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Thread: Extreme Exclusive Wild, Wild North Sikkim--A Himalaya to Bay of Bengal journey > North Sikkim

  1. #1

    Extreme Exclusive Wild, Wild North Sikkim--A Himalaya to Bay of Bengal journey > North Sikkim

    [Kolkata- Sikkim - Gangtok & Extreme-Exclusive North Sikkim - Mandarmoni sea beach/Tajpur-on-sea]

    Kolkata[20ft]-Gangtok[4715ft]-Lachen[8980ft]-Gurudongmar[18000-17800ft]-Chopta Valley[14000ft]-Lachung[8738ft]-Zekuphyak/Katao[14500ft]-Yumthang/Zero Point[13000ft]-Gangtok[4715ft]-Kolkata[20ft]-Mandarmoni/Tajpur-on-sea[0ft]-Kolkata[20ft].

    All pictures are copyright of respective owners. Pictures by adc. Shot with Canon S3 IS Powershot

    A Himalaya to Bay of Bengal journey - the last part was not planned - my younger brother, wife and their child came to Kolkata from Chennai, getting some holidays due to office break, and with us off to Sikkim, he was bored just sitting in the house, and as we came back the very next day we travelled along with his family for the 1-day sea beach travel.

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    With the Leh tour absolutely ruled out due to lack of funds and everything, the closest that gives that remote Ladakh feel was in N Sikkim itself and still economical, but of course if one gets the elusive rare permits for the private car.

    North Sikkim was always in my mind but things are totally different here. One cannot travel by their own car and the very few those who have, has had connections to avail the permit - bike permits are somewhat easier to avail though still elusive. It was an extreme thin chance for me to get the permits for N Sikkim [Gurudongmar, Chopta Valley, Katao, Yumthang, and Yumesamdong] as private vehicles are not given due to taxi drivers union and their exclusive right to drive. This also applies for travel to Tsongmo Lake and Nathula from Gangtok. But as luck would have it, after standing in front of the Sikkim Police counter for 2 days, by luck Sikkim Police got convinced, that we were more of an adventure seeking people and that I was the sole driver.

    In these 2 days, standing among all the taxi drivers and tour operators at the permit counter, made friends with quite a few, they also used to listen to the my travel stories - in one word, some of the friendliest people in this country are in Sikkim - ever polite and helpful.

    In a matter of around 10 days, the Safari VTT 2.2 travels from Kolkata at 20feet to 17000+feet and then back to 0 feet for a sea beach journey. Will never forget the sinister looking Chopta Valley - that picture is still etched in our minds, a snow hail chasing us and you can literally feel it on the rear view mirror and the dark ice mountains getting blurred fast. It is a cold and absolute desolate place - imagine seeing a waterfall frozen halfway down - it has turned to ice in the middle.

    Safari Dicor 2.2 VTT-TMT - Aint Nothing to Mess With!!!

    In all this 1.5-year, the VTT has seen some fantastic journeys, from the very next day North Bengal Forest and Hill tour, to the unknown interior Orissa jungles [Kuldiha & Satkosia], to the rural badlands and wastelands of Purulia and West Midnapur districts of West Bengal, to the 1-year ownership fantastic travel to Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahaul and going to some places were few tourists venture to, and then the amazing overnight journey across the absolute desolate NH6 towards one of most remote and part Maoist affected forest of Orissa [Sunabeda] and the unbridled joy of finding a hidden waterfall with blue waters and a white sandy beach in the middle of the forest, and lastly till this tour to the Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary in Jharkhand for some 2 days of zero population and absolute tranquility.

    N Sikkim places [[Gurudongmar, Chopta Valley, Katao, Yumthang, and Yumesamdong] range from 14000 feet to 18000 feet. By itself these are energy sapping and test both the people and the machine to it extreme. Each place makes one climb from 8500 feet around to 14000-18000 feet in a matter of 5-6 hours. The vistas - absolutely breathtaking, few tourists - particularly from other states - venture to some of these parts. Whatever I write and how many photos I post, the words and images will never do justice to the landscapes that one encounters. And I wish big time that I had a DSLR rather than the 6 MP S3 IS camera.

    Sikkim, as the rest of the country, had one of the driest winters but then suddenly like the Himalayan region it started having a lot of rain and snowfall for the last 1 month. As a result we travelled through some of the worst weathers, desolate places, and blocked and diversion filled roads. And again through all these the Safari 2.2 rode out these places without a hitch, issue, or whatever - It came brought the three of us[wife, 4-year child, and me] back safely from those fanstastic but dangerous [if you get stuck] lands each and every day. The ground clearance and the factory fitted tough engine guard of the Safari again proves to be a boon in this wilderness.

    A few maps of Sikkim and particularly of N Sikkim were downloaded from the internet. Websites and articles on the net [though few] were consulted. No pre-booking of hotels were done, as we were going during the bad weather season and also just around the ending of the off season time. We just had a rough plan of being where on what day and modify our travel plan as per the situation - with spending 2-3 days in Gangtok to pursue the permit papers - or otherwise the plan was to go towards West Sikkim [Borong, Geyzing, Uttarey, Varsey etc.]

    Again, with a child we were not taking any chances. The Safari was loaded at its back to the roof. Other than 3 bags full of clothes, we had a trunk full of blankets, a gas stove, a 5 kg cylinder, a sack full of utensils and food, and a 20-litre Kinley jar. Safari has a 65-L tank and so did not take any fuel cans - though as we later found a extra diesel was needed as we travelled extra kms in some of the places i.e. beyond what normally what tourists go.

    Lets roll now with the travelogue....


  2. #2
    Day 0, 1, 2: Kolkata to Gangtok and around Gangtok

    Day 0 and Day 1: April 1, around 8:30 pm we left Kolkata and went along the old NH34 road, i.e., going through Barasat, Krishnanagar, Berhampur, and joining up the Panagarh route at Moregram.

    Reached Gangtok around 1030 am. NH34 is smooth like it has been never before but night journey has to be done as it gets crowded big time otherwise during day hours. Extended periods of 100-130 kph is possible between 1 am to 5 am. Stopped in between 2 times, first at Gazole for a late night dhaba dinner and then at the BP pump at Dhalkola - for a total break of around 1.5 hours. Good to Moderate truck and long distance bus traffic is there all through the night on NH34 - of course no one wants to drive during the daytime.

    Reached Gangtok and since no hotel booking was there, as soon as we entered the city we kept on looking for hotels - but where do one park and get down to enquire about hotels? and also Gangtok traffic police is there in full force in each and every intersection and crossroads - one thing I found very good is that they catch hold of even the taxi fellows - they are mighty scared of them and as a result no illegal parking and no useless traffic jams that are seen in hill cities.

    Anyway rambled along the length of city along the NH31A going right in the middle of Gangtok and almost at the other end, found a hotel [Hotel Rajnandini] which looked decent enough with its car parking space free.

    Immediately slotted the VTT into there, on inquiry found it quite reasonable and was looking at such rates itself as I was thinking of spending 2-3 days in Gangtok itself in pursuit of permits. The hotel choice was a very good one as a budget hotel, the staff very courteous and all from the South Bengal side, and them making very good local cuisine each and every meal. This really took the pain out of fooding in Sikkim now as all chicken products [meat and egg] are banned due to the bird flu situation and with nil local poultry out there, the market is devoid any poultry. So one has to eat just noodles or rice or some local sabzi or pay some good amount for some smuggled chicken food. HVKumar on this current tour stayed in this same hotel for 2 days, but again this is just a budget hotel with clean and good rooms and some 4 kms away from the MG road nerve centre.

    So on checking in around 1130, having a nice bath and food, got a good afternoon nap, and in the evening went to the MG Road, the Mall road of Gangtok. Beautifully done and just walking around seeing the shops and doing nothing else to return to the hotel at around 8 and early dinner and
    then managed some work for me till late night. Airtel datacard being the net connection provider. All through the day it is cloudy and raining hard to intermittent.

    Day 2: Rain has continued all through the night and is intermittent and still continuing and mist and fog is all over. And I learn that even for local sightseeing around Gangtok, local taxi must be taken. Anyway with the intention of turning back if blocked we proceed to go to the nearby places like Tashi View Point, Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok.

    Rain & mist

    These points [Ganesh and Hanuman Toks] provide visitors with a stunning vista of the sweeping mountains of the Kanchenjunga Massif, but now with a mist and fog that was impossbile for sure. Also wanted to visit the Himalayan zoo to see the snow leopard and the Red panda. Visited all these sites with no hindrance from the local taxi drivers - in fact they are ever helpful with directions.

    First we came across -

    Tashi View Point, situated 4 km from Gangtok town, was built by Tashi Namgyal, the late King of Sikkim. It offers a breathtaking view of the majestic Mount Khangchendzonga and other peaks of the Himalayas. Visitors have the opportunity to experience
    the changes of color of snow of mountain there. The Phodong and the Labrang monasteries can be seen on the opposite hill. It also has a resting shed and a small cafeteria. The park, situated near the View Point, is a perfect place to enjoy a picnic.
    But as the weather was those days, it was all raining and mist and fog, one can hardly see 40-50 feet beyond. But then we were not complaining - what it means is that the upper altitudes to where we would like to go will be full of snow and ice and that is what made me resolutely puruse for the permits - these Gangtok places can be visited any time of the year. Stopped for some time and then proceeded to Ganesh Tok and the zoo.

    Ganesh Tok is a very small temple located next to the television tower on the hillock on Gangtok–Nathula road. Ganesh Tok is located 7 km from Gangtok. The altitude of this spot would be 6,500 m. This temple is devoted to lord Ganesh.

    At Ganesh Tok parking

    What Khangchendzonga, the TV tower is hardly visible!!!

    Sited contiguous to Ganesh Tok is the Himalayan Zoological Park which is a vast wooded hill converted into a zoo. This is one of the unique zoo's in which wildlife is housed in near natural surroundings. One has to be alert and silent to sight wildlife.

    Himalayan Zoo Entrance and Walk

    Hanuman Tok is situated approximately 5 km rising from White Hall on a bifurcating road of the Gangtok–Nathula highway. And it is 11 km away from Gangtok town. The height of this point is roughly 7,200 ft. From the top of this hillock, once can get wonderful view of Gangtok town and the nearby hills. It is a temple dedicated to lord Hanuman.

    Hanuman Tok and parking


  3. #3
    Himalayan Zoological Park - Snow Leopard, Red Panda & Civet

    Returned back late afternoon, and with torrential rain and me having work from evening and all through the night, was confined to the hotel. From tomorrow is the day when I go all out for the permit for Tsongmo Lake from Sikkim Police.


  4. #4
    Enroute to Tsongmo [Changu Lake] on a worse weather day

    Tsongmo Lake (also called Changu Lake or Tsomgo Lake) is a large lake in the East Sikkim district of the Indian state of Sikkim. Etymologically "Tso" means lake and "Mgo" means head, thus literally meaning "source of the lake" in the Bhutia language. The cerulean lake is about forty kilometres away from the capital Gangtok at an altitude of 3,780 m (12,400 feet). It is oval-shaped, with a length of about one kilometre and has an average depth of fifteen metres. The tarn with its refulgent waters is situated on the Gangtok-Nathula route
    Got up early morning and after some peruasion and Sikkim police absolute cooperation, got the permits for Tsongmo [Changu] Lake. No private vehicle is allowed. Among all the Sumo and Maxx taxis going, Safari VTT-TMT was easily the odd vehicle out, with pvt registration plates and self driven. The joy was beyond description - with the permit and the papers in hand, rushed back to the hotel, had a fast breakfast and off we headed among the all the taxis heading towards the Lake.

    Absolute fog on the way up
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    And suddenly the Army trucks come down hurtling
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    The sky cleared suddenly for a fleeting moment
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    As were proceeding, suddenly heavy rain and snowfall and the taxis were not allowed to proceed till the lake. But again by chance VTT was between a Army big truck with snow chains and all and a Army 4wd Gypsy. Thinking that we are a part of convoy they let us through - may be also a remote chance the pseudo-military Cycus Gray colour also helped!! Reached the lake after much sliding from one edge of the road to the other on the bridgestone HT tyres with a rear tyre having one side worn off - a fantastic and equally exhilirating one hell of a rough and slimy road. Later on in between there was break in bad weather and then again some taxis were allowed and again the weather suddenly turned bad and the flow of taxis were restricted once again.

    Roadblock en route for a sometime due to loose rock slide
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    And then sliding at first on the mud
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    VTT was between a Army big truck with snow chains and all and a Army 4wd Gypsy. Thinking that we are a part of convoy they let us through - Other taxis told to wait till weather clears up.
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    Tsongmo Lake was being travelled in one of the rough day with snow all through. The whole lake area was completely covered with snow and as we spent the day over there, most of hours snowfall and/or rain was there. But again to go through these kind of weather and come through is another unique experience - absolutely missing on a clear day.

    At the permit paper check point
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    Towards Tsongmo
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  5. #5
    At Tsongmo Lake - Part 1 pictures


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