Tourists oft visit the mountains of Himachal and Uttarakhand. Their proximity to north India has rendered them accessible and thus, widely explored. One winter morning, while yearning an off-beat escape, I decided to explore Sikkim instead. Far-flung from Delhi, nestled in the north-east of India, Sikkim was a complete mystery to me. Although there is much to see within the state, I zeroed in on North Sikkim. It was peak winter, and I was curious about life at 18,000ft. I am going to show you glimpses from my winter trip, and help you plan a trip for yourself!
Day 1: Arrive in Gangtok
With the newly opened airport in Gangtok, Pakyong Airport, it has become ever so convenient to reach Sikkim. If you don’t want to spend as much, you can fly into Bagdogra, and then hire a cab up till Gangtok. Spend the evening in Gangtok.
Where to stay: Tagalong Backpackers
Day 2: Gangtok – Lachung
Total distance: 102km
Time taken: 5-6 hours
Today, the first day of your road trip officially begins. You will drive through a stunning landscape. The meandering roads will take you through majestic mountains. You will have a sweeping view of the mighty Kanchenjunga on one side, while waterfalls will occasionally greet you on the other. Colourful Tibetan flags at every other turn and bridge will serve as constant reminders that you’re in pristine north-east.
Do take a tiny detour to Labrang Monastery in Tumlong. Dating back to 1843 CE., this monastery witnesses numerous events like the traditional Cham Dance. If you’re visiting in November, be sure to catch the vibrancy of Sikkim here.
The route will then take you towards Lachung, and the minty-blue Teesta River will accompany you through most of the way. As you approach Lachung, you will reach Chungthang where Lachung and Lachen meet to form the Teesta River. This is a sight to behold.
You next quick stop will be Bhim Nala, a waterfall closer to Lachung.
Once in Lachung, spend your evening heading to the Lachung river, hiking around and exploring the tiny village. Interact with locals to get an insight into their lives and customs. We learnt how to make momo and spicy chutney at our homestay!
Where to stay:
There are numerous budget homestays as well as resorts in Lachung. You can stay at Yarlam Resort or Tenzing Retreat.
Day 3: Lachung – Yumthang Valley – Lachung
Total distance: 25km one way
Time taken: 2.5 hours
This is a gorgeous route, and you will observe the landscape quickly turn more rugged. On my visit, from spotting snow on mountains far away, we were suddenly amidst snow as we entered Yumthang. Sadly, the road to Yumthang was closed as it was blocked by snow, and we couldn’t venture further ahead.
Note: If you’re visiting in winter, be prepared to change plans due to such unforeseen circumstances.
Yumthang Valley is referred to as the ‘Valley of Flowers’ of the northeast. The valley is home to the rarest of flower and plant species; one will spot hot springs, meadows and even Yaks inside the valley. During winter, everything was under snow, and even then, the valley looked breathtaking. If you’re interested in watching the valley in full bloom, you must visit between March – June. Spring brings out the best in Yumthang.
Above Yumthang, visit Zero Point. Zero Point or Yume Samgdong is situated at a whopping height of 15,000 ft. The place derives its name from the fact that there are no motorable roads beyond this point. At Zero Point, you will only be a few kilometres away from China!
Return to Lachung by afternoon.
Day 4: Lachung – Lachen
Total distance: 46km
Time taken: 2 hours
Lachen is yet another small town located parallel to Lachung. Tourists visit this town as it forms a base for places like Gurudongmar Lake and treks like Green Lake trek. You can visit Lachen Monastery that can be reached after a short hike. The monastery arena also offers a vantage point for a gorgeous view of Lachen.
Spend the night in Lachen. Make sure you sleep early because you must leave by 4 am for Gurudongmar Lake the next day. Due to strong winds, tourists are allowed to stay in Gurudongmar only till 1 pm.
Where to stay: Apple Orchard Resort
Day 5: Lachen – Gurudongmar Lake – Lachen
Total distance: 66km
Time taken: 6-7 hours
Today is going to be the most memorable day of the trip because you are going to touch 17,800 ft. Gurudongmar lake is the second highest lake in India and the highest accessible lake in the country. Visiting the lake is no easy feat, so consider yourself extremely fortunate for making it all the way up there!
Please note that you can fall prey to acute mountain sickness (AMS) at such great height. So keep sipping on water, don’t cover your ears and keep stopping to let your body acclimatise to the altitude. The road to Gurudongmar is treacherous, but the views prove highly rewarding.
The drive is difficult during the first few kilometres, however, it soon turns wide and smooth as butter. Stop at Thangu, a picturesque town for breakfast and tea. Don’t stop for too long because you must reach Gurudongmar well in time.
Put on your favourite playlist, look out the window and always keep your camera at the ready. You will see the most heart-warming sights on this journey. You will be far away, driving amidst nothingness — only snow-covered mountains to protect you.
Gurudongmar is more beautiful than words and photographs can depict. The lake is also considered sacred among Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus, so it is suggested that you refrain from stepping on it. Gurudongmar was completely frozen when I visited (the temperature here was -18°C ). Legend says that there is only one part of the lake that never freezes. Guru Padmasambhava is said to have sanctified that part so that the people residing could have water even during winter.
You can walk along the banks of the lake and admire nature’s beauty. Mt. Chomo Yummo stands tall, looming over the lake. Stand under the azure skies and simply absorb the ringing silence.
Head back to Lachen after stopping for lunch at Thangu.
Day 6: Return to Gangtok
Total Distance: 107km
Time taken: 5-6 hours
Today you head back to Gangtok. This journey will serve as a rewind to your road trip. You’ll be following the same route that you took on the first day. You can stop by Lachen River for a break, and then at Mangan for lunch. Mangan is a full-fledged town that is rife with restaurants where you can enjoy authentic Tibetan food.
Day 7: Explore Gangtok
What a colourful hill station!
Spend the day exploring Gangtok. You can take a trolly ride over the town that will give you a bird’s eye view of the town. Then head to Rumtek Monastery which dates back to the 17th century and is considered the most sacred monastery in Sikkim. Don’t forget to make a wish at Rumtek; it is said that all wishes made here come true. If you want to learn more about Buddhism and delve deeper into the culture and religion, you can also visit Enchey Monastery and Namgyal Institute of Technology. NIT is a Tibetan museum that will give you an insight into Buddha’s life and his teachings.
For food, head to MG Road that is lined with restaurants and cafes where you can spend most of your day at. Do try Nepali and Tibetan cuisine, I’m sure you’ll fall in love!
Know before you go:
Before you plan a trip, please note that you need permits to enter North Sikkim. You can only get permits if you’re travelling in a group or an organised tour.
Visit Sikkim and discover a world that is rarely explored. No matter when you go, you’ll return with a memorable experience