Saturday, June 29, 2013

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.

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