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Almost frozen Gurudongmar lake - One of the highest lakes in the world

North Sikkim – Touring Lachen and Lachung

Mother nature is at her best natural self in North Sikkim, in the form of gushing rivers, stunning lakes, sparkling waterfalls, snow covered mountains, gorgeous alpine meadows and spectacular valleys. This is the portion of Sikkim where you will find majority of the native Sikkimese population. There are even places in North Sikkim that will give you “the Ladakh experience”. My post on “North Sikkim – Touring Lachen and Lachung” will give you a detailed idea on what to do in one of the magnificent parts of Sikkim.

Chungthang
Take left from Chungthang for Lachen and right for Lachung

How to reach North Sikkim?

The only way for you to reach North Sikkim is by road after reaching Gangtok. Protected Access Permit is required in this area and hence the permit has to go through a government approved tourist operator or a driver from Sikkim. You can choose vehicles like Mahindra Xylo, Toyota Innova, Mahindra Scorpio and hatchbacks like Maruthi WagonR. I would personally prefer the former three cars considering travelling in mountains and not to get back pain.?

There are private cabs and shared ones. You will get shared cabs from Vajra Taxi Stand in Gangtok between 5.30 am – 2 pm.

Click here to get the list of Government Authorised Travel Agents in Sikkim.
Note: I have contacts of the drivers with whom we explored Sikkim if someone is interested.

How do I get the Protected Access Permit?

All you have to do is find a shared cab at Vajra Taxi Stand or a private tour operator around MG Marg, a day before you want to visit North Sikkim. They will ask you for a photocopy of your Government ID proof (PAN card is not valid) and 2 passport size photos.

If you want to plan your trip well ahead, then even before reaching Gangtok you can call one of the tour operators and obtain the permits.

Can I self-drive?

Unless you are going on a bike, self-driving is permitted only till Mangan in North Sikkim, considering the fact that the district is very close to the international borders. It is risky for 4-wheeler vehicle drivers who are not native to Sikkim to drive on those roads as well and the government doesn’t allow it.

Singhik View Point
Singhik View Point

Indian bike riders can ride to the protected areas of North Sikkim for which special permit is required. You would require 2 days to get the initial permit from the Tourist Permit Office in Gangtok after which you will have to go to Gangtok Police Check Post for the approved travel permit. The alternative to this is paying a tourist operator who can get it done for you even before your arrival at Sikkim.

How far is North Sikkim from Gangtok?

North Sikkim is just 12 km away from Gangtok. But it takes about 3 hours (60 km) from Gangtok to reach Mangan which is the capital of North Sikkim district. You will have to cross Mangan and Singhik View Point which is 4 km from Mangan to enter the Protected Zone Tung Police Check Post where permits have to be shown to proceed with the journey.

Did I tell you that North Sikkim is a plastic free zone? So please dispose the plastic you have in the big bin meant for plastics at Tung Police Check Post.

How much does a trip to North Sikkim cost?

For a private 3D/2N trip, it should cost around Rs.17,000 for a cab and hotel reservations. If it is just the transport then it should cost around Rs.12,000 for a Mahindra Scorpio. Food is mostly included in the package you take to North Sikkim because it is in the remotest part of Sikkim and it is difficult to find restaurants or roadside eateries.

What to wear in North Sikkim?

As I have mentioned in my previous Sikkim series blog posts, the clothes you wear mainly depend on the season you are visiting. North Sikkim is always cold irrespective of when you visit but the intensity of cold differs. It is safe to wear/carry jackets (ability to withstand cold at least till -10° C), woollen socks, thermals, sweaters, water resistant gloves, t-shirts, shoes and neck warmer.

Lachen_post_office
Lachen at 4.30 pm

Where did I stay in North Sikkim?

I stayed at Delight Royal Lachen in Lachen and at Magellan’s Golden Bridge in Lachung.
Note: These are the towns with only the most basic amenities. You can expect some luxury at Lachung but definitely not at Lachen.

Similar to my post “North Sikkim – Touring Lachen and Lachung”, click here to read my other posts from my Sikkim series.

Gangtok to Lachen (124 km – 6 hours – Altitude: 9000 ft)

Lachen is a quiet little town in the extreme North of Sikkim. This town is less crowded and less popular compared to Lachung. The town is the base to Chopta Valley, Gurudongmar Lake and Kala Patthar.

The road to Lachen was pretty bad and narrow. We started from Gangtok at 9 am and reached Lachen at 2pm. When we went, there was very less traffic and we were appreciative of our driver’s remarkable driving skills.

We took a stroll on the streets of Lachen only to realize that it gets pitch dark by 4.30 pm. There was a big Indian Army station, a post office and a couple of grocery stores.

Gurudongmar Lake (Altitude: 17,800 ft)

We were asked to wake up at 3 am in the morning to get ready for Gurudongmar Lake which is one of the highest lakes in the world. It was freezing cold and the temperature showed -3°C when I woke up. We took some wet tissues and dabbed ourselves and got ready to experience the feel of visiting one of the most pristine lakes in the world.

We got our breakfast packed from the hotel we stayed; turned the fog lights on as it was snowing and we were all set for the 2.5-hour journey to the holy Gurudongmar Lake.

We crossed several army camps on the way to the lake and had to show our permit at several places. As the sun started rising, I fell in love with Chopta valley, crossing which we reached the lake. In the middle we stopped for a cup of hot chai and that kept me up and running.

frozen Gurudongmar
Have you seen a frozen lake, yet?

When we reached the lake, it was me, my husband and our driver. The mercury was at -5°C and it was freezing cold. The lake itself was half frozen as it was December and the landscape was barren. We were spellbound seeing its beauty. I had never seen something like that in my ever life before.

To take a closer look of the lake we took the stairs down and we captured the pristine blue beauty with our eyes and our camera and decided to head back as we spent more than 30 minutes at a place where there was limited oxygen.

Gurudongmar_half_frozenLake
The almost frozen lake in December

Points to note:

1. Foreigners are not allowed to visit Gurudongmar lake since it is very close to China occupied Tibet border.
2. Only people in the age group 6 to 64 will be permitted. The final decision anyway lies with the Army check post stationed 10 km before the lake.
3. You can stay approximately for 30 minutes at the lake before you face difficulty in breathing.
4. If there is difficulty in breathing then there is an Indian Army camp close to the lake where you can get oxygen.

Chopta Valley

Though I woke up at 3 am, when we visited the lake, the beauty of the valley kept me awake on our way back from the holy lake. It was so amazingly beautiful and I wanted more of that.

chopta valley
Chopta Valley

Kala Patthar

Kala Patthar receives snow all-round the year and it is said to be the zero point of Lachen ( the real Zero point in Sikkim is at Lachung). Our driver asked us to give Rs.3000 extra to go to Kala Patthar which was at the base of Chopta Valley.

We started from Lachen to Lachung after having our lunch.

Points to note:

1. You get very good Airtel network in Lachen except between the time 7.30-8.30 pm.
2. It will get extremely cold after the sun sets; the temperature will drop below 0°C.
3. You should definitely wear your woollen socks, thermals, regular clothes and jacket over it to get some sleep as you can’t always get a room heater in Lachen due to the power shutdown after 6 pm.

Lachen to Lachung (47 km – 2.5 hours – Altitude: 9,600 ft)

On our 2nd day of the North Sikkim trip, we reached Lachen at 5 pm, had early dinner served at our room and rested for the day. On the 3rd day we had breakfast at 8.30 am and headed for Yumthang Valley and Zero Point.

YumthangValley
Yumthang Valley – Valley of Flowers Sanctuary

Yumthang Valley (Valley of Flowers Sanctuary)

This is one valley I went gaga about. It was so amazingly beautiful in the month of December and I spent hours gazing at the mighty snow-capped mountains and the gushing river. We sat for a long time near the banks of the river engulfed by the beauty of Mother Nature.

Zero Point

Zero Point is known for having snow most of the year and it is exciting for people who have never seen snow before. You will have to separately pay your driver Rs.3000 per vehicle to take you to Zero Point.

zero_point
Zero Point

We returned back to our hotel for lunch and headed back to Gangtok for the night.
Click here to read my post on Exploring Gangtok.

Suggested 7-Day Tour Plan to Sikkim

Day 1: Reach Gangtok (East Sikkim)
Day 2: Gangtok local sightseeing
Day 3: Visit Nathula Pass, Tsongmo Lake, Baba Mandir and head back to Gangtok
Day 4: Gangtok to Lachen; overnight stay at Lachen (North Sikkim)
Day 5: Lachen to Lachung; overnight stay at Lachung
Day 6: Lachung to Gangtok; overnight stay at Gangtok
Day 7: Gangtok to Bagdogra Airport (IXB) / New Jalpaiguri Railway Station (NJP) – 88 km – 3.5 to 4.5 hour drive based on the traffic

To read about my blog posts on Sikkim series, click here.

Aarthy Chinnaiya

Hola, you travel-prying soul! Welcome to my blog and thanks for stopping by! My name is Aarthy Chinnaiya, exploring new places, food and people gets me excited. I focus on budget travel and exploring places to the fullest in limited number of days (being a Software Engineer I don't get much leaves you see :P). Follow me for a constant dose of my travel stories, experiences, tips and much more.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sheetal Wadhwa

    Aarthi the way you have described with every minute details of ranging to hotel to cabs to clothing and about the beauty of sums up you are totally a good write with eye for detail .. I felt bliss while reading about this place and felt I was personally there feeling the chills..
    Cheers to the many more upcoming trips

    1. Aarthy

      Thank you! This encourages me to write more about my travel.. 🙂

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