White background @ Sikkim

11th Apr 2015
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 1/10 by Debabrat Das
Road to Gangtok
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 2/10 by Debabrat Das
View of the Gangtok City
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 3/10 by Debabrat Das
Flower Garden @ Gangtok
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 4/10 by Debabrat Das
Road to Gurudngmar Lake
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 5/10 by Debabrat Das
Gurudongmar Lake
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 6/10 by Debabrat Das
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 7/10 by Debabrat Das
Lachen Monastery
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 8/10 by Debabrat Das
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 9/10 by Debabrat Das
Photo of White background @ Sikkim 10/10 by Debabrat Das
Sikkimese Breakfast @ The Coffee House

The snow fight ad of Cadbury Silk reminded me of something which I always wanted to do, the feel of touching the snow and playing with it. That is how the idea of taking a trip to Sikkim came to my mind. We decided to go in the month of April as April is the best month which would give us opportunity to see the snow as well as the blooming of rhododendron.

We had around 4-5 days to complete the trip with an estimated budget of Rs.10000/- per person. It was something like the TV show, No Big Deal, where the host used to explore a particular place for three days within a budget of Rs.3000/-. For that we needed to plan everything in advance and eventually we managed within our budget and time.

Sikkim is the second smallest state in India after Goa, but the list of places to visit in Sikkim is very long. We decided to cover the Gangtok city and the northern parts of Sikkim, covering Yumthang Valley and Gurudongmar Lake. While Yumthang valley is an ideal place to see the rhododendron flowers in full bloom during April, Zero point near Yumthang valley is a perfect place to get close to snow and the view of Gurudongmar Lake is so serene that keeping it out of our list was out of question.

To save cost we needed a budget hotel without compromising cleanliness and a driver for the North Sikkim trip to avoid the travel agency commission. Searching of Internet for few days helped finding our hotel, Hotel Pandim. Thankfully we got reference of a very good driver from a friend who had already travelled with the driver before. Our whole journey became smooth and comfortable because of him.

After lots of planning and expectation we started our trip from Guwahati by a night train and reached NJP at around 4 AM in the morning. Since it was still dark outside, we waited for the sun show up in the sky before taking a taxi to Gangtok. (Tip: Taxi can be taken both on sharing basis as well as the whole car. There are all kinds of cars available from WagonR, Innova to Sumo and prices vary according to the kind of car. There are many middlemen outside the train station and at the taxi station who offer cheaper ride to Gangtok provided one takes the whole Gangtok package from them, including hotel and sightseeing. Since we had already booked our hotel we didn’t show any interest. Later on our driver told that most of those middlemen are cheats who charge a lot from the customers and do not provide proper service after taking the money).

After negotiating the price with many drivers we took a Tevera and started from NJP at around 6.00 in the morning. Soon we were welcomed by the greenery of Sivok forest. Testa River too joined us soon after. It followed us till Gangtok. The road to Gangtok is mostly good with few bumpy patches but the beautiful sceneries on both the sides do not allow the attention to go anywhere else. (Tips: It is advisable to keep an identity proof handy as ID proofs of those entering Gangtok are checked before entering Gangtok). After around three and a half hour of drive through the hilly terrain we reached our destination, Gangtok city. (Tips: If hotel is booked in advance, it is better negotiate with the taxi driver to drop directly at the Hotel, instead of taxi station; in order to avoid the cost and trouble of taking a taxi from the taxi station to the hotel).

Hotel Pandim is located near Old secretariat building which is away from the hustle bustle of the city and give a good view of the Kanchenjunga. M.G. Marg, the main shopping street of Gangtok is also just 10 minutes walk from the hotel. The view of the Himalayan range and Gangtok city from the balcony of the hotel is so beautiful that I didn’t want to leave the view. But sadly, we didn’t have luxury for that. After a small rest we had lunch at the Hotel and got ready for sightseeing around Gangtok. On our request the Manager of our Hotel arranged two Maruti Alto cars for us to show the places around the city. Since we started late we had to skip the famous Rumtek Monastery from the list, but we covered around 8 viewpoints near the city, including the flower garden and a ride at the rope way.

M.G. Marg, which can be seen from the terrace of the Hotel, can be reached by short cut road and stairs from our Hotel. Since we had to meet our driver for the north Sikkim trip (Pulzar Bhaiya) to give an advance amount and ID proofs to for the next days’ trip, so we decided to climb down those stairs to reach M. G. Road. (Tips: For going to North Sikkim special pass is to be obtained from the district authority, which can be obtained on the date of travel after submission of photocopies of ID proofs, photographs of all the travelers and a fee. So it is important to submit the necessary documents to the travel agent or the driver the day before travelling to north Sikkim so that he can arrange the passes. Since the pass is given at around 9 AM in the morning, it is difficult to get the pass by coming directly from NJP on the same day. Passports, Voter ID card, school/ college ID’s can be given as ID proofs for obtaining the pass).

Every evening M.G. Marg becomes livelier with the bright lights, colorful souvenir shops and lots of tourists, making it a perfect place for an evening stroll. It was already 7.30 PM and we were feeling hungry, so we went to a café called The Coffee Shop, where I had Sikkimese breakfast. (Tips: In Gangtok most of the restaurants and cafes serve alcoholic drinks, that’s great, isn’t it!!). While coming back to hotel I could not resist from packing a plate of momos for dinner, after all we were in Sikkim.

Next morning we wake up to find heavy rain outside with clouds everywhere, making us a bit worried. Nothing could be visible from our balcony. But thankfully by the time we got ready it became clear again, that is the beauty of a hill station; one moment you are covered by the clouds, next moment it’s raining and again it becomes sunny after a while. After a delay of 1 hour from our scheduled departure time we started our voyage at around 11 AM, to our destination Lachung. Soon after leaving the Gangtok city we were again joined by the Testa River. The road is broken at many places and became muddy due to the morning rain at many places, but we saw BRO employees working hard to keep the road navigable. We stopped to see a water fall on the way before resting for lunch. The lunch was simple, yet tasty. There are limited numbers of shops in the entire stretch of road to Lachung.

Our next stop was Chungthang. It was around 4.30 PM when we reached Chungthang and sun was glowing red before signing off for the day. Most of the cars stop here before covering the final part of the journey. After having a hot cup of tea we got fresh again. Finally after travelling for around 7 hours we reached Lachung at around 7 PM. It was already dark and nothing could be seen outside.

Green Lake lodge where we stayed the night in Lachung is more like a home-stay than a hotel, which is run by a family. We were served dinner at the kitchen itself. Dinner was simple, comprising roti, rice, dal, mixed vegetables and egg curry. (Tips: most of the hotels in Lachung and Lachen are basic hotels and offer limited options in the food menu. All the meals we had in the trip were less in spice yet very tasty. Since everything is arranged by our driver we told our preferences to him and accordingly he told to the hotels in advance). Even after we finished our dinner we remained seated in the kitchen talking to our host, because of the fireplace in the kitchen. Although we didn’t want to leave the warmth of the fireplace but we had to leave the space for the next batch of dinners.

Our driver instructed us to get ready by 3.30 AM in the morning, which seemed like an impossible task for us. I woke up around 3 AM and the outside temperature was -3 degree, which was sufficient to give chill to my bones. In spite of the incomplete sleep we got ready on time, but we were unsure whether we would be able to go up to Gurudongmar Lake. (Tips: During that part of the year getting a chance to see the lake also depends on luck. If heavy snowfall occurs at night, the road to Gurudongmar Lake gets covered by snow and in such cases Indian Army does not allow the cars to pass. Since amount of snowfall can’t be predicted in advance, one may have to go back from Lachung without seeing the Lake). With the suspense in our mind we started from hotel at around 4AM. With complete darkness outside only thing visible was the head lights of cars going to the lake, making it look like a glowing necklace.

We didn't have to wait long for the sun rays to show up and snow covered Himalaya was in front of us. More we drove more closer we went to the snow capped hills. Soon everything we could see were covered by snow, as if all the trees, hills, houses and everything else has been painted in white, like a white background. We felt like going out of the car there itself and start playing with snow, like a small kid. But we had to wait for some time. (Tips: As Lachung is located near the China border, is always under strict monitoring by Indian army. Army bunkers and settlements can be seen throughout the way to the Lake. We found Interesting and inspiring quotes written on the road side pillars. But our driver warned us against clicking photographs of those army areas for security purpose).

Just before reaching Thangu, where cars stop for breakfast we were stopped by the Indian army. I thought it would be for checking the documents but actually they were inviting us to go inside their campus to have tea, which was not only a surprise but also a kind of honour for us, to get invited by Indian army. They served us tasty Pakoras and tea. The treat was due to the occasion of Baisakhi. (Tips: On the way to Lake, Army checks the entry passes and if the documents any single person is found incorrect the whole car is asked to return back. Problem occurs especially when baby is travelling in the car).

That stop at the army camp also gave us the opportunity to touch the snow for the first time. Immediately after finishing our tea we went to play with the snow. We clicked some pics and threw some ice balls at each other but had to come back to the car soon to resume the journey. Our next destination, Thangu was round the corner. Our driver took us to a small shop where we were served tea, bread and Maggie. The taste of a bowl of hot soupy Maggie sitting near a fireplace with such low temperature outside; was next to heaven. We wanted to stay inside for some more time but since few more guest showed up we had to leave the comfort of the fire place. (Tips: Shops in Thangu offers jackets and boots on rent. So one need not worry about buying them or take on rent at Lachung. They come at various sizes and colours, so one can easily chose from the options available. The rent was around Rs.50/- per jacket).

We started our journey again, cutting through the ice covered mountains on both the sides. But before reaching the Lake landscape changed completely. The stony mountain took the place of snow capped mountains and nothing could be seen except desert like flats and hills. The road was also bumpy at places. After travelling for almost 5 hours we were wishing that the road ends soon. But the first glimpse of the Lake was enough to take away every pain we had to bear to reach there.

Gurudongmar Lake is the second highest lake in India located at a height of 17100 ft above sea level, first being Cholamu Lake in Sikkim. Legend has it that, Guru Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Dongmar) once visited the place. Then people of that area asked for his help, saying that they cannot get water from the lake as the Lake remains frozen throughout the year. Then he touched a part of the lake and sanctified the lake, and then onwards even in extreme winter, a portion of the lake does not freeze.

The view of the Lake is out of the world spectacle. Surrounded by snow capped mountains, beauty of the Lake is worth comparing with paradise. We stayed there for around 30 min. We also visited the Sarva Dharma Sthall next to the Lake. (Tips: Since the place is located at a very high altitude, certain precautions are always helpful. Our driver advised us to remain seated inside the car for 2-3 minutes after reaching the Lake, to adjust with the high altitude conditions. Even after getting down, he advised us to walk slowly as the oxygen level is less. We carried popcorn, ginger and dry fruits which can help in case of altitude sickness). Some of the visitors also went down to the lake to walk on the frozen Lake, which was something we didn’t try.

On our way back we were again stopped by Indian Army, this time they offered us Mango juice, biscuits, chocolate etc. And who does not like free treats. We reached Lachung around noon. After having lunch and some rest we started for our next destination, Lachen.

In Lachen we stayed the night at Golden Valley Hotel. Next morning we woke up early as we planned to give a visit to Lachen Monastery before leaving for Yumthang Valley. Lachen Monastery is within a walk able distance from our hotel. The monastery is very peaceful and has a beautiful surrounding. At around 7.30 AM we started towards Yumthang valley, to see the Rhododendron on their full bloom and also the unending snow capped mountains at Zero Point. The curvy roads with colourful wild flowers and Buddhist flags on both the sides, the road to Yumthang is a delight for the eyes. I wished this magical trip to Yumthang never end.

We got lucky on our trip to Gurudongmar Lake but not in Yumthang valley. Due to landslide we could not reach to our destination. After waiting for the situation to improve for an hour we had to come back. Since we could not make it to Zero Point, our driver offered to take us to Katao: to get a close experience with snow. We too were happy to get an alternative. In Katao we tried to spend as much time as possible in the snow, walking, climbing and playing on the snow. We even made snowman and threw snow balls at each other, our driver too joined us in the fun. (Tip: Although Katao is an alternative but Zero Point is a much better option than Katao, as in Katao the area where one can play in the snow is very limited). After playing for some time our hands became numb and we decided to return back to our car. (Tip: A two night three days trip covering Lachung and Lachen may be physically tiring for some people as it involves around 7-8 hour travelling in the car every day, for those who prefer a comfortable trip two days in Lachung is advisable). After having our lunch at the hotel we started our return journey towards Gangtok. Magical sceneries on both the sides of road kept us mesmerized throughout the stretch; Kanchenjunga was also glowing orange with the reflection of afternoon sun. But I felt heavy on my heart as the trip was about to end.

We reached hotel at around 6 PM. Being the last night in Sikkim, we did not want to waste the time by staying back at the hotel. We wanted to try some Sikkimese delicacies for our dinner and 9’ine Native Cuisine is the best place for having some authentic Sikkimese cuisine. (Tip: They get sold out early in the evening, so it’s better to call them and confirm before visiting them, they gets sold out as early as 7 PM, and the owner is helpful and makes the guests feel at home). After the dinner we roamed at the M.G. Road buying stuffs for our friends and family till the shops started to close, trying to make most of the time left in Sikkim. (Tip: M.G. Marg has many souvenir shops selling products with traditional designs, bargaining applies just like any other Indian cities. One can also buy Temi tea and Sikkimese wine, which are indigenous to Sikkim. But the market gets closed early at around 8 PM, so one has to wrap up the shopping early).

Next morning we bid adieu to Gangtok early in the morning, at around 5.30 AM and our driver drove us till NJP. (Tip: We learned that the drivers who drive in the route know how much time it takes to reach from Gangtok to NJP, so it’s better to listen rather trying to be an expert of own).

This Sikkim trip was special for many reasons. We got to experience the arrival of spring in the trees of rhododendron, see the mighty Kanchenjunga up close, feel the breathlessness in 17100 feet, eat some delicious Sikkimese dishes, meet some wonderful locals as well as fellow tourists and most importantly, play with the snow. The picture of snow clad Himalaya will remain in my mind forever like a white background.

How much we spend (approx):

Train fare: Rs.1500/- (to NJP and return)

Taxi fare from NJP to Gangtok: Rs.400/- (Rs.2400/- for 6 person in a Tevera)

Hotel Pandim: Rs.1200/- (2 nights @Rs.1800/- per night for a three bedded room)

North Sikkim trip: Rs.3500/- (Rs.21000/- for 3 days and 2 nights for 6 persons inclusive of Hotel, food, sightseeing)

Sightseeing in Gangtok: Rs.400/- (2 cars @Rs.1200/- per car)

Food: Rs.800/- (1 lunch, 1 lunch and 2 dinners)

Misc: 700/-

Taxi fare from Gangtok to NJP: Rs.500 (Rs.3000/- for 6 persons including tips)

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