By Team EarPeace
I spent the month of April in the region of Sikkim Himalayas completing the gruelling schedule of another mountaineering course. It included 28 days of living and training in the Himalayas, learning various climbing techniques, trekking with heavy loads and finally climbing an 18,000 feet peak. After completing the course successfully, I decided to travel and explore the northern part of Sikkim, and what better way to explore a place than on a motorcycle. The only exception being that I needed to rent a motorcycle this time, as my faithful Eskimo was resting back home as I had chosen to fly into this part of the country rather than riding in the heat for ~1,500 kms.
Upon reaching Gangtok, the capital city of the state of Sikkim, I got to know that the owner of my hostel was an off-roading enthusiast himself, who ran a motorcycle rental service so my ride for the trip was sorted. They had a fleet of Royal Enfield Himalayans ready and I booked one for my 3-day trip up north. On Day 1, I headed out from Gangtok towards Lachen, a quaint village which also serves as a gateway to Gurudongmar Lake, one of the world’s highest lakes at an altitude of 17,000 feet. The lake was the highlight of this ride, as it is one of the most beautiful, pristine lakes in India and sits in close proximity to the Tibetan and Chinese border in the north. It is considered sacred by Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus. I reached Lachen after nightfall, as it had been raining all day and I had to take multiple stops en route due to the rain. Lachen took me by surprise though, I was expecting a tiny village in the middle of nowhere but the tourism boom over the past couple of years had transformed this village completely. Hundreds of tourists thronged the village which was home to huge hotels and taxis everywhere, an unappealing site for someone expecting a peaceful stay.
The next morning I left for Gurudongmar Lake, and was greeted by my favourite view of broken roads and massive snow capped mountains on either side. The elevation gain of the journey is a steep 8,000 feet in about 5 hours, where we start from Lachen (9,000 feet) to Gurudongmar which is at 17,000 feet. A lot of tourists suffer from mountain sickness due to the lack of oxygen and their bodies not acclimating to the altitude. Since I had spent the past month in the mountains itself my body was well acclimated to the altitude of the region and I didn’t face any difficulties physically. I reached the lake by noon and was greeted by this magnificent view of the blue lake, frozen in some parts while glistening in the sun dramatically. The local legend says that the lake never freezes completely even if the temperature falls to -20 degree celsius. The legend talks about a Guru, who on his way from Tibet was moved by the prayers of the locals who pleaded for a solution to their perennial problem of water, and had touched a part of the lake that never freezes and is also considered sacred. Looking up at the sky, I got to witness a rare sun halo which is an optical phenomenon forming a rainbow coloured ring around the sun. I stood for a while, soaking in the beautiful views of the lake and the sky, and then climbed down to walk along the shore of the lake. It took me 2 hours to complete the ~5km walk along the perimeter, but the views offered from the different sides of the lake made it worth the effort. I even climbed a tiny hill on the opposite side of the lake to get an aerial view and it turned out to be my best picture of the lake (see below).
After spending a few hours at the lake, I headed back down towards Lachen, passing it by the evening and headed towards Lachung to spend the night there. The thing about travelling in Sikkim is the lack of food options, the most commonly available options are momos (a steamed dumpling filled with meat or vegetables) and instant noodles. There is no dearth of alcohol though, and one can find a variety of local and imported alcohol in even the tiniest of shops. Upon reaching Lachung, I had a few local beers and danced the night away with the host which was a charming young lady. The Sikkimese people are quite friendly and welcoming towards tourists, and I had a great time interacting with the locals throughout my trip. Lachung turned out to be quite pretty and quaint in contrast to Lachen, and one can easily spend a week in peace at this village. The next morning I started riding towards Yumthang Valley and the Zero point - the final civilian destination before China's border offering scenic mountain views from 15,300 feet. The Zero point was a slight letdown as it didn’t have much to offer apart from a bit of snow but a lot of tourists. I did happen to discover a hot spring at Zero point though, which is not frequented by tourists as it’s still a well kept secret, and spent a good hour in the pool of hot water which was easily the highlight of this ride. The hot water pool was perfect for my tired muscles which were screaming for rest and recovery ever since I got down from the mountains and the hot spring was the perfect cure. As I rode back from the hot spring towards Lachung, I stopped at the Yumthang Valley (or the Sikkim Valley of Flowers) to explore the grassy meadows fed by the Lachung river, with yaks grazing around. My time here was cut short by a fresh snowfall though, and I headed back towards Lachung for one last round of momos and beer, and then carried on towards Gangtok to end my three day ride exploring the north of Sikkim - home to alpine lakes on one side and grassy, rolling meadows on the other.