Sikkim, the land of pristine and mystic beauty! As the Lonely Planet describes - "The meditative, mural-filled traditional monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism coexist with Hindu shrines of the ever-growing Nepali community, with both religions creating some astonishing latter-day megasculptures to adorn the skyline."
I've been to Sikkim a couple of times, and every time, there was some thing beautiful to be discovered! Whether it was this trip (which was my first trip to Sikkim) or the time when I traveled there for Goechala Trek or to explore North Sikkim & Gurudongmar - I've always been mesmerized by the gorgeousness of the mighty Himalayas!
I've been to the mountains several times, but never had the chance to experience snowfall. For the first time, I felt that awesomeness which drove me numb. It was the end of April, and Delhi already started experiencing the scorching summer-heat. Thanks to the IIT guys who dragged me into their "boys' trip", and helped me in weaving the beautiful memories of exotic beauty.
The drive from Bagdogra Airport to Gangtok takes some 6 hours, and as you go up, you start feeling the chills, and the road starts getting narrower with every turn. The snow capped mountains at a distance welcomes you, and the Teesta River accompanies you throughout, till you reach the lively town of Gangtok. Being the capital of the state, Gangtok does have too much of hustle and bustle, a fancy market and good restaurants (that's one thing I always look fr, being a foodie!!). The graffiti walls will no doubt catch the attention, as it seems that the town is wearing a funky attire, too colorful to be ignored.
Since this was a random trip, and we had no chalked itinerary to help us out, we decided to seek help from the locals. On the second day, we headed towards TsomGo lake ( famously known as Changu Lake). It takes around 3-4 hours from Gangtok, and at times I felt as if the car is going through the clouds!
The beauty of the roads will make you forget time, and there are numerous waterfalls on the way to Changu. And then, you can stop by, for a cup of hot chocolate and yummy steaming momos. Changu was more beautiful than I had imagined it to be! A lake surrounded by mountains on all sides, and covered with snow. Most people prefer yak-rides, but me and my Travel-mates decided to walk up in the snow. The universe conspired to make it more memorable for us, and there was a sudden snowfall. What more can one ask for?
The next day we planned to go to Lachung and Yumthang, North Sikkim. Lachung has been described as the "most picturesque village of Sikkim" by British explorer Joseph Dalton Hooker in his definitive,The Himalayan Journal (1855).
Indeed, the colorful little cottages, and the narrow streams flowing by, the Buddhist prayer flags dancing with the wind, and the bells of the monastry makes Lachung a dreamland. Homestay is the best option in Lachung, it is cheap and you can have authentic Sikkimese food, and the hosts are really warm and will tell you stories about their ancestors who moved from Tibet and settled in Sikkim. From Lachung, we drove to Yumthang Valley (12,000 ft above sea level, approx), popularly known as 'Valley of Flowers'. There's also the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, and has over twenty-four species of the rhododendron, the state flower.
A tributary of the river Teesta flows past the valley, making the scenery look like a painted masterpiece. Yumesamdong, famously known as ZERO Point, is the end of Yumthang Valley. It is situated close to China border, and is sparsely populated. There are little shacks offering the local Honey-Bee brandy, to save you from the -6 degrees temperature! We went crazy, making snowman, throwing snow balls at each other, skiing and what not! Tourists hardly go up to the highest point, but I would suggest that you should take that extra step, and its worth it.
It was time for us to head back to Gangtok and then continue our journey to Darjeeling!
And, to add a cherry on the cake, on our way back from Lachung, we saw the rainbow, criss-crossing the horizon, and it seemed as if someone has joined two snow-clad Himalayan peaks with the stroke of seven colors. It was a breathtaking sight! Me and my friends kept drooling over it for days!
I realize how true Ruskin Bond's words are, when he said, "Once you've been to the mountains, there's no coming back. You belong to them."