It is said, once in Sikkim, you won’t feel like you’re on earth anymore. Known in the ancient Tibetan texts as ‘hidden valley of rice’, this small northeastern state of India holds an unending fortune of astounding natural vistas. Gorgeous glaciers, verdant valleys, abundant waterfalls, playful clouds, ravishing rhododendrons – you don’t know what is waiting for you in the next turn of the road.
In this section we take you to the northern part of Sikkim, perhaps the most beautiful as well as the remotest part of this state. To know about visiting the eastern part check out this post https://thefloatingpebbles.com/east-sikkim-journey-through-old-silk-route/
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How to reach Sikkim:
By Air: The sole airport of Sikkim, Pakyong, has recently resumed it’s flight operation. The only flight flies from Kolkata to Pakyong and operated by Spice Jets. The other nearest airport is Bagdogra, which has multiple flights from Kolkata and Delhi. It would be wise to opt for Bagdogra if you are planning to reach Sikkim by air.
By Train: The nearest rail station is New Jalpaiguri (NJP). Many trains travel both from Sealdah and Howrah stations in Kolkata to NJP.
Day 1: Reach NJP and transfer to Gangtok.
Almost every North Bengal bound train reach the New Jalpaiguri railway station in the morning. It takes around 5 hours to reach Gangtok from NJP. As you exit the station, be prepared to get caught in the pandemonium of tourists, travel agents and cab drivers. You can choose a cab at the spot; however we suggest booking a cab beforehand as it would be hassle-free and you do not have to waste time finding and bargaining for a cab there.
Whether you hire a cab at the spot or book one in advance, a private transfer to Gangtok will cost you somewhere between INR 3500 and INR 4000. The cost will go down significantly if you opt for a shared cab. Daily buses of North Bengal State Transport Corporation also ply between Siliguri and Gangtok.
Where to stay in Gangtok:
There are hundreds of hotels in Gangtok suiting every budget. We stayed at Hotel Sonam Delek, which is in Tibet Road and offers an outstanding panoramic view of the city. We had a comfortable stay here and would highly recommend this place.
After resting in the afternoon, get out and explore the upbeat MG Marg in the evening. Visit the shops selling vibrant, fashionable woolens and pretty souvenirs at reasonable rates. Or sit back and relax on the benches lined on the road. There are many cafes and restaurants, dishing out Tibetan and Nepali delicacies. We suggest paying a visit to the iconic Taste of Tibet and have a hearty dinner with Thukpa, Thenthuk and Sha Phale.
Day 2: Transfer from Gangtok to Lachen.
Start early, as the drive to Lachen will take around 7 hours and the road is mostly dilapidated. Lachen is a village and known as the perfect stopover between Gangtok and Gurudongmar. The journey to Lachen is laden with fabulous frames of nature. Stop at random locations and watch the countless waterfalls. We specially heart the majestic Naga Waterfalls and had a great time there. Sip on a cup of tea while munching on hot ‘pakoras’ at roadside stalls which offer stunning view of the Himalayas. Spend some time at Singik, marveling at the V-shaped valley created by the fierce Teesta.
It will be evening when you reach Lachen. Lachen is no longer the sleepy hamlet as it once was. At present, owing to the gradual increase in the influx of tourists every year, Lachen has now converted into a jungle of mushrooming hotels and homestays.
We suggest taking a walk around the town in the evening. Your mind will be blown over by the mystical view of the majestic snowy ranges of Himalayas, as the sound of the river flowing below create the perfect background score.
Where to stay in Lachen:
There is no dearth of accommodation in Lachen suiting every budget. We spent the night at Floret Lachen, which provides basic amenities and good food.
Day 3: Visit the spectacular Gurudongmar Lake.
Wake up to a wintry dawn and leave your hotel by 5 AM for the long, arduous journey to the Gurudongmar Lak, one of the highest lakes of the world. As you climb your car, keep your eyes open to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Lachen mountain range, shining under the first rays of the sun.
The journey takes about 5 hours each way from Lachen. The journey is back-breaking amidst divine visuals of snow-capped peaks, waterfalls cascading from sky-kissing mountains, yaks grazing on velvety meadows and thousands of primulas signaling the arrival of spring.
Make a pit-stop at Thangu, a picturesque hamlet with a stream of waterfall passing midway through it. Gorge on piping hot Maggi, which the shabby roadside stalls serve.
As you near the lake, the sky will get bluer and the air crispier. On one side, rocky, jagged mountains stand tall, while on the other, snow envelops the ranges. Vegetations will gradually disappear as streams of snow-melt water flows below wobbly, worn-out bridges. Little by little, these scenes will soon be replaced by miles and miles of area engulfed in thick layers of snow and mist.
Finally, you will be beholding the glittering glacial lake, sitting at a height of 17, 800 ft under the azure sky and surrounded by icy mountains. The air is extremely thin, so it is advisable to take it slow there and stay not more than 30 minutes. Let the lake spellbound you with its breathtaking beauty as you stand hypnotized by nature’s wonder.
While returning, take a detour and visit the new hotspot of North Sikkim, Kala Patthar, which may well be called a dreamscape. The ‘road’ leading towards it is merely made up of pebbles and gravels, and perhaps the worst road that we encountered on our trip. Situated at a height of 14, 850 ft, this winter wonderland derives its name from the black rocks of the adjoining mountains. The onyx rocks create a spectacular contrast against the white snow. It was snowing when we visited and the wind was getting so chillier that we could hardly hold the camera. After frolicking in the snow, we sipped coffee and took a bite of steaming momos sold by some local people there.
The day will end with a drive to Lachung. Ours ended with a sudden, magical view of the magnificent Kanchunjunga.
Where to stay in Lachung:
There are a fair number of hotels and homestays in Lachung, which is bigger and more developed than Lachen. We stayed at Floret Yumthang, which provides basic accommodation and meals.
Day 4: Yumthang, Zero Point and Return to Gangtok.
Yumthang, a treasure trove of spring-time blooms, is an hour drive from the idyllic village of Lachung. The road to Yumthang manifests how the journey can be fascinating as the destination itself with rustic, wooden cottages scattered in the valleys, waterfalls spouting at every bend of the road and flowers springing out of nowhere.
The road will take you through the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, home to some 32 varieties of rhododendrons. Make sure to stop at random spots to enjoy the beauty of clusters of rhododendrons splashing pinks and purples against the backdrop of grayish mountains. At other bends, you will be greeted by blood red rhododendrons and suspicious stares of the yaks grazing nearby.
A crowded road with souvenir shops selling colorful woolies and serving homemade momos and Maggi signals the arrival of Valley of Flowers. Descend down the green meadow, which is dotted with primulas and primroses, and take an aimless stroll around the valley to bask in the sun-kissed spring of Yumthang. Sit back and watch the Lachung river flowing through the valley with its crystal clear water.
Continue further up to Zero Point, if you are fascinated by snow. You could give this a pass if you have already visited Kala Patthar, which is way less crowded and more peaceful than Zero Point.
Afterwards, drive back to Gangtok, where you will spend your last night of the trip. If you have energy left, we suggest going out for a traditional Sikkimese and Nepali dinner at either Nimtho or Thakali, both of which are conveniently located in MG Marg.
Day 5: Explore Gangtok and transfer to NJP.
For your last morning of the trip, explore Gangtok. Start with a lipsmacking breakfast at either The Local Café or The Coffee Shop Restaurant. Climb the stairs of Ganesh Tok for a stunning panoramic view of the beautiful city of Gangtok. Enjoy the soulful prayers and peaceful ambiance of the radiant Enchey Monastery, which dates back to 1909. Visit the Tibetan Handicrafts Emporium, which is a sprawling site with demonstrations of wide range of Tibetan handicrafts. Spend some hours at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, a splendid museum of Tibetan iconography and religious art. We loved the tour around the museum which showcases the history of Chogyals or Sikkimese kings, life and history of Lord Buddha and Guru Padmasamvaba on intricately designed “tankhas”. A shop outside the museum sells freshly baked apple pies and various muffins. Pack some for your journey back home.
Make sure to leave in time for NJP, as unexpected traffic congestion occurs on this road. On your return, relish the memories of frozen water of Gurudongmar, ethereal panoramas, dramatic waterfalls, friendly locals and tasty Tibetan and Nepali meals.
Some tips for North Sikkim tour:
1. Inner Line Permit is pre-requisite for visiting Sikkim. Carry valid identity cards and photographs required for permit.
2.Book your transportation with a local tour agency, which will arrange both cabs and permits for you.
3.The drive around North Sikkim will take you through harsh terrains. Take medicines like Acetazolamide (Diamox), Hyoscine Patch, Avomine and other regular meds.
4.Acclimatization to higher altitudes may be an issue. In case of that, we suggest to take it slow and relax one whole day in Lachen before heading to Gurudongmar. Alternatively, you may start the trip from Lachung and Yumthang, which will give you ample opportunity to acclimatize.
5.For visiting Kala Patthar and Zero Point, you need to pay around INR 3000 for each trip .
6.Weather can be pretty unpredictable in Sikkim. Carry umbrellas and raincoats.
7.Stock up dry foods and snacks.
8.Taste the local foods.
9.Plucking flowers, especially rhododendrons, is prohibited.
10.Plastic is banned in Sikkim. You can’t carry mineral water bottles in Lachen. We suggest carrying bottles by yourself everywhere.
11.Please respect the nature of Sikkim.
12.Best time to visit Sikkim is from April to May and from end of September to Mid November
13. Carrying a Travel Card is now compulsory for all visitors to Sikkim. You can apply for Travel Card here.
So here’s our complete day-by-day itinerary for North Sikkim. Hope this will help you plan a memorable trip to this beautiful place.Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comment section below!