Part VII in a series on Sikkim
In my last post, I recounted the unforgettable experience of being at Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim. We returned to our hotel in Lachung exhausted, but exhilarated. There was more to come… On Day 4, we were heading to the charming and famed Yumthang Valley of North Sikkim.
Day 4: Lachung- Yumthang Valley- Gangtok
7:30am: We start from the hotel in the morning with packed breakfast again. The plan is to go up to Yumthang Valley, an hour’s drive from our hotel, spend some time there and return to Gangtok, which means another 6-7 hours on the road.
8:45am: As we drive through the Rhododendron Sanctuary on the way, we know we are early in the season. There are barely any flowers to be seen at the moment but come May, this sanctuary will be in full bloom. However, we get lucky in another way. Fresh snow from the previous night makes the sanctuary look like a page out of a fairy tale. The Fir trees’ leaves have soft snow on their fingers, and the entire place looks so very pretty! One feels like one is in Kashmir. We reach Yumthang Valley and stop at the shops along the road for breakfast. The same scene as Thangu is played out, although it isn’t as cold. The bread we are carrying is heated and served with jam, along with hot cups of tea.
We see people rent boots for Rs 50-100 here and then head to Zero Point, which is a drive of another 90 minutes or so. Frozen and surrounded by snow-clad mountains, Zero Point is a beautiful sight, we hear. People go there to play with the snow. We are tempted to see it as well, but the additional 3 hours and then the return drive of 6-7 hours looks altogether too much. We take a tough call to skip Zero Point and instead enjoy whatever else we see.
9.15am: We walk down into the valley and spend about an hour there. The river Teesta flows through the valley, which is sparse now, but will be in full bloom with Rhododendrons in May. Chilled winds from nearby glaciers make us wish we were better clad with warm woollens. Having run out of drinking water, we fill our bottle with the flowing water of River Teesta which, Khum-sum has assured us, is very clean and potable.
11.45am: We arrive back at the hotel to get an early lunch, which is included in the package. They have prepared averagely cooked Chinese food. We eat very light as we are still feeling queasy from all the driving of the last three days.
12:30pm: We set off for Gangtok finally and are now looking forward to returning to the comforts of civilization. Despite being a couple that has never known road-sickness or hill-sickness, this trip has pushed us to our limits and our heads and stomachs feel weird all the way back. We make multiple halts to walk beside the car every now and then, and Khum-sum is extremely patient with us. Two young girls had requested a lift to Gangtok from Yumthang Valley and are seated in the vehicle as well. The road up till Mangan is practically non-existent and by this time, we’re almost wondering if the trip was worth it. We debate on whether we would recommend a North Sikkim jaunt to our friends.
6.45pm: We arrive back at Suhim Portico feeling rattled, tired, shaken-up and hurting. This time Suhim offers us Room 101, which has the best view in the hotel. Our hotel room, with all its comforts, feels like heaven! The joy of a hot water shower and a soft white bed seem to be God-given gifts.
Since tomorrow is our last day in Sikkim, we feel that despite our utter exhaustion, we must go ahead with our plan to see Nathula Pass (15000 ft), Tsomgo Lake (12000 ft) and Baba Mandir (14000 ft). We are now able to understand why people had warned us that we might find it difficult to go up to these places the very next day after returning from North Sikkim. We hadn’t understood their concern then, but now realized they spoke from experience.
Tip: If you do go to North Sikkim, keep the next day after you return for very light local sight-seeing and factor in plenty of rest, because you will need it.
We call Ninden, with whom we had left some extra photographs and address proofs, as one also needs permits to visit these places. To our relief, we hear that Nathula Pass has closed down on account of the snow and we decide instead to go till Tsomgo only. A reserve cab covering Nathula, Tsomgo and Baba Mandir costs around Rs 5000- 6500. Since we are only going up till Tsomgo, Ninden offers us a Sumo at Rs 3000 or a Xylo at Rs 3500. We are pretty sure that we want a Xylo this time and bargain it down to Rs 3000. We also check with our hotel, Suhim Portico, once and they offer us a Xylo till Tsomgo for Rs 4500! We go ahead with Ninden’s offer.
Though we had planned to get dinner at MG Road, we don’t have an ounce of energy left and order food from the hotel-restaurant itself. A bowl of soup is all we can get into our stomachs before we turn in for the night. The last thought on our minds before we doze off is that, all said and done, it was all worth it! A sight like the one we saw at Gurudongmar may never be seen again- the approach, the experience, the height- it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.