Day 8 – Yumthang Valley & Zero point

You can read about the previous days of my travel in North Sikkim here

It had been raining all night and we woke up to a very cool weather in Lachung. Our wooden hut accommodation looked even more beautiful in the morning light. We had a wonderful view from the balcony from the backside of our rooms.

Trip_day8 313

Our accommodation – Apple Valley Inn, Lachung

Trip_day8 316

We had our breakfast and started towards Yumthang Valley around 7:30 AM. Today’s plan was to see Katao or Zero point (we need permission to visit here), yumthang valley, hot springs and get back to Gangtok before evening.

A cute little girl

Trip_day8 022

Initially, the landscape was stones, river…..

Trip_day8 045

After an hour we started to gain altitude and whoa!! I have only one word to describe what we saw on the way – Christmas!! Previous day’s rain had made sure every leaf, rock, house on the way was fully covered with snow. I will let the pictures do all the talking 😀  😀 

Trip_day8 052 Trip_day8 051

Only thing I still don’t get it is how to take pictures of landscapes with snow that doesn’t look like a black-and-white photograph. Any tips here are welcome! And as you can see, I had to literally come out my taxi’s window to take some of these photos. 😀 

Trip_day8 077 Trip_day8 079 Trip_day8 080

Few other photos 😀 😀 

Trip_day8 062 Trip_day8 076 Trip_day8 091

We first went to Zero Point crossing the Yumthang Valley. It was 10 o clock in the morning and the place was covered with snow. We had never seen so much snow in our entire life; we started playing around, singing songs, giving poses to photographs  🙂 

Trip_day8 115 Trip_day8 153

 

There is a small bridge, which can be crossed and a short climb up the zero point for even better view. We decided not to do it and proceeded to drive down to Yumthang Valley. The sky started to clear up and we were able to see a bit of blue here and there.

Trip_day8 171 Trip_day8 174 Trip_day8 172

Scenary in Yumthang valley was no different, it was snowy everywhere. The river running along its side was so cool even to see. There is a pathway leading towards the river, which obviously was covered in snow again. This was a jackpot day for us.

Trip_day8 205 Trip_day8 217

After a long photo session, we went to see the hot springs. One has to walk up a bridge towards a house – even here one cannot see the hot water flowing down like Sumur or Panamik. It is a house in which the hot water is stored in a big tank and comes out of pipes if anyone wanted a bath. We were informed that we had to climb quite a number of steps (huge ones) to actually see the starting place of this hot spring. Since my parents were not so interested to climb steps, we let it go. 

The hot springs house

Trip_day8 296

We returned to the place where taxis were parked, had hot tea and started return to Lachung. Here, we once again had a delicious south indian lunch and proceeded towards Gangtok. Next day we will be leaving Sikkim and our trip was almost complete. We had one day to spend at Kolkatta, which none of us were looking forward too. How I wish, I hadn’t included Kolkatta in the plan.

Advertisements

Day 7 – Gurudongmar Lake

You can read about the previous days of my travel here

Day 7 –

We woke up at sharp 3 AM. Our hosts brought us hot water to refresh ourselves, had black tea (breakfast is not recommended so early) and began our journey in pitch dark around 4 AM towards Gurudongmor Lake.

We had one planned stop at Thangu village for breakfast. By the time we reached Thangu, it was around 7 AM and the entire village was covered in snow. The first time I laid eyes on that village, with its wooden bridge covered in snow with ice cold water running below it, tiny wooden huts where people live the most humble life, simplicity of their lives, harmony with which they live as one community – these are some images which are etched in my memory forever.

The wooden bridge

Trip_day6and7 172

Cold water gushing

Trip_day6and7 173

The village of Thangu

Trip_day6and7 174

We went to have breakfast at our driver in-law’s house. It was the humble Maggi – either simple or masala flavored J and it was served piping hot. While having breakfast, we observed their home – a wooden pillar in the middle of the home which had coal burning 24*7 to provide warmth, wooden planks for people to sit or sleep around the side of the house, their worldly possessions arranged below and above those planks.

Trip_day6and7 178

A photo with our hosts

Trip_day6and7 179

One couldn’t lead a simpler life than these people. And then we saw this at their backyard 😀 😀

Trip_day6and7 176

After breakfast, we proceeded towards Gurudongmor. The next two hours of our journey was filled with the most incredible views – Tibetan border on one side, wilderness on the other, graveled roads, cold and very windy air, yaks grazing in the distance and to our surprise a wooden home perched in the middle of nowhere taking care of those yaks, us inside our jeep wondering how people live on this remote land with no electricity, no medical facilities, no communication means or anything of that sort.

Trip_day6and7 183 Trip_day6and7 198

The entire stretch from Thangu to Gurudongmor Lake was full of mountains big and small on either side of our path. Since the lake is at an altitude of 17000+ feet, our driver advised us not to stay at the lake for more than 15-20 minutes. We didn’t know about AMS back in 2010.

Trip_day6and7 217 Trip_day6and7 231

Finally, we reached the lake around 9 AM. The Lake – what a sight it was!! No words or photographs can explain its beauty. Water had started to freeze towards the edges – we heard it would be completely frozen during the winter. The lake looked so pristine in a wonderful blue color reflecting the sunrays caught.

Gurudongmor Lake

Trip_day6and7 241 Trip_day6and7 249

We didn’t want to leave from there yet – after all we had travelled 5 hours one-way to see this lake. There is a temple next to the lake, which can be visited.

Trip_day6and7 251 Trip_day6and7 278

Now comes the part where AMS hit me lightly. I had to take nature’s call and the restroom was down a flight of stairs. I started walking down and climbed up just like I would do at home – jump 2 – 3 steps at a time. Only when I almost reached the top, I started to feel giddy, nauseous and realized I had exerted too much energy. Then came a horrible headache that made us leave the lake without spending much time, made us skip Chopta Valley, which was planned as our next spot. Only after we reached a lesser altitude, along with rest at the yak caretakers home and some black tea helped me recover. So, folks when you plan for Gurudongmor, please take proper precautions especially with kids who could start running.

We picked up our driver’s wife from Thangu and started proceeding towards Lachen. The road we travelled in pitch dark that morning was covered with the most beautiful snow we had ever even seen. Suddenly, it started snowing and snow flakes started falling down J J We were delighted like small kids, stopped our jeep and started playing around in spite of my camera running out of battery. Cold weather makes battery runs out faster than normal temperatures.

Trip_day6and7 314

We took in the entire landscape, stored it in our memories and reached Lachen. We had the most fulfilling lunch and started towards Lachung. It began to drizzle initially and then it started raining like cats and dogs. All we could do was sit inside the jeep and hope the weather would be better next day. And then our driver assured us that rain is good since we are visiting Yumthang Valley. Rain at Lachung means snow at Yumthang.

Trip_day6and7 327 Trip_day6and7 334 Trip_day6and7 330

We reached Apple Valley Inn, our accommodation at Lachung around 7 PM. We were greeted happily by the hotel caretaker and had a delicious south indian dinner and slept in a wonderful wooden hut. More of that on next day where we visit Yumthang Valley, its hot spring and Zero point.

Day 6 – Towards North Sikkim

You can read posts about previous days of my Sikkim trip from these links

Day 6 –

This was the day we were leaving Gangtok to North Sikkim. Many of the places here need prior permission to visit. Since it was our first trip to The Himalayas, we weren’t very sure about all this. So, we had arranged it with a travels agent. (Yak and Yeti Travels). Our plan was to visit Gurudongmor Lake and Yumthang Valley.

Trip_day6and7 066

We met our wonderful driver for North Sikkim (Neema) and started our journey. Once we crossed the bridge that led to North Sikkim, the mountains started to look bigger, roads much worse, but the beauty was pretty breath taking.

Trip_day6and7 051

We passed Seven Sisters Falls, which is around 37 km from Mangan, is a good spot for taking a break from a long journey.

Seven sister falls

Trip_day6and7 084

Bridge next to it

Trip_day6and7 081

 

Chungthang is 65 km from the seven sisters falls. To reach Gurudongmor Lake, one has to spend the night at Lachen or Thangu. I would suggest staying in Lachen if you are not acclimatized before. Both are beautiful villages with the most humble and helping people you will ever see in this part of the world.

Path towards Lachen

Trip_day6and7 044

Slush slush slush 😀

Trip_day6and7 055

One of the numerous bridges we saw on the way

Trip_day6and7 060

 

Trip_day6and7 052River Teesta never let us 😀

Trip_day6and7 122

By the time we reached Lachen, it was almost dark and there was no power in the village. We had booked our room in Padim Lodge, which is a modest house with basic rooms. It was a very cold night and the hosts served us piping hot food for dinner in that weather. To reach Gurudongmor and back to Lachen, one has to begin the journey at 3 AM in the morning. Even though it is around 60-odd km from Lachen, the road conditions make the journey a long, but beautiful one.

A sign board after Mangan

Trip_day6and7 165

Tomorrow is the day we visit Gurudongmor lake, our first visit to such high altitude lakes, my first altitude sickness.. More on it later here..

 

Nathula Pass (Day 5)

This is part of a series of posts about our trip to Darjeeling and North Sikkim. You can read about

Day 5 – Nathulla Pass

Nathu La – “La” means, “Pass” in Tibetan language. This pass is at a distance of around 60 km from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim and is one of the high altitude passes in Himalayas at a whooping 13000+ ft. It is one of the most important passes on Indo-tibetan silk trade routes and a strategic location for Indian Army as well.

Nathu La

Trip_day5 195

Owing to the road’s bad conditions, despite continuous efforts by the Border Roads Organization (BRO), the 60-odd km journey from Gangtok takes more than 2 – 3 hours one way. These roads are known for their notorious landslides and frequent traffic jams. Certain places we felt little adrenaline rushing when the roads were so eroded. We had obtained permission from Indian Army to visit the pass. The travel agency that you book your car with can arrange permits. Visitors from India are allowed to visit the place on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The other days, the traffic is open from the China side.

Roads on the way

Trip_day5 028 Trip_day5 055 Trip_day5 061

Initially, we started seeing green mountains, slopes, small waterfalls on the way and suddenly the mountains started to become bare, rocky and the wind was very cold too. We realized we had climbed a good deal of altitude from Gangtok when we started seeing white patches on far away mountains and on the road. It took a little while for us to realize that we were actually looking at small patches of snow. And then, it was just like Christmas for us. Roads, mountains, army camps, jeeps, anything and everything around us were just covered in white!! :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

Our Christmas 😀 😀

Trip_day5 109 Trip_day5 117 Trip_day5 131

Ever ready BRO people on work.

Trip_day5 132 Trip_day5 133

Our jeep reached the parking lot of Nathu La and we climbed a few steps to reach the top of the pass.

Trip_day5 172

There is a military canteen providing hot tea, coffee (the highlight here being hot), which just tastes awesome in such harsh cold conditions. We took customary photos playing with snow, with military soldiers, thanked them for everything they do to protect us, saw a similar establishment by the Chinese military, waved at Chinese soldiers, amazed by learning that there are actually land mines which are under the snow for security reasons. We also got ourselves certified by getting our names written on a certificate, which states that we visited one of the highest passes (at a small cost ofcourse)

Photos from Nathu La totally covered in snow :D :D

Trip_day5 134 Trip_day5 168 Trip_day5 164 Trip_day5 163 Trip_day5 151 Trip_day5 147

Note – One has to be properly acclimatized before visiting Nathula or any high altitude place for that matter. Otherwise, we might feel nauseous, short of breath, giddy or even worse hit by AMS. Please take precautions for AMS since we climb a very high altitude within a short frame of time. AMS hit my mother and we had to take her to an army medical camp. She was provided with oxygen supplies and an injection. The army people took great care of my mother at no cost. The service of these people was so humbling.

A few parting shots :)

Trip_day5 180 Trip_day5 170 Trip_day5 194 Trip_day5 190

On the way back from Nathula, we visited Baba Mandir, had some hot tea and soaked in the serene location at which this mandir was located.
Later we stopped at Tsongmo Lake, again another high altitude lake in the Himalayas. The lake is completely frozen during deep winters. The lake itself is a sight to behold to, frozen or not. While we visited, it had started freezing partially. Yaks are available plenty around the lakes and they charge as minimum as 50 rupees to 150 rupees to take photos by sitting on it or going on a leisure Yak ride around the lake.
A small lake on the way

Trip_day5 199

Tsogmo Lake

Trip_day5 239 Trip_day5 242

 

We also visited the Kyongnolsa Waterfall while returning to Gangtok. This waterfall is right on the road and a nice place to refresh and take a break from the long journey. Traffic jams are frequent on this route and here is a photo of a jam when we were returning. :o

Trip_day5 262

The best leg of our journey comes later when we visit Gurudongmor Lake and Yumthang Valley (even more snow here). More details on it in my next post here… :D

 

Day 4 – Gangtok

This is a series of posts covering my trip to Darjeeling and North Sikkim. You can read about my

Day 4 –

Today, we woke up in the guesthouse at Gangtok to a wonderful view of Gangtok city from our balcony. One can just sit in the sofa of the balcony and read a book or sip a cup of tea.

View from our balcony 🙂

Trip_day4 240

Our budget constraint didn’t allow us the luxury of sitting idle for a long time. So, it was time to begin our day trip around Gangtok. We covered the below places

  • Enchey Monastery
  • Ganesh Tok
  • Sikkim Himalayan National Park
  • Tashi viewpoint
  • Bakthang Falls
  • Rumtek Monastery

Below Google maps will give an overall view of the places and location

Gangtok-Daytrip-Map

First stop was at the Enchey monastery. It was the first time we ever saw a monastery and it was quite captivating. The bells that people rotate while walking to and from the monastery, the prayer bells, prayer flags and chanting of the monks – it was very different to us. This is relatively small in size when compared to Rumtek. Still, I would suggest visiting it.

Trip_day4 025

Ganesh Tok – further up the hill is this temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha. More than diety itself (forgive me), I found the views from this temple amazing and worth definitely a visit. If there are no mists, we can get a bird’s eye view of major part of the city.

Ganesh Tok

Trip_day4 052

View from Ganesh Tok

Trip_day4 061

Sikkim Himalayan Zoological Park – We stumbled upon this place while leaving Ganesh tok. We saw a signboard for the park and we got curious since it didn’t look like a zoo or national park. It was like a forest. This is the second best place among the places we see today.

Trip_day4 073

This is basically a zoo. But animals are kept in natural environments. No cages, just deep trenches are created and animals are kept there. It requires long walks and climbs in a few places to see certain animals. We saw red panda, Tibetan wolf, Himalayan black bear, leopards, civets, yak and deer.

Tibetan Wolf

Trip_day4 110

Red Panda

Trip_day4 114

The atmosphere was so cool, the previous day’s rain had wet the entire floor, trees were lush green and the air was so crisp, clean and pristine. We spent close to two hours at this place walking inside the national park. I would definitely recommend it. (Maybe in summers, this might become a little hot to walk)

Note – Closed on Thursdays. Visiting hours – 9 am to 4 pm. Entry fee 25 INR (adult), 10 INR (child). Camera is free.

Misty walk in the forest 😛

Trip_day4 077

Tashi viewpoint – is a few km after the zoological park. It gives marvelous views of the city, provided the sky is clear and there is no mist. On a clear day, Kanchenjunga is said to be visible from here. There is a souvenir shop and a canteen.

Bakthang Waterfalls – on the way to viewpoint, this waterfall is on the road. As I mentioned before, there are many such waterfalls throughout Sikkim from the mountains trickling and eroding the roads. It is a welcome break from the car journey and not more than that.

Trip_day4 139

Rumtek Monastery – The highlight of today’s trip is this monastery and we proceeded towards Rumtek around 2 pm. It takes a while to reach there. Around 1 – 1.5 hours and takes us through the hills. As we got higher and higher, the views got prettier and prettier.

Views enroute Rumtek ❤ 

Trip_day4 175Trip_day4 161

Rumtek is a very beautiful monastery set on a wide expanse of space. A few photos from the outer and inner side of the monastery.

Rumtek – Outer

Trip_day4 186 Trip_day4 187

Rumtek – Inner

Trip_day4 199 Trip_day4 202

The views from the monastery are “killer views”. There is also a stupa in the center of monastery were people throw coin.

View from the monastery

Trip_day4 208

The stupa

Trip_day4 207

Young monks were reading, older monks were chanting, the whole atmosphere was electric with good vibrations. The paintings on the walls of this monastery are very beautiful. But the interiors are too dark and without flash in camera, practically nothing can be captured in a camera

Trip_day4 198

We had a light snack at the monastery’s canteen and proceeded towards Gangtok. As usual, we had our dinner from Agarwals in M.G. Road (I terribly regret this now for not having tried the local food). We had a big day ahead – Nathula Pass. The indo-chinese border at an altitude of 13000+ feet along with a possibility of seeing snow. 😀 😀 (Yeah, we had never seen snow before in our life). Inspite of the excitement for the next day, we slept peacefully with lots of expectations for the days that come.

You can read the story of our Day 5 trip here.

Darjeeling (Day 3)

This is a series of posts covering my trip to Darjeeling and North Sikkim. You can read about my

Day 3 –

We were supposed to getup at 3 AM in the morning and view tiger hills in its pink glory when the first rays of sun hit it. Alas, it was raining even at 3 AM and our driver said nothing would be visible from the observation tower. So, we decided to see it later during the day and slept.

We woke up, refreshed, had breakfast and were ready to cover these places

  • Rock Garden
  • Batasia Loop
  • Tiger Hills observatory tower

Rock Garden – to reach this we need to travel downhill through some beautiful tea estates. In the early morning weather, the route looked pristine and as if from a painted canvas. Rock garden has no entry fee. It is basically a garden with multiple levels. One has to climb a bit and keep on climbing. There are waterfalls, wild colored flowers, plants and trees everywhere. It is an ideal picnic spot for families.

Trip_day3 109 Trip_day3 106 Trip_day3 100 Trip_day3 088 Trip_day3 080 Trip_day3 075 Trip_day3 061 Trip_day3 027

Batasia Loop – here, the toy train goes through a spiral loop. It is also a War Memorial to brave souls from Darjeeling who died during various wars. It was misty and we were lucky enough to see the toy train pass the loop. 🙂

Trip_day3 115 Trip_day3 116 Trip_day3 124 Trip_day3 128

Tiger Hills observatory tower – is near Chowrasta or The Mall. It took us through some wonderful alpine trees. Upon the observatory deck, we were once again disappointed by the presence of clouds, mists and a downcast sky. We couldn’t get a view of any peak let alone Kangchenjunga. 😦

Trip_day3 157

Note – One can travel to Tiger hills in a jeep, which is around 11 km from Darjeeling or by foot from Chowrasta (around 2 hours). On a clear day, Mt Everest is said to be visible from Tiger Hills. One can also visit Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary in Tiger Hills.

We returned to our hotel room, had a wonderful lunch and proceeded towards Gangtok. We had already made reservations at Cherry Guest House in Gangtok and also arranged for vehicle pick up from Darjeeling. From the moment we left Darjeeling, luck was upon us and we had the best leg of journey from here. 🙂 🙂

Heading Towards Gangtok

Our journey from Darjeeling to Gangtok was a very scenic one, with our cheerful driver. River Teesta was running all along with us and we saw the confluence of two rivers from a viewpoint. (Forgot its name)

Trip_day3 209 Trip_day3 210 Trip_day3 227

The sky was clear, it had just stopped raining – so the roads were wet, cool and neat. One thing I noticed was, streams of water just starts to come out of nowhere from the mountains, often eroding the roads. We saw one such stream in every corner we turned en-route Gangtok. The Darjeeling – Gangtok route and Darjeeling – NJP route is much scenic than Gangtok – NJP route. We reached Gangtok after a little more than 3 hours travel from Darjeeling.

Trip_day3 182

Our guesthouse was at the bottom of a downhill road very close to M.G. Road. Climbing up from our guesthouse was bit of an ordeal for the elders. We went for shopping in M.G. Road and Lal Bazaar. We had to buy jackets, gloves etc for our next leg of journey to the snow J I personally found Lal Bazaar to be much cheaper and one can bargain for price also. M.G Road was just too costly. So armed with all jackets, head caps, gloves and a tummy full of dinner from Agarwal’s (we had all our meals here only, being pure vegetarian) we slept through the night peacefully.

A few snaps of MG Road

Trip_day4 002 Trip_day6and7 267 Trip_day6and7 265 Trip_day4 235

Read about our Day 4 Gangtok here.

Darjeeling (Day 2)

Day 2 – continued….

You can read about How we reached Darjeeling here.

The entire route till Darjeeling was full of greenery, wild colours, mountains, small houses that looked like match boxes perched on the hilltops, cheerful children, narrow roads, turning points in roads with amazing views of the valley below – you get what I am trying to say right? It was simply pure joy letting ourselves unwind with nothing to care for (atleast for the next few days :P) Let pictures do the talking 🙂

Trip_day1and2 069 Trip_day1and2 047 Trip_day1and2 073 Trip_day1and2 094 Trip_day1and2 130 Trip_day1and2 145 Trip_day1and2 148 Trip_day1and2 153 Trip_day1and2 155 Trip_day1and2 207

We reached our hotel (Hotel Dekeling) before noon and arranged a taxi for local sightseeing at the hotel itself. Our plan was to visit

  • Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
  • Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
  • Tenzing’s Rock
  • Pagoda temple and
  • Rock gardens

The Zoological Park and mountaineering institute are housed in the same complex (Entry fee 40 INR). Well, the zoo was like any other zoo – except it had the animals in a better health condition. But the beautiful environment in which they were kept compensated what the zoo lacked in terms of animals. One can simply walk around the zoo, inhale that fresh air without any pollution or even eat an ice cream like us. 😛

Trip_day1and2 243

The mountaineering institute has a museum that has many photos, mountaineering gears used by Tenzing Norgay and others and a range of information. People who are into trekking/mountaineering would find this museum interesting. There is also a photo booth were we dress up in native clothes and the photographer takes photos of us for a nominal fee.

Trip_day1and2 265

Next we moved on to Tenzing’s rock, which is literally a rock perched on one of the sides of a narrow road next to the zoological park. There are ropes up the rock for rapelling. We decided to just take photos of it and move on.

Trip_day1and2 297

Our next spot was Peace Pagoda built by a Japanese Buddhist monk. It has a similar structure like Shanti Stupa in Leh. By the time we reached there, mists started coming in and the entire place looked like one of the gardens in heaven. We visited the temple inside and the stupa outside.

Trip_day1and2 301 Trip_day1and2 308

We had to rush at each of these places since we had rock garden in our list for today. It is quite a long downhill drive to the rock gardens and by the time we were half-way, the mists were little too much for even normal visibility, it turned suddenly dark and rains started pouring in. So, we decided to call it a day and returned to our room.

Trip_day1and2 316

Note – One can alternately travel in the UNESCO heritage tiny mountain train that goes till Darjeeling from NJP. Though enjoyable, it takes much longer time. I would suggest hopping on it in Darjeeling, getting down at Kurseong or somewhere and catching a taxi back to Darjeeling.

Trip_day1and2 192 Trip_day1and2 206

You can read about Day 3 of our trip here.