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  • Writer's pictureMary Ann Issac

Nathang Valley & Zuluk -The Old Silk Route

Updated: Aug 30, 2020

A part of the Old Silk Route from China to India passes through some beautiful villages that are surrounded by the Himalayas. The villages of Nathang/Gnathang & Zuluk are slowly gaining popularity among tourists because of the picturesque snow capped mountains that surround Nathang village, and the loop road that connects to Nathang to Zuluk.

How to get to Nathang Valley & Zuluk from Gangtok

I based myself in Gangtok, and took tours to North Sikkim & Zuluk & Nathang Valley. As Nathang village is at the Indo-Chinese border, it is possible for people from outside Sikkim to travel here only with registered tour agencies. A government permit is required from the government to travel towards Nathang, which the tour agent will organise for you.

The same goes for Zuluk, you do need permits, which can be organised by the tour company. It is possible for you to get to Zuluk on your own if you have your own vehicle. There is no public transport that takes you directly to Zuluk from Gangtok, you will have to make multiple stops and change share taxis to get here. Considering the hassle, I decided it was best to go with a tour agency.

If I remember correctly, I went with Royal Sikkim Tours from Gangtok MG Marg on this trip. Since this isn’t a popular route for tourists, there were no cheap tours available in shared taxis like my North Sikkim trip. So I hired a private tour for Rs. 11, 000, ( I found someone to share the trip with me from my hostel) for a 1 night & 2 days trip to Nathang village & Zuluk.

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Tthe picturesque Gnathang Village

The journey

We travelled comfortably in an Innova which was a welcome change after the horrible travel arrangements of my North Sikkim trip. The route was familiar, we passed Tsomgo Lake, Baba Mandir, stopped at the original Baba Mandir, Menmecho Lake, Elephant Lake, saw the highest golf course in the world from a distance, and stopped at random spots along the way that we found beautiful. This is the one big advantage of hiring a private vehicle- you are not on a strict timeline, and can stop where you want.

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Elephant Lake on the way to Gnathang village

We reached Nathang Village around lunch time, and were welcomed into the lovely home of a local man. He had prepared a scrumptious lunch of rice, dal, vegetables, & chicken curry. After lunch we set out to explore the village which is of strategic importance as it borders China. It is common to see army personnel patrolling the village. The village is small, with around 300 inhabitants, most of whom were born here, and wouldn’t have travelled outside of Sikkim.

Nathang doesn’t have a school or hospital, and neither does the neighbouring village of Kupup. Though Kupup did have a school up until a little more than a decade ago, but it became difficult to retain teachers, so now the school building is abandoned.

Most of the youth from these villages move to Gangtok to find work, as there aren’t any opportunities here. So Nathang is left with an ageing population.

History of Nathang

In 1888, the Battle of Nathang was fought here between the Tibetan & British forces. The fallen British soldiers are buried at a graveyard in the village.

There is also a temple, often found without a priest, and a small buddhist monastery that houses just a handful of monks.

Where to stay

Recently because of an increase in tourists to Nathang, many locals have opened up their homes as homestays.

It was on an extremely cold day that I was in Nathang, and maybe for that reason, I didn’t see many people walking outside their homes. There were a couple of children running about, two adults, and a stray dog, out in the afternoon.

The people here are friendly, and curious of travellers and their adventures, so expect them to stop you to speak with you. A lady I met even invited me over for drinks and whichever cricket match was happening that night around a bonfire with her neighbours. Unfortunately I was in bed shivering as I couldn’t bear the cold, and didn’t make it for the otherwise exciting invitation.

How to survive the biting cold in Nathang

But, my roommate did bring me a bottle of the local cherry liquor which according to the locals, help them get through the harsh winters- they even give it in small doses to babies!

I drank the liquor which helped me get through the night. Up until I had the alcohol, I was in bed, under 4 thick blankets, and still in all my layers of clothes that I was wearing outside, and still shivering.

I’m not saying everyone will be this uncomfortable there, but I do have a very low tolerance for the cold, and don’t enjoy being in cold places. A couple of drinks of the cherry liquor and I was happy to feel the numbness from my face & hands go away, and I could feel my body warm up! So if you are ever in Sikkim, and freezing, look for the local brand of cherry liquor!

It won't be difficult to find, as there are liquor shops everywhere. I did not understand why there were so many liquor shops when grocery shops were difficult to find- but now I did!

Hike up the hill

I also hiked up to the highest point in the village to check out the expansive views of the colourful houses of Nathang. The views of the snow clad mountains that surround the village were breathtaking, so this hike up, though quite difficult is definitely worth it.

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The view of Nathang village from the hill

Thambi Viewpoint

The next morning we awoke early as we wanted to see the sunrise at Thambi view point, but unfortunately it was a foggy morning, which meant we wouldn’t be able to see it.

We waited at the homestay till the weather cleared a little, said our goodbyes to our lovely host, and left for Thambi Viewpoint.

Thambi viewpoint, at 11200 ft, grants beautiful views of the almost 30 loops of mountain roads connecting the village of Zuluk to Nathang. This was also part of the Old Silk route, that connected Indian & Chinese traders. If the weather is clear you can see the Kanchenjunga mountain ranges from here. Luckily for me, I did catch a glimpse of the Kanchenjunga when the fog cleared for a few minutes!

The view of the loop road is quite the sight, and almost magical on a foggy morning.

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View of the mountain loop road from Thambi view point- the old silk route

We drove back to Gangtok down the loop roads, and through Zuluk village.

This is a good way to see a side of Sikkim that is not usually on the tourist route, through villages, and small towns.

It is possible to customise these trips according to your liking, for example, you could spend a night at a homestay in Zuluk as well.

Overall a customised trip of this sort, staying at homestays, with home cooked food, and great conversations is a great way to travel. If this is something you want for yourself, speak to a travel agent at Gangtok, MG Marg, and customise a comfortable, relaxing trip.

For more information about Nathang village, check out my photo tour!

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