Having familiarised myself a little with Himalayas in the north, I decided to head north east this winter. The winter of 2018-2019 had been different, with snowfall arriving much early and regularly. The previous 2-3 years had seen snow arriving late, attributed to the infamous ‘El Nino’ phenomena. But traditional winters arrived this year, with snowfall arriving in higher altitudes in October itself.
Enough preface. I was joined by my friend Manish on this journey, much like Uttarakhand trip last year. Henceforth, I will provide an account of my trip as well as some tips and information that might help when you are there. We booked our trip through Kiomoi . I would actually recommend them if you are planning a trip, since our trip was hassle free and well managed within budget.
1: Bagdogra to Gangtok. Local Sightseeing in evening.
2: Tsomgo lake and Baba Mandir
4: Gurudongmar lake and then to Lachung
5: Yumthang Valley, Zero point and back to Gangtok
6: Back to Home
My flight landed around 11 am at Bagdogra airport. We hopped on our pick up vehicle and made way to Gangtok. The road trip to Gangtok is one of the most beautiful roads you will take. The highway has trees on both sides and the snow clad Kanchenjunga looks over you throughout the journey. Throughout the way, River Teesta’s green water follows along .It takes around 3-4 hrs to reach Gangtok. We stayed at Gangtok Drift hotel . It’s a nice, quiet hotel around 3 kms from MG Marg, where we went for an evening stroll. For dinner, we had Chicken Momos at a nearby place and it was really good.
NOTE: Sikkim is very clean and littering is a punishable offence. So, please help maintain the sanctity of the place and save yourself some money.
It was techincally the first day our trip. In the morning, we had our breakfast in the hotel. Then we moved towards Changu/Tsomgo lake and Baba Mandir. We had heard news about snowfall a day before and routes for Nathula Pass being closed, so we decided not to visit.
It takes about 2-3 hrs to visit Baba Mandir and Tsomgo lake lies enroute. On our way we stopped for breakfast at a place called Kyongnosla. I was looking to rent snow boots for my feet size, which is rare by the way, and went to a store and what happened surprised me. The store lady refused service since our vehicle stopped in front of a different store. Unexpected and certainly not convincing. I was not sure how to react to that, and left. Probably that’s how the unwritten law has been laid there.
Then we moved ahead for our first destination. Baba Mandir is in essence a homage paid to a very brave soldier who sacrificed his life in service of the nation. Half a kilo meter to the left of mandir is a large and majestic statue of lord Shiv.
On our way to Baba Mandir, we saw 2 or 3 lakes. One of those lakes(Suheli lake, as per google) , our driver informed, allowed boating for Rs.100. So on returning from Baba Mandir, we decided to go for a boat ride and had great fun navigating around the broken ice. You can find the action in the video below.
Not part of our original plan, driver asked for Rs.500 to driver for this extra trip. This is something quite common here. The cabs run to a schedule and a pre defined agreement and any deviation will cost you extra.
After a tiring and refreshing boating session, we headed towards Tsomgo lake. It’s a beautiful lake and if there’s sunshine, the water sparkles. The surrounding view was awesome, with snow from few days back giving a white touch. Have a look at the video and Hyperlapse and the video and you will love it, I am sure.
Checkout my hyperlapse at Changu lake:
Changu Lake video:
After our photo session, it was time to leave the beautiful lake. The start to the trip was fabulous and hopes were sky high for the rest of the trip.
Our next major destination was Gurudongmar lake. In order to go there, we first had to reach Lachen, a small hamlet in North Sikkim. It is around 6-7 hrs journey from Gangtok. From what I gathered, this is a very small settlement and very few people live there. There’s mostly hotels for people who stay overnight and pay early morning visit to Gurudongmar lake.
So, we left Gangtok around 10 am . Our Bolero was waiting for us at Vajra Stand. You especially need larger vehicles for visit to higher altitudes in Sikkim , and as far as I know its even government mandated. Hatchbacks don’t suffice and for good reason.
On our way, we had a few stops. First of, we stopped at Seven Sisters waterfall, but unlike the name, there is only a single stream falling down. Nothing like the actual one in Meghalaya. Then we stopped at Mangan for lunch around 1 pm. Kanchenjunga view is spectacular from Mangan.
Next up was another waterfall, Naga Falls. Along the way, we were fed with great view of valleys, running side by side with us. We reached Chungthang at around 4 pm, which was late as per the estimates. The temperature had fallen severely by then. Already feeling cold, another thing awaited us at Lachen, which we finally reached around 5.30 pm. It was already dark and it got so chilly that not a soul was out on the streets and hotel staff who came to receive seemed in too much hurry to get back in his warm quarters. Interestingly, I had the same feeling.
We stayed at Delight Lachen Heritage. It’s a nice place, food is the best part along with the hospitality. Heat management inside the rooms isn’t upto the mark although they do provide heaters for additional charge of Rs. 200.
After a nice dinner, we went to sleep with high hopes to see the much acclaimed Gurudongmar lake.
I woke up around 3.30 am since we had to leave early. As soon as I opened the curtains, I saw raindrops falling which within minutes turned into snowfall and then back to rain. I instantly understood that there is heavy snowfall higher up, on exactly the path that we were supposed to take.
Witnessing snowfall is bliss, but when you have to climb 4000 ft on your car on a snowy track, it is no fun. Our driver sounded upbeat about our chances initially, but as soon as I felt the first loss of car control on the road, I realised it wasn’t going to get any better. And for all my shortcomings as a psychic, I was right this time. We had to stop round 4 kms from our hotel. Not a good feeling.
Army trucks were stuck and behind them was a huge train of tourist cabs, all ruing their decision to visit in December. We were no different. After some life threatening slides on snow, we decided to turn back. The snowfall was so heavy, felt like Mumbai’s monsoon rain. They settled like cotton on leaves and everything they touched became pretty, but our trip.
Sadly we had to turn back, but not before our share of fun in the snowfall. We went out, saw the hazy white scenery and clicked some photos. It was crazy cold. Soon we had to get inside the car and leave.
We went back to the hotel, slept for a while with a heavy heart. When we woke up, it was still snowing in Lachen. This was a real threat to next day. We decided to leave for Lachung soon afterwards, we only had faint hopes to see Yumthang valley the next day.
Sadly, Lachung was also under the same spell of snowfall. That very well confirmed our disappointment. We checked into another branch of the same hotel we stayed in Lachen. Snowfall pretty much ensured that we couldn’t go anywhere we stayed put in our rooms.
Just like us, other tourists we disappointed although we enjoyed the snowfall. We only had faint hopes for the next day.
Looking through the glass window in the morning, we saw perfectly clear, shining weather. This raised our hopes as well as of other tourists. We wishfully thought that all the snow would have melt by now, leaving clear roads. With that hope, we left again.
For a while, we did not stop. Yumthang Valley is around 28 kms from Lachung. I checked every milestone we crossed, km by km. 26, 25, …, 20. My friend got very optimistic and it really looked good for once. 19…18……..17…….. . That was it. 17 kms before the valley, our caravan stopped and that quashed our hopes. No more going forward. We even walked a few kms but it would have taken way too long to make a round trip.
For a while if you thought this story had a happy ending, I apologise. Now even though we couldn’t make it to the valley, there was no hiding the fact that Lachung was nothing less than a wonderland. Have a look:
The story is incomplete and it’s not the one I will settle for. I will be back, albeit in different weather conditions.
For the story of the day of our departure, read this.
Please feel free to address me in the comments section. If you need contact information for any trip related services, let me know .