Gurudongmar Lake- Unrivalled beauty!
I booked a tour from Gangtok for 2 nights and 3 days to travel to North Sikkim. North Sikkim is absolutely beautiful with tiny villages surrounded by snow clad mountains, and the most stunning landscapes.
Day 1: The tour starts from Gangtok, stops in Lachung the first night,
Day 2: Early on the 2nd morning you are taken to Yumthang Valley & Zero Point, after which you drive to Lachen to spend the night.
Day 3: Early on the 3rd morning you are driven to Gurudongmar Lake, after which you get back to the hotel, pack everything up, and drive back to Gangtok. You will reach Gangtok by 9PM.
This article is about the Lachen- Gurudongmar part of the journey.
Lachen at 9000ft is the rest stop for those who want to travel to Gurudongmar Lake. Most people spend just a night here and barely get to see the town. It was the same for me, as we arrived fairly late from our trip to Yumthang Valley, and the next morning, we left before 5 AM to get to Gurudongmar Lake. If you take a tour similar to mine, don't expect to have any extra time to explore anything other than what is on your itinerary. Lachen is a quaint town surrounded by mountains, which shuts down soon after sunset. In the words of the owner of the hotel we were at-"you won't even see a dog roaming our streets after dark!"
We woke up before sun rise to head to Gurudongmar Lake. The journey towards Gurudongmar, though extremely bumpy was a lot more comfortable than the other vehicles doing the same route, thanks to the couple who dropped out of our group.( there were still 9 adults in the vehicle)
Truly one of the most beautiful places on earth, even though I haven’t seen most of the world, I cannot imagine there being too many places to beat this sacred lake, venerated by Buddhists, Hindus, & Sikhs. At 17,800ft, it is one of the highest lakes in the world It is named after Guru Rinpoche the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, who visited in the 8th century. The lake fed by glaciers is the source of the Teesta River that runs through Sikkim.
The water is a beautiful blue, and it reflects the snow capped mountains that surround it. Its beauty can’t be captured by a camera- it truly is the most stunning place.
The landscape on the route towards Gurudongmar is surreal as well. Though barren, the hills & mountains around look like a painting, and I was blown away by the sheer beauty of this place.
However difficult the journey was for me, once I reached the vicinity of Gurudongmar, I forgot all about it. The trip was completely worth all the hassle, and trouble, though I wouldn’t complain if it was more comfortable! :p
If there is one trip you do in India, make it here, and you will wonder why you feel the need to go abroad to see picturesque landscapes- we have it all here!
Would I recommend the tour that I took?
I wouldn’t recommend the tour that I booked to anyone, as it was a very uncomfortable ride, horrible food, and really bad accommodation, but for most people going to Sikkim on a budget this is what they will be getting, if they are paying anything less than Rs. 10,000/head.
Cost & inclusions of the tour I booked
I paid Rs.2300 on a twin sharing basis for the 2 night 3 day trip to North Sikkim, which included breakfast & dinner, accommodation on a twin sharing basis, and transport.
The tour was to Lachen, Gurudongmar Lake, Lachung, Yumthang Valley, Zero Point, & Black Rock. Though if you want to visit Black Rock you need to pay an additional amount to the driver once the journey has started.
Are you assured to get better accommodation/transport/food if you pay more?
You have to EXPLICITLY ask your tour agent what you are getting for the price that you are paying. I was the only one who got booked on the trip for such a low rate, the others in the group paid much more, since we all booked through different tour agents/hotels.
What was my transport like?
I travelled in a Bolero with 9 other passengers + a driver!
We had to squeeze ourselves in there throughout the journey. But by some stroke of luck, a woman who was travelling with us got sick with Altitude sickness, after the 1st night, so she left with her husband the next morning. This made the journey slightly bearable.
How to be assured of a comfortable trip to North Sikkim
Mention what you want in terms of transport, accommodation & food. Check on reviews of the travel agent or research their previous trips.
Why take a tour?
People from outside Sikkim are not allowed to travel to North Sikkim without a registered tour company, as it borders China, and the area is heavily guarded by the Indian Army.
Who can go on the tour?
North Sikkim is heavily guarded by the army because of its strategic importance, and its border with China. Only INDIAN NATIONALS are allowed to go to North Sikkim.
Due to the high altitude of the stops on the trip, it is not recommended to take children along.
Be wary of Acute mountain sickness (AMS), and keep medication handy.
Do you need permits for North Sikkim
You need permits to go to the north of Sikkim, which the tour agent will arrange for you. To acquire the permits, you need to hand in copies of your ID and passport photographs at least on the day before the journey.
Located at 14000 ft, it is the closest village to Gurudongmar Lake. Though it is a much smaller settlement than Lachen, and options for accommodation are that much lesser. It is a popular stop for bikers on their journey to Gurudongmar Lake. If you are travelling in a private vehicle, and you want a more relaxed journey (only a little more than 1 hour from Thangu vs. around 4 hours or more from Lachen), you can opt to stay here, provided you have accommodation booked prior to reaching.
The Boarder Road Organisation (BRO) is working hard to maintain the mountain roads, and there is work going on all along the way from Gangtok to North Sikkim, but especially the roads after Lachen & Lachung towards Gurudongmar & Zero Point, the road is extremely bumpy, and it won’t be surprising if you are left with a horrible back pain for days after your return- yes, I had pain in my back for at least a week after I got back home.
Sustainability measures in North Sikkim
Single use plastic bottles are banned in North Sikkim. There are police checkpoints where they check for water bottles in the vehicle, and if found, the passenger is fined for keeping it. So carry reusable bottles for the trip to Sikkim, refill them at the restaurants/hotels/homestays.