Sunday, May 22, 2016

Yumthang valley in North Sikkim

As mentioned in the earlier post, it rained heavily during night in Lachung. But the skies had cleared in the morning. People we talking about landslides on the way to Gangtok. We decided to park those discussions later as we had to proceed towards Yumthang valley.

At Zero point, Yumthang valley
We continued further north. The roads were much better compared to Gurugongmar. Very soon we were at Rhododendron sanctuary. Sonam mentioned that the valley has about 24 species of Rhododendron. April was the start of blooming but many flowers were still seen.

Yumthang valley
The road midway was damaged due to a severe landslide caused by a mountain breaking away. That had happened an year ago but the area was full of debris.

Broken mountain
At Yumthang valley, we stopped for breakfast. Shops were lined up on both sides of the road which had a simple menu of maggie noodles!! It would have an uneventful breakfast but then a war of words broke out between a taxi driver and his guests. It was about “extra” payment required to visit zero point. 

Yumthang valley seen while climbing to zero point
Zero point is the end of the road at Yumthang valley. While Yumthang is at around 11,693 feet, zero point is situated at an altitude of 15,300 feet. Package tours normally do not include zero point in the itinerary and one has to pay Rs 3,000 to the driver directly to go to zero point. The guests seemed to have spoken some rash words to the driver. Being a soft sikkimise guy, the driver felt insulted and refused to drive any further. It was now the turn of guests to plead to take them to zero point. I think one need to be sensitive towards local culture before speaking out. Anyway, the argument ended in a positive note as the guests apologised and driver agreed to drive them further!!

Zero point
After an hour from Yumthang, we reached zero point. It was very cold and windy. The scenery was awesome though Tanu did not seem to appreciate it. At Yumthang she had taken hot water instead of mineral water and that made her sick. I had similar experience once in Tibet by drinking glacier water. It was not very serious but we did not stay longer. The cold was too much to handle.

With Tanu at zero point

The north sikkim tour was great and now we had to reach Gangtok by night and it was a long journey.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A landslide near Lachung


Landslides are common in north Sikkim. On the night of our stay at Lachung, it rained heavily resulting in series of landslides between Lachung and Chungthang. Since the roads are vital links to army supplies, BRO gets it cleared as early as possible. The impact of landslide for us was minor as we headed to Yumthang in the morning. On our way back to Gangtok in the afternoon, most of the landslides were cleared expect one. We had to wait for an hour while the BRO team managed to clear the debris off the road. 


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Gurudongmar lake

Getting up at 3:30 in the morning at cold temperature is not fun. Body and mind asks to get into the comfort of the blanket and bed. But the pull of Gurudongmar lake overcomes the luxury of bed and we slowly get ready to start our journey. With layers of clothing, we hope to ward off the cold in those high altitude areas.

We had reached Lachen on the previous day. It was a long journey that had taken 6 hours. Lachen is 120 km from Gangtok but the road conditions make the journey longer. We had finished our dinner at 7 PM in the friendly guest house kitchen hosted by Tibetan family. Well, there was nothing much to do in Lachen after sunset.

We start at 4 in the morning. It was still dark and all we see is few meters of road in the front by the lights of the car. Gurudongmar lake is about 67 km from Lachen. According to out driver Sonam, it should take about 3-4 hours to reach the lake from Lachen.

There was nothing much to do apart from watching the vehicle moving in the dark. Somewhere up in the hill, we could see the lights of the vehicles moving up. “They started at 3 AM”, Sonam told. Sonam was in aggressive mood that day as he overtook many vehicles. The journey was still slow as the road was bad. 

At the break of the dawn, we reached a small village of Thangu. We had already gained significant altitude by climbing series of hairpin curves. Army camps were present all along the way thanks to the proximity of Tibetan border. With sunlight coming in, the surroundings became clear. It was time to appreciate the beauty of Himalayas.

First rays of the sun
After about 3 hours of journey, we reached the last army check post. According to me, we still had about 15-20 km to cover. But Sonam mentioned that it would take about “20-25 minutes” to reach the lake. That was strange.

Smooth roads and the snow mountains
The reason was known shorty later. The road roads gave way to the newly constructed asphalted road. Sonam just pressed the gas and the car touched 100km/hour!! We were now in high altitude plains with scenery similar to Ladakh. The last few km of journey was just amazing with great roads, beautiful scenery and clear weather.


The Tibetan border was very near as we could see the army bunkers on top of the hills. Soon we deviated from the asphalted road to climb a small hill. In couple of minutes we were in front of Gurudongmar lake.

The clear waters of Gurudongmar lake
Words cannot describe the beauty of the lake. It was so serene, peaceful and clear. Most of the lake was still frozen as the summer had just begun. Since we were one of the first people to reach the lake, we had the luxury of “exclusive rights” over the area for some time. My daughter walked on the frozen lake with great energy. The altitude of 17,000 feet was having effects on her but for time being she seemed to enjoy the place.


The lake has religious significance for Buddhists and Sikhs as it is linked to Guru Padmasambhava and Guru Nanak. More information can be found here.



If there is one place in Sikkim that should not be missed, it is Gurudongmar lake.

Note

It is ideal to start early from Lachen as it takes 3-4 hours one way to reach the lake. Also, weather in general would be clear in the morning and deteriorates during the day. So, normally people come back to Lachen by noon and then proceed to Lachung. There is no option to stay at the lake. Food (Noddles and Momos) are available at Thangu village which is midway between Lachen and Lake. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Waterfalls of North Sikkim

Travel to North Sikkim involves long journey through narrow, curvy, and landslide prone roads. The scene of mindless hydro electric projects (Seen everywhere in Sikkim now, very similar to Uttarakhand) also causes worry.  But it is compensated by the scenery all throughout the journey. Many waterfalls galore along the route. Three waterfalls stands out among them.

Seven Sister waterfall
At 30 km from Gangtok, it is situated in the midway between Gangtok and Mangan, headquarter of North Sikkim. As the name hints, it is a seven stage waterfall though we can see only three stages from the base.



Climb up to the view point above and the fourth stage makes it appearance. The rest of them are hidden!!


Naga waterfalls
Between Mangan and Chungthang is another waterfall called Naga.


Bhim Nala waterfalls
This waterfall is on the way between Chungthang and Lachung. Situated just next to the road, it looks like a three stage waterfall.




Note: Due to the proximity of Tibet border, permits are required to travel in North Sikkim. It is quite easy to get them via a travel agent at Gangtok.