A Solo Ride
BY: Jitender Bhatia
My trip started with a dire need to get out of the house. I had been really busy with work for nearly 3 months , as I had spent a month attending several friends weddings and had to make up for it. In February 2017, I finally managed to get a good control over my work, and set out with minimum preparation, just me, my Karizma R, laptop and some clothes. I did not care where I had to go, I just needed to get out. I had not been trapped indoors for so long since I was kid living with my parents.
I live in Siliguri now and wanted to visit Northern Sikkim. I opened Google Maps, zoomed out and Lachung seemed like the place to go. I had booked a room with “Zero to One stay” at Gangtok. This was the only online booking at the start of the trip. I needed to visit Gangtok to get a permit for my bike to visit North Sikkim. I met Mr. Lakpa, owner of the hotel, and he guided me about places I should see. He suggested to start with Lachen and Gurudongmar lake. This was the first time I heard this name. He guided me about how and where to apply for the bike permit.
To get a bike permit you need 2 copies of following valid documents :
Zero to One stay – Chandmari, Gangtok
I took 2 sets of these documents and headed to Manan Bhawan. Office opens at 10 AM. You need to take a visitor permit from reception to enter the office. Reception will tell you who and where to go. The official will give you a form to fill out your details. You have to mention all the places you plan to visit and duration of your stay. You have to submit the form with your documents. I gave duration as 2 weeks, and everyone who saw my form (and later on permit) was curious as to why I applied for 2 weeks. Usually people only apply for 2-3 days. In my case even 2 weeks was not enough. You can collect your bike permit(s) around 3 pm that same day. If you have selected multiple locations, they will give multiple permits. You cannot use permit on same day. Permit is valid from next day.
While waiting for permit in Gangtok, I visited Hanuman Tok and Tashi View Point that day. Some other places that you can visit ( I have already visited before) Handicrafts Musuem, Jhakri water falls, MG road. There are more than 12 sightseeing places in Gangtok. You could select the places as per your interest.
Once you have your bike’s permit, you need a permit for yourself. While I was heading to Lachen, I got my permit made at Mangan DCP office. For this permit, you have to fill out a second form available at DCP office cafeteria. Take 2 copies of this form and attach following valid documents:
You have to get the completed form signed and stamped at DCP office. They will keep one copy and give you one copy. This process can take around an hour.
Once I got my permit, I headed on to Lachen. The route I followed was : Gangtok – Mangan – Chungthang – Lachen. You should fill up your fuel tank in Mangan. I did not see any fuel stations after Mangan. Keep in mind that on hill roads your fuel meter is not accurate.
Route to Chungthang
There are 2 routes from Gangtok to Mangan one is from JN road and another from main national highway. Both routes are very beautiful, but I preferred JN road. The mountains, greenery, fresh air, it is all very beautiful, But that is common in entire Sikkim. I loved those long winding roads, where there is no other person in sight for as far as you can see.
The route between Mangan to Chungthang was quite bad when I visited. Mostly broken roads. At Chungthang you will reach checkpost where you have to show your permit. They will stamp it and return it to you. From Chungthang, there are two roads, one leads you to Lachen and another to Lachung. I headed to Lachen. Road between Chungthang and Lachen was good. The view extraordinary. The peace and quietness just splendid. I reached Lachen around 7 PM. It was already dark. I found a nice home stay at the entry of Lachen called “Lashar Valley Lodge”. It is run by Mrs. Tshering, a very nice lady. She is an amazing cook. One day she made Yak meat, it was delicious. I spent the next day enjoying the peacefulness in Lachen. Walked around the small town, met some local kids who showed me around.
After Lachen I headed on to Thangu.
Thangu is a remote village without electricity, at an altitude of 14000 ft above msl. When I reached, it was deserted. I crossed the entire village and could not see any house or hotel. I turned back to one open shop. The shop was owned by a lady known as TT. She lived and ran a small provisions shop in Thangu. She had a small room downstairs without a lock and latch and offered that for my stay. I spent 4 days here.
It was surprising to see that they had excellent Airtel 3G network but no electricity. The army camp had solar panel and would give them electricity for 1 hour daily. The locals would use it charge the inverter and watch TV. I found this funny as people still live with this system in contrast to what we get in plenty in our metro life. I realized how well I had been taking these facilities for granted.
The day I reached Thangu, weather was clear. There I saw snow for first time in my life. Small patches of snow here and there. I was happy to see it and touch it. I spent the first day sitting at a small stream admiring the peace and
The small stream in Thangu
beauty. This small stream, I later on came to know is a tributary of River Teesta
Later as I returned to the shop, found that the Army guys were customers to the shop. Met many army guys there during my stay and had many interesting and funny conversations with them. Later had dinner with TT, her daughter and one of her relatives.
Next day I attempted going to Gurudongmar lake. The route is quite bad and dusty. After the tedious route I reached the army checkpoint and was disappointed to hear that the route was closed due to snowfall. On my way back stopped at one place to have lunch. I sat on a rock between snow and had lunch TT had made for me.
Between Thangu and Gurudongmar – Perfect place for lunch
On the third day one of the frequent taxi drivers said the route to the lake had opened. So I tried again, I reached army checkpoint around 1 PM, reached the lake around 1.30 PM.
Tip for everyone: One should go early morning – Leave from Lachen by 4 AM.
Army guys told me to get back by 2 pm at the check post, so I did not have much time, I went down to the lake but could not do the full circle due to time restrictions. I spent a few minutes admiring the beauty, it was breathtaking. I was the only Human Being in a 15 Kilometer radius. The lake was frozen.
After some time I decided to head back. It was around 30 KM to check post. I was driving back when the storm started. In the middle of nowhere, no one nearby, strong chilling breeze, that freezes your blood, and mist that you cannot see through. I continued slow and steady and luckily made it to the checkpost without safe and sound. After that I headed back to Thangu, it started to snow that day. Army guys and TT suggested I should head to Lachen, but I did not want to drive in snow, which was just a light sheet of snow. (I regret having not listened their advise) The next day there was a thick layer of snow over Thangu and snow was still falling.
That day going anywhere was impossible.
Gurudongmar Lake – February 2017
On the fifth day after sun started shining a little and one army truck came up, I decided to risk driving in snow (should have done it on third day).The road was very slippery because of snow. I drove slowly, slipped a couple of times but luckily without any incident.
Thangu after it snowed
During my drive it started to snow. I drove around 20 kms through snow with snow falling, When the snow fall stopped it was raining. Around another 20kms through rain and I reached Lachen. I went to the same home stay. Mrs. Tshering was surprised that I spent 4 days in Thangu. I spent that night in Lachen. I had planned to go to Lachung but heard that the snow and rain had affected the route to Lachung and so decided not to risk the trip. At this point I was out of clean clothes, so headed back to Siliguri. I had to surrender my permit at Chungthang checkpoint.
If I wanted to go to Changu , East Sikkim I would have to apply for another permit for myself and I already had a bike permit for Changu. You can do this at 3rd Mile, Gangtok .
Its funny the one place I set out to go is the place I did not go. Thanks to Mr. Lakpa I got to see Gurudongmar lake, it is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have seen with the most dangerous route I have ever driven on. Its an experience I will always cherish.
7 June 2017
The road leading to Gurudongmar Lake
My Snow Clad “Karizma” in Thangu