North Sikkim Travelogue
We are back from our winter holidays just a few days back. This time we had gone to Gangtok, Sikkim and also covered majority of north Sikkim. Initially, our plan was to cover the entire northern Sikkim including all the places below plus Lachen. That plan was grandiose — without considering my employment or son’s studies or whatsoever. However, eventually we had to cut short and here is the travelog.
A note of recommendation… our tour operator was Footprint Holidays based out of Gangtok. Ritez Chettri, owner of Footprint, was very responsive and professional. He took good care of ourselves and ensure the tour was done to our level of satisfaction. We had read positive feedback about his service before booking with him from Bangalore and it turned out a pleasant experience for us. Our stays were booked with hotel Sagorika. The hotel manager, Bhim Lama, was very professional and the stay and service at the hotel was very good. Both are highly recommended for anybody reading this blog post and planning for a trip to Gangtok.
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|21-Dec-2012||Travel From Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri|
At Howrah Railway Station: We reached Howrah railway station about 45 minutes before scheduled departure of Shatabdi Express to New Jalpaiguri (NJP). But after reaching we discovered that the train has been rescheduled at 15:50 hrs. So total 2 hours of waiting at the station. Did Indian Railways (IR) change train schedule? No… We did Google search and IR info site still shows train time at 2:15p! So? Anyway, we also had heard on the day of travel (!) that this train is always late in reaching NJP by 2 hrs… So this rescheduled departure time explains that. This being Fri and probably due to Christmas holiday season, Howrah station was less crowded. So we started waiting there and once we got an opportunity to grab a seat we sat down. Kaberi and Adi went to buy magazines… And we kept waiting. Hopefully, the train will not be rescheduled again.
On-board Shatabdi Express: The train left dot on time. The train from NJP came late and due to that our onward journey was also late. Anyway we will be reaching one and half hours late… Hopefully, it won’t drag further. Adi is reading ‘Life of Pi’. He watched the movie day before. He seems to be interested. We didn’t realize earlier that today was the “World Doom’s Day” – Earth was supposed to be destroyed etc., etc. Let’s sleep now.
No we can’t sleep. The attendants are serving food. Hopefully, its snacks… We are dying for something hot. But they are serving a meal! Is that late lunch or very early dinner? Oh God! So we all ate a full course meal that time. It seems they were supposed to serve one meal immediately after the train started. The Sun was orange and setting in the horizon when we were having a full course meal in broad daylight. It was a good experience though. Okay, now we can sleep… Hopefully, they won’t bother us with anything…
We were served tea with snacks around 7:15 pm. Now I had serious doubts about our afternoon meal. So I asked one attendant whether that was dinner. He said that was lunch and they will serve dinner later at night. Ok, good… We are not ruining our biological clock anyway. Let’s go back to sleep peacefully! So far World is intact, I guess..
We reached Malda town station around 9:15 pm. It was very cold outside with thick fog coming down all over the station. As per attendant, it would take another 3 hours 20 minutes to reach NJP. Is it possible? The train was running slowly due to poor visibility. As per him, we will reach around 2:00 am at NJP… and another half an hour to reach the hotel. Hopefully someone at the hotel will be awake to greet us. We were served typical Indian Railways starters to pep up our appetite as prelude to dinner. As if they are going to serve some 7 course dinner! Adi didn’t have the soup. We both had and I guess that stuff completely neutralized our appetite for dinner. IR has been successful. Bon appetite!
|22-Dec-2012||Travel From New Jalpaiguri to Gangtok|
New Jalpaiguri: We finally reached NJP station. The net train delay was about 3 and half hours. It was freezing cold with thickening fog all over outside. We took a local taxi haggled at 300 bucks for dropping us at the hotel which was about 6 kms. away. But considering middle of night in freezing cold, the deal was God send. The hotel people were sleeping shutting down the front door shutters and I had to make a call at the hotel to wake them up. While we were waiting for the hotel gate to be opened a night patrolling police jeep came by and asked whether we had booking at the hotel. They left after inquiring few things and ensuring we are not involved in any illegal activities. The hotel rooms were compact, no room heater though… but clean environment… a walk-in type hotel without any facility of restaurant, etc. It was okay for us to crash down and catch sleep as much as possible for few hours in the wee hours of the morning. Good night and Good morning Siliguri!
On Way to Gangtok: We left hotel and started for Gangtok around 9:20 am. The hotel people were very much amused as we checked in and out in less than 5 hrs. The tour operator, Footprint Holidays, had sent a new Xylo. It was very comfortable. Driver Hukum was driving patiently, following all traffic and driving rules. We crossed Sevok and Coronation Bridge around 10am… but then got stuck in traffic. The road ahead of us was under repair works and vehicles were being allowed to pass between breaks from one side alternatively. So there’s a long queue of vehicles ahead of us. Hukum patiently parked our car right behind the queue. Let’s wait…
We had breakfast one hour back… we are running late and doing everything as per UK time zone. Bread, butter, chicken Momo and hot coffee. After some time we crossed Teesta Bridge. I got down and took some snaps. Need to drive for another two and half hrs. The scenic beauty is nothing great. Many places Border Road Organizations (BRO) was working for road widening by back cutting the hills to make the road two lane and we have never seen such dusty and dirty mountain roads! Our driver informed us that roads of whole East Sikkim are under renovation. Ok, good, we will have bumpy rides throughout…
Gangtok: Reached Gangtok around 2 pm. The journey was hectic and we were all dead tired. Kaberi and Adi were dozing off in the car every now and then. I too was joining them often. The hotel Sagorika was decent. Bhim Lama, the hotel manager was very polite as well as professional. Surprisingly, the hotel turned out better than our expectation. There’s a reasonably priced good restaurant serving tasty food. But they take longer to prepare as it seems they prepare fresh after receiving the order. So we need to back calculate and order food accordingly. Our actual trip starts tomorrow with visit to Nathula Pass, Tsomgo lake etc. and we need to start by 7:30 am as per our tour operator. We went to bed by 9:30 pm to get up early in the morning.
|23-Dec-2012||Visit to Tsomgo Lake, Nathula Pass, Tukla Viewpoint, Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple, Elephant Lake|
On Way to Tsomgo Lake: Kanchenjunga!!!!! Against blue sky! No trace of cloud! Bright Sun, warm, 22 degree C outside… what do we want as tourist? We left hotel around 7:30 am for the trip. Ritez Chhetri, owner of Footprint Holidays, personally came to the private taxi stand to personally meet us and kick off the tour. It was very personal as well as professional gesture on his behalf. Snow capped Kanchenjunga peak was clearly visible from the taxi stand where I took these snaps and we started with the tour without spending much time there.
Are there good roads in East Sikkim? I would like to ask this question to Sikkim Government. We could not find trace of road to Tsomgo Lake or Nathula! It’s all broken; God knows when it was repaired last. Hukum informed us they are under repair. Okay better luck next time. We stopped over somewhere for tea/coffee and just to get rid of that bumpy ride for a while. Tsomgo lake, Nathula Pass and Baba Mandir were still quite far away. Let’s get back to the car…
Tsomgo Lake: Finally, we reached Tsomgo Lake! It was just 38 Kms from Gangtok at height of 12400 Ft. but due to bad road it takes so long to reach. Were we very impressed seeing the lake? Not so. What we saw has no resemblance to what we had expected. There was hardly any snow… the mountain peaks around the lake was clear and only one corner of the late water had frozen. It was disappointing for us though as we had expected to see partly frozen lake and snowcapped mountain peaks’ reflections in the lake water… but nothing like that we could see. Hukum informed us this year snowfall has delayed due to global warming. Okay, we got it. So we took Yak ride and some snaps here and there. The air pressure was thinning out and Hukum told us the Oxygen level will be lower at Nathula. Let’s move on to Nathula Pass.
Nathula Pass: We crossed Elephant Lake while going to Nathula Pass. Hukum told us we will cover the lake on our way back. Okay, so we proceeded to Nathula. The road was comparatively better but still no trace of snow. The temperature was very low – close to zero. At an altitude of 14450 Ft. the Oxygen level was low. It has one of the highest motor-able road, adjacent to border of China and we had to take permit for visiting the place. There’s a staircase to reach the top of Nathula point where from we could see Chinese police manning the border, etc. Due to low level of Oxygen there were many tourists we found finding it difficult to take the stairs and reach the top. Also the temperature was sub-zero. The key is to walk and do things slowly till you become acclimatized. After spending some time there, we moved on to Tukla view point.
Tukla View Point: A few Kms. further up from Nathula Pass. A fantastic view point where you can see most of the peaks of Kanchenjunga mountain range. Luckily, the day was clear and we could see everything.
Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple: Our guide-cum-driver told us this is the original Harbhajan Baba mandir. In the photos, you will see a staircase going up. If you take that you will reach a military bunker where Baba Harbhajan had fought and a temple has been built there. This being a military base there was canteen and we attacked there for food. But everything was over and the army jawan served us Khichhdi free of cost. We were also told this is the ‘real’ Harbhajan Singh temple!
Elephant Lake: A fantastic lake on way to Nathula. Much, much better than Tsomgo lake.
|24-Dec-2012||Gangtok Shopping, Tashi View Point, Singhik View Point on way to Lachung|
Our plan was do little shopping in Gangtok to purchase local gift items to carry back, transfer to Lachung and see whatever spots come on the way.
Gangtok Shopping: This was Kaberi’s favorite activity and Adi was taking opportunistic position to find something for himself and friends. I was just following them while taking snaps. I had planned to buy a Thangka, but the real hand drawn and painted ones and the ones I liked were starting with Rs 8000/- upwards. So eventually, we bought a cheap machine made Thangka at fraction of that cost. Ha!
Tashi View Point: A fantastic view point to see Kanchenjunga range of mountains on way to Lachung. Kaberi hired some dresses for taking photos…
Singhik View Point: This comes again on way to Lachung. Good view point. The bridge in the photo is supposed to be the highest bridge (over Teesta) in Asia – as per again our travel guide-cum-driver, Hukum. I’m not very sure and never had come across of this while doing research before coming to Gangtok. So…
Lachung Hotel: We reached Lachung late evening. Freezing cold! Lachung situated at 8600 feet is very small hilly village. Most of the houses there have converted themselves as home-stayed hotel to serve the tourists going to Yumthang valley or Yumesamdong or Zero Point. We stayed in such a hotel. Though it had modern amenities, but we were hardly able to do anything due to freezing cold. The hotel room was attic type with windows over us for skylights.
|25-Dec-2012||Yumthang Valley, Yumesamdong or Zero Point, Lachung|
Yumthang Valley, Yumesamdong or Zero Point, Lachung: We started at 6:30 am as per our Hukum’s advice to cover both Yumesamdong or Zero Point (15300 feet) and then Yumthang valley (11800 feet). We started seeing snow from Yumthang valley and only snow till the Zero Point. The Zero Point is an army outpost just near the Chinese border. The temperature was below zero there. We spent about half an hour there and then returned back to Yumthang valley. We didn’t see any flower (Rhododendron) at the valley and it was not season. We came back to the hotel at Lachung and then transfer to Gangtok.
|26-Dec-2012||Do Drul Chorten, Ganeshtok|
There was little time left for us to see anything else in/around Gangtok. We chose to go to Do Drul Chorten monastery and Ganeshtok.
Do Drul Chorten: Good monastery, but very small. We could not go to Rumtek due to shortage of time… may be next time.
Ganeshtok: Nothing great but there’s a Ganesh temple and a Gangtok city view point.
Around mid-day we started to transfer to Birpara where some of our relatives stay who we wanted to visit.