A trip to Zero Point in Sikkim is usually clubbed with the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary and the majestic Yumthang Valley. To visit all these places, you will have to be stationed at Lachung. When you leave from Lachung, you will first cross the Shinghba Rhododendron Sanctuary, then Yumthang and the last stop would be the Zero Point. It’s best that you travel to Zero Point first and explore Yumthang Valley during your return journey. Reaching Zero Point, the last outpost of civilisation, is an adventure in itself.
The route is embraced by soaring snow-capped peaks adorned with chimal trees in green, red and yellow hues. Carpets of red moss beautifully decorate the roadside as you drive up towards the scintillating Zero Point.
The way to Zero Point offers brilliant valley views and is lined with myriad trees. Gorgeous yellow coloured snakebark maple trees follow you all along as you drive through the fantastic curves and deadly hair pin bends.
READ: Sikkim: To Zero Point and Back
Then there’s the prunus cornuta or Himalayan bird cherry, abies densa or Sikkim fir, populus ciliata or Himalayan poplar, pleione praecox or peacock orchids and trees of the acer family, to name a few.
On your way to Zero Point, stop at the Daring La Café near the Shiv Mandir Check Post for a quick breakfast. The café is run and managed by the army. Just a few kilometers above this café, you can stop at the Yumthang Valley View Point to witness the unparalleled beauty that North Sikkim continues to offer visitors, in glorious abundance. Snow-capped mountains being kissed by floating clouds and helicopters hovering over the picturesque landscape will increase your excitement to reach Zero. You will also encounter a large number of yaks grazing in pristine grasslands on your way. As you approach Zero Point, you may start feeling a bit nauseated but the floating clouds by your car window will change your mood as they wish you a happy and safe journey.
And finally, you will be at the Zero Point. Be warned - at certain times of the year, it's bustling with tourists.
On the left of the Zero Point stands the souring Dongkila Peak, while to its left is the Khargula Peak. The parking stand has a number of small eateries and it is advisable to sip hot coffee or tea or a bowl of Maggi to maintain warmth in your body. You can even have a peg of the classic Old Monk for Rs 70 while a cup of coffee would cost you Rs20. You can also munch on some popcorns and chocolates to avoid any kind of high-altitude sickness (check how to deal with it in the information given below).
If you have forgotten to bring woollen clothing with you or have left your caps or mufflers at your hotel room, you can still buy them from the small eateries at the parking area.
READ: The Best Treks in Sikkim - Part I
The natural magnificence and chilly winds at Zero would leave you smitten by the sheer majesty of North Sikkim. Located at an altitude of 15000ft, the place where Zero Point lies is known as Yume Samdong and it would take you around 1.5 hours to reach here from Yumthang, which is at a distance of 23km. The place is called Zero Point because this is where civilian road ends and civilians are not allowed to go beyond this point. The international border of China lies at a shouting distance from here. The area remains covered with thick snow most times of the season, which is why tourists flock to it in droves. It is considered to be one of the best places in Sikkim to enjoy snow.
Be careful while crossing the little wooden bridge over the crystal-clear waters of the river and don’t go too far from the parking area.
A challenging drive leads you to the hot spring set amidst a picturesque landscape. The hot spring is located at the base of the Donkia-la Pass. The drive to the hot spring is as scintillating as the place itself. The drive through the serpentine mountainous roads amidst the souring naked peaks is a thrilling experience. After a bumpy ride to the hot spring, the moment you step into the hot waters, it will wipe out all your fatigue. It also helps in reducing body pain. Locals believe that the hot spring has greater medicinal properties during the months of July to September.
Read: Lachung: Of Misty Mornings and Towering Peaks
Locals also worship the place before entering the hot spring. It has always been kept as a secret. Till two years ago, vehicles were unable to reach here and one had to walk 3 to 4km which would usually take 1 to 1.5 hours, given the high altitude and the slow pace required to ascend. Now, the army has managed to create a narrow but rugged route for vehicles which has made things easier for tourists. Sitting under the lap of mammoth snow-capped peaks, the hot spring comprises of three to four ponds in open, which can be used by men. For women, a small hut has been made. Prayer flags flying swiftly add to the beauty of the landscape.
People have used small stones in odd numbers (3 stones or 7 stones) to create little chodins and tied khada on them to make a wish. They have to come back if their wish comes true. This would take naked mountain peaks with your friends. Remember, it is a high-altitude region and you don’t want to invite trouble by stressing yourself out too much, so, trek in moderation.
Regardless of that, no matter how challenging or tiring the route to Zero Point may be, but the absolute brilliant landscape definitely makes it worth the run.
Acute Mountain Sickness
Acute Mountain Sickness happens as a result of reduced oxygen content in the blood, owing to low atmospheric pressure at high-altitude areas. The development of symptoms of AMS
depend on the rate of ascent, elevation reached, and individual susceptibility. The sickness can be of the mild (benign) or severe (malignant) type. Symptoms are usually observed after 12 to 24 hours of arrival and their severity decreases by the third day.
During your stay in the upper reaches of North Sikkim, including Lachen and Lachung, you may feel a bit dizzy and lethargic at times or experience a mild or severe headache.
You need not worry as these are mild symptoms of AMS and are quite natural. As a result of being at high altitude, you may struggle to sleep or could even have a loss of appetite. If you are facing severe symptoms, take proper rest and stay at the same altitude till normalcy. Paracetamol and Combiflam mixed together in a litre of water can be taken during headaches, while Stemil (5mg) is helpful if you are feeling nauseated.
Some severe symptoms include breathlessness, double vision, severe headaches and dry cough that may lead to the production of a pink frothy substance. In such a scenario, immediately descent to a lower altitude and consult a doctor if normalcy is not attained. Carrying an oxygen spray is also helpful. Those having cardiac and respiratory issues, must avoid visiting places like Gurudongmar Lake (17,800ft) and Zero Point (15,000ft).
Tips to Prevent AMS
1. Take at least 4-5 litres of fluids throughout the day and this can be started 48 hours before you travel to altitudes above 10,000ft.
2. Your diet should be carbohydrate rich and not high on proteins. Avoid heavy meals.
3. Your night halt should be at an altitude lower than the peak achieved during the day.
4. Avoid alcohol as it will dehydrate you and avoid smoking as it impairs your breathing in the rarefied air.
5. Your regular exercise routine can be given a break till acclimatisation is complete and you feel absolutely fine.