In my previous travelogue (Exploring North Sikkim: Part 1) I had described the journey from Gangtok to Gurudongmar Lake. It was a journey that I would remember for a lifetime. Infact, the breathtaking scenery of the landscape, the adventurous journey, the magnificent mountains and finally the serene view of the Gurudongmar Lake is bound to be etched in my memory forever! In the final part of my travelogue, I will describe the journey from Lachen to Yumthang Valley and the adventure that we had while going back to Gangtok!
As I had mentioned in my previous travelogue, after visiting Gurudongmar Lake we went back to our hotel in Lachen. After a brief halt for having lunch, we resumed our journey towards our next destination which was Lachung, a small town in North Sikkim which is located at an altitude of 8,900 ft (2,700 m). The tourists have to stopover at Lachung for night halt as this is the last settlement on route to Yumthang Valley. It takes around 2 hrs to reach Lachung from Lachen and we reached there by afternoon. By the time we reached Lachung, the sky was clear and everyone was expecting a spectacular view of the Yumthang Valley covered with Rhododendrons when we reach there the next day.
There is a very common saying that a thing doesn’t always goes as planned. Very true to the saying, something happened by the evening that actually changed the entire experience for the remainder of our journey! The day was 16th April 2016 and by the stroke of evening the North Eastern and the Eastern parts of India experienced tremors of Earthquake. Though the tremors were moderate and no major harm was caused in these parts of the country, what it did was a drastic change of weather in Lachung and surrounding areas. It suddenly got cloudy and started raining heavily as the evening progressed. All the tourists were genuinely concerned about commencing next day’s journey as well as safely returning back to Gangtok. Thankfully, after raining cats and dogs overnight, the rain slowed down by the morning and our driver gave the nod for our journey towards Yumthang Valley.
LACHUNG TO YUMTHANG VALLEY
As the rain stopped in the morning, we resumed our journey for our final destination of the tour, Yumthang Valley. The Yumthang Valley is situated at an altitude of 11,700 ft (3,564 m) and is surrounded by the high altitude peaks of the Himalayas. A tributary of River Teesta flows through the heart of the valley and the entire scenery is spectacular to say the least! The valley remains covered by snow during the months of December to February. The flowering season in this part of the country starts from March to June and the entire Yumthang Valley is actually carpeted with the blooming Rhododendrons and Poppies, thus earning the moniker ‘Valley of Flowers’ of Sikkim!! It definitely is a sight one would never want to miss!! Rhododendron is the State Flower of Sikkim and the Yumthang Valley is the home of the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary which houses over 24 species of Rhododendrons!
When we visited Yumthang Valley, although it was that time of the year when one can expect beautiful view of the valley covered by flowers, but in our case it turned out to be exceptional. The sudden change of weather had caused heavy rainfall overnight at Lachung and at the higher altitude it caused heavy snowfall. Though we expected a different sight, but the view we actually got was no less magnificent!! The entire valley was covered with snow and cloudy background actually gave a monochrome feel to the surrounding! The flowers that usually cover the valley were actually buried under almost ½ feet snow! Everything in the vicinity seemed to have been frozen and the only moving thing (except the tourist vehicles) was the constant flowing waters of river.
There is a hot spring located in Yumshedong which is not far from the Yumthang Valley. Aslo, the Zero Point which is the Indo-China border, is close to Yumthang Valley. The drivers can take you to these additional spots if you agree to pay some extra money. Similarly you can also visit Katao which is another popular tourist spot nearby. You have to remember that charges of visiting Yumshedong, Zero Point and Katao are not included in the package. We could not visit these additional spots as the road was blocked due to heavy snowfall but all of us in the group spent a great time in the Yumthang Valley. After spending some time in the Yumthang Valley we proceeded back to our Hotel in Lachung for lunch and thereafter our journey to Gangtok.
THE ROAD BLOCK
After freshening up in the hotel, we started our journey towards Gangtok. The rain had stopped and weather was almost clear. After travelling almost 2 hours, our journey had to be stopped. There was a huge boulder on the road which blocked almost entire breadth of the road sparing only a few feet or so!! The overnight rain had caused landslide in this part of the route which resulted in this road block. Generally, the BRO (Border Roads Organization), an engineering division of the Indian Army, is very active in these routes. They efficiently clears and re-builds the roads in case of these type of emergencies but the situation was such that they too would take some time to arrive. Meanwhile, the traffic on either side of the boulder was ever increasing. There was chaos all around as no one had the idea of what to do next!! Finally, the drivers agreed upon a decision that the Lachung/Lachen bound vehicles would go back towards Gangtok taking passengers returning from Lachen/Lachung and vice versa. The only issue that created the problem was the fact that every passenger had to cross over to the other side of the road through the narrow passage beside the boulder. Well…. for people who have trekking or hiking experience this might not seem to be a hard task at all but for us who never had such an experience, it was a daunting task!!
The passage for crossing over was hardly 2-3 feet wide and in case you slip you will fall down in the valley below!! Almost every single tourist had to gather their courage to actually cross over to the other side!! This was an experience of a life time for me which I would never forget! The Local people and the drivers helped everyone to cross over patiently. To our astonishment, the local people and the drivers hardly had any hesitations crossing the passage and they did it with ease!
Eventually after a long stoppage, our journey to Gangtok resumed, only this time in a different car. It was almost dark when we started our journey and we finally reached Gangtok safely at around 11 PM in the night. We checked in to the hotel (previously booked) and retired for the night. It was an eventful day with different kinds of experiences. A good night rest was all we needed after a hectic day.
The next morning we went around M.G. Marg for some shopping, before bidding goodbye to Gangtok and starting our journey towards NJP for returning to Kolkata. I would never forget this trip to Gurudongmar Lake and Yumthang Valley. The journey was filled with all kinds of experiences! The scenic beauty of North Sikkim is something that will definitely make you return back there!! And so will I go back to explore the beauty that nature has in stake for us…. be it in the beautiful yet adventurous roads of Gurudongmar Lake or the picturesque Yumthang Valley. I definitely will go back there!
SOME TIPS AND INFO
· I have already discussed how to reach Gurudongmar Lake / Yumthang Valley in my previous blog; hence I am not repeating the same here. In case you missed out on my previous blog you can read it by clicking here.
· You will get different views of the Yumthang Valley depending on the season you choose to visit. If you visit during the months of March to June you will find the valley covered by flowers. Again the valley is covered by snow during the months of November to February.
· Although the travel agencies would say the route is open, I would suggest avoiding tour of Yumthang Valley / Gurudongmar Lake during mid June to August as it is the rainy season. The route to Lachen / Lachung is landslide prone and to avoid major accidents it is better not to visit during this time.
The scenic beauty of the Yumthang Valley is one of the finest that nature can offer. Please do not cause harm to the Rhododendrons and litter around. Be sensible and save the nature!