Friday, 25 November 2016

Lachung ,Sikkim Diaries - 3



From Pelling we reached Gangtok. It was pretty late since our hired Bolero broke down in the middle of the road. In Gangtok there are localized taxi unions. The unions do not allow taxis from outside Gangtok to ply inside the city, so any taxi from west sikkim is allowed till the private bus stand.

We checked into hotel Hungry Jack, which is within 300 metres  from the private bus stand. So that saved us from again hopping into a city taxi. The minimum rate for city taxi is Rs 100. Hungry Jack is a pretty decent hotel with nice rooms and decent location. They have their own restaurant, and we regret trying their food. The quality of food is utterly pathetic. The length and breadth of Gangtok is full of  hotels of various budgets,so its absolutely okay not to do advance book except in peak season.

We booked a 2night/3 days north sikkim trip from Gangtok. You can either book one from your hotel or from the numerous tourist agencies or from North Sikkim taxi stand. But make sure to check out with two or three such sources, so that you exactly know if you are charged the standard rate. Also you will get to know if both Lachen and Lachung routes are open or not.

We enquired regarding North Sikkim package from our hotel. Though their price was standard they tried to hide the information from us that Lachen and Gurudongmar was closed because of a massive landslide a few weeks back. We got to know this information after we enquired about north sikkim package from some more tour operators. Also we checked their hotel room pictures and they are not good. So incase you plan for north sikkim package, avoid the package offered by hotel Hungry Jack. Also make sure that you check the pics and enquire about the rooms and amenities beforehand. Also if you are visiting north sikkim after September, check with your package provider if your package hotels provide room heaters.Also take a car such as xylo or scorpio, even if it comes for some extra 3/4 K since north sikkim roads are bumpy and not good all year round.

Before I move on, let me tell you that there are shared north sikkim packages also that can be booked from the tour agencies. There are packages like

1. 1 night Lachen with Gurudongmar
2.  1 night Lachung
3.  2 nights/ 3 days covering lachen, gurudongmar and lachung
4.  3 nights/ 4 days covering lachen, gurudongmar and lachung

Except the last one, all the other packages are hectic if roads are opened and the places can be visited.

Shared packages are pretty cheap compared to the exclusive ones. A 2 nights/3 days package will come to 3000-3500 per person including all food, stay( on twin share basis) and car. However bear in mind that you have to share the car with 10 fellow passengers excluding the driver. Though it will definitely be much light on the pocket but it will squeeze out the juice out of anyone. I have seen how people squeeze and sit. Also the cars will not be good ones and too much luggage will also not be allowed. So if you are a group of 3 or more and have good camera and equipment to carry, its better to take an exclusive car.

We insisted on a scorpio instead of bolero and it costed us 2K more.The car was good and comfortable. Since we knew that Lachen is closed so we took the 2 night/3 days Lachung tour. The cost is same as a 2 nights/ 3 days Lachen plus Lachung trip.Nowadays tour operators include either Zero point or Katao by default, so there is no need to pay extra to driver. If you ant to see both then only you have to pay for the other extra point.

Also if anyone wishes to arrange the entire north sikkim trip by himself/herself its very much possible though not worth the effort. Most hotels in north sikkim are not online, also you need to get a driver and arrange permits ( they are issued free of charge) but for that you have to stand in queue for long. However booking a package from an operator is totally tension free, but definitely costs some bucks more. You are assured to get the best deal money wise if you book it from the North Sikkim taxi stand.

The Indian Army issues permits for north sikkim. Indians have access till Gurudongmar (Lachen) and also Lachung. Foreign nationals have restricted access. To apply for permit we had to submit two passport size photos and id xerox for each one of us to the tour manager the day before. Next day before the tour starts he will make sure that the driver has the necessary permits. Children below a certain age are not issued permits. Although senior citizens are issued permits, but their entry into the north sikkim zone depends upon the discretion of the army.

We were a little late in starting from Gangtok. We started around 10.Since north sikkim registered taxis are not allowed inside the city after 8 am ( i guess!!) so we had to take a city cab that dropped us to the place where our car was waiting. We reached Lachung at around 5 pm. On the way we passed by Singhik (from where excellent views of Mount Kanchenzunga can be seen), Mangam ( a small busy hilly town) and Chungthang where the road takes a fork. Continuing the left from this fork will take to Lachen and the right to Lachung. In Chungthang there is a lone coffee shop. We saw Amitabh Baachan falls ( previously called Bhim Nala falls, but now rechristened because of its height) and Naga falls on the way.The rest of the day was for rest.

North Sikkim route

Amitabh Baachan Falls

Amitabh Baachan Falls

One of the many check points

Amitabh Baachan Falls


Next day we started early at 8 am. We will be visiting Yumthang Valley and Zero Point. Though the distance is a mere 70 km each side, but there is hardly any road. Major chunks of the roads has either been washed by landslides or torrential rain. Border Road Organization  along with the army are very active in these areas and they try to repair the roads in the least possible time. Our driver told us that first he will take us to Zero Point as the weather is unpredictable. He wants to show Zero Point as long as the weather is favorable. The road even though is bad but makes that up a few hundred times with its amazing colour and scene. The mountains came closer as we drove further. The ones at the far has snow and the nearer ones have thousands of waterfalls. And interestingly maybe since it was the approach of Falls season, the mountains were covered in trees that have turned yellow,orange and red. After Yumthang Valley the mountains become exponentially beautiful. The water of the Teesta river rushing down by the side gets emerald green. An advice I share to all wannable north sikkim travellers is that zero point should not be missed.

Heavy Army Patrolling since these are border roads

The unforgiving damage roads

Winding roads


How beautiful can nature be


When we got down at Zero point, it was completely chilling. The temperature was sub-zero and on top of that very strong wind was blowing.The wind is also thin because of the altitude gain.I left my gloves in the car and so after some 3 to 4 minutes my fingers almost became numb. We could barely stay there for 15-20 minutes. The landscape is so very beautiful. It resembles more like Spiti or Ladakh. For anyone going to Zero Point its very important to be well cocooned in woolens. Also take lots of water on the way (don't worry there is a rudimentary toilet at Zero Point, but what more to expect at such high altitude), carry medicine like Diamox or homeopathy medicine Coca 6 for acute mountain sickness(AMS), some munchies and toffee.Also walk slowly, talk less and listen to your guide/driver. He is the only person who can help you there.

Beautiful Teesta

Zero Point

@Zero Point

Zero Point

Zero Point

Zero Point

Scenic road on the way to Zero Point

Scenic road on the way to Zero Point

Scenic road on the way to Zero Point

 @Zero Point

@Zero Point


While coming back we stopped at Yumthang Valley. Its a pristine valley with the Teesta flowing through the valley. The mountains can be seen at the back and a green meadow with herds of gazing hill bovine at the front. There is also a gompa opposite the meadow.

Yumthang Valley

Yumthang Valley

Yumthang Valley

On the way to Yumthang Valley


We returned back to our hotel for lunch. Katao was planned for the second half,but then the weather gods said that 'its enough for today, take rest....plan for Katao tomorrow'.So we decided let be it. We spend the evening chatting over hot pakodas and tea, enjoying the sights and sound of the gushing Teesta from our balcony.


PS : Never take picture of Army base camps or any such sensitive things. That can compromise our country's security.

2 comments:

  1. Gorgeous pics and interesting post.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Sapna..we are so happy with your compliment

      Delete

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