 km from Siliguri. Bagdogra airport (IXB) at Siliguri is the nearest airport.
And now, here’s how our North Sikkim road trip panned out. It went a bit dramatic for sure but luckily, no one suffered a heartbreak.
Day 1 –
The first day of our North Sikkim tour was all about reaching Siliguri for an overnight stay. Yeah, in a way (and on the way), our trip involved Siliguri. It’s a long drive of 500 km from home and the day went pretty unhappening except that our trip started alongside heavy rains.
The roads were in a mint condition for the better part of the journey. It took a little over 13 hours, and by the time we reached our hotel, it was dinner time. Checked in, replenished body nutrients and went to bed!
Day 2 –
We were finally on the way to Gangtok, yeah, to Sikkim. Siliguri to Gangtok distance is about 120 km and takes around 4-5 hours by road. The sun was on the way up, the weather was pleasant, the sky cloudy, the path smooth, and the trees still wet from the last night’s rain.
Yep, it rained, heavily and there was more to come. Within minutes of reaching the highway, showers greeted us and accompanied us for some time. Once it subsided, we took a quick chai break and then continued onwards. A few more stops en route and we were in Gangtok by lunch. The roads, by the way, weren’t easy-to-drive during the latter part of the trip.
And then, the traffic. There wasn’t much to bother about but, it’s just that once we were stuck in the maze, it took almost an hour to cover the rest of the three kilometres to the hotel. After checking in, I settled in with my book.
So, it was just me, alone in the room, with A Man called Ove for company, until dinner. Yep, the second day ended on a happier note.
Day 3 –
Woke up early for our long drive towards Lachen. Yayyy, the long-awaited North Sikkim tour began. But who knew we had a long anxious day waiting for us!
We were up by 5:30 and packed and polished by 7:30. Then, I called our agent. And there were those dreaded words – “The permit hasn’t come through.”
Yeah, North Sikkim permit is necessary for travellers. But because of damaged road, the government wasn’t issuing any. So, the agent opted for the permit to travel through the army area, which is issued on the day of travel itself. And thus, the wait!
Called him every 10-15 minutes for an update, and finally, after what felt an eternity (but only an hour and a half), we hit the road; cold-proofed. We stopped by the permit office for the representative. And a few minutes later, licensed to enter North Sikkim.
Cutting through the commotion, we left Gangtok for the upcoming awesomeness. The sky was clear, the sun shining brightly, and unlike the city, vehicles appeared sparingly. Half an hour later, we crossed a small bridge – the entryway to North Sikkim – decorated with colourful Tibetan prayer flags.
And after another 30 minutes, we were at the Seven Sisters Waterfalls. It’s a tall one and water comes down in seven steps (thus, the designation). A few clicks and then, back to the car. Cherrapunji (700 km from Gangtok) has another waterfall with the same name, so don’t get puzzled when googling.
For the next few hours, there was nothing else to do except feasting at the intoxicating views. As far as you can see, it was all green and River Teesta by the side. Adding to the effect, were numerous small bubbling waterfalls, cascading down the rocks. And intermittent rains.
Later, we stopped at the Chungthang checkpoint for document verification and then, continued towards Lachen.
We were at the army area checkpoint by 2:30 PM. Waited for the vehicles from the other side to pass. And after some 15-20 minutes, we got to start moving towards our destination. Thick forests, unpaved roads and soldiers guarding various posts; half an hour through that cantonment felt like being in a war zone itself.
Another 30 minutes and we reached our hotel in Lachen. Had tea and settled down for the evening, with my book again.
Day 4 –
It was 4 AM when the alarm went off. Got ready for the 4-hour trip to Gurudongmar Lake, about 70 km away. The air was frosty and the sun still in its covers when the bumpy ride began. Driver played some Tibetan music, which I later found out to be an ancient mantra. Soothing!
The slopes around looked dry and the plants withered, or maybe that’s how they had to be – red, yellow, brown… all around. After about two hours of scenic drive (and occasional potholes), we were in Chopta valley. Stopped at a small café for chai, coffee and the cold, packed breakfast picked up from the hotel.
Our journey continued for another hour to the check post before the car turn towards nothingness. A vast plain with rocky terrain, naked mountains and smooth roads. The only life visible, involved other tourist vehicles following their path to nirvana(?). No, to the lake.
At 17,000 ft, North Sikkim Gurudongmar Lake is one of the highest lakes in the world. Oxygen levels are low, so be prepared to feel light-headed. The sun provided some warmth, but the temperature was freezing enough to experience snowfall, a few nano-particles.
Spent about 30 minutes, capturing memories and the blueness around. And then, a trip back to our hotel through the familiar roads. At the hotel, we had the lunch and then left for our next North Sikkim tourist destination – Lachung.
And drizzling, again. The mountains enveloped themselves in mist, it started getting dark, and it felt like a drive through the clouds. We went through the war zone, crossed Chungthang checkpoint and reached Lachung by evening. It took 3 hours for the 50 km ride from Lachen to Lachung (We had to wait for half an hour again, before entering the army area).
But yeah, we were in our new nest, safe. Did pretty much nothing except tea, dinner and early sleep.
Day 5 –
We were all primed for our Yumthang trip after the overnight rest, tucked in the cosy bed. North Sikkim Yumthang valley viewpoint is about 25 km away from Lachung. It comes alive with flowers during late winters, but even now, the views were captivating enough. Broken cliffs, rapid streams and red rocks scattered among the greens; all posed a photogenic landscape.
Couple it with narrow, damaged roads, and you’re all set for an off-road experience.
We left after breakfast and reached Yumthang in 2 hours. Yeah, it took an hour extra than the usual because of the photo op stops. Stopped at the hot spring there and then, a bit of shopping before we inched towards Yumesamdong (aka Zero Point). Situated at the height of around 15,000 ft, North Sikkim Zero Point is the last point for people to visit. Because of its proximity to China, you aren’t allowed to venture beyond that.
Even though Zero Point was situated at a comparatively lower height than Gurudongmar Lake, it was freezing out there. So, if you forgot your warm Dora hoodie at home, rent and layer yourself with warm clothes, in one of those shops at Yumthang.
OK, back to Zero Point. It’s another 1.5-hour away from Yumthang, a steep drive up the towering mountains. The clear sky and the curves provided ample opportunities to capture the valley below. But it started getting cloudy as we approached Zero Point.
We had coffee and momos there, clicked the snow-clad peaks and then prepped for the return trip. It started raining, and by the time, we were on our way back, the drops turned into snowflakes. Clouds were still sprinkling raindrops when we were back in Yumthang valley. I enjoyed some more coffee and momos, while others clicked pictures out there. Oh, your favourite Maggie noodles were also available there.
As we left, the clouds looked like in a mood to wreak havoc again, and they did. It rained all the way and even while changing the flat tyre. But yeah, the umbrella to rescue! Don’t forget yours at home if planning for a North Sikkim tour. Our driver put us back on the track in ten minutes, and we were in the hotel by 4 (PM).
Had lunch, and spent the rest of the day watching TV and reading the rest of the book. It was still raining outside.
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Day 6 –
On the last day of North Sikkim tour, woke up at 5, dressed up and all ready to depart for Gangtok, 100 km away. The skies were blue, the weather clear, and the morning provided an HD view of the mountains around.
The green slopes joined us in the journey again. After a few minutes of drive, we were at Bhewma falls (aka Amitabh Bachchan falls), one of the tallest waterfalls in the region. Then, stopped at Chungthang checkpoint one last time, took a quick popcorn break (literally) later and then, continued towards Gangtok. On the way, stopped at Seven Sisters waterfalls and then, travelled down the bridge to end our North Sikkim tour – the same bridge which we took four days ago.
And heavy rains welcomed us to Gangtok. The traffic added to our pleasure. Spent the rest of the day in the hotel room.
Day 7 –
The vacation’s over, and we took our way back home; another road trip, 16 hours long.
And glad to say that apart from a few hiccups, our North Sikkim tour went as planned. The roads weren’t as bad as expected, and the tourist spots not as crowded.
If you plan a North Sikkim road trip, Lachen and Lachung are the two villages where you can stay. Other North Sikkim tourist places are accessible from those two mini-towns. However, keep in mind that those are remote areas, and the available resources thus, are limited. So, pack all your necessities, whether medicines, special food items or the perfume gifted by your crush.
And that would be all in this North Sikkim travel blog. Does it sound like a place you would like to go next? Well then, pack your bags and explore North Sikkim.
P.S. Don’t forget a Milton water bottle. North Sikkim is a plastic bottle free zone and the authorities will fine if you have any of those mineral water bottles.