EXPLORING NORTH SIKKIM: PART 1

TRIP TO GURUDONGMAR LAKE

In my recent blogs I have been sharing my travelogues which were focused mainly on historical and off-route destinations. But if you give me an option as to where I would prefer to travel at any point of time, 9 out of 10 times I would raise my hands in favor of Mountains! Yes…. When it comes to travelling mountains are my ‘One True Love’. In today’s travelogue I will share my experience of visiting Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim.

Gurudongmar Lake is located in the north-eastern state of Sikkim in India and is one of the highest lakes of the world! The lake is situated at a staggering altitude of 17,800 ft (5,430 mts)!! The lake is considered to be a very sacred place for followers of Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Gurudongmar Lake has been named after guru Padmasambhava, also known as guru Rinpoche, who is believed to have visited this place during the 8th century.

Gurudongmar Lake

THE PLAN

It was mid of April during the year 2016, summer had already began and my mind planning an escape from the heat of Kolkata as well as the daily routine life. One day me and my better half Mita just sat down and decided that it’s time to get out for our next trip. As decided, we discussed the destinations to visit and eventually agreed on the idea of travelling to North Sikkim, more precisely to Gurudongmar Lake.

THE JOURNEY BEGINS

On the scheduled date of journey we arrived at Sealdah Railway Station and boarded Padatik Express for travelling to NJP (New Jalpaiguri), the nearest train station to Gangtok. The next morning we arrived at NJP and started our journey towards Gangtok, the state capital of Sikkim which is situated at an altitude of 5,410 ft (1,650 mts). We reached Gangtok by afternoon, checked in to our hotel and after a brief rest we went out to M.G. Marg for booking a trip to our main destination.

It is very important to note that ‘Inner Line Permit’is required for travelling to North Sikkim so please carry necessary documents with you for the same (details discussed in the info section). You are required to book the trip through a registered travel agency in Gangtok. There are many such agencies in and around M.G. Marg. We preferred to choose a shared package and after submitting the required documents, our tour was booked for the very next day!

M.G. Marg Gangtok

DAY 1: GANGTOK TO LACHEN

The day 1 of our tour to Gurudongmar Lake started from Vajara Taxi Stand, which is meant for North Sikkim bound vehicles (only about 1 km from M.G. Marg). We shared our ride with 5 other people and we became quite friendly with each other within a short period of time. Our destination for the day was the small village of Lachen which is located at an altitude of 8,500 ft (2,500 mts). Distance from Gangtok to Lachen is about 129 Kms and it takes around 6-7 hrs to reach there (time inclusive of halts).

Although the route is long and tiring one, the scenic beauty of the entire road will keep you refreshed! We reached Lachen by evening and checked in to our hotel for overnight halt.

A waterfall on the way to Lachen
Prayer Flags
A short photo session!!
Teesta river en-route Lachen

DAY 2: LACHEN TO GURUDONGMAR

Our journey from Lachen to Gurudongmar Lake began at 4 A.M in the morning the next day. It takes around 3 hrs to reach Gurudongmar Lake and an early morning start is required. The weather at Gurudongmar worsens as the day progresses; hence you need to get back to Lachen by noon.

A waterfall

Our next halt was at Thangu valley which is situated 30 Kms North of Lachen at an altitude of 13,000 ft (3962 mts). All the tourists halt here for breakfast and also to acclimatize a bit with the altitude. You can also visit Chopta Valley which is nearby but in our case due to lack of time we proceeded for Gurudongmar Lake. The road to Gurudongmar is quite rough until you reach Thangu Valley but the breathtaking view will compensate the inconvenience of the road! The river Teesta and numerous other streams will be your fellow companion throughout your journey. From here onwards, you will notice notable decline in vegetation, only occasional Rhododendrons can be sited. The terrain resembles features similar to the Alpine meadows but the view of this barren landscape is very unique and picturesque.

A stream at Thangu Valley
The road from Thangu to Gurudongmar

After another brief halt at the army check post at 15000 ft (4500 mts) we again proceeded for Gurudongmar Lake. There is a Café at this check post which is run by the Indian Army and is one of the highest Cafés in the World! If you are lucky enough you can get complimentary dark chocolates from here! The road from here onward is very good and the view is just magnificent.... those who have been to Ladakh can actually relate with this scenic beauty.

The road after crossing 15,000 feet
Colorful yet barren landscape

Finally after these halts we reached Gurudongmar Lake! The lake is spread over an area of 5.34 Kms (although most part of it is not visible due to the hills) and is surrounded by the Khangchengayo Range. The lake remains frozen for the major part of the year. The water is very clear and the color of the water is blue. The India-China Border is only 5 Kms from here. The scenery is spectacular to say the least..... infact words fall short to describe the view! The snowcapped mountains, the clear blue sky and the blue water of the lake…..You know, for us mountain lovers this is a ‘dream come true moment’! Unfortunately, that particular day was quite windy and we experienced breathing trouble which shortened our stay at Gurudongmar. On a normal day you can take a walk around the lake and even touch the water. There is also a very interesting story associated with this place. As per local legends, the part of the lake which was touched by Guru Rinpoche does not freeze, even if the rest of the lake remains frozen during the winter!! As all good times comes to an end, eventually after spending a little time we commenced our return journey towards Lachen.

A tourist vehicle approaching the Lake
Infront of the Lake
Snow capped peaks surrounding Gurudongmar Lake
Another peak surrounding Gurudongmar Lake

We reached Lachen by noon and after having our lunch we again commenced our journey to our next destination, Lachung. I will share the experience of visiting Lachung and Yumthang Valley in the next and final part of my travelogue.

SOME MUCH NEEDED INFO:

· To visit Gurudongmar you have to reach Gangtok at first. The nearest Airport is Bagdogra and the nearest railway station is NJP. From there onwards you have to travel by road for Gangtok. It takes around 4-5 hrs to reach Gangtok from either Bagdogra or NJP. For more details on train route please click here.

· Shared cabs are available from both locations which and is quite pocket friendly. It cost around Rs.300 per person for travelling to Gangtok. You can also opt to hire a cab which will cost you around Rs.2500-4000 depending on the type of car.

· Package of North Sikkim also includes trip to Yumthang valley. A normal tour package of North Sikkim is of 2 nights and 3 days (Gangtok – Lachen – Gurudongmar – Lachung – Yumthang Valley – Gangtok) and costs around Rs.4,000 per person (inclusive of Hotel and meals) if booked on share basis.

· In case you have breathing problems, considering the high altitude of the lake, you can also opt for 1 night 2 days package which covers trip to Yumthang Valley. This package is relatively less costly.

· There are lots of travel agencies in and around M.G. Marg in Gangtok. You can verify rates from different travel agencies and choose the package which fits your budget.

· It is very important to note that ‘Inner Line Permit’ is required to visit North Sikkim. You need to carry Photographs and Photo Ids (along with photocopies) with you to obtain permission. Only Indian citizens are permitted to visit Gurudongmar Lake. Foreign citizens are permitted up to Thangu Valley.

· Keeping in mind the altitude of the lake, it is better to carry medicines / inhaler pumps in case you face breathing trouble. Patients with Asthma / breathing difficulties are advised either not to travel to Gurudongmar or travel only after taking sufficient precautions.

· Gurudongmar Lake is a very sacred place. Please refrain from littering the surroundings.


To be continued………...

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