North Sikkim is known for its raw beauty and breathtaking tundra landscape. It offers mesmerizing views of snow capped mountains, high mountain passes, numerous waterfalls and high altitude lakes. Every year thousands of tourists come to the North to experience the best Sikkim has to offer, despite the chilling cold that persists all round the year.
In order to visit any location in North Sikkim you need to first reach either Lachen or Lachung which are two hamlets in two completely different directions converging at a place called Chungthang. There are some places you can visit from Lachen, and some you can visit from Lachung, which are described below.
- Places to visit from Lachen
- Places to visit near Lachung
- Places to Visit between Gangtok to Lachen/Lachung:
- How to reach:
- Where to Stay
Places to visit from Lachen
Lachen is situated at an altitude of 9000 ft above sea level, which makes it one of the coldest places in Sikkim. The facilities across Lachen are very basic, hence even though there are a lot of staying options there aren’t any restaurants or food joints. The only way you will get food here is if you pre-order your meal wherever you are staying.
Perched atop 17000 ft Gurudongmar Lake is the second highest freshwater lake in the world. It was considered the highest until recently, when another lake Tso Lhamo was discovered 6 KM ahead of Gurudongmar took away that crown.
Though Tso Lhamo is the highest, civilians are not allowed to visit owing to its proximity to the international border. Hence Gurudongmar Lake is still the highest visitable fresh water lake in the world.
Special permits are required to visit Gurudongmar lake, which will be obtained by your driver in advance. The lake’s altitude, makes it a challenge to visit as the oxygen levels are really low and at these heights altitude sickness creeps in pretty quickly.
Its advisable to walk slowly while at the lake so as to not raise your heartbeat, which in turn will reduce your oxygen demand and do not stay beyond 30 mins at the place. Trust me all the precautions and pain feel worth taking as soon as you see the first glimpse of this fairy tale landscape. The azure waters, blue sky with white mountains in the backdrop, its nothing short of a painting.
You can read the full experience of Gurudongmar Lake here
At 15000 ft Kalapatthar is a snowy mountain that remains covered in snow throughout the year. For people who want to enjoy snow and ice, this is the best location for you near Lachen.
Located at a distance of 59 km from Lachen, Kala Patthar is generally not covered by any packages booked from Gangtok, and has to be booked on the spot. What that means is, even if you are on a North Sikkim trip, in order to visit Kala Patthar you need to pay extra to the driver. This extra money compensates the driver for the harsh terrain and also pays for any additional permits needed for this place.
Kala patthar required a moderate walk of about 300 to 500 mtr to reach the snow from the parking. The snow in the initial parts of the hill is not very deep, in order to reach deeper snow, one needs to hike up the mountain. There are no winter sports options like snow scooters or skies here.
World’s Highest Dosa Point in Thangu
Any vehicle travelling to Gurudongmar Lake or Kala Patthar has to make a stop in Thangu check-post, for checking of permits, so why miss the opportunity to eat a sumptuous meal in the World’s Highest Dosa Point, which is right around the corner.
Yes, the breakfast joint is very conveniently located near the check post, however its not a tourist trap. The food is delicious and the prices are nominal, in fact one of the cheapest I have encountered in Sikkim. Do make a stop here and dig into a tastefull Mysore Masala Dosa, or steaming Momo.
Places to visit near Lachung
Also known as the valley of flowers, Yumthang valley is located 50 kms from Lachung. The best time to visit Yumthang is in spring, around March-April, when all the flowering plants bloom. However the valley remains scenic all year around, hence a trip here never disappoints.
A large valley with a mountain stream flowing unabashedly, the scenery never gets better. On top of this the numerous Buddhist prayer flags add to the beauty of the whole area. You can also spot herds of Yaks grazing lazily in the small bits of grass on the hill.
Most people who come to Lachung, visit Zero Point, which like Kala Patthar is a perenial snow capped mountain. Same as Kalapatthar this place is not included in any tour packages bought online or offline, and payment has to be made upfront to the driver for permits and remuneration on the same day.
Given its proximity to the international border, there is heavy army presence in zero point and winter sports of any kind is not there. Just visit enjoy the snow and come back.
Probably the most scenic and the most overlooked location in North Sikkim, Mt Katao, is a mere 6 KM away from the international border, and hence its always unpredictable as to whether a permit will be given.
The permits are issued on the same day, and payment for the same has to be made upfront to the driver, similar to Zero point. If you plan to visit both Zero point and Mt Katao, you will have to stay an extra night in Lachung and start your onward journey the next day.
Places to Visit between Gangtok to Lachen/Lachung:
The route from Gangtok to North Sikkim is riddled with small and large waterfalls, and Bakthang is the first one on that list. A beautiful waterfall surrounded by lush pine forest, this waterfall was once home to a famous zip line. However owing to safety concerns the zipline is currently out of service. Nevertheless the beauty of the gushing water is as attractive as it ever was.
It’s the very first view point one can visits on their way from Gangtok to North Sikkim. Its on the route and generally all drivers opt to make a stop here as the view point provides panoramic view of the valley below, the Teesta river, and the hills all around.
Seven Sisters Waterfall
There is a seven sisters waterfall in Cherapunji, Meghalaya, which is not to be confused with this waterfall in Sikkim. Like any other waterfall, this fall is in its full glory in monsoons, and winter when I was there is definitely not the best time to visit this. The stream was narrow and the water volume extremely low, as most water high up in the mountains had started turning to ice. May be next time I would visit in the spring when the ice starts melting and water volume increases, to appreciate the true beauty of Seven Sisters of Gangtok.
Lugma viewpoint is a wonderful location, which offers an unparalell view of the snow capped Kunchenjunga. The day I went heavy clouds had blocked the view but I could still catch glimpses of the imposing mountain.
There are Momo, tea and maggi shop at this viewpoint. Considering most cabs halt at Rongrong for lunch, this location is perfectly placed for an evening tea among the hills just after a light lunch.
Naga falls is located inside the Mangan district, which is the gateway to North Sikkim. A steel bridge constructed in 2016, is the only connection between both ends of water stream, which is also the only thing connecting the North with rest of the Sikkim.
Bhewma Waterfall (aka Lachung Waterfall)
All North Sikkim tours start and end at Gangtok, which is the capital of Sikkim.
This waterfall is present inside Lachung, so you will get to witness it once you are in Lachung. There are small shops around this fall selling tea, coffee, momos and beer. There is a small bridge here, from which you can experience the waterfall very closely, but they charge Rs. 20 per person for this experience.
How to reach:
The nearest Airport is Pakyong, in Gangtok, but due to unpredictable weather conditions, most flights prefer to operate from Bagdogra Airport, which is 121 Km from Gangtok.
The nearest Railway station is New Jalpaiguri, which is 118 KM from Gangtok.
The nearest Interstate Bus terminus is in Siliguri, which is also 112 KM from Gangtok.
In Gangtok there are many tour operators who operate in North Sikkim, however its advisable to take a Grade A rated tour operator from the list provided in Sikkim Tourism website.
For solo travelers there is an option of shared group tours, which can be availed either from the North Sikkim Taxi stand or from any of the tour operators who have outlets on MG Marg in Gangtok.
Where to Stay
There are huge number of Hotels and BnBs in Gangtok, Lachen and Lachung, so finding a good accomodation is not an issue. However given the remote location of Lachen and Lachung, its a must for everyone to have their accommodation pre booked.
All hotel aggregators provide accommodation options in all these locations. I had used Booking.com during my visit for all accommodations.