Sikkim is one of India’s most beguiling holiday destinations and continues to charm travellers with soaring snow-capped mountains and deep valleys. And the northern part is undoubtedly its most scintillating jewel. Here's a guide to the must-visit destinations in North Sikkim.
Perched at an altitude of 8,500 ft, Lachen serves as a gateway to the pristine Gurudongmar Lake. A short walk around the village takes you through traditional wooden houses featuring imposing windows and flower baskets on walls. Relatively untrammeled by tourists, Lachen is not your quintessential hill station with a mall road, pastry shops, and all that jazz. It’s a quaint village where you go and acclimatise yourself before visiting Gurudongmar Lake. You must spend some time drinking in the otherworldly charms of the Nyudrup Choeling monastery. The monastery enjoys a gorgeous location at the top of Lachen and offers panoramic views of the surrounding hills and countryside.
This sacred lake is possibly one of the most majestic places you will ever visit in your lifetime. The aquamarine waters of the lake shimmer under sunshine while the clouds above race with their shadows as you watch the stunning snow-capped mountain peaks in the backdrop. There’s an unreal sense of calm at Gurudongmar with fluttering prayer flags indicating the high-altitude wind.
Perched at an elevation of 17,800ft, it is one of the highest lakes in the world and has been a major tourist magnet for Sikkim. While some attribute the lake’s name to Guru Nanak, who is believed to have visited the place, others claim that it is named after Guru Rinpoche. The lake thus remains a popular pilgrimage site for both Buddhists and Sikhs.
Lachung sits at 8,610 ft amidst sky-touching peaks, gurgling streams and beautiful apple orchards. Nestled on the banks of the Lachung chu (river), the popular hill resort is the only place in Sikkim which continues to follow a unique system of self-governance called the Zumsa. Lachung offers access to some of the most gorgeous spots of North Sikkim, including the surreal Yumthang Valley. The impressive monastery of Lachung is known for its exquisite murals and ancient statues.
Tall mountain peaks covered with pine trees stand proud while a river gently flows right through the valley. Yaks graze in flower-spangled grassy plains while you sit and appreciate nature at its scenic best. Perched at an elevation of 11,800 ft, the enchanting Yumthang Valley, also known as the Valley of Flowers, is truly a sight to behold.
It is blessed with a fascinating blend of flora and fauna. Primulas and rhododendrons paint it in varied hues during the spring season. When done with the touristy stuff, do visit the Yumthang Hot Spring to experience a profound sense of peace and isolation.
Shinghba Rhododendron Sanctuary
Blessed with a landscape that looks more Japanese than Indian, the sanctuary offers amazing views of snow-covered peaks as you drive along myriad rhododendron trees. Surrounded by the Chuba-Sagochen mountain ranges on its east and Chomzomei Tso extending till the Lava Pass on its west, the sanctuary is a paradise for nature lovers. The Yumthang Chu (river) meanders through the sanctuary adding to its charm.
It is famous the world over for being home to over 40 species of rhododendron shrubs and trees. Birding enthusiasts can spot blood pheasants, alpine accentors, rufous bush robins, yellow-bellied fantail, and many other species. If you are lucky, you may even spot a snow leopard or even the red panda!
Fantastic curves and thrilling hairpin bends lead you to Zero Point. Mountains adorned with chimal trees in green, red and yellow hues, and brilliant valley views are a constant companion on your route. The much-flocked spot is the last outpost of civilisation, and thus named so. The region where it lies is known as Yume Samdong.
To keep warm, you must enjoy a bowl of Maggi or a cup of hot coffee. The eateries here also offer pegs of the classic Old Monk. You may also fancy a small detour to the peaceful Yume Samdong Hotspring.