We were told to sleep early by our driver since we planned to start our journey towards Gurudongmar Lake as early as possible. Starting early is important since there is a very short window of opportunity within which tourists need to visit Gurudongmar Lake and return. Usually, at this altitude of 17,000 feet deep within the Himalayan range the weather can dramatically change and the best bet would be to start early and return early. The entire movement of tourists is carefully controlled and monitored by the Indian Army since its close proximity to China border and also the high altitude requires them to double check on all visiting tourists.Continue reading “Gurudongmar Lake – North Sikkim”
It all started on the 28th of August 2014, I was busy surfing the net when I suddenly found out that SpiceJet was giving special discounted tickets. I quickly logged on to the SpiceJet website and found that it was only providing discounts to only a few particular cities only. Lucky for me I saw that Kolkata to Bagdogra was included in this discounted promotions. After a quick consultation with my Smita (wife), it was frozen that we will travel to somewhere in the North East. The tickets were purchased and now it was the time to narrow down the choices.
After much discussion, it was decided that this vacation we will travel to North Sikkim. Bagdogra Airport is like a one-stop destination to Darjeeling and Sikkim so we would have to take a car from Bagdogra to Gangtok. And from there we would proceed with our package tour for North Sikkim. I did some quick Google search to find some tour operators but most of them were highly overpriced.
Luckily I called my good old friend Amitabha Gupta the travel photographer and he is an avid traveler knew the exact person for this job. Tucked in a small office I reached 1, Indira Roy Road which is right next to Indira movie hall in Bhawanipore. I met Mr. S. K. Bhaumik, he is the retired O.S.D. for Sikkim Tourism knew the entire state in the back of his fingers. After quick phone calls, he gave me the best quote during the peak tourist season. Gave him the advance money and the package was finalized. We opted for an exclusive package since I was traveling with my family and decided to make it as comfortable as possible.
This is how it looked finally:-
BAGDOGRA TO GANGTOK – 15TH OCT
GANGTOK TO LACHEN – 16TH OCT
LACHEN TO GURUDONGMAR TO CHOPTA VALLEY TO LACHEN TO LACHUNG – 17TH OCT
LACHUNG TO YUMTHANG TO YUM SE DONG TO ZERO POINT TO GANGTOK – 18TH OCT
GANGTOK TO NEW JALPAIGURI – 19TH OCT
The package was for two nights and three days from Gangtok to Gangtok. We also booked a hotel for Gangtok since we did not want to go for a hotel hunt with my family along with me. I had couriered our travel documents to the Gangtok Travel arranger/agent so that the permits could be made as early as possible without the last minute hassled. This proved to be the right decision which you will learn later.
The day finally came and we started at 8.30 AM in the morning to the airport for our flight. It was scheduled to depart at 11.30 AM in the morning but when we reached we were informed that the flight was delayed till 1.55 PM. This would mean that we had to arrange for a quick lunch at the airport itself. By the time it was 11 my daughter had become completely wild and ran around the airport terminal and using the luggage trolley as a skateboard.
We knew that hunger was making her more agitated thus dashed to the restaurant for some snacks. I and Smita opted for Masala Dosa and Rianna ate some cakes. Just as we finished our food we heard an announcement that SpiceJet was providing food coupons. Aahhhh we were late….. we took the coupons but settled for juice since we were already full.
The flight departed at 2.15 PM and we were very excited since this would be the first time we as a whole family would be traveling by air. And for my daughter, it was the first time to experience air travel. While taxing my daughter eagerly looked outside as to why the airplane was not flying and then the moment came for the airplane to run down the runway and take off. It was a sight for Rianna to see the whole world beneath her becoming ever smaller and smaller.
The flight was a short one and in 50 minutes we were approaching Bagdogra Airport. Just before landing, we got one of the best views of Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga. We took our luggage’s from the arrival lounge and headed out. We had coaxed our common friend Aerbin Surin to join us in the trip since we had booked the cabs exclusively and he would be a good accompaniment to our madness. He had already booked the cab which would take us to Gangtok. I opted for the Innova since the comfort will be much more than a small car like Wagon R or Alto. The cost was Rs. 2200 from Bagdogra to Gangtok Taxi Stand.
The journey was uneventful, we stopped for buying bottled water for our entire trip and took nearly 14 one liter bottle. This was a good decision since bottled water is quite expensive in the hills. In between, we saw a huge gigantic Python crossing the road and our driver managed to slam the brakes in time. Unfortunately, we could not take any photographs since it was getting late but something within me kept telling me that this will be a mother of all adventure since we were greeted by a Python in the hills.
By the time we reached Gangtok, it was already 8 PM and we requested our driver to drop us directly at the hotel instead of the bust stand. We agreed to tip him handsomely for this and he agreed. It is to be noted here that during day taxis are only allowed till the Gangtok taxi stand from where you have to take another local taxi to your hotel but after 8 PM this rule is relaxed.
We reached Hotel Norbu Ghang which is right in front of the Gangtok Post office and on the Paljor Stadium road. Since Aerbin ’s travel was unplanned so we could not book his hotel. Luckily our taxi driver came to our rescue and took him to a very nice hotel where he had to just pay 200 Rs. as a tip to the manager of course bill won’t be provided. We had our dinner at Norbu Ghang hotel itself and went to sleep early since we had a huge journey ahead of us.
Since I had already couriered the travel documents so the travel agent called us to confirm that the permits were ready. If we had not couriered the documents and would have betted on completion on arrival at Gangtok then the entire plan would have collapsed.
Next morning we woke up and had a quick breakfast with Alo Parathas and a hot cup of Tea and we were all set for the great North Sikkim trip. We got a call from our local tour operator that the driver will be contacting us shortly with further instruction. We were supposed to depart at 9 AM and at around 8.15 AM we got a call from our driver, we were instructed to come to Lachen Taxi Stand and he will not be able to pick us up from the hotel as its not allowed in Gangtok and only local taxis are allowed during the day time to ply around the town.
Getting a taxi in Gangtok is not very difficult a task, almost every vehicle that has four-wheel is a taxi so we settled for a Maruti Van since we have luggage with us and would be difficult to fit into a smaller car. The rates are fixed and the taxi took 50 Rs for a short 10-minute ride. On arriving at the Lachung taxi stand we could see other passengers for similar packages. We were lucky we did not choose the shared package since we witnessed first-hand the horror. Almost eleven passengers plus one driver were packed into a Sumo along with their luggage and I am sure that the whole journey will be real tough one in that cramped environment.
Within five minutes of our arrival our vehicle had come, the driver introduced himself as Suraj Lama. He was a short guy who looked very Tibetan in appearance and a quick discussion confirmed the same. After loading our luggage our Mahindra Maxx was all ready to take us to our voyage. I settled for the front seat since it will give me the best view for y photography. Smita and Rianna were in the back seat. Aerbin also with his camera took the back row.
The journey towards Lachen was uneventful except some places where the roads were completely washed off and BRO could be seen constructing temporary passages. We first stopped at Butterfly Waterfall, it was nothing much but more of a loo break and at Rs. 10 per person, we enjoyed a neat and clean toilet facility.
From there we straight headed for Tingchin where we stopped for lunch. As we were traveling in a package tour thus lunch was included. We had rice, lentil, mixed vegetables and chicken curry which was not that in taste but was all right considering the remote location.
From there we traveled to a Chungthang, on the way we briefly stopped at a waterfall for some photographs.
From Chungthan we stopped for evening tea, from here the road splits. On the left, the road takes you to Lachen and to the right the road takes you to Lachung. We took the left road and headed straight to Lachen. By the time we reached Lachen town, it was around 5 PM and the whole village was already packing up for the night. The temperature had dropped dramatically and we could definitely feel the chill.
We had to show our permits at the Lachen check post and after a quick formality, we went straight to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel Holiday Inn which is quite a good and comfortable hotel. We were given the rooms on the ground floor which was good considering we did not have to climb up and down the stairs.
People stay at Lachen the first night to acclimatize into the new altitude. I and Aerbin decided to look around the town in the evening while Smita and Rianna decided to rest.
The town was a small one and nothing much to see except the hairy dogs. We went for a short walk and we were already feeling the effect of the difference in the altitude by the huffs and puffs with our every step.
Dinner was served early at around 7.30 PM at the hotel itself. Most of the hotels have their dining is located at the roof so it was quite a climb four floors. We were served rice, fried potato, lentil, and egg. The taste was below average and most of us only ate with the fried potato. The gravy provided with egg was almost a tasteless concussion.
We called it a night early and went to bed by 8.30 PM since we had to leave early the next morning for Gurudongmar. By now the temperature was nearly 1 – 2 Celsius and it was real bone chilling. Just next to our hotel there was a water stream and I could hear the cold water flowing in the silence of the night. Sleep did not come that easy since I was anticipating the journey to Gurudongmar the next morning. By the time I slept it was nearly 12 midnight and with the alarm set at 2.30 AM it was a small nap.
We brushed our teeth and quickly freshened up. Rianna was really grumpy but somehow reluctantly woke up. With extra layers of cloth, we were ready to face the morning chill. No sooner we stepped out we could feel the real cold. The cold wind was piercing our face like a thousand needle. In the cold dark morning, we set out for Gurudongmar. We drove for hours in the dark keeping our fingers crossed that our driver Suraj knew all the crevasse. As the sun was slowly rising we could see the snow clad mountains in their golden avatar. It was a real breath-taking view.
We stopped at Thangu which is a military check post, here usually a representative from the army will come to check on all the passengers. If they see anyone in physical distress due to the altitude then they usually prevent the passenger from proceeding further. The officer wished us all the best and asked us to take special care for our 4 and a half year old daughter.
After the formalities, we proceeded towards Gurudongmar Lake. By now the surrounding scenery had changed dramatically, we could feel we were on a cold desert much like Ladakh. There was no vegetation and only could see miles and miles of dust and sand. The mountain tops looked almost ghostly dead and had various colors and patterns.
After driving for around 30 minutes we finally reached Gurudongmar Lake. While approaching we could see that it had snowed recently and it was a complete whiteout.
Gurudongmar Lake is almost a magical land with blue water and snow clad mountains all around. Unfortunately, we could not stay for much longer since the shortness of breath was a real challenge for me and I was feeling severe pain in my head indicating that I was getting AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). I had taken all the precautions like taking COCA 6 a Homeopathic medicine but it did not help.
On our way back we stopped briefly at Chopta Valley viewpoint. This place during the month of April – May bloom to riots of color with Rhododendron.
On our way back we stopped at a Tibetan Family home where we had breakfast. We opted for Noodle Soup and it was really heavenly.
We returned to our hotel in Lachen by 11.30 AM and were told that lunch will be served in an hour and we would then depart for Lachung by 2.30 PM. I could not have lunch since I was too tired and was feeling unwell from the morning adventure. I rested till 2 PM and I was back on my feet. I realized that the real reason was the lack of sleep the other night.
We started our journey towards Lachung at exactly 2.30 PM. We reached Chungthang and took to another road towards Lachung. We stopped at a waterfall for a cup of tea, it was really refreshing since I had skipped lunch and was really hungry. Also popped in some popcorn which felt real tasty with the empty stomach.
We reached Lachung town by evening and this town was better in terms of infrastructure. My BSNL mobile number was working and I could call back home to inform our well doing. We could not call from Lachen since for some reason was not getting a mobile signal. We reached Apple Valley Inn which had wooden huts as the room. These were very warm and cozy and the view was superb. We ordered some vegetable pakoras for evening snacks and went for a short walk. All around we could see Orchids and various colorful flowers. Back to our room, we enjoyed the pakoras with a hot cup of tea.
Dinner was served at around 8 PM and after a long time during this trip, we had really good food. We were served rice, roti, mixed vegetables, chicken and potato curry. We gulped down the entire meal and went to bed as again we had a long journey ahead of us the next day.
Next morning our breakfast consisting of bread with butter and jam were packed by the hotel and was told that we could have it on the way. We packed up and started for the next leg of the journey at 8.30 AM. After the basic formalities at the check post, we proceeded towards Yumthang. We decided to change the plan a bit here, we did not spend any time at Yumthang and decided to proceed straight to Yume Samdong and further to Zero Point first and our return leg we would spend time at Yumthang. This change of plan proved good since we enjoyed more time at Zero Point.
The Jeep started climbing up the round and narrow roads towards Yume Samdong and then towards Zero Point. By the time we reached Yume Samdong we could see that we have climbed above the snow line and all around all the surrounding mountains were snow covered. After some time the roads were also snow covered and the scene was truly magnificent. It looked like the scene from the movie Roja where the leading lady is singing “Yeh haseen wadiyaan… yeh khula aasmaan”.
At Zero Point it was snow all around and it felt as if we were somewhere in Switzerland. Rianna by now had become crazy, she was dancing all around the snow and trying to make a snowman. At last, I felt that the tour has finally succeeded with the bright smile on my daughters face.
After spending around an hour at Zero Point we headed back to Yumthang Valley. Since it was October so there were no Rhododendron and the valley looked empty except the occasional Yak that was grazing around. I decided not to venture around but Smita and Rianna along with Aerbin went to the small river which was flowing in-between the valley.
Coming back to the hotel we had our lunch and rested for some time before setting back for the return journey to Gangtok. It was a long journey so we ate light with rice and egg curry with mixed vegetables.
On our way back we got stuck where the road had completely washed off and a single narrow lane was catering to two-way traffic. It took nearly 45 minutes to cross and by the time we reached Mangan, it was late evening. At Mangan, we had some of the best authentic hill food consisting of Thukpa and Sha Phaley.
From Mangan, it was a straight drive to Gangtok. It was dark and here our driver Suraj played some very beautiful Tibetan prayer songs. Slowly by now, Suraj started speaking of his family and life in the hills and the long journey back to Gangtok was completed.
Again since the time we reached Gangtok, it was around 8.30 PM so Suraj could directly drop us at the hotel and need not to drop us at Lachen bus stand. On reaching the hotel I tipped Suraj which initially he refused as according to him we were his guest during the entire trip only after much deliberation did he finally agree.
Dinner was served at the hotel and before going to bed I took a long warm shower. It felt so wonderful and sleep came real quick. Next morning we had breakfast at the hotel itself and we had pre-booked our Innova with the guy who drove us from Bagdogra to Gangtok.
The drive from Gangtok to New Jalpaiguri Station was smooth and we did not encounter any traffic jam. In between, we stopped for tea and momo at Singtam. From there we reached straight to the station. After a quick lunch at the station, we were all ready to board Teesta Toorsa Express.
The train arrived at New Jalpaiguri 15 minutes late but reached Sealdah Station (Kolkata City) on time at 4.30 AM. The train ride was the usual Indian Railway style, there were fights between two families staking claim o the same berth etc. etc.
Overall this family trip was very different considering the fact that it was decided on a whim and that we traveled so much nonstop with our four and a half-year-old daughter who did not complain a bit. This completes my total Sikkim experience since I have already covered other destinations in this city. Hope you have liked my travel report, until next time…. Bon Voyage.
Lachen – Lachung Driver: Suraj Lama – 94749 81411
Bagdorgra / New Jalpai Guri to Gangtok Driver: Glorious Minj – 96792 77580
Kolkata tour operator: Endeavour Tours (Mr. S. K. Bhaumik) 98303 06159, 84204 96704
Gangtok tour operator (for Lachen / Lachung local coordination): Mystic Himalayan World Travels 94347 22166
Gangtok Hotel: Hotel Norbu Gang 99330 04494
COST:- (AS ON OCTOBER 2014)
Bagdogra to Gangtok =Rs. 2,200* (Toyota Innova) * Return will also be the same
Lachen & Lachung Tour Package = Rs. 18,000* (2 nights and 3 days inclusive of food / transportation / lodging) * Rs. 2,500 will be charged additionally for Zero Point or Katao (this needs to be paid directly to the driver)