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Experiences From My Sikkim Trip

Krishnandu Sarkar

Recently I went to Sikkim and thought of writing about my experience which may help others to plan their trip.As I always prefer the mountains over beaches and I have never been to the North East, so I decided to explore the beautiful state of Sikkim.

All of us in my family love DIY Backpacker Tours instead of going with specific Tour Operators as it allows me to plan a tour the way I see fit instead of relying on someone else to plan it for me.

It’s always better to catch a train at night, so that you can reach NJP (New Jalpaiguri) in the morning and then you can go up to Sikkim on the very same day. We decided to takea Shared Jeep to Gangtok. The fixed rate is Rs. 200 forGangtok and Rs. 150 for Darjeeling, per person. One can also hire private carswhich are far more comfortable.  As we are backpackers, we prefer local modes of transport that help us keep the costsdown whilst also enjoying the local culture.

We disembarked at the Deorali Stand and then took a local taxi to ourHotel or M.G. Marg. The journey from NJP/Siliguri to Deorali is around 3.5 - 4 hours with a nashta break in between. Don’t forget to enjoy the Momos which are served with chutney.

From Deorali it’s about Rs. 200 to your hotel (depending on the location) or M.G. Marg. Amaximum 4 persons are allowed in a cab. This is important for large groups traveling together. We stayed at Hotel Ma Yang in the Gangtok Development Area. From our hotel shared cabs were available to M.G. Marg for Rs. 10 per person so transport is not a problem here.

Hotels throughout the Sikkim are available on AMP (American Meal Plan)/ EP (European Plan)/ CP (Continental Plan). We took the AMP which included the cost of the room with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

AMP was our preference as it also served Bengali Cuisine and we were not disappointed with the food. Different dishes were served at every meal so meals never got boring. One could also go for the MAP (if your itinerary is something which doesn’t allow you to have Lunch at the hotel) or try the EP/CP (room only/room with breakfast) if you wanted to dine outside and taste the local cuisine. It is important to note that in this part of the country everything closes at 9 pm sharp and food on M. G. Marg can get a little costly.

One of the things which I loved about Gangtok was that everything was well-organized and that it appeared to be a well-planned city. What amazed me was that as soon as I was entered Gangtok I noticed the Footpaths and Footbridges. In most metros like Kolkata we do have footpath, but people seldom use them and prefer to walk on the streets instead as they are full of hawkers. But in Gangtok, I was amazed to see, that everyone wasusing the footpath and footbridges to cross the road. Another thing which I liked was the organized Cab system in the city.  For example, the cabs that bring you from Deorali to the City can only run along the same route and they cannot collect short distance passengers or use different routes to suit their needs.

After checking into hotel and having our lunch we rested for few hours and then went to visit the M.G. Marg area. This was simply stunning with the lighting and decorations. We had some delicious Momos and Tea and walked around the Marg which felt awesome in 5° C weather.

Another tip is that Sikkim tax free for alcohol and hence the prices are much lower than that of your hometown. Branded Beers are available for Rs. 55 and local beer is available for Rs. 50. We purchased Antiquity Blue and VAT 69 for Rs. 710 and Rs. 1050 respectively.

On the next day following breakfast we left for a 3Day/2Night North Sikkim Tour (also known as Lachung – Lachen tour). The Lachung – Lachen tour is generally available within Rs. 3000 per person (everything inclusive i.e. accommodation and food). This tour can be booked from your Hotel or at the Tour Stalls on M.G. Marg or from Siliguri/NJP while catching the cab to Deorali/Gangtok.

The tour comes with accommodation and meal plan and you cannot deviate from this. Further the hotels or lodges are very basic, so keep your expectations low. As a warning it is important to note that all the North Sikkim tours arevery hectic. Specially the 3D/2N tour.As you will be climbing at a very high altitude (17,100 ft above sea level), be prepared and plan accordingly, specially if you have aged people with you.

Also note that, you need to fix the tour with you tour operator/hotel, a day before you are taking the tour and submit Photo ID Proof along with 4 passport-sizedphotos, as these places are situated at the Indo−China border, and getting permission is a necessity.  If you are not an Indian citizen, then your permission to travel to these areas will be very limited.

We resumed the tour at 11 am and reached Chungthang at around 6 pm in the evening with a 30 minute lunch break in between. Gangtok to Chungthang is a 6 hour journey. From Chungthang we went to Lachen and then to Lachung.

It is good to keep in mind that Chungthang is the last destination where you’ll get Mobile service. So take your time to make any calls or surf the internet if needed. After this point, only BSNL service works. So you’ll be out of coverage for 2 days if your provider is not BSNL.

We reached Lachen in 1.5 hours at 7:30 pm and checked into our hotel. It was 10°C outside and after an hour or so, we were called for Dinner.

Early morning on the next day, sharp 3am we left for Gurudongmar Lake. We reached Thangu, the last village of Indo – Chinese Border at around 7 am. It’s mostly covered with the military base and we were amazed to see different Regiments −Armor, Tanks, Shelling Equipment’s etc. I felt proud when I saw how hard our Indian Army works to protects us throughout the year and how they sacrifice their lives in order to protect us all.

At 7:30 am we reached Gurudongmar Lake which is at 17,100 ft. Many of tourists fell ill due to a lack of oxygen and started facing some breathing problems. With the sun’s rays on them, the hills looked beautiful, as if made of Gold. The stunning lake remains milky in color throughout the year.

We returned at Lachen again at 12 noon and after a brief nap we were summoned for lunch. At 2 pm we left for Lachung. While going to Lachung, we took a break in Chungthang where we got telephone coverage, so everyone made quick calls to their family and friends. We reached Lachung at 5:30 pm rested and dined.

At 5 am we left for Yumthung. Yumthung is famous for its many varieties of Rhododendrons and is known as “Valley of Flowers” and then drove up to Point Zero where we enjoyed ourselves on the iceberg. We left for Lachung at 10:30 am and reached Lachung at 12 noon. From here we went back to our Hotel and left for Gangtok at 2 pm after having lunch and freshening up a bit.

The next day, due to our hectic trip we stayed in Gangtok and the following day we took another trip to the Nathula pass. After breakfast, we arranged a reserved 10 Point Half-Day Tour which cost us around Rs. 1000. The tour included Tashi View Point, Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Tok, Bakthang Waterfall, Enchey Monastery, Flower Exhibition Center, Handicraft Center, Chorten Stupa, Institute of Tibetology and Ropeway Cable Car.We also visited the Rumtek Monastery which I fell in love with. Our driver and guide narrated the entire story of the Monastery on route. Following this we visited the Botanical Gardens and then returned back to our hotel.

In the evening we went to M. G. Marg. As it was Diwali people were burning crackers all over the roads which had a stunning effect. Watching colorful shells in the mountains with hot tea and momoswas a totally different and wonderful experience.

On the following day, after breakfast, we went to view therTsongmo Lake – Nathulla Pass – Baba Mandir Tour. This tour generally costs Rs. 800 per head (with Nathulla), and Rs. 500 per head (without Nathulla). The first stop was Tsongmo Lake which personally I didn’t find very interesting.

We had Thukpafor lunch in a small stall near the Lake and headed for Nathulla. Words can’t describe the feeling when you are standing at your country’s border watching the Indian and Chinese soldier’s bunkers from the LoC. Just a step forward and you’ll be in China.

While returning back from Nathulla, we visited the Baba Mandir. Legend has it that Baba Harbhajan Singh was a soldier who had died near the Nathula Pass. He is revered by soldiers of the Indian army as the “Hero of Nathula” and the army has built a shrine in his honor. As with most saints, the Baba is said to also grant favors presumably to those who revere and worship him.

Finally we were back in Gangtok at 11 pm. The last night of our tour. What can I say − I knew that I would miss this place, the trip, the enjoyment and the friendly nature of all the localeswho helped us a great deal throughout our trip.

On the next day, we left for NJP after breakfast. Throughout the route, I kept my eyes closed and every details of our trip went through my mind.  I kept telling my heart: ‘Let’s go back, pack our bags and leave for another awesome place again.’

Hotel Costs Involved: Hotel Maa Yang Rs. 1200 per day. These prices are inclusive of MAP i.e. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and Tea twice a day.

Contacts: Hotel Maa Yang : +919748659918 / +919432491159; North Sikkim, Nathulla Pass and Sightseeing Tours booked from Lama Tour and Travels. It’s run by Binita Lama. You can call or whatsapp her at +91 9832079292/+91 9734983536. She has recently started her hotel business too in the Development Area, Gangtok. Lamaz Residency: Sightseeing Driver [SK 01 T 1077] : +919734008523.

For an unabridged version go to: http://krishnandusarkar.com/experience-from-my-sikkim-trip