DIY allows me to do the tour in my own way instead of relying on someone else to plan my tour. Though there’s nothing wrong loving packaged tour, that eliminates all your headache. But we love DIY, as we don’t always go by fixed itenary, we may increase days at some destination if we like it.
It’s always better to catch a train at night, so that you can reach NJP (New Jalpaiguri) at morning and can go upwards on that day only. But due to my schedule we couldn’t do that so we started off our journey by catching the train at morning and reached NJP at around 7:30 PM. As it was too late to go further, so we stayed in Siliguri for the night and explored Hong Kong Market. Siliguri itself needs 2-3 days to explore, but we have been to Siliguri previously, so it didn’t matter much for us. Enjoyed the delicious Toasts and Half-Boiled Egg in Netaji Cabin. I always go there if I’m in Siliguri.
Jeep’s are always available in Siliguri and NJP for different areas such as Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Gangtok etc. They have fixed rate, so no chances of being scammed. Right now, the cost of shared jeeps are 200/- for Gangtok and 150/- for Darjeeling per person. One can also go for private car but as you can guess it costs higher but is more comfortable. Private cars cost between 1500/- to 4000/- depending on the car you are hiring. The shared jeeps takes total 10 person (4 Back + 4 Middle + 2 Front), so it can be very uncomfortable if you are a bit fat and not much open minded. In that case I’d suggest to go for private car as once you start the journey you won’t be able to negotiate anything. If you are on a budget trip you can also go for 2 tickets to make yourself comfortable. We as backpackers, always prefer local mode of transport, that helps us keeping the cost within range and also to enjoy the local culture.
The cars of WB is not permitted to go beyond Deorali in Sikkim. So the cars from WB will drop you at Deorali Stand and from there you have to catch local cab to Hotel or M. G. Marg. The journey from NJP / Siliguri to Deorali is around 3.5 to 4 hours with a nashta break in between. Have your breakfast / tiffin over there with Tea or Coffee. Don’t forget to enjoy Momo which is served with cutney, as you are in the land of Momo’s. Also note that, in Sikkim they do not have any concept of Chicken Momo, Mutton Momo etc. It’s Veg momo everywhere. Though you may find some stalls at M. G. Marg selling Chicken Momo, but it’ll be rare, very rare.
If you can catch the cars going back, that came down from Sikkim to NJP / Siliguri, then you don’t need to change the car at Deorali. From Deorali it’ll be around 200/- to your hotel (depending on the location) or M. G. Marg. Remember that though these are Taxi, there’s no meter system in Gangtok. They have fixed rate for fixed distance for locals. So bargain it accordingly before the ride. Also, maximum 4 person is allowed in a cab, so if you are more than 4 person, then you have to hire more than 1 cab.
We stayed at Hotel Ma Yang in Gangtok, Development Area. It’s a bit far from M. G. Marg. Hotels in M. G. Marg will generally have higher rate, while on Development Area or Lal Bazar Road you will get cheaper options. From our hotel, shared cabs were available to M. G. Marg for Rs. 10/- per person so it was not a problem for us to roam around.
Hotels throughout the Sikkim are available on AMP (American Meal Plan) / EP (European Plan) / CP (Continental Plan). Ours was with AMP. Though it may seem first that with AMP it’s going to be on higher side, but ultimately at the end you’ll realize it’s not. In Sikkim, it works in a different way.
If you are not aware about the Meal Plan systems, below is the basic idea of all the Meal Plans.
AMP (American Meal Plan) – Room with Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
MAP (Modified American Plan) – Room with Breakfast, Lunch / Dinner
EP (European Plan) – Room only
CP (Continental Plan) – Room with Breakfast
AMP is generally preferred which serves Bengali Cuisine, rest you can be sure that you won’t be disappointed. Different dishes will be served in every meal. So rest assured dishes won’t be same on all the meals for all the days. One can also go for MAP if your itenary is something which won’t allow you to have Lunch at the hotel. You can also go for EP / CP if you want to try out local dishes. But beware that, in Hilly Regions everything gets closed at sharp 9 PM and food in M. G. Marg can be a bit costly with the ratio of quantity served.
Once thing I loved and amazed about Gangtok is, everything is well organized and it looks like planned city. First thing that amazed me as soon as I was entered Gangtok, is the Footpath and Footbridges. Here in Kolkata we do have footpath, but I never seen anyone to use that, instead peoples walk along the main road. Well how would they? footpaths are filled up with different stalls. But here in Gangtok, I was amazed to see, that everyone is walking along the footpath and using footbridges to cross the road. That way both the cars running along the road and the peoples walking, don’t interfere each other.
Next thing, I loved is, the organized Cab system. Like, cabs that bring you from Deorali to the City can only run along the same route and they cannot hop into short distance passengers or cannot run in different route. So the cab that runs within the city for short distance cannot hop into other passengers too. Each cab has the licence stucked on the front window which determines it’s route. Also, they have different Cab Stand (multistoried buildings) for these. Like the cabs that runs from Deorali to the Gangtok City have different stand than that of cabs running on short distance within the city or than that of the cabs going to North Sikkim or West Sikkim. Everyone have different stand with different set of Cabs.
After checking in to hotel and having lunch we took rest for few hours and went for a visit to M. G. Marg. Again, it was simply stunning. With the lighting and decorations everything seemed planned. Had some delicious Momo and Tea and walked around the Marg. It felt awesome in Chilly 5 Deg C. Well that’s what my mobile showed me ????
Sikkim is one of the state for Spirit lovers. So don’t forget to buy Liquors / Beer. It’s a tax free state so prices are much lower than that of your hometown (if you are not coming from another tax free state). Branded Beers are available for 55/-. Local beer is available for 50/-. We bought Antiquity Blue and VAT 69 for 710/- and 1050/- respectively.
Low Price + Chilled Weather = Enjoy the drink.
Next day after breakfast, we left for 3D/2N North Sikkim tour (also known as Lachung – Lachen tour). Cab from our hotel to North Sikkim Cab Stand took 200/-. The Lachung – Lachen tour is generally available within 3000/- per person (everything inclusive i.e. Accommodation and Food). This tour comes in various forms and can be booked from your Hotel or in Tour Stalls in M. G. Marg or in Siliguri / NJP while catching the cab to Deorali / Gangtok.
The North Sikkim tour comes in various forms, such as
2D/1N – Lachung with Yumthung Valley
2D/1N – Lachen with Gurudongmar Lake
3D/2N – Lachen – Gurudongmar Lake & Lachung – Yumthung Valley
All the above tour comes with accommodation and meal plan. You cannot deviate from this i.e. you can’t book hotel yourself. The reason is, at that high altitude you won’t find anything. The hotels are very basic, so keep your expectation low. Though, they are more of a Lodge rather than Hotel. You will be served Bengali Cuisine throughout your stay. These hotels runs depending on these tour operators in Gangtok. Each tour operator have collaboration with a particular hotel accordingly.
Let me warn you, that all of the North Sikkim tour is really hectic and tiresome. Specially the 3D/2N tour. Also you will be climbing at very high altitude (17,100 ft above sea level), so be prepared and plan accordingly specially if you have aged person with you.
Also note that, you need to fix the tour with you tour operator / hotel, a day before you are willing to take this tour and submit Photo ID Proof along with 4 Passport size Photos, as these places are situated in Indo – China border, getting permission is required for the same. If you are not Indian, then your permission will be very limited
But believe me, if you take this tour instead of all the obstacles, it’ll be your lifetime memory
We started at 11 AM and reached Chungthang at around 6 PM in the evening with a 30 mins lunch break in between. Gangtok to Chungthang is 6 Hours journey. From Chungthang the road gets divided to Lachung & Lachen. Generally Lachen is covered first and then Lachung. So after having some Momo and Tea in Chingthang, we started for Lachen again without wasting much time.
Note that, Chungthang is the last destination where you’ll get Mobile tower. So take your time to make any calls or surf internet if you needed to. After this point, only BSNL will work. So you’ll be out of coverage area for 2 days if your provider is not BSNL.
We sighed when we reached Lachen after around 1.5 Hours. Finally we were at Lachen at 7:30 PM starting from Gangtok at 11 AM. We checked in to the Hotel. It was -10 Deg C and what I loved is, as this sort of temperature stays throughout the year, all the hotel sells liquor. I sat with a Beer. After an hour or so, we were called for Dinner.
Next day early morning at sharp 3’O Clock in the morning we left for Gurudongmar Lake. We reached Thangu, the last village of Indo – Chinese Border at around 7 AM. It’s mostly covered with the military base so be ready to be amazed to see different Regiments, Armour, Tanks, Shelling Equipment’s etc. I felt proud when I saw how hard our Indian Army works to protects us throughout the year on -15 Deg C. I felt proud watching them how they sacrificed their life, their family and is always there standing on the border so that we all Indians can go to sleep without worrying.
So finally at 7:30 we reached Gurudongmar Lake at 17,100 ft. Many of tourist felt ill due to low oxygen and started facing breathing problem. The hills looked awesome, it was like made of Gold. The beautiful and awe inspiring lake remains milky in color throughout the year. According to a legend, since the lake used to remain frozen most of the year, it was not possible to use its water for drinking purposes. When the Guru Padmasambhava passed by, while returning from Tibet, the local residents are reported to have approached him for providing source of water. The Guru obliged. A portion of the lake touched by him does not freeze in extreme winter. Since water of the lake is considered sacred, visitors carry the ‘blessed’ water in bottles.
Don’t try to find logic or science within this story, but be amazed to see, how it’s not frozen at -15 Deg C when everything around it is frozen. ???? Be amazed, to see the Hills, well the last hills of India.
While coming back to Lachen we had breakfast at Thangu and spoke to some of our Army mens regarding the border conditions. Finally we were back at Lachen again at 12’O Clock. Took rest and a nap for an hour and then we were called for Lunch. Taking rest for few mins we left for Lachung at 2 PM.
While going to Lachung, we had a break in Chungthang. Again we were back in coverage area, so made few calls back home to inform that everything is fine. We reached Lachung at 5:30 PM. Took rest for the evening as all of us were really tired after the hectic trip of 2 days, well still 1 day remaining. We were called for Dinner at around 10 PM and had a Beer afterwards and went off to sleep.
At 5’O Clock in the morning we left for Yumthung. Yumthung is famous for varieties of Rhododendrons and known as “Valley of Flowers”. Though as we took this tour in October, we couldn’t see any flowers there. Bad luck, we missed the natural beauty.
It was around 7 AM, we thought of extending it to Zero Point. Generally Zero Point is not covered in the tour, but you can always negotiate with the driver. Don’t negotiate about Zero Point with the Tour Operator beforehand, as it requires permission which will raise the cost. Instead pay your driver 500 – 1000 bucks and ask him to take you to Zero Point.
We reached Zero Point at around 9:00 AM. Finally after enjoying and playing a lot with ice bergs, we left for Lachung at around 10:30.
At sharp 12’O Clock we reached Lachung, back to our Hotel again and left for Gangtok at 2’O Clock after having lunch and freshening up a bit.
Ahh…So finally we are back to Gangtok at around 7 PM. We all were really tired from this 3D / 2N North Sikkim tour. We planned for visiting M. G. Marg but we couldn’t, as we didn’t had any energy left. Got a beer ourselves and we soon hit the bed after dinner.
Next day Morning, we planned for Nathula Trip, but our hotel suggested to shift it next day, as it’d be really hectic for us as we were just from a hectic trip of North Sikkim. Well, yeah, he was right, so we shifted the Nathula trip to next day and planned for local sight-seen. After breakfast, we arranged a reserved 10 Point Half-Day Tour which cost us around 1000/-
There are many sight-seen packages like
3 Point Half Day
7 Point Half Day
10 Point Half Day
10 Point Full Day
Points are fixed for all the tours unless you go for Mixed Point. For Mixed Point, you need to plan it yourself, what points you’d like to visit.
On our 10 Point tour, we went to Tashi View Point, Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Tok, Bakthang Waterfall, Enchey Monastery, Flower Exhibition Center, Handicraft Center, Chorten Stupa, Institute of Tibetology and Ropeway Cable Car.
Well, we didn’t went to Cable Car as we didn’t think the price is justified for the timings. It’s just that, you’d be able to see the Gangtok from cable car. So if you have never been to cable car then this can be a nice experience. But we had ride cable car many times before. So this didn’t attract us.
I heard of Rumtek Monastery a lot, and I had planned to visit it from the very beginning when I started to research on my tour. But those are included in 10 Point Full Day tour as it was on the opposite side of all the above points. So, I thought of booking a 10 Point Half Day and then I’d try to negotiate directly with Cab driver as that would save the money and also I was not interested in other points of Full Day tour except Rumtek Monastery. So, as I had planned, we negotiated with our cab driver for 500/- and he agreed, as that amount will exclusively go to his pocket.
Finally, we were at Rumtek Monastery. What should I say, Awesome. Simply Awesome. Our driver was very friendly guide, he narrated us the story of the Monastery on the route.
After this, he took us to Botanical Garden, though we didn’t asked for it and it was closed too due to Diwali. And, with this, we ended our so called 10 Point Half-Day Tour (or should I call it 10 Point Quarter Tour :P) and back to our hotel.
We took a nap after having our Lunch and later in the evening we went to M. G. Marg.
Next day, after breakfast, we went for Tsongmo Lake – Nathulla Pass – Baba Mandir Tour. This tour generally costs 800/- per head (With Nathulla), and 500/- per head (Without Nathulla). The first stop was Tsongmo Lake. I don’t know, but may be after all the scenic beauty of Gurudongmar and Zero Point, I didn’t find this much interesting. So we didn’t wasted much time here.
We had Thukpa as our lunch in a small jhoops near Tsongmo Lake and headed for Nathulla. Words can’t describe the feeling when you are standing in your country’s border watching the bunkers of India and China and the LoC. Just a step forward and you’ll be in China.
While returning back from Nathulla, we visited Baba Mandir. Though the use of word Mandir which means Temple, it’s not a Temple actually. Baba Harbhajan Singh was an soldier who died near the Nathula Pass. He is revered by soldiers of the Indian army as the “Hero of Nathula” and the army men have also built a shrine in his honour. He has been accorded the status of saint by believers who refer to him as the Baba (saintly father). Many of the faithful people, chiefly Indian army personnel posted in and around the Nathula Pass and the Sino-Indian border between the state of Sikkim and Chinese occupied Tibet have come to believe his spirit protects every soldier in the inhospitable high altitude terrain of the Eastern Himalayas. As with most saints, the Baba is said to also grant favors presumably to those who revere and worship him.
It was 11 PM, chilled weather with a Chilled Beer in hand watching the peaks. Last night of our tour. What can I say, I thought I’ll miss this place, the trip, the enjoyment. The friendly nature of all the Nepali people around who helped us a lot throughout this trip of ours.
Next day, we left for NJP after breakfast. Throughout the route, I kept my eyes closed and every details of our trip went through my mind. I was missing it badly. And more than that, I was afraid of going back to that so called rat race life again. But what can I do? That’s the way of life. Right? I kept telling my heart that, Let’s go back, earn more money, so that you can again pack the bags and leave for another awesome place again.
NJP -> Siliguri : Reserved Auto = 200/- (For 5 Members)
Siliguri -> Deorali : Shared Car – 200/- Per Head x 5 = 1000/-
Deorali -> Development Area (Hotel) – 200/- per car. As we were 5 members we took 2 taxi’s. So total is 400/-
North Sikkim 2N/3D Tour : 3000/- Per Head x 5 = 15000/- + 1200/- given extra for Zero Point
Gangtok 10 Point Sightseeing : Exclusive vehicle for 5 members – 500/- + 500/- Given Extra for Rumtek Monastry = 1000/-
Nathulla Pass Tour : 800/- Per Head x 5 Person = 3200/-
Hotel Maa Yang @ 1200/- Per Day x 4 Nights = 4800/-
We 5 persons stayed in a single room. And this prices includes MAP i.e. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and Tea 2 times (Morning and Evening).
We were there for total 6 Nights, out of which 2 Nights we spent in Lachung, Lachen. So the Hotel Costs is of 4 night with all the meals.
As far as I remember, our total cost for the trip from Home to Home was 40k for 1 week for 5 persons. Ofcourse that includes too many Momo’s @ 30/- and Thukpas here and there.
Development Area -> M.G.Marg shared cabs take 10/- per head. But while returning from M.G.Marg you’ll never find a shared cab. So you need to book it exclusively for 80/- – 100/-. Depends on your bargaining. Some day we got for 70/- and some day for 90/-.