Road Trippin – Sikkim

She was elusive. A damsel hidden under a veil of fog, she refused to reveal herself completely to the world – Mystical and mesmerizing Sikkim….

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Travelling with friends, our road trip  took us to snow covered terrain and verdant green forests. The state has versatile landscapes ranging from chocolate brown mountains, alpine meadows and white blankets of snow.

This is an account of my experience and views about my travel to Sikkim.

North Sikkim

The faith of the people here is a big as the mountains. North Sikkim for me was – stunning beauty, prayer flags, bone chilling cold, international borders, army, pretty villages and soft spoken folks.

Gurudongmar Lake

The rugged ride from Lachen was worth it. Prayer flags flutter in the wind like feathers tied to a string. The waters are still and calm. The air is thin, cold and unforgiving.

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With chattering teeth, we watch the panoramic view of the deep blue lake and pristine mountains unfold before us. The sky, earth and water merge to form a magnificent painting.

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Gurudongmar Lake is holy to Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus. Tibet is around 5 kms from here.

At 17800 feet, this perfect creation left us breathless.

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Kalapathar

An hour’s drive from Gurudongmar takes us to Kalapathar. We were already exhausted with the bumpy ride from Gurdongmar, however this detour was worth every ache.

The brown hills, give way to stony black high rises. Icy cold waterfalls welcome us as we wind our way up. Our SUV crunches gravel and dirt, and we start seeing snow along the road.

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The mountains part unexpectedly, to reveal a vast expanse of immaculate snow. The views are spectacular. The clouds hang low among the mountains. Snow is everywhere. The landscape is dominant with black gravel and stone, which could be the reason the place is named as Kalapathar.

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We get trigger happy clicking this contrasting landscape of black and white 🙂

Yumthang Valley

It is known as the valley of flowers, and maybe once upon a time it was true. But today, it is only a green pasture over grazed by yaks.

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Yumthang was a disappointment. The place was crowded with tourists interested in selfies and zorbing!! The rhododendrons were dying in the sun and the yaks seemed to have eaten all the flowers.

If doing the touristy stuff is not your thing, only spend a few minutes at the main valley.

We drove towards Lachung and stopped after a few kilometers on a bend. The flowers here were pretty and untouched. Spend time at these impromptu stopovers which are prettier than the tourist friendly spots.

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Zero Point

Located at a height of 15300 feet, Zero Point is close to the Indo Chinese border.

There is nothing special to see here. Tourists come for the snow.

The highlight at Zero Point was having shots of Old Monk Rum at 8am, thanks to the bone chilling cold 🙂

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Advisory North Sikkim

Senior citizens, people with asthma and BP need to check with their doctor before visiting North Sikkim. The high altitude and thin air is not suitable for everyone.

Permits are needed for Indian citizens. Carry 2 photographs and 2 copies of your aadhar card. If you start early you will avoid the long lines at the army checkpost.

People with spine issues, travel sickness please note – The drive is long and strenuous, even with the SUV. But the stunning views compensate the back breaking ride 🙂

Disposable plastic water bottles are banned in Lachen and Lachung. The cars are checked at the entrance of the villages and people can be fined upto Rs 5000.

Begin your day early (5am) from your hotel / homestay to get amazing views without the crowds.

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East Sikkim

This side seem neglected. The houses were basic structures of tin and wood. But the people were rich in their hearts.

Tonsgmo / Changu Lake

The rain fell heavily as we began our journey. Since we left late in the morning, we were caught in a snaking traffic jam. Reaching Changu made nothing better.

There was chaos and crowds everywhere. Tourists were jostling to get an opportunity to ride the yaks. The path towards the lake was slippery and slushy. The lake itself was littered with trash.

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It was a sad sight to see a tourist spot in Sikkim so badly maintained.

There is also a cable car ride where tourists can see the mountains and the lake. But the cloudy weather would mean poor visibility. Inspite of this, the place was bursting with people.

Why do tourists need to tick everything off their list when they visit a place? Why can’t they not just enjoy the beauty and respect nature? Why harass those poor yaks?

We left after a few minutes and drove towards Zuluk.

On the way up, we made a quick stop to view Changu from the top. It made for a pretty sight sans the crowds and trash.

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We also saw other lakes on the way which were not known to tourists but better than Changu.

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Zuluk (Old Silk Route)

The roads were looping into the mountains and the valleys were filled with clouds and mist. The views during our drive were like we were going to heaven in a car 🙂

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We reached Zuluk early evening and checked into a cozy homestay. The village is nestled in a valley surrounded by towering mountains. Pretty houses dot the terrace fields. The army base is at the beginning of the village and we saw several of the officers around the village.

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The homestays are basic nothing fancy. But the people are friendly and hospitable. Our homestay owner was a tough but friendly lady. She cooked some awesome chicken for dinner 🙂

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Zuluk allowed us to experience how rural sikkimese people live a simple but happy life.

On the way to Zuluk and back, stop at Thambi view point, to see the famous loops. Don’t miss the snowcapped Kanchenjanga peeping from the clouds.

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Baba Mandir

Baba Harbhajan Singh was a soldier of the Indian Army who died during service. A Samadhi is built in his memory and can be visited on the way to Zuluk.

After a quick view from outside, thanks to the crowds, we patronized the army cafeteria. I saw a lady pleading for holy water from the army guys at the cash counter. They initially refused, but her persistence paid off and she got it.

It is said that this water is kept at the shrine of Baba and gains healing properties which can cure any ailment.

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In the cafeteria are 3 Flags, one belonging to Sikkim, the Buddhist flag and of course our Indian Flag. It was time for selfies with the flags 🙂

Nathula Pass

Nathula can be visited on the way back from Zuluk. It was a scam for us. Our tour operator promised us passes, but did not take the permit on time. Again I found it to be a touristy spot, and would not recommend.

Advisory East Sikkim

Permits are needed for Indian citizens. Carry 2 photographs and 2 copies of your aadhar card.

Most homestays in Zuluk are built of tin and asbestos, but they are clean and have an attached bathroom. Zuluk promotes rural tourism and is only for those interested in getting know local Sikkim life.

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South Sikkim

Not many tourists venture here. We did and loved it…and would be back someday to explore more 🙂

Tarey Bihir

Steps snaked on forever at the edge of the mountain. The mist hung low making the end invisible.

This offbeat destination was randomly picked by us. The drive to Tarey was long and we almost did not get there.

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At a height of 3500 feet this never ending 3 km long path is well laid, skirting a mountain ridge.

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As we walked down the gray and stone steps, we could see several villages and the Teesta below. On a clear day, you can also see Darjeeling.

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School and college kids were seen hanging around the steps happily chatting. The cool misty weather made this a perfect spot for a picnic.

We did not walk down all the way as it started raining, but we loved every moment here.

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Temi Tea Gardens

Raindrops fell steadily, making the tea gardens look green and fresh. White flags fluttered in the cool air like happy butterflies.

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The clouds hung low and gray in the distant, almost kissing the mountains.

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Walking down the rain soaked path felt mystical and serene.  Time stood still as the cool air and rain touched our faces. Temi looked prettier thanks to the rain 🙂

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Temi is the only tea garden in Sikkim. It is organically cultivated and maintained by the government of Sikkim. Patronize the local shops selling the tea.

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Ravangla

It was late evening and the rain was intense as we entered the Buddha Park. We were at the souvenir shop engrossed with our shopping. A sudden silence made me look outside.

In the pouring rain, a glowing being of light looked down on us with benevolence and peace. Watching the Buddha in the dusk was enchantingly beautiful.

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We had to tear ourselves away from here as we had a long drive ahead.

Advisory South Sikkim 

The alpine forests on the way are a treat to the eyes. The weather is pleasant. No permits are required.

South Sikkim is not on most tourist itineraries, which is great. I would highly recommend exploring Namchi and the surrounding areas.

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Sikkim Highlights

Buy

Organic Tea from Temi Gardens

Sikkim Rum almost like Old Monk

Rohedron Wine

Prayer Flags

Pick up souvenirs from the shop in the Buddha Park at Ravangla. The pieces are not tacky as found in the markets and the prices are reasonable.

When in Gangtok shop at Lal Bazaar and the neighboring shopping centers for some great bargains. Most of the clothes, shoes and bags come from China and are very trendy.

Eat

Momos

Hit Beer

Chicken or Veg Faley

Organic veggies and corn

Taste of Tibet Restaurant at MG Road Gangtok

Recommended

Explore the west side of Sikkim for an offbeat experience

Trek to Goechala if looking for adventure

Go for river rafting at Teesta if you have a free day

Delete Gangtok city tour from your itinerary if possible, you will not miss anything.

Check the finer requirements with your tour organizer as they can overcharge you or even try to not complete the agreed itinerary.

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My observations

From being a offbeat and unknown destination, today Sikkim tops the list of must visit places. The high influx of tourists has had a negative influence on the village life. Almost everyone has a homestay or hotel. There is plastic and trash in most of the tourist spots. Some tour operators want to tick off their itinerary without thinking about the experience of the tourists.

Inspite of all these negatives, Sikkim is stunning and its beauty should be preserved. Else Sikkim is heading in the same direction as the other tourist states of India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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