NORTH SIKKIM – OVERVIEW
The scenic landscapes, natural panoramic wonders, wide varieties of floras and fauna, rich in biodiversity, stunning views of mountain peaks of Sikkim has always attracted almost each and every tourists throughout the year. In the year 2014 Sikkim was selected no.1 among top ten tourist destinations in the world for being the cleanest and greenest state. The name Sikkim derived from the word ‘Sukhim’ which literary means ‘House of immense happiness’. Sikkim in the Eastern Himalayas is one of the most beautiful states of the Indian Union. It boasts of the third highest mountain in the world, Mt. Kanchenjunga which is also worshiped as the guardian deity of Sikkim. Sikkim is adorned with snowy mountains, luxuriant forests with exotic flora and fauna, pristine waterfalls, sacred lakes, holy caves, medicinal hot springs, cascading rivers and gentle streams – a destination for all seasons and all reasons. Sikkim offers tours for everyone from those seeking leisure holidays to the more adventurous. For the adventure lovers there is trekking in the mountains, river rafting, bird watching, mountain biking, rock climbing, angling as well as the mountains flights for experiencing the snow clad mountains. People of Sikkim are peace loving and rich in culture and traditions and delightful cuisines. The intricately designed local made handicrafts and hand looms are excellent work of art to take home as souvenirs. Sikkim tour are mainly divided into four parts, these are North Sikkim, South Sikkim, East Sikkim and West Sikkim. But among these North Sikkim tour forms the most fascinating, exciting and also thrilling. North district covers the largest area of all the four districts of the state but is the least populated. Mangan is the district headquarters of North Sikkim. The district boasts of its immense natural beauty, largest variety of flora and fauna, highest green cover and is the custodian of rich culture. The unique traditional law of Zumsa practiced since old days are still prevalent in Lachung and Lachen. North Sikkim actually provides a truly natural feel of the Himalayas and are the most sought after destinations in North Sikkim. Kabi Lungchok is known as for its historic treaty of blood brotherhood and Phodong and Phensang takes pride of having the rarest monasteries of Sikkim. One can experience an attitudinal variation from 3894 ft (approx) to 17100 ft (approx) of tourist’s areas in North Sikkim. For North Sikkim is being one of the most unexplored tourist destinations of India with its majestic waterfalls, breathtaking views of snow capped mountains, blessed flora and fauna, some of the highest altitude lakes, border areas, villages, undulating valleys and army check posts. For Nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts North Sikkim has so much to offer. But one should also know that travel to a high altitude region also needs some checks along with some dos and don’ts those tourists need to maintain. North Sikkim tour generally starts from Gangtok the state capital of Sikkim and also ends at Gangtok. In North Sikkim tour tourists come across some of the beautiful villages like Chungthang, Lachen, Lachung. Some highest lakes are Tsomgo Lake also known as Changu Lake, Gurudongmar Lake and Cholamu Lake. Border areas include Nathula Pass and to more further Tukla Valley. Undulating Valleys are Yumthang Valley also known as the ‘Valley of Flowers’, Chopta Valley. Other places of tourist attraction are Katao, New Baba Mandir, Yumesamdang and Kalapatthar. North Sikkim has most of the beautiful spots and has most of the panoramic wonders for tourist’s excursions. Recently concrete roads, staying accommodations, and other infrastructures required for the enhancement of tourism in this sector of North Sikkim has developed. As this part share border areas with other countries and also the army area therefore advance permission are required. Apart from destinations the scenic beauty and panoramic wonders of the roads is also eye catching.
GANGTOK — Gangtok is the state capital of Sikkim nestled on the eastern Himalayas Shivalik Hills and at an altitude of about 5500 ft. The City of Gangtok is full of shopping malls, cyber cafe, and video parlour, small and big shops along with casinos. The heart of Gangtok is M.G. Marg. Around Gangtok on a day tour tourists can visit Enchey Monastery, Flower Show Complex, Directorate of Handlooms and Handicrafts, Do-Drul Chorten, Deorali, Namgyal Institute of Tibet logy, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal Park, Rumtek Monastery, Kanchenjunga Cultural cum Village Complex, Ranka, Pal Zurmang Kagyud (Lingdum) Monastery, Banjhakri Falls, Gangtok Ropeway, Saramsa Flower Pavilion, Bakthang Waterfalls, Tashi View Point, Ganesh Tok, Himalayan Zoological Park, Hanuman Tok, EPCS – Church, Sikkim Science Center Marchak, Sa- Ngor Monastery, Pastanga Village, Aritar Lake, Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary . From Gangtok via Tashi Gang at a distance of 17 km is Kabi Langchuk, this place has historical significance and from here another 32 km is ‘Seven Sister Falls’. Phodong Monastery lies within 38 km from Gangtok, this is one of the main six monasteries of Sikkim. From Gangtok around 7 km to the North is Ganesh Tok and to the opposite is Himalayan Zoological Park that spreads over an area of about 205 hectare. The main attraction of this zoological park is rare species of Red Panda that inhabits the Singalila range but apart from this Himalayan Black Bear and Snow Leopard are also captivated. From Gangtok to the north around 8 km is Tashi View Point that offers bird’s eye view of the whole landscape. From Ganesh Tok within 11 km is Hanuman Tok or Hanuman Temple. From Gangtok around 24 km is Rumtek Monastery; this is center of Sikkim’s religious culture. Another monastery built during 1840 during the eight Chogial Empire is Enche Monastery. The word Enche literary means ‘Silence’. During the month of January mask festival is organized here and special dance is performed named ‘Cham’. Another monastery is Lingdum Monastery built by Zurmang Garwang Rimpoche. One of the main attractions of Gangtok is the Butterfly Park, this park hosts more than 400 different species of butterflies. Near Deorali Market at Gangtok is the cable car (rope way), tourists can visit Namnam viewpoint by the cable car. On the way the view of Tashomago forest is worth watching.
LACHEN — Lachen lies at an altitude of about 9400 ft. Tourists those who will visit Gurudongmar makes a night halt at Lachen. Lachen lies on the banks of river Lachen – Chu. Lachen is around 29 km from Chungthang and 125 km from Gangtok. From Lachen tourists can visit Lachen Monastery. From Lachen within 31 km is Thangu. Lachen is basically a big village. The main source of Livelihood of the locals of Lachen is cattle breeding, though tourism has also contributed to their mainstream economy.
LACHUNG — A British tourist Joseph Dalton Hookar wrote about Lachung in his famous book ‘The Himalayan Journal’ ‘The Most Picturesque Village of Sikkim’. The word Lachung means ‘Small Hills’. Lachung was once a part of Tibet, before 1950 it was the business route between Sikkim and Tibet. Lachung is about 22 km from Chungthang. Tourists those visits Yumthang Valley makes a night halt at Lachung. Lachung nestled at an altitude of about 8610 ft and is about 118 km from Gangtok. Around Lachung tourists can visit Lachung Monastery and Carpet Weaving Institute. Yumthang Valley is about 23 km from Lachung. Lachung is the habitat of ‘Lachung – Pa’ tribes.
TSOMGO (CHANGU) LAKE — The word Tsomgo means (TSO – Lake and MGO – Head), nestled at an altitude of about 3774 meter (12400 ft). Tsomgo Lake is also the habitat of Himalayan Trout fish. Tsomgo Lake offers stunning view of Mt. Kanchenjunga. Changu Lake (also known as Tsomgo Lake) located within 38 km from Gangtok. Tsomgo Lake (Changu) is 1 km in length, 50 meter wide and measures upto 50 meter deep. Desired tourists can take a ride on Yak back. During winter Tsomgo Lake gets completely frozen and covered with snow. Tsomgo Lake is the common habitat of Brahmini duck and with other migratory birds. In the month of April – May Tsomgo Lake gets surrounded with different coloured Rhododendrons, Primula and Poppy. Near the lake tourists can visit Changu (Tsomgo) Baba Temple, nearby the temple there is a garden of Primula and Orchids. From Gangtok on the way to Tsomgo Lake tourists can visit Banjhakri Falls and a little further is Pal Zurmang Kahyud (Lingdum) Monastery.
NEW BABA MANDIR — New Baba Mandir was built in the memory Baba Harbajan Singh an army from the Punjab regiment. New Baba Mandir is about 4 km from Nathula. Baba Harbajan Singh died at Indo – Chinese war in the region of Tukla Valley, but a myth still exists that his spirit is protecting this region and performing his duty. The Old Baba Mandir is at East Sikkim, Gnathang Valley region.
NATHULA PASS — Nathula forms the border area between India and China. Nathula was once an open route connecting India to Tibet, but during 1962 the route was closed. Please note that photography is strictly prohibited at Nathula. Children below the age of 10 years along with those suffering from heart related problem, breathing problem, high altitude sickness and high blood pressure are not allowed to visit Nathula Pass. There is a check post 1.5 km before entering Nathula Pass, tourists need to show their permits and move further. Nathula Pass nestled at an altitude of about 14500 ft. Nathula is about 18 km from Tsomgo Lake. Nathula was once famous for trade with China and Tibet and there is another route from Nathula that connects with Mansarover and Kailsh. Near Nathula Indian Army has arranged for a cafeteria. As Nathula is a border area therefore inner line permits are required to visit these spots. Valid ID proofs and necessary permits are to be obtained from the appropriate authority to visit Nathula. Nathula can also be visited from Gangtok within a distance of about 56 km.
GURUDONGMAR LAKE — Gurudongmar Lake nestled at an altitude of about 17800 ft and believed to be one of the most sacred lakes. From Chungthang a route to the left hand side has connected has met up at Gurudongmar Lake. From Gangtok around 190 km is Gurudongmar Lake. Gurudongmar Lake can be easily reached from Yumthang and another route is from Gangtok via Lachen. Gurudongmar is around 68 km from Lachen. From Gurudongmar Lake tourists can visit further towards Maguthang Lukanla Hills and Chopta Valley. From Gurudongmar Lake interested tourists can move further towards Cholamo Lake, which is considered to be world’s 14th highest and India’s highest lake nestled at an altitude of about 17490 ft and is about 5 km from Gurudongmar Lake. Before Gurudongmar Lake tourists need to present the valid permits at two different check-posts, one is at Thangu, this is a police check post and the other is 13 km before entering Gurudongmar, this is an army check post. Gurudongmar Lake is a protected border area and is maintained by Indian Army. Gurudongmar Lake forms the common habitat of snow pigeons. Gurudongmar Lake is believed to be a pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. The scenic landscape of Gurudongmar Lake is also eye-catching.
THANGU VALLEY — Thangu lies within 31 km from Lachen. Thangu nestled at an altitude of about 13500 ft. Thangu is last village before Gurudongmar Lake and it is around 32 km from Thangu. From Thangu via Chopta Valley at a distance of about 15 km is Kalapatthar. From Thangu within few kilometers there is an army check post nestled at an altitude of 15050 ft, here tourists need to show their permit and also need to get a fit certificate to visit Gurudongmar Lake.
YUMTHANG VALLEY — Yumthang Valley is also known as the ‘Valley of Flowers’. During the month of April – May Yumthang blossom up with countless rhododendrons and Primula, Orchids and many more. The route to Yumthang Valley starts from Gangtok via Phodong and Mangan then comes a small village Singhik (here tourists can halt for sometime). Again from Singhik around 26 km is Chungthang, this is the intersecting point of Lachen – Chu and Lachung – Chu and gave birth to river Teesta which then flows towards West Bengal. From Chungthang the road has divided in two parts one has met up at Gurudongmar Lake and another route has gone towards Yumthang Valley. Tourists those would visit Yumthang Valley mainly halts at Lachung. Yumthang lies within 24 km from Lachung, the whole region is guarded with snow capped mountain tops and wide valleys. Yumthang is also known as ‘Mini Switzerland’. Yumthang Valley is nestled at an altitude of about 11800 ft, from here within 10 to 12 km is Zero-point. Yumthang is around 148 km from Gangtok. The route towards Yumthang Valley is guarded under the shades of numerous Pine, Fir and Birch trees but apart from these another tree is also available named Agelia, the locals produce Incense sticks from this tree. From Lachung towards Yumthang Valley tourists can visit ‘Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary’, started in the year 1984 and spread over an area of about 43 square kilometer.
YUMESAMDANG — Yumesamdong lies within 23 km from Yumthang Valley and nestled at an altitude of about 16000 ft.
KATAO AND ZERO POINT — Katao is about 24 km from Lachung nestled at an altitude of about 17000 ft. Katao is mainly the base camp of Indian Army. From Gangtok around 144 km is Katao. The whole region is covered with Rhododendrons, Poppy and Primula flowers. Katao can be reached from Gangtok via Lachung. Katao is around 24 km from Lachung. Yumthang Valley tourists can move further towards Zero Point. From Zero point to the north is Bhongkia Hills nestled at an altitude of about 18400 ft, tourists need to trek this route.
CHOPTA VALLEY — Chopta Valley can be easily visited from Thangu. The route to Chopta Valley is diverted from Chungthang via Lachen. From Gurudongmar Lake tourists can visit further towards Maguthang Lukanla Hills and Chopta Valley. From Thangu via Chopta Valley at a distance of about 15 km is Kalapatthar.
KALAPATTHAR — Kalapatthar, nestled at an altitude of about 15000 ft. The name Kalapatthar derived from the availability of dark colour stones in this region. From Kalapatthar via Lachen tourists get back to Gangtok.
MANGAN — Mangang (the district head of North Sikkim), it is also famous for being the place that produce maximum of Cardamom in the world. From Gangtok around 60 km is Mangan.
CHUNTHANG — Chungthang is the around 96 km from Gangtok. Chungthang is the intersecting point of two different rivers Lachen – Chu and Lachung – Chu. From here these two rivers has met up and gave birth to river Teesta. From Chungthang two different routes are diverted towards Lachen and Lachung. Chungthang lies at an altitude of about 7200 ft. Lachung is about 22 km from Chungthang.
Things to know — Changu (Tsomgo) Lake and New Baba Mandir can be visited all the seven days of a week. But entry permit for Nathula Pass are only available five days a week (Wednesday to Sunday), permits are not allowed on Monday and Tuesday.
Documents required are 2 copies of passport sized photographs and 1 photocopy of voter’s identity card. If voter’s card is not available, Passport, Driving License will also serve the purpose. But very recently Aadhar Card is also accepted for North Sikkim Permit. For children school identity card and birth certificate are required.
These documents need to submit at Gangtok. These permits are available from Mannan Bhawan at M.G. Marg and another permit is required which is available from the office of Sikkim Public Service Commission. After getting the permit, tourists are advised to please to make at-least 10 copies of the permit as because it will require at all the check post. Officials will be checking the permit along with the vehicle’s number allotted.
Please note that permit for Kato is not available every time. Cholamo Lake is also excluded from the general package cost, desired tourists need to book for this as extra.
Tourists can avail either hired or shared cars for the entire North Sikkim tour depending on the number of pax, but each car will accommodate only 7 persons at a time. Tourists willing to visit Kalapatthar and Yumesamdang are required to pay extra car cost per person as this two spots are generally not included in the packages.
Things to Remember — Depending on health conditions it will be better to visit Gurudongmar Lake after visiting Yumthang and Yumesamdang as because tourists need to acclimatize with rising altitude.
Tourists are advised not to get involved in intensive activities near Gurudongmar Lake because it may lead to high altitude sickness. To avoid high altitude sickness tourists are advised to keep required medicine during their travel.
Tourists with breathing problem can buy oxygen cylinder from Gangtok.
As Yumthang Valley blossom up with flowers during March – April, tourists are advised not to pluck or tear a single flower or leaf as it is a punishable offence.
Do not through any plastic bags, packets, wrappers or bottles any where during their trip to North Sikkim, as it are also a punishable offence.
It is advised to keep required woolen garments during the journey along with umbrella as weather change is very frequent any time at such a high altitude.
It is recommended to keep torch, dry foods, sunglasses, required medicine during the tour. Please remember Sikkim is a non plastic disposal state.
How to Reach
By Train — The nearest rail is NJP railway station which is well connected with Kolkata and other major cities of India. The gateway to North Sikkim tour is from Gangtok (the state capital of Sikkim) which is around 125 km from NJP railway station. From NJP railway stations both shared and hired cars are easily available those will take you to Gangtok and it takes around 5 hours. Again from Siliguri which is around 111 kms regular bus service and car services are available upto Gangtok.
By Flight — The nearest Airport is Bagdogra, from here again both shared and hired cars are available to reach Gangtok which is around 124 km. Recently Gangtok – Pakyong Airport offers direct flight from Kolkata to Sikkim.
By Road — The Sikkim Nationalized Transport (SNT) plies regular bus service from Gangtok to Kalimpong and Siliguri and to places within the state. Booking facilities are available at Siliguri and Gangtok. Private buses are also available between Gangtok, Siliguri, Kalimpong and Darjeeling.
Note — From Gangtok the route is via Kabi Langchuk, Phodong Monastery, Singhik View Point, Meiyanchu and Naga Falls, Pegong Village and then Chungthang. From here the route is diverted to Lachen and Lachung.
Best time to visit — The best time to visit North Sikkim is April – June. During April – May the whole region bloom up with wide varieties of flowers. Again during winter December – March the whole region remains covered with snow. During heavy snowfall and rainfall army do not allow tourists to visit Gurudongmar Lake due to security reasons.