Sunday, June 30, 2013

West Bali

The start of our Bali tour was from here. We stayed at the Medewi Bay Retreat. Check the review of the resort here.

Day 1

Bunut Bolong: Literally means a hole in the tree. This is considered a holy tree. Its so huge that the road passes right through the tree. Situated in a forested area, this makes for a good stopover.

Banjar Hot Spring: Natural hot water spring which is said to have medicinal values. The approach road has a lot of road side souvenir shops. 

Brahmavihara-Arama Meditation Center: This is a Buddhist monastery. This has a terraced structure with various buildings and structures present at different levels. At the top most level, you get to see a miniature version or Borubudur  which is supposed to be the biggest buddhist temple. From the top, you get good views of the surrounding hills and the ocean. Entry to the monastery is free. You will need to cover yourself up properly for entry.  Long pants/saris are fine. Sarongs are provided at the entrance for those who need to cover themselves up.

Pulaki Temple: This is one of the biggest temples of Bali and is beautifully located. On one side you have the ocean with the forested hills at the back. One can see a number of monkeys in the premises. We were warned by our driver to be careful of our cameras, specs, etc for fear of the monkeys. Here again you will need to cover up properly - sarongs are available at the entry. We were advised to make "voluntary donation" for the temple here, which we obliged.

The the temple was built to commemorate the arrival of Javanese saint Nirartha to Bali. The surrounding forest has a lot of monkeys and it is said that when Nirartha arrived, he was escorted by the monkeys. As a sign of gratitude, Nirartha established this temple and made the monkeys its guardians. Another story related to this temple is that Nirartha feared that his daughter would be abducted by the king. So he brought her to this place. He then made the entire village invisible. It is believed that to this day, the invisible poeple exist. They are called gamang and are made offering by the people here

Palasari Cathedral: Had never read of this and still cant find it in google searches. But glad it was included in our tour by resort which arranged our transport. Beautiful place. Peacful.

Day 2

Butterfly Park: The days highlight was going to be the Ulun Danu temple. Enroute to the this, we went to the Butterfly Park at Tabanan. Glad we did this. Saw some really big butterflies.

Ulun Danu: This is one of the iconic temples of Bali. It is featured on the 50,000/- IDR note. It is situated at a relatively higher altitude. It was overcast on the day,  and the weather was refreshingly cool. It is a complex of temples. The 11 storey temple is dedicated to Vishnu and the 3 storey temple is dedicate to Shiva. These temples are surrounded by the lake Beratan which is the major source of irrigation in central Bali.

Day 3

Day 3 was check-out time and time to move to our next location (Ubud in Central Bali). Enroute, we visited the Bali Zoo. It is fairly well maintained. The tree cover meant that even though we reached there in the afternoon, it was not at all uncomfortable. There are special timings for feeding the animals, bird show, etc. Check them out before starting off in the zoo.

Enroute to our hotel in Bali, we visited centres for gold and silver crafting, batik and wood carving and  handicrafts. Most of our souvenir shopping happened here.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dzongu - places of interest

Dzongu is the untouched heaven in the northern Sikkim with a striking beauty. Mountains, streams, waterfalls, thick forests, tiny beautiful Lepcha hamlets, absolutely pollution free air and divine calmness is what characterizes the place.  It has been recently opened up for tourist and it is yet to attract hoards of the tourist as tourism is not well developed yet. Only 4-5 Home Stays are available.  This makes Dzongu a very memorable experience in itself. There are no standard itineraries available to explore Dzongu. You have to make the plan on your own with the help of Home stay owners. If you indeed want a non-commercialized nature stay, this is the place. Walking, trekking, taking baths in rivers/waterfalls/hot water spring, birding, running behind the butterflies, visiting tiny hamlets, enjoying local cuisine and staying in traditional Lepcha houses is what you can enjoy here. Below given information would help you plan your stay. You can plan a week's visit to this area still you wont cover all of it.

Lingdong Village

The village is situated in Lower Dzongu. One can easily see Mangan on other side of the valley. River Tista flows through the valley which separates Dzongu from Mangan/North Sikkim highway. There is Home Stay available here (Dzongu Lee) where we stayed.
There is monastery uphill between Lingdong Village and Barfok village. Its 1 hour easy trek from Lingdong. The specialty of this monastery is it is for nuns. On the way, you can see Cardamon fields. You can enjoy the breathtaking view of the mountains from this. When we visited, it was a time for festival called Eung-ney. Monks there invited us for the fast-breaking lunch. It was a superb feast for us.
4 kms from Lingdong towards south to Hee Gyathang, passes Rin Khola rive which further meets Tista down the valley. Immediately after you cross the bridge on the river, one can easily go down to the river bed and enjoy bath. There is another bamboo bridge used by locals to cross the river which one must experience.


Hee Gyathang Village

Hee Gyathang Village lies in Lower Dzongu and can be easily reached from Lingdong. It has a small sacred lake decorated with prayers flags.

Namprikdang  Village

A model of a Lepcha house constructed in its traditional style is built at the confluence of river Teesta and Rongyoung. Surrounding environment of the museum is a perfect spot for family picnic. The confluence is just a 5 minutes walk from there.

Lingzya Waterfall

Half an hours drive from Lingdong village in interior Dzongu towards Pentong passing through Nom, Passingdang, Mantan, Shibim villages lies this wonderful waterfall. At Mantan, one road goes right to Tingvong/Lingzya villages and the one goes left towards Ruklu-Ringdem. The drive is scenic passing through mountains and bridges and tiny villages. Though the water was cold, having bath under the rapid stream is something we didn't miss.

Ruklu-Ringdem Village

 From Mantan take a left towards Kayeem and Ruklu-Ringdem villages. Those villages are on opposite side the valley, other side being Lingzya waterfall.  Rongyoung river divides the valley which further meets River Tista. Somewhere near Kayeem, there is a hot spring with separate enclosures for males/females. You can soak in the bubbling Sulphur water at a leisure. There is a small restaurant just ahead of the hot water spring which serves tea/Maggie etc. On this route from Mantan to Kayeem, on a clear day, you can see Mount Khanchendzonga.

Other locations

Below are some other spots which we didn't visit but gathered information about it from Gyatso Lepcha, owner of the Home Stay (for future planning).


A trek through bamboo groves from Passingdang village takes you here. The trek offers breathtaking views of the Mt Khanchendzonga. It also has a monastery. There is Home Stay available in Passingdang village (Mayal Lyang homestay) .

Tingvong & Kusong

Both the villages are in interior Dzongu on the mountain slope before Lingzya waterfall. Tinvong village can be reached by road. Kusong village requires an hour of trek upwards from Tinvong. On the way to Kusong, there is monastery.  There are two Home Stays available here (Tingvong Home Stay and TECS Homestay).


Pentong and Sakyong

These are the last inhabited areas of Dzongu giving very closure view of the snow clad mountains. By road you can only go only upto Lingzya and after that it takes around 5 hours or so trekking through dense forest. On the opposite side of the valley lies another village, Sakyong. From Sakyong, you can trek to Ruklu-Ringdem village through Leven village.


Keushong is considered the most beautiful place in Dzongu which has a very beautiful lake, also called as Keushong Lake, surrounded by hills. It takes 5 days to complete the trek from Tingvong. On day 1, you reach Tholung Monastery and take a halt. Next day you reach Keushong, third day at Keushong and other 2 days to return through same route. You need to arrange in advance with the Home Stay owner who would arrange Lepcha guides.

Links :
North Sikkim & Dzongu information
North Sikkim - places of interest
Photo Gallery

Gangtok and North Sikkim - places of Interest

Gangtok and Around


Roam around on MG Road. Do visit Allen’s Kitchen for Tibetan delicacies. There are various other places in Gangtok which can be covered in one day. But we didn’t include in our plan.

Changu Lake :

Tsomgo(Changu) lake is situated 35 km from Gangtok on the Gangtok - Nathula highway which forms a part of the old trade route from India to China. Stop at lake while returning from Nathula Pass.

Baba Mandir :

A temple built in his memory  of a soldier in the 23rd Punjab Regiment, who drowned in a stream near the spot.

Nathula Pass :

Nathula is a pass on the Indo Chinese boarder The pass was traditionally used by merchants of India and Tibet for trading (silk route). It is covered with snow for most part of the year. It is open only on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Its very cold place with temperature below zero even in May.   Totally covered in fog and snow around, do visit it. You can go right up to the border fence where you can see Chinese soldiers just a meter away.

On the way to North Sikkim

Tashi View Point

6 kms away from Gangtok on the North Sikkim Highway, offers an astounding view of the hills and valleys. Khangchendzonga can be seen on clear day from here. Phodong and Labrang monasteries can be seen on opposite hills.


Kabi Longstok

A place of worship where historical treaty of blood brotherhood between the Lepcha and Bhutia community was signed. There is a small monastery nearby. Its 20 kms from Gangtok.

Seven Sisters Waterfall

32 kms from Gangtok on the North Sikkim Highway. A must stop place.


64 kms from Gangtok, a district headquarter for North Sikkim. You have to take west for Dzongu and towards north for North Sikkim.

Singhik View Point

12 kilometers away from Mangan towards the north, this view point offers picturesque view of Mount Sinolchu. From the viewpoint you can see confluence of River Teesta and River Kanaka.


30 kms from Mangan, the town of Chungthang is present at the confluence of the rivers Lachen and Lachung  Chu, tributaries of the River Teesta. Here the road bifurcates to take different routes for Lachen and Lachung.

North Sikkim


At an altitude of 9000 feet, this small beautiful town is famous as overnight stop for onward journey to Guru Dongmar lake. Stay here gives much needed time for the body to get acclimatized to high altitude.

Thangu and Chopta Valley

While going to Guru Dongmar lake, some 36 kms from Lachen, you halt at Thangu for breakfast. Thangu has some wooden houses and military camps nestled in the alpine meadows. The place offers breathtaking scenic view of high snow capped mountains and Alpine environment. While returning from the lake, one can visit the small and beautiful Chopta valley.


Gurudongmar Lake

At 17200 feet on a vast plateau very near to Indo-Tibet border lies one of the high altitude lakes of the world which is also a sacred place for locals. At this altitude, you are most likely to get clear blue skies which renders the scenery astonishing surrounded by perennial snow covered mountain tops. Lake is almost frozen during winter. It’s a rough drive of around 5 hours from Lachen but million times worth it. Without Guru Dongmar lake, trip to North Sikkim is meaningless.


A very beautiful and picturesque Bhutia village settled in the Alpine valley on the banks of River Lachung is a base camp for surrounding attractions like Yumthang Valley, Rhododendron Sanctuary and Zero point. But the town, settled at an altitude of 8800 feet, itself is a worth exploring. Lachung Monastery on the slopes of the hill can be a good small trek from the town.



Yumthang valley, also known as 'Valley of Flowers' for the boom of rhododendrons. It’s a very scenic place gifted with green meadows, pine and silver fir forests, waterfalls and streams.
The hot spring is located close by the Yumthang village on the banks of Lachung River. The hot water is rich with sulplur.
The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary in Yumthang valley has more than 24 species of Rhododendron flowers and various other species of flowers.  Best season to visit this place  is from April to May end.



Yumesamdong (Zero Point) is very close to the Chinese border about 26 kms from Yumthang and at an altitude of 15300 feet.  It is the land of perennial snow. The stretch from Yumthang village passes through the rugged mountains. Ezilia, a plant used as incense, fills the air with fresh scent.

North Sikkim and Dzongu

It was a time for freak out tour with school friends. After quite a deliberations, zeroed down on tour to North Sikkim and Dzongu in Sikkim. Main destinations planned were Guru Dongmar Lake, Yumthang Valley, Dzongu and  Nathula Pass and stay in Gangtok for permits.

When :

May 16, 2013.

Weather :

Mix of cloudy and clear. Occasional rains in Dzongu, Lachung and Nathula Pass. Minimum temperature was 5 Degree Celsius at Lachen.  Nathula pass was very cold with temperature below zero and very foggy.

Itinerary :

Day 1 : Arrived at Gangtok from Siliguri. 120 kms journey takes 4 hours along the banks of river Teesta. Finished the paperwork with the agent for the permits of onward journey. Rest of the day spent wandering at MG Road. Overnight @ Gangtok.

Day 2 : A days excursion to Nathula pass, Baba Mandir and Changu Lake. Started at 09.30 AM and returned by 06.00 PM to Gangtok.  Nathula pass is 56 kms from Gangtok. Overnight @ Gangtok

Day 3 : Started  at 09.00  AM for  North Sikkim to reach Lachen. Lachen is overnight stop for Guru Dongmar Lake. 120 Kms from Gangtok, journey took around 8 hours due to frequent stops at various places like Tashi View point, Mangan, Singhik, Kabi Longstock, Seven sister Water Falls and numerous other waterfalls, Chungthang Confluence. Overnight @ Lachen.

Day 4 : At 04.00 AM started for Guru Dongmar Lake which is 62 kms from Lachen. At 06.00 AM, 36 kms from Lachen, had a halt at small and beautiful town Thangu. Reached lake at 09.00 AM. At 11.30 AM started the return journey for Lachen via Chopta valley. Rest at Lachen and proceed to Lachung via Chumthang. Lachen to Lachung distance is 47 kms and took 3 hours. Overnight @ Lachung.

Day 5 : Full day excursion to Yumthang Valley, Yemesamdong (Zero point) and Shingba Rhodendron Sanctuary. Yumthang and Zero point are 24 kms and 47 kms respectively from from Lachung.  Overnight@Lachung.

Day 6 : Roaming around in beautiful Lachung village, visited Lachung Monastery. Had planned for Katao but it is closed for tourist now. In the afternoon started for Lingdong village in Dzongu and reached there by 06.00 PM with a break at Mangan. Lachung to Lingdong distance is 59 kms and took 4 hours.

Day 7, 8 and 9 : Explored various areas of Dzongu.

Day 10 : Return to Bagdogra via Singtam. 

See details of the places visited on other pages, links given below.


Stay :

  • Gangtok : Hotel Pandim, Bhanu Path. A very beautiful location in upper Gangtok from where you can see the Gangtok and the valley. Away from hush bush of the crowd.
  • Lachen : Snow Valley. A small hotel inside the village with good view of surrounding mountains. Clean hotel with a very good cook.
  • Lachung : Season House. 1 km uphill  from the Lachung village. A wonderful lonely location with stunning views of mountains and Lachung Village.
  • Lingdong, Dzongu : Dzongu Lee Homestay. A very beautiful location in Lingdong village facing the valley and River Teesta. Wooden rooms are neatly maintained. The family was very cooperative and enthusiastic. Gyatso, a young university student helped us explore the forests and accompanied to various places. Delicious local cuisines are something different one would experience.   Morqu (made of local cheese and  butter), chutney made of cheese, Champa (sweet made of floor, ghee and sugar), salt tea, tea momo, kaudey (some sort of soup) are something you would enjoy. And not to mention locally brewed fresh millet beer (which tastes more like a red wine) which is to be seeped in using bamboo straw ! 

Permits :

Nathula Pass, North Sikkim and Dzongu are restricted areas and require special permits to enter. 6 copies of Photo Identity (Passport/Driving License/Voter Card/Adhar Card) PAN card not accepted. And 8 passport size photographs. Permits are arranged by the tour operators.


Tips  and General Information:

  • Tours to North Sikkim and Dzongu needs to be arranged through authorized tour operators only who arrange for permits, travel, stay and sightseeing.
  • Detail of various locations in Sikkim and authorized tour operators can be found on Govt. of Sikkim?s informative site
  • Most of the tour operators arrange either for North Sikkim or for Dzongu but not both. We got one tour operator who arranged for the combined tour. There are very few tour operators for Dzongu who are basically owners of their respective home stays. 
  • It is not necessary to book the entire tour in advance. One can land in Gangtok and then contact these tour operators. 
  • It is advised to stay at least for a day in Gangtok to find the tour operator, negotiate, book the tour and submit papers for  permits. Permits are given on the date of travel only, so there is no need of advance booking. 
  • It is advisable to book the hotel for stay in Gangtok to avoid time required for searching. If you cant, don't worry. There is no paucity of hotels in Gangtok.
  • Separate permits are required for North Sikkim, Dzongu and Nathula Pass.
  • There is heavy rush for permits to Nathula pass, so ensure that you reach one day in advance before this tour and give papers to operator as soon as possible.
  • Tour for North Sikkim and Dzongu are all inclusive i.e. travel, stay, food including the en route lunches and sightseeing. Ensure that you are clear on inclusion and exclusion with your tour operator. 
  • Generally, tour in North Sikkim is covered till Yumthang only. If you want to go ahead till Zero point, you have to pay extra to the driver. (Rs. 2000-3000). This is type of a kickback for the driver which I feel is worth considering the adventurous driving they do !!
  • For all the journeys, be it Siliguri/Bagdogra to Gantok or North Sikkim Tour or excursion to Nathula, you have option of shared vehicle or special vehicle. Needless to say, its worth to spend on special vehicle considering the leisure at which you can stroll in the heavenly beauty.
  • For Dzongu, again, its worth to have special vehicle. If your tour operator includes Dzongu then you don't need to worry. Else you have to reach Mangan and then ask the Home stay owner to pick you up from Mangan.
  • Don't engage special vehicle at your disposal in Dzongu for all the days. 1-2 days you can keep just for walk/treks.
  • April/May are peak season for Sikkim, but we didn't find it crowded in North Sikkim as most of the crowd prefers Nathula/West Sikkim. In Dzongu, there are only 4 homestays, so no question of crowd.
  • You don?t need heavy woolens in May even at Guru Dongmar or Lachen/Lachung. Usual winter wear with woolen cap/ hand gloves is sufficient. Not to forget goggles for Zero point where sun is bright and snow too white !.
  • Even though Guru Dongmar lake is at an very high altitude of 17200 feet, we didn't suffer high altitude sickness and could easily spend 3 hours with little dizziness. (At an altitude of 14200 feet at Khardung La, Ladakh, you can hardly stay there for half an hour !!). May be slow accent makes your body acclimatized.
  • Sikkim is very prone to landslides leading to tourist getting stuck en route. So before you travel, make sure of the weather condition and roads are open. 
  • Start as early as you can for Nathula Pass/Baba Mandir as both the places remain open till 02.30 PM only.
  • Guru Dongmar lake is open till 12.00 noon only, so make sure you reach there before 09/10 AM. If you are staying in Lachen, you have to start at 04.00 AM.
  • Most of the tour operators offer 3 days package of North Sikkim which is short for the vast area. Plan for at least 4 days.  
  • Don't estimate traveling times based on the distance. Roads in Sikkim tend to be poor due to heavy rains and frequent landslides. 
  • Ms Rinjong Lepcha (, owner of Dzongu Lee Homestay in Lingdong arranged the combined tour of North Sikkim and Dzongu. It was planned well without any issue. Their wooden Homestay at Lingdong is really a nice place to experience traditional stay. The entire stay was made memorable by her family.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Central Bali (Ubud) - Bali Bird Walk, Goa Gajah

After spending 3 days in West Bali, we moved our base to Ubud for the next part of our tour. Ubud is the cultural centre for Bali with lots of art shops related to gold and silver work, wood carving, stone carving and batik as well as a number of museums.

We stayed at the Agung Raka Bungalows. The review for the resort can be viewed here. We had our lunch at the Indian Delights restaurant. Food was OK. Malai Kulfi was outstanding. :)

Day 4 of our tour started with the Bali Bird Walk. Lonely Planet has mentioned Bali Bird Walks as one of the top 10 experiences in Bali. Hence we decided to try it out. We just loved it!! We are no birders, mind you. But we thoroughly enjoyed it. Check out their website at

Su, who manages these walks has lots of knowledge about the birds and is good at spotting them.  Additional bonus is the information that she shares with you regarding the Balinese way of life, the crops, spiders, flowers, etc. If you love nature, you will love the walk as it takes you through lush green paddy fields of Ubud. Su carried with her some extra binoculars which helped as we had not come prepared for birding. It is a 3-4 hour. Tour cost is 37$ which included lunch at the end of the walk.

In the afternoon we started a short tour to see places around Ubud. We started with the Tegenungan Waterfall which is around 10 min from Ubud. Though the height of the fall is not much the waterflow is very high. 

Next stop was Goa Gajah, which in Balinese means Elephant Cave. This 9th century cave has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage sites Tentative list. The entrance of the cave is very ornately carved. Inside one can see the statue of Ganesha and a Shivalinga. Do take a guide here as there are no information boards here. The guide told us that Agastya Rishi built a temple here in honour of river Ganga. There are 7 statues of goddesses from which water flows into a bathing pool. One can see some relics of old Buddhist temple as well. 

Next in the itinerary were the famed rice rields of Ubud. The lush green rice terraces are a site to watch and a good place to stop and spend some time. They rank high on the list of experiences on TripAdvisor and Lonely Plant. Bali Pulani Agro Tourism Farm is near by. You can see various spices been planted here. They offer free coffee tasting session where you get to taste various coffee flavors including the Luwak Coffee which is their specialty. 

The Luwak coffee is made from beans of coffee berries eaten and excreted by a furry animal called Asian Palm Civet. There is a Civet on premises whom you feed the berries and make your contribution towards preparation of this world famous coffee :)