Yumthang Valley & Zero Point
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 Lachung- Yumthang Valley part of the journey.
The journey started early in the morning for me as I packed up & left from my hostel to the taxi stand where we were to gather. After over an hour’s wait, for fellow passengers, and paperwork, we finally set off with 10-20 other Boleros/Scorpios jam packed with people & their belongings.
15 minutes into our journey, the car broke down, and we were stranded on a random mountain road for another hour, until another vehicle came to pick us up. The journey though extremely beautiful, through narrow mountain roads with a sheer drop to the Teesta River below, and many roadside waterfalls, was extremely uncomfortable, as 11 adults were cramped into the vehicle with carry on pieces of luggage. (the big bags are stored on top of the vehicle, and covered with a tarp as rain cover).
But I tried to focus on the scenery outside, and forget about the one butt cheek of mine that had been numb for over an hour now.
We stop at roadside eateries for lunch & snacks, and then finally pass the first major landmark, of the village of Chungthang.
Accommodation in Lachung
We reach Lachung by late evening, and are guided to our rooms, which were less than ordinary, and the bathroom, the worst I have ever stayed in. It did not have a washbasin, so brushing teeth & washing face was in to the Indian style toilet on the floor! But they did have a heater in there, which worked- a huge relief!
Food on the tour
The food was abysmal- watery dal, rice, chicken curry, & some vegetable. The icing on the cake for the night was a bout of food poisoning from the chicken! It was quite the sleepless night, doing unspeakable things in the horrible bathroom! (it is funny now when I look back, but not at all back then, since I wasn’t carrying medication for food poisoning either!)
The next day onwards my meals were just plain rice with hot water & salt ( trying to mimic the Kerala style quick fix to all health problems-kanji).
Early the next morning we headed out for Yumthang Valley & Zero Point . A woman who was feeling quite unwell due to a bout of AMS decided she wouldn’t continue on the journey, so her husband & her left the group to leave for Gangtok, to all of our relief. The rest of the journey thanks to them was a lot more comfortable, though there were still 9 adults in the vehicle.
Rent boots & Coats
We stop at the point right before the commencement of the ascent to Yumthang valley and Zero Point. There are a lot of shops and makeshift restaurants here that serve mainly eggs, bread, and instant noodles. We have breakfast here ( bread & jam), and then rent boots & jackets for Zero Point, which we return on our way back.
Journey to Zero Point
The drive up to Zero Point was nothing short of magical! It was my first time seeing snow capped mountains up close, and I was truly mesmerised. Every turn we took on the road the mountains appeared closer, and I fell more in love with all that I was seeing there.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the route, it was quite the bumpy ride and it was difficult to take pictures, so I thought I’ll enjoy the moment instead and take pictures on our way back down. On the way back down it was too foggy, so the pictures didn’t come out too well.
Zero Point (Yumesamdong)
Zero Point at 15300 ft is a winter wonderland! It was covered in snow and surrounded by mountains swathed in a blanket of snow. Zero Point is the end of civilian motorable road. Zero point is extremely close to the Indo-China border.
For people who wanted to play in snow, it was the best experience .(there were many people playing in the snow.) I am not a big fan of the cold, I could barely keep myself from shivering. There are some vendors selling hot corn, tea, and instant noodles here as well.
Please don't litter!
But please don’t litter here, it is really sad to see the otherwise pristine place being littered with empty paper cups & plates. I picked up a few that I saw along the way, and binned it, but it is a collective responsibility.
Yumthang Valley is beautiful, and during the spring- summer it is covered in flowers of so many colours, that it looks like something out of a painting. I was hoping to see the valley in all its glory, but the winter was harsh that year, and the snowing continued till early May!
It was still beautiful, as there were purple flowers on lush green grass, and yaks grazing on the field. It was a postcard worthy setting.
Beware of yaks!
But be wary of the yaks, some of them are quite aggressive, and can attack you. I was saved only because the rope that the yak was tied down with held him back less than an arms length from me! (and no, I was not near him to photograph him with the flash on, or anything that would irritate him. I was lost in my own world checking pictures out on my camera) I had to photograph him after he tried to attack me though! :p
Click on the picture below to read about this fellow who almost attacked me!
Would I recommend this tour?
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.
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.