Sunday 9 June 2019

Sikkim - The Natural Beauty - Part 1

Panoramic view of Himalayas

Sikkim - The Natural Beauty (Part 1)

There was one place (alright a few places) which I wanted to visit for a long time - Sikkim. Have heard so much about the natural beauty of the place, seen photographs, but never got a chance to visit. But not anymore. Made time and the plan to visit.

Fine, where do I start from? Don't know anyone there whom I can check with. Thankfully there are quite a few agents on-line whom we can check with for planning such trips.

One such online portal helped me get quotes from 5 different agents. We can choose what seems the best fit based on our ideas. We can also customize the tour package, which is a good thing. Of course there will be variations in the price based on what you want to visit, number of days being planned etc.

Winding Roads

Since it was a trip with family I was a bit particular about the places that we stayed. I have to mention that you cannot expect the hotels to be in the same standards as you get in a big city, so you have to keep your expectations to a minimum. Nevertheless, except for one place which we stayed, the other places were quite alright.

The agents had given an initial plan of covering Sikkim and Darjeeling, but I was quite interesting in exploring Sikkim completely, hence planned a full 1 week trip just to Sikkim. I was to caution here that though the state is one of the smallest states in India, the travelling time within the state will be quite long, due to the nature and condition of the roads.

The plan was to reach the Bagdogra airport in Siliguri and be picked up taxi to Gangtok. Though we reached the Bagdogra by 1:30pm and got the taxi by 2:00pm, by the time we reached Gangtok, it was quite close to 9:00pm in the night. Thanks to a long traffic jam while crossing the Mahananda airport and partially to the road conditions as well.

Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir

The next day we started early and left for Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple. This is near Nathula pass, which borders China on the east. Baba Harbhajan was a Major in the India Army and the army still believes that his spirit guides them. The temple is completely maintained by the India Army personal.

White returning we stopped at the Manju lake and the Tsongo  lake. Manju lake is at an altitude of about 14000 ft. This is not the most common or well known lakes for the tourists. Thanks to the local driver, who stopped there for us to have a view.

Manju Lake - Altitude 13,615 ft

Tsongo lake is the one which is generally told to everyone who is visiting the place. Both the lakes have their beauty. Winter would have been even more beautiful with the lake surrounded by snow. The spring season had a different hue altogether.

Tsongo lake - Altitude around 12,000 ft.

It turned out to be a good decision to have started early in the morning. The weather was sunny and clear in the forenoon, but after 12 noon, nature changed her face. The place started getting covered with thick clouds and started having hailstorms. We were already in our taxi after having a good tasty lunch.

In the afternoon, despite the inclement weather, we visited places like Ganesh Tok, Hanuman Tok which are some of the famous temples in Gangtok and quite popular with tourists and local residents. But due to the rains could not spend much time in these places.

In the evening the rain stopped and weather became quite cool, allowing us time to roam around in the MG Marg, the famous shopping street in Gangtok.

Stream and Lord Siva

Next day we started around 8:00 AM and headed towards Lachen in the northern Sikkim. Though this is only about 100km from Gangtok, it will take a solid 5 hours to reach there. Nevertheless, what you see on the way will ensure that your travel is never tiring. If there is a heaven on earth, you can call the this route that!

There are big and small streams; big and small falls for most part of the entire route. The route also winds alongside the Teesta river. You can just forget yourself in the magnificent beauty of nature!

Streams and Falls

The most famous among the bigger falls are the seven Sisters Falls and the Naga Falls. If you are an explorer and decide to stay in one of the numerous small villages on the way, then I am sure you can see much more than what you see en-route. These 2 falls are on the way to Lachen from Gangtok, hence more popular among the tourists.

Seven Sisters falls

Since the time is less and reaching the destination will take a long time, I did was not able to spend as much time as I would have loved to, in most of the places. If there is an opportunity to stay in one of these places, I certainly would!

Passing through good roads, bad roads, worse roads and no roads in some places, and lofty bridges we reached Lacen by around 9:00PM in the night.

A bridge across a river

This small town is at an altitude of about 9,000ft. Understandably it was cold but the hotel we stayed was alright. We were able to manage with whatever warm blankets that were provided.

The plan for next day was to start as early as 5:00AM and go to Gurudongmar lake and proceed on to Lachung, which is also in the Northern Sikkim, but a good 100km away from Lachen. We have to take permits from the army at least at 3 places, so starting early is very important to visit the place as planned.

The drive to Gurudongmar lake is predominantly on terrains than roads. Almost the entire stretch after crossing the Lachen town is under the watchful eyes of the Indian Army. There are quite a few places where photography is restricted since those are Army posts. Keep in mind to avoid any kind of photography in these place.

Tourist vehicles lined to get permit

Seeing army personnel and their machineries at an altitude of over 17,000 feet in the midst of an unforgiving cold desert and the hardships they endure just to serve the wellbeing of the nation, just gives goosebumps. No words to explain that feeling you get.

Gurudongmar Lake, present at an altitude of 17,200 feet, literally in the lap of the might Himalayas, is a miracle by itself. It is considered holy by Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Legends has it that when the nearby villages were facing water shortage, they prayed to the Buddhist monk / saint Lord Padmasambhava, who touched the frozen lake and a part of it melted to provide the locals with the required water for their use. It is said that even to this day, the lake does not freeze completely even during peak winter. There are similar legends across all faiths, which adds to the mystery of the lake being a sacred one!

Gurudongmar Lake - Altitude 17,200 ft

One might wonder why there is a water scarcity when there are so much of streams and falls. Well, those are only on the way and once we go beyond a certain altitude, like the Thangu Village which is on the way to Gurudongmar lake and at an altitude of 14,000 to 15,000 feet, the Himalayas is nothing more than a desert covered in snow - tundra. The weather can be just unforgiving during the winter and water might get scarce when everything around you freezes.

Desert or not, hot or cold, the Himalayas has MAJESTY written in capitals all over it from whichever angle you see it! I have see the Alps, as you may have read here, but the Himalayas is in a league of its own which no other mountain in the world can even reach to. You have to just see it to believe it!

Snow covered rocks - Himalayas

Fire and Ice - Himalayas is a proper tundra

Gorges and Streams

One need to be a bit careful while near the Gurudongmar lake. The oxygen levels will be a bit low due to the very high altitude. So do not strain yourself too much and consciously breath deep to ensure you get enough oxygen.

I spent some time there and started on our way back. We stopped once again at the Thangu Village were we had stopped while coming. We had planned to have our lunch in one of the small eat outs run by the locals. Simple food with great hospitality was the hallmark of such place we visited throughout our travel in Sikkim.

A small shack in Thangu Village which serves delicious simple food to tourists

Considering the length of the trip and so much to share, I will update the rest in the next part. I obviously don't want to have the post go very lengthy.

In the next part I will share some photos from the rest of the trip to Northern Sikkim and West Sikkim along with some things to consider while planning a trip to Sikkim.

Until then enjoy the photos here :)

River and Mountains of Himalayas

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