Gurudongmar and Yumthang, two much sought after tourist destinations in Sikkim
How to Reach?
Gangtok is the capital city of Sikkim. You can go to Bagdogra airport by flight. There are several flights from Kolkata and Delhi. One may travel by car to reach Gangtok from Bagdogra (123km approximately 4 hour on road). There is also a helicopter service (Pawan Hans) from Bagdogra Airport to Gangtok operated by Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation. Alternatively you can come to Siliguri Bus stand from Bagdogra (about 10km) and there you can get many options for transport to Gangtok. Those coming by train will arrive at New Jalpaiguri station and take some road transport to Gangtok from station or from Siliguri bus stand which is not very far.
One important thing to remember is that North Sikkim is a restricted area and you have to visit this place through some authorised tour operator. Details about the permits required for foreigners are available in Sikkim Government Tourism website.
Usually the process is simple. You have to contact a tour operator in Gangtok who will take care of all the formalities.
Trips from Gangtok
In Bagdogra airport there was a Sikkim Tourism Kiosk (in 2006) from where they used to give a nice booklet containing lot of information and a list of Tour operators.
The most popular tours from Gangtok are:
- One day trip to Tsomogo (Chhangu) Lake, Nathu La Pass, Baba Mandir.
- Two day One Night trip to Lachung-Yumthang.
- Three day Two Night trip to Lachen-Gurudongmar-Lachung-Yumthang.
Pristine Gurudongmar lake
We had taken the third trip. Usually these cars are trekkers that take 8-10 tourists. The tour operators charge a lumpsum amount per tourist that includes the transport, food and hotel stay during the trip. The rates are very reasonable. You get simple but freshly cooked non-vegetarian / vegetarian food. The hotels and bathrooms are reasonably clean. If you go in a group, it may be a good idea to book a whole car. The tour operator can also pick you up from Bagdogra / New Jalpaiguri at some extra charge. It may be a good idea to fix up the tour with some tour operator before you arrive. We had fixed up everything at the last moment after reaching Gangtok.
The four-leg trip starts from Gangtok, goes on to Gurudongmar for an early day visit and with a few halts ends at the picturesque high altitude valley of Yumthang. You cannot stay at Gurudongmar, its high altitude and environment do not permit staying. Coming down from Gurudongmar to Lachen, you can continue for a one night halt at Lachung and reach Yumthang the next day.
Yumthang is called the Valley of flowers of Sikkim and because of its beauty it is often compared with Swiss high altitude landscapes.
Most of the tourists make a day visit as the only staying place is the Govt Forest Rest house. If you can book it and stay at least for one night you would be able to appreciate the true beauty of Yumthang.
Yumthang valley facing North
Journey in north Sikkim involves hilly terrain and winding roads. It is advisable to carry some anti-vomiting medicine as some persons feel uneasy on such roads. It is also advisable to carry some basic medicine for stomach upset conditions.
Gurudongmar Lake is situated at 17300 ft. It is essential that one should have sufficient protection against cold and be aware about effects of high altitude on human body.
Snow covered peaks surrounding Gurudongmar lake
The easiest way is to wear 4-5 layers of garments (cotton and woolens) to protect against cold. Altitude sickness is not uncommon. Most tourists stay here for a short period (less than an hour) and normal healthy persons should not feel any problem. However one may research on the net or consult doctor beforehand and carry some medicine for altitude sickness. The best remedy for acute altitude sickness is to return back to lower heights. It is desirable to have a good meal and plenty of fluids before you start. I am told that bottled oxygen is available in Gangtok nowadays to help tourists that can be refunded if not used.
Best time to visit
Best time to travel these places from April to October. April and May are the flowering season. The Gurudongmar area becomes very windy as the day progresses towards the noon and the weather becomes unpredictable. The region is completely controlled by Indian army and they usually welcome the visitors. They had provided us hot mugs of tea at their hut and even provided some rudimentary medical support to one of our team member who was affected by altitude sickness. However there are many instances when they are compelled to return back visitors due to weather conditions. The journey from Lachen to Gurudongmar and back takes about 4-5 hours. It is best to start early from Lachen and return back before noon. This will also enable you to reach Lachung before evening if that is in your itinerary.
Where to Stay?
Please consult the Sikkim Tourism website for a list of hotels and their contact and other information.