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Road to Gurudongmar Lake – Top 4 places to visit on route to Gurudongmar.

Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim is part of any travel bugs bucket list. The 6 hours long journey from Lachen to the Lake is an experience in itself, moving through snow capped mountains, high passes and beautiful valleys. It also involves some really taste food.

  1. How to Reach:
  2. Where to stay:
  3. When to visit:
  4. Permits:
  5. Our Journey:
  6. Things to do in Thangu.
    1. Have Dosa at the World’s Highest Dosa Point
    2. Barracks and Tanks:
  7. Kala Patthar:
  8. Thangu to Gurudongmar:
  9. World’s highest Cafe:
  10. Gurudongmar Lake:

How to Reach:

Reaching Gurudongmar Lake is not a straight forward tour, but requires couple of hops. First being at Gangtok, which is the capital of Sikkim, the state which hosts the lake, and the second at Lachen, which is a small hamlet on route.

The Nearest Railway station to Gangtok is New Jalpaiguri, which is 60 Kms from Gangtok.

Nearest Airport to Gangtok is Pakyong (20 KM), but owing to unpredictable weather conditions, generally airlines prefer to land at Bagdogra, which is 70 Kms from Gangtok.

The nearest Interstate Bus terminus is at Siliguri, which connects to major cities like Kolkata and Ranchi.

Cabs are readily available from all these places to Gangtok, which typically costs around 5000 for a big car and 3500 for small ones.

Lachen is 100 kms away from Gangtok and is a scenic 8 hours drive. One needs to stay the night in Lachen amd then start off early morning for Gurudongmar Lake.

Where to stay:

The nearest hamlet where accommodation facility is available is Lachen, which is about 59.0 kms from the lake. Lachen is flush with hotels and homestays, but owing to its remote location, its advisable to pre book your stay, and pre book your meals while coming to Lachen.

Typical hotels range from 500 rupees per night to 3000 rupees per night depending upon the facilities offered by the hotel. We had stayed at the Delight Fortuna Lachung, which is one of the better properties and costed us around 5K for two family rooms.

When to visit:

Gurudongmar Lake is open throughout the year, but access to it is at mercy of weather and border situation. Its however advisable to not plan a visit during monsoons or during February, which is when landslides are very common on the route.

Permits:

Being at the vicinity of an International border brings along with it a set of restrictions and regulations.

Indian Nationals need an inner line permit to visit the lake, whereas non Indians are not allowed to visit.

The Inner Line Permit can be obtained by submitting a copy of driving license, passport or voter i-card to the Sikkim Tourism online portal. Your cab driver can also get this done in your behalf. Please note Adhaar and Pan Card are not accepted.

Our Journey:

We left for Gurudongmar Lake from Lachen at around 6 AM in a freezing cold November morning. The sun was out but the temperature around must be near about 2°C to 3°C. Lachen is at 9000 ft above sea level, and our next stop was at 14000 ft at Thangu, where we were supposed to have our breakfast.

The temperature in the night had dipped to below 0, and hence all small streams of water that usually drizzled down the hills, were frozen solid. Black ice had formed on the road at places, which had to be navigated carefully, so as to not skid, go off the road and down the hills. The only semblance of any liquid water was a heavy gusty stream flowing down in the valley. This stream will later in its course become Teesta river.

The hills which had been all green until Lachen, was gradually becoming barren with each passing turn. By the time we reached Thangu, the only predominant color was grey, from all the stones and barren hills. Few speckles of white snow added some color, but all other colours of nature had vanished.

Things to do in Thangu.

Have Dosa at the World’s Highest Dosa Point

There is a checkpost at Thangu, where all permits for moving further north gets verified. Hence it is mandatory for everyone going to Gurudongmar to make a stop here. Making a stop at Thangu and not having Dosa at the World’s Highest Dosa Point seemed almost criminal, and this is exactly why we planned our breakfast stop here. The dosa point is situated right besides the checkpoint making it extremely convenient for tourists like us to find it.

We had our breakfast here, a combination of Dosa and Tea, the fuel for rest of our accent to Gurudongmar Lake. Our complete experience of this Dosa Joint is documented here. To cut the long story short the food is great, the place is beautiful. Great service by the Army folks who serve us at this kind of harsh terrain.

Barracks and Tanks:

Thangu valley has a permanent army base, which is manned by the Madrass regiment and ITBP personnel. They operate round the year in this harsh climate, which is definitely a testament to their dedication towards their job and the nation. The barracks which line the road in Thangu is an imposing sight, that is both fascinating and scary at the same time. Photography of the barracks is strictly prohibited, hence we didn’t click any pictures, but we did grab one of a Tank.

This tank stands at one of the gates to the barrack, it is decommissioned, but we could still imagine how the ground must have shook, when this several tons beast roamed around with its turret extended out.

With this image we concluded our Thangu valley stop and proceeded to our next destination – Kala Patthar.

Kala Patthar:

I have never experienced snow in my life, hence when the opportunity presented itself in the form of Kala Patthar, I simply couldn’t resist. The place is a mountain that remains covered in snow throughout the year, and is a must stop for tourists on their way to Gurudongmar who want to experience some snow.

Kala Patthar however is a detour from the Thangu – Gurudongmar Road, that adds about an hour to the whole tour of Gurudongmar lake. Its also not part of any tour packages sold online or offline, hence R. 3500 needs to be paid extra to visit this place to the driver.

After leaving Thangu Checkpost our cab started an ascent towards the snow clad mountain face that was visible towards the horizon. Roads are mostly in good condition, with minor rough patches here and there. The route kept getting better and scenic with each passing moment.

A mountain started appearing on our left, that looked extremely pretty. It looked as if someone sprinkled snow on top of the mountain, making streaks flow through to the foothills. Nature has its own way of impressing you.

It took a few more minutes for us to reach the parking area of Kala Patthar, ans as we pulled over on the side of the road, a snow covered pathway awaited infront, inviting us to jump right in.

In the excitement of seeing snow for the first time, I leapt out of my seat and dashed towards the snow. A few steps in, I realized walking on snow was not that easy. The sun which had been out for some time, was slowly melting away the top layer of snow, creating a small film of water on top of it. This was making the surface extremely slippery. None of Newtons laws were working here.

My first few steps were jittery, spending too much effort in getting a strong grip, but after a few strides, I got the hang of it. I slowed down, reduced my stride length and made sure I had something or someone to grab onto if I slip at all times.

We spent about 30 mins at Kala Patthar, enjoying the snow, making reels and taking pictures. Lack of time prevented us from scaling the mountain any further, where the depth of the snow was much higher, but the experience we got was worth every penny we spent to visit Kala Patthar. Folks who have experienced snow earlier, can skip this place though.

Thangu to Gurudongmar:

As I bid adieu to the snow, our cab started hurtling down towards Thangu, and then at some point started to ascend again towards Gurudongmar. While moving from one hill to another, we saw a flat valley below. Its the Chopta valley which offers a sight to behold during spring, when the whole place is covered in greenery. Just imagine a green valley with a meandering white water river flowing idly through it. In November however it is not so much of view, as most of the vegetation dies off due to the chilly weather.

Chopta valley in November

The roads from Thangu to Gurudongmar is mostly unpaved, laden with rocks, and dust. There are some sections of paved roads here and there, but mostly its like an off roading experience. The views however are uncomparable.

Making way through the high mountain passes, with the external landscape was turning more and more torrid, with each passing killometer, the drive of about 2 hours brought us to a completely different landscape. The mountains gave way to long barren lands, devoid of any foliage or people. The horizon was got pushed further away with each turn, the arid landscape looking almost alien.

Another hour of so later, our cab stopped at an Army camp, where the permits needed to be checked for the last time before reaching Gurudongmar. Our driver went to do the verification, and we stepped out to stretch our backs, which was aching by now. While stretching our wondering eyes noticed a small cafe which had pictures of Momos and tea on its sign board. It had been more than 3 hours since we have had our breakfast at Thangu. It was definitely time to refuel again.

World’s highest Cafe:

It was already 11:30 AM and it was quite obvious that our lunch is going to be very delayed today, hence we ordered everything that was on offer at the cafe. Momos, Maggi and Tea. Momo was delicious, but the maggi was a bit too spicy. I can imagine people loving it in this kind of winter, but it was not for my taste buds. This however doesn’t takeaway from the fact that I was only thankful to the Army to serve food to us tourists at such an unforgiving place.

We boarded our cab and the final leg of ouor journey started. As we left the camp, I had nothing but respect for the Army men who man this post throughout the year. This place is so remote and the climate is so hard that I cannot even imagine staying here for more than a day.

Upon leaving the camp, we were greeted by paved roads, long barren landscapes and a line of cabs moving in a single file. Random heard of Yaks could be seen grazing in the little bit of mountain grass that’s left on the ground. I was mesmerized by this terrain as it almost felt like the pictures of Ladakh that I have seen on the internet. Sikkim definitely is undervalued in that regard.

About a kilometer later, our cab diverted out of the paved road onto the ground that seemed to climb up ending at a horizon that was about a few hundred meters ahead. There was no road, our cab was literally driving on open ground. The cabs which until now had followed a disciplined drive in a single file, were running all over the place, spewing dust and smoke all around.

Gurudongmar Lake:

It was 12 o clock, which meant we were driving for the last 6 hours, since we left Lachen. No one told visiting the highest fresh water lake in the world would be easy, but the ride was taking a lot of toll on my body. The long drive, the temperature, the altitude and the unforgiving terrain tested me like no other trip ever has.

My spirits was almost at the verge of breaking apart when my cab stopped. As the dust cloud formed by us and other cabs like us settled, there stood the Lake. Its Azure waters almost a sight to the sore eyes, was inviting me into its lap.

The lake deserves a post of its own, and hence I will be stopping here, and directing you to part two of this amazing tour.

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