In February 2018, Swetha and I were looking at the list of upcoming holidays that can be used as long weekends for a refreshing holiday. 30-March popped up first as a holiday falling on a Friday. We decided to club this with additional leaves on Monday and Tuesday i.e 2, 3-April and started exploring options. Our love for mountains restricted our options to Himachal, J&K, Uttarakhand or North-East. We knew 5 days would be too hectic but we thought we could do it.Immediately, we started ‘googling’ and reading travel blogs to check where we would find snow and no rains and came across a picture of Gurudongmar Lake and that’s it, no more exploring and no more research. Swetha looked at me and I could sense the unspoken words – “Sagar we better go here if you want to be happy for the rest of the year”. And that’s how we decided Sikkim as the destination.
There are 2 general short itineraries that tourists pursue
- One on the left is tough with rough roads and low oxygen levels at Gurudongmar Lake
- One on the right can be a little more relaxed with better roads and more tourists
* I’ve mentioned other places to visit throughout the article.
We took the first one and I admit it was a fantastic decision. And to make it better, my fun-loving sister decided to join us as well. And there we had our flights to Bagdogra booked. You can find multiple travel agents to help you with the booking of a local car + driver for the entire track shown in the images below. Now let’s go through the itinerary and experiences (bliss).
There’s no direct flight to Bagdogra except Guwahati or Kolkata. We took an early morning flight via Guwahati to reach Bagdogra at 12:30. I had booked a cab from the Bagdogra, at our disposal for the rest of the trip until we reach the Bagdogra Airport back post the trip.
The drive from Bagdogra to Gangtok is a 3 hour smooth drive. If you have the energy, you should explore the M.G. Marg on reaching Gangtok, for the food, shopping, music, etc. If 60+ is just a number that doesn’t bother you and you want to shake your leg / have a couple of drinks then the city of Gangtok offers a wide range of places where you can enjoy good music with nice cocktails. Alternatively, there are multiple cafes / restaurants wherein you can enjoy a good dinner and call it an early night before beginning the adventure from next day.
Although I had visited earlier, I wanted to go to the Nathula Pass in chilling conditions so our day was dedicated to the drive to Nathula Pass and Tsomgo Lake. These areas are totally under Army’s supervision and hence every person needs a permit to visit the place. The best bet is to get your agent (who helped you with the cab) to wait in the permit queue (from early morning) to obtain a permit for you.
People with motion sickness need to ensure that you take the necessary medicines before the journey begins. The drive from Gangtok to Tsomgo Lake is approx. 40km and takes 1.5 hrs. Breathe in the fresh air and wave your hand to the cute school kids while driving on the way to Tsomgo Lake. I would suggest going there in early April if you want to avoid the rush of Summer vacations and want to enjoy the unbelievable views of descending Winters.
On reaching Tsomgo Lake (12,300 feet) you will be surrounded by Yak-shepherds. Good to get a picture for memories but I’m a strict proponent against Cruelty to animals so we kept away from them. Next we proceeded towards Nathula Pass but until then take a moment to enjoy and imagine the ecstatic beauty of this place captured in some of the images on this page.
The Drive beyond Tsomgo Lake was made even better by the snowfall and temperatures creeping below ZERO (-4C). We were told right since the beginning by the Armed Forces that the Nathula border is closed for Tourists since the weather conditions are expected to be worse. Having a good driver adds a cherry to the cake. Ours was a big cheery as he understood that we’d come there for snow and beauty and were not delicate folks scared of harsh weather.
So we went ahead towards Baba Harbhajan Mandir and the drive was one of the best I’ve seen in my life. The snow started pouring but it just drove up the enthusiasm of tourists. Our car was covered by Snow and some of the spectacles can be observed in the pictures here.
Beyond this is the shrine dedicated to a soldier from the Indian Army, Harbhajan Singh (14,000 feet). The shrine of Baba Harbhajan Singh is worshipped by all travelers visiting this area. My personal advice would be to enjoy this drive and stop at many places for pictures that will live with you forever. Keep a few packs of biscuits, chocolates and some good music with you in these terrains.
Suggestions in Gangtok:
- Restaurants – The Coffee Shop Restaurant, Café Live and Loud, Baker’s Café
- Never refrain from trying the Momos and Maggi while travelling in Sikkim
- Other places to visit in Gangtok – Rumtek Monastery, Ganesh Tok View Point
This day we packed our bags early in the morning and started our drive to Lachen. The sweetness of people and freshness in the air gets better as you move up north. This drive is fantastic for its views but it can break your back. We were staying at RC’s homestay in Lachen and you should not think about any other option here. The most loving hosts, great food, amazingly cute pets and hospitality that will put 5-star hotels to shame.
This was the day we were waiting for. The entire trip started with the objective to reach Gurudongmar Lake and here we are. Again the entire stretch from Lachen to Gurudongmar is supervised by the Army and hence you need to reach the Army checkpost by 7am to get permits. Look at some of the stunning pictures showcasing the beauty you witness on the way.
But the stunner was yet to come. Waiting for us was the Lake at 18,000 feet. Majestic in its colors and grand in its presence, an entire book would be less to write about it. The drive can be back-breaking but the result is astounding. If you look at the lake, in spite of the negative temperature a portion of the lake will never freeze. If legend is to be believed, this is because of a wish granted by Guru Padmasambhava. While passing through this area the natives requested him to help them with drinking water. He laid his hand on a small portion of the lake and hence that part of the lake never freezes.
Post Gurudongmar, we proceeded back to Lachen wherein a sumptuous meal was waiting for us at RC’s homestay. After bidding a final goodbye to the lovely hosts and their adorable dogs, we continued towards Gangtok. This day can be quite tedious since you are on road for 12-13 hrs. If possible, come back and stay at Lachen for another night before proceeding.
We had a flight back home at 12:30 from Bagdogra for which we had to leave Gangtok at 7. The drive back to Bagdogra takes just 2.5 hours so you can plan accordingly.
This was the most difficult part as it is in every trip. Knowing that the trip has ended is the most depressing thing but the memories and freshness this place gives you is something that needs to be lived and cherished forever.
Tips and Suggestions for travelling in Sikkim
- Always keep some snacks handy and be ready to have Momos / Maggi as meal
- Please avoid littering at public places. The local people and governments are trying extremely hard to preserve this heavenly place and welcoming tourists warmly at the same time
- Please reach out to Travel agents and make the travel arrangements in advance
- People with motion sickness, altitude issues should consult their doctors before deciding to take this trip
- While on this tour, spend 20-30 mins each day on Yoga / exercises as the entire travel can take a toll on your back
- Sufficient pairs of warm clothes should be carried along with umbrellas / jackets for encountering rains
- Other beautiful places in Sikkim to visit – Lachung and Yumthang Valley, Pelling in West Sikkim (Best view of Kanchenjunga)
Sagar Rachh, Mumbai