North Sikkim- A Slice of Heaven | TTW
Sikkim is a small state in northeast India, bordered by Bhutan, Tibet, and Nepal. Part of the Himalayas, the area has a dramatic landscape including India’s highest mountain, 8,586m Kanchenjunga. Sikkim is also home to glaciers, alpine meadows, and thousands of varieties of wildflowers. High snow-capped mountains, flowing rivers, chilled wind, wildflowers, colorful wildlife, beautiful peoples made the Himalayan state Sikkim most beautiful.
The northern part of Sikkim is a very popular travel destination among tourists and is certainly the best part of Sikkim. This barren land is popular for its breathtaking views. Though many people called it ‘Small Ladakh’ but this place is beautiful to its virginity.
The main attraction of North Sikkim is based on Gurudongmar Lake (the holy lake), Zero Point (the snow zone), Yumthang Valley(the valley of flowers), Lachung, and Lachen. Generally, this place is appropriate for a 2night/3 days trip but you may add more days depending on the places you would like to visit and also depends on what type of traveler you are.
By Air: The regularly operated airport nearest to Gangtok is about 124 Kms away in Bagdogra, West Bengal. From the airport, you can hire a shared taxi or a private vehicle that will get you to Gangtok in around 3-4 hours. The Pakyong Airport is the only airport serving Sikkim which is just 27 km away from Gangtok but it’s not regularly operated.
By Train: The nearest railway station to Gangtok is New Jalpaiguri(NJP), around 148 km away from Gangtok. From NJP you can easily get a taxi to Gangtok. It will take around 4-4.5 hrs to reach Gangtok.
By Road: Tourists coming from nearby places like Siliguri, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, or any nearby place can even drive to Gangtok. Sikkim is well connected with West Bengal and the other nearby places.
Itinerary for Sikkim Trip:
I would suggest a minimum of one week, but if you have more days, it’s better and you can even explore more.
Day 1: Reach Gangtok by Road, Train, or Air.
Day 2: Explore Gangtok and surroundings (city tour).
Day 3: Explore Tsongmo Lake and return to Gangtok.
Days 4-6: North Sikkim Tour: Visit Yumthang Valley and Gurudongmar Lake via Lachen & Lachung.
Day 6: Road Trip and transfer back to Gangtok
Day 7: Transfer to Bagdogra Airport/ NJP/ or travel back home by Road.
It’s like a base itinerary that you can follow, but you can of course end up doing something quite different, often changing plans while traveling as you learn about new places and gather new experiences.
You can hire a cab for Gangtok. During the journey, ask your cab driver a lot of questions about the long journey from the airport/train station/bus stop, try to accumulate as much information as you can. The road is quite good, and you’ll enjoy the journey. However, on the way, do stop by and admire the mighty Teesta river - it’s truly a sight to behold. By the time you reach Gangtok, you will be exhausted and would just want to take some rest. So take enough rest and hydrate yourself.
If you have energy in the evening, head out to the MG Marg - that’s where everyone from the city gathers to hang out and is the most vibrant place you will ever see. Enjoy your time over there.
You can spend your time hopping around the local shops, eating the local foods, sightseeing and organizing onwards travel.
Many of the places to visit in Gangtok can be seen on ubiquitous "three-point", "five-point", and "seven-point" local tours offered by travel agents, hotels, and taxi drivers. The "three-point" tours incorporate the city's three main viewpoints (Ganesh Tok, Hanuman Tok, and Tashi Viewpoint). Variants such as the Enchey monastery can be added for "five-point" tours. "Seven points" tours include monasteries outside Gangtok, such as Rumtek and Lindum.
Enchey Monastery: Sikkim's monasteries are among its most popular attractions. You'll find Enchey monastery perched on a ridge above Gangtok. The name of this serene place means a solitary monastery. It was initially constructed in 1909 but had to be rebuilt after catching fire in 1947. This monastery is relatively small and noncommercial. However, it's beautifully decorated inside, with colorful murals, statues, and a large collection of masks used in ritual dances. The founder, Lama Druptob Karpo, was a Tantric master known for his ability to levitate and fly!
Enchey monastery is open from 4 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and until 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Two renowned monasteries can also be seen on scenic day trips from Gangtok: Rumtek, and the newer and more eye-catching Lingdum (Ranka) with its huge golden Buddha statue. Be at Lingdum at 7.30 a.m. or 3.30 p.m. to hear the monks chanting in mesmerizing unison.
Ganesh Tok and Hanuman Tok:
From Enchey monastery, take the road northeast up to colorful Ganesh Tok with its fluttering prayer flags, for dramatic views over Gangkok. There's a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh there, along with cafe and souvenir shops. Higher up beyond Ganesh Tok, and arguably with a better viewpoint, sits Hanuman Tok. Visitors are greeted by a towering orange statue of Lord Hanuman. The Hanuman temple there is maintained by the Indian Army, so it's clean and peaceful. It's surrounded by lovely sprawling gardens, walking trails, and the splendid sight of Mount Khangchendzonga on a clear day.
Himalayan Zoological Park:
Opposite Ganesh Tok, the Himalayan Zoological Park is one of India's better-maintained zoos with a natural jungle setting. It's spread across 230 hectares of hillside and houses rare animals, many of which have been rescued from traders and poachers. They include Himalayan bears, snow leopards, Tibetan wolves, and red pandas.
The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., except Thursdays. Tickets cost 60 rupees.
Tashi Viewpoint, north of town, is said to offer the best views of Mount Khangchendzonga within Gangtok. However, some people complain that it's not worth the climb, and similar views can be found elsewhere. The views are very weather-dependent and you'll most likely be disappointed on a cloudy day.
There are telescopes that you can pay to use, and a gift shop by the roadside that's run by the Indian Army. The money from sales helps support it.
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and Do-Drul Chorten:
Those interested in Buddhism and Tibetan culture will find the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology worth exploring. Established in 1958, its traditional Tibetan-style building houses a museum, and a library with one of the largest collections of Tibetan works in the world outside of Tibet. The museum has a rare collection of statues, relics of monks, ritual objects (including a thöpa bowl made from a human skull and dangling human thighbone trumpet), artworks, thangkas (painted, woven, and embroidered scrolls), and ancient manuscripts in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, and Lepcha. There's also a souvenir shop and coffee shop on the premises.
The Institute is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday. It's closed on Sundays, the second Saturday of every month, and official government holidays. The entrance fee is 10 rupees.
The gleaming white Do-Drul Chorten is located not far from the Institute, on the same road. According to its fascinating history, this stupa was built by a powerful Tibetan lama who came to rid the site of evil spirits that were haunting it. It's surrounded by 108 prayer wheels, and at dusk, hundreds of lamps are lit in a glass room beside it to guide the way for departed ancestors.
Close to the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and Do-Drul Chorten, board one of Damodar Ropeway's cable cars for a bird's eye view of Gangtok and the surrounding valley. It will take you high up the ridge to Tashiling Secretariat.
The Ropeway runs daily from 9.30 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. Tickets cost 110 rupees per person, and there's a discount for children.
Flower Exhibition Center:
If you're visiting Gangtok from April to June or September until the end of November, after disembarking the cable car at Tashiling Secretariat stroll through Ridge Park and to the Flower Exhibition Center just below it. This greenhouse is bursting with high altitude blooms, especially orchids. Orchid bulbs and seeds are also available for purchase there. It's open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and tickets cost 20 rupees each.
Deorali Orchid Sanctuary, near the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, is another place to see exotic varieties.
Or, stay on an orchid farm at one of India's best homestays near Gangtok, Hidden Forest Retreat.
MG Marg Market:
From the Flower Exhibition Center, it's an easy walk down to MG Marg, Gangkok's atmospheric main street. The street is refreshingly free of litter, spitting, smoking, and vehicles -- as all are banned there. It's a popular hangout place though and can get very crowded and carnival-like in the evenings.
Go there to shop, and to make travel arrangements with the many tour operators that have outlets there. The Golden Tips tea showroom (Punam Building, First Floor, MG Marg) is sought after for its boutique teas, including Temi tea that's grown in Sikkim's only tea garden.
The shops along MG Marg usually open by 9 a.m. and close by 8 p.m. Also, many shops are closed on Tuesdays.
Tsomgo Lake, popularly known as Changu Lake is the glacial lake in East Sikkim.
It is aligned within mountains at an altitude of 12,400ft. The name Tsomgo means ‘source of water’. It is one of the most amazing lakes in Sikkim and cherished by the local Buddhists and Hindus as a sacred lake. The water of the lake is replenished by the melting of the snow of its surrounding mountains.
Distance from Gangtok: it is 40kms away from Gangtok.
Coordinates: 27° 22′ 31″ N 88° 45′ 50″ E
How to reach Tsomgo Lake from Gangtok: The only way to reach the lake is through a drive from Gangtok.
Bulky vehicles such as Innova, Bolero, and Scorpio are available in rent from Gangtok.
You will also get hired taxis to reach Tsomgo Lake from Gangtok and back to Gangtok.
Taxi fare: 600-700 rupees per person
Best sightseeing places near Tsomgo Lake:
1. Baba Mandir
3. Kyongsola Alpine Sanctuary
4. Tseten Tashi Cave
Travel Day: Gangtok to Lachen (107kms approx) - Night Stay at Lachen
It takes around 6 hours to reach Lachen (Elevation: 2,750m) – Generally, people start during the morning and reaches Lachen during the evening, it is a small town in North Sikkim and you'll only find some small shops that sell the basics over there, so it's important to make sure you carry the necessary items from Gangtok. By the time you reach Lachen, you will be exhausted and would just want to take some rest. So take enough rest and hydrate yourself.
Travel Day: Lachen - Gurudongmar Lake – Lachung
In the early morning start for Gurudongmar Lake, the conditions of the roads are extremely daunting since it's a steep elevated path from 2,750 m to 5183 m and the distance is around 67 one. You'll find the extreme change in weather and temperature in that 67 km drive. It's one of the most adventurous roads I've ever traveled to. During the travel you'll get to see immense beautiful and vast landscapes of North Sikkim, people never knew about. And after reaching Gurudongmar Lake it feels something as if the dreams come true. It's very cold out there, some people even face some breathing issues because of the altitude, and the cold wind won't let you stay there for long. People generally stay there for 30-60 minutes. It’s very cold over there and the cold winds are so strong that they won’t even let you stand straight, I remember my hands were numb while photographing, I found it hard even to click the shutter, it was so cold that I can't even Sense the shutter properly, but finally I made some decent pictures.
Gurudongmar Lake is absolutely like a dream, until and unless you travel there it's hard to imagine or figure out how beautiful the place can be. While we're returning our driver suggested us to travel a nearby place called Kala Patthar which is around 5 km from Gurudongmar Lake, and he probably took some extra charge for that, since it was not included in the package. You actually won't find information regarding Kala Pathaar, since it's not a place where every traveler travels to, it’s a place having high elevation and from there you’ll be able to see the whole valley. It takes around 1 hrs from Gurudongmar to reach Kala Patthar. And again, Kala Patthar is even something not less than a dream come true! There was snow all around, some 2 feet deep snow, and the color of the complete mountain is pitch-black in the color that is the reason they call it Kala Patthar. And we're so lucky that it started snowing suddenly after we reached there. And we experienced a complete weather transition as well as the transition in the landscape view, the whole black valley turned to a complete white valley in a matter of just 30 minutes after the snowfall, I had never experienced something like that before. It was worth traveling there.
After experiencing the transition in the valley we headed towards Lachung, and stayed the night in Lachung.
Experience the Sky full of stars, Night Stay at Lachung.
Travel Day: Lachung - Yumthang Valley - Lachung - Gangtok
On the final day, in the early morning hours, start your journey from Lachung and head towards Yumthang- the valley of flowers, it takes around 4 hours from Lachung to reach Yumthang valley. The roads were incredibly beautiful with conifers on both sides and covered with a layer of glittering white snow, that looked more amazing when lit with sunshine and the sun rays coming inside the conifers create a magnificent mystical mood, it’s a dreamy way which will take you to Yumthang Valley.
Yumthang Valley's name brings one thing to mind, Flowers. ‘Yumthang’ means “Valley of flowers’ in the local language. It is not for nothing that this Valley is labeled like that. It is nothing short of being exotic. Whether you are a nature lover or not, you are bound to fall in love with the incredible blend of flora and fauna in this valley.
The valley is full of Cherry blossom and Rhododendron flowers all around and different types of multicolored flowers bloom there during March and April!
Stay there for some time, enjoy the ambiance of the valley, and then headed back towards Gangtok. It takes around 7 hr’s from The valley to reach Gangtok via Lachung. You’ll probably reach Gangtok by evening.
You’ll always remember and cherish your trip, and all the beautiful memories and the good vibes will stay with you forever!
Night Stay at Gangtok.
Travel back to base from Gangtok. Start early in the morning to avoid a rush. You can hire a cab or get a Bus from the SNT bus stop for Siliguri.
Come experience the slice of heaven!