It’s true that social media does affect us in some way or the other, and when it comes to traveling, we do get influenced by other people’s experiences and stories. Stumbling upon TheDoiHost on Instagram wasn’t a coincidence! As I kept drooling over their pictures (also because I knew the amazing people behind it), I decided to join them in their North Sikkim exploration, last winter. Gladly, I asked two of my friends who didn’t ask much and instantly agreed to tag along!
Till then we had no idea of what was waiting for us ahead!
Day 1 – Bagdogra To Gangtok!
Our 8 days’ journey began from Bagdogra Airport (West Bengal), where we all met and started for Gangtok. A bunch of strangers became friends in no time as the jeep rolled on the topsy turvy mountain roads. Disha & Sambit narrated the itinerary to us in detail, told us about their previous experiences in the mountains, and what ‘The Doi Host’ actually stands for!
‘Doi’, as explained by them, means ‘traveler’ in Kumaoni and what can be more beautiful than two amazing travelers being your hosts?
It was evening when we reached Gangtok. The temperature had dropped pretty much by then, making us all feel the chills! We were staying at Tagalong Backpacker’s Hostel there, a warmly gorgeous place that has an even more beautiful Traveler’s Cafe with freshly-baked muffins, juicy burgers and live music!
Day 2 – Gangtok To Lachung!
The next morning, we packed our stuff and a box full of Cheese Puffs from Tripti’s (a bakery just next to the hostel, selling the best Cheese puffs!). Our destination for the day was Lachung, but Sambit told us that we’ll be stopping at a couple of places on the way. It was a beautiful sunkissed day, and we were pretty lucky to see Mt. Kanchenjunga on the way – as well as from Tashi Viewpoint – our first stop!
Our next stop was Labrang Monastery in Tumlong. When we reached the monastery, there was immense hustle & bustle with people dressed in their best. A few of them wore traditional clothes with varied masks, ready to perform the Cham Dance! We couldn’t be any happier, as we grabbed our seats and gazed in awe. The rumbles of the drums, the colorful prayer flags swaying with the wind, the picturesque backdrop of the mountains & the monastery, and the storytelling of the dancers took our breath away. Time passed by the wink of an eye as we sat there, enjoying something that wasn’t in the itinerary!
Apart from the stops, the journey itself felt like a treat. We chatted along the way, listening to music and peeping out of the windows every now and then! We had lunch on the way, stopped at a couple of waterfalls, hiked through a forest trail to see the Kabi Longtsok, which is a historic site of significance in Sikkim, where the Lepcha and Bhutia people signed the treaty of ‘Blood Brotherhood’ in the 13th Century.
We stopped at Mangan for lunch. A quaint little town which marks as the entry point of North Sikkim, Mangan has become quite popular among the travelers because of the breathtaking views of the Kanchenjunga range that can be witnessed from here. Happily gorging on momos and chowmin, soaking in the beauty of the place and clicking loads of pictures, we again squeezed in the jeep.
And finally, we reached Lachung in the evening. We were staying on the outskirts, in the quaint town of Bitchu. Dorjee was our host at Lachungpa Homestay – our home for the next 2 days. Leaving our luggage in the cozy little rooms, we stepped out for a walk around Bitchu – and of course, we were all excited to see the Milky Way that night!
[Living amidst the smog of Delhi NCR, it really feels like a treat to be lost in the wilderness and see such things.]
I could feel the adrenaline rush, as we walked on this trail in the darkness (only with our mobile flashlights!), while the freezing wind numbed our senses. Yet, the joy of seeing the stars so clear and close, tickled our soul. Being at an altitude of 9,600 ft above sea level, it felt as if we could touch the sky and the stars! Even though we could feel the chills in our bones, we kept posing until we got those perfect photos!
Coming back to Dorjee’s place, we sat around the fireplace outside the cottage for some time, before having our dinner and curling up in our rooms!
Day 3 – Exploring Lachung and Yumesamdong!
It was a beautiful morning, as we all sat outside, soaking in the sun and looking at the majestic mountains that surrounded us on all sides! We had our breakfast and went for a walk towards the stream, very close to the homestay. Later in the day, we traveled to Yumthang Valley (11,693 ft) which is the home to the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, and it’s more popularly known as ‘The Valley of Flowers’. However, November wasn’t the blooming season and all we saw were the barren patches of the valley, covered with snow, here & there!
We drove further to Yumesamdong (15,300 ft) which is called Zero Point, as there’s no motorable road after this place and the visitors are not permitted to go further beyond this point due to its proximity to the Chinese border. As we sat there, on the banks of the half-frozen Lachung river, the silence of the place gave me goosebumps! The place had something – a charm, you may say – that’s too hard to be described.
And all of a sudden, there was a gush of cold wind and we had to head back to the car. That’s how it is in the mountains. You can never trust the Weather God!
That evening, we helped Dorjee and his mom in preparing dinner! A bunch of novices inside the warm kitchen, we all enjoyed making momos – from kneading the dough to filling each one with the stuffing, and then binged on them to our heart’s content.
Day 4 – Lachung To Lachen!
As Dorjee served us breakfast, for a moment I wondered how his life would be like if he moves to Delhi – and in the next minute, I felt as if I’m jealous of his life in that pretty little house in the lap of the Himalayas, where he can see the Milky Way every night, wake up every single day to see the snowclad peaks and listen to the burbles of the stream.
It was time for us to wrap up and head towards our next destination – Lachen, located at an altitude of 8,838 ft! The route from Lachung to Lachen has innumerable waterfalls and we stopped at one, spotting a gorgeous rainbow. Later, we again took a break at Chungthang, located at the confluence of the Lachen and Lachung rivers. According to the Sikkimese folklores, this place is best known for having been visited and blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, while he was on his way to Tibet.
Reaching our homestay in Lachen, we freshened up and headed out, walking past the old wooden homes built on stone bases and decorated with bright, multi-hued window frames having a Tibetan vibe. The Lachen Gompa was just about 10 minutes walk from our homestay, although when we reached there, it was closed! We sat by the cliff, looking at the valley below. As the sun moved to the west, the temperature dropped and it was time for us to head back home! Steaming bowls of Maggi and mugs full of Thongba (local liquor) was waiting to warm us up – and as Sambit & Disha told us about the next day’s adventures, we were all set and looking forward to the experience the best.
Day 5 – A Journey A Guru Dongmar Lake!
The previous night, I and Deepa discussed whether we were really up to drape a saree or not. For a moment, we thought we shouldn’t take the chance, but then, we came to a point where we agreed that this is probably gonna be a ‘one-time thing’ – and we gotta do what our heart calls for! We put the alarm for 3.30 AM, and as per plans, we put on the layers of thermals before draping the saree! We knew everyone would think that we’ve lost our minds, but we couldn’t be happier! At around 4.15 AM, Disha knocked at the door with tea, and she had a broad smile seeing us.
We started at around 5’O clock from Lachen for Guru Dongmar Lake (17,200 ft) – known to be one of the highest altitude lakes in the world. We stopped on the way at Thangu, for some tea and breakfast. A picturesque town with wooden houses and alpine meadows, Thangu was still fast asleep – while we hurried to travel further north!
Crossing the Chopta Valley, we finally reached Guru Dongmar Lake at around 9 AM. The lack of oxygen could be felt and as we got down of the car, it took us a bit to get adjusted to the temperature. From the parking area, I looked down to see the half-frozen lake, shimmering as the sun rays fell on it. At a distance, Mt.Kangchengyao (6889m) stood with all its glory.
We started walking down, to reach the banks of the lake, gasping for breath every minute.
Disha and Sambit told us the popular myths surrounding the lake. It is said that Guru Padmasambhava visited the frozen lake on his way back from Tibet, and the people of the area appealed for drinking water. The guru agreed to help and placed his hands on a small part of the lake area, which stopped freezing during winter, facilitating drinking water to the people. Since then, the lake has been considered sacred.
Might sound a little unreal, but the story kinda’ seemed convincing as we saw only a part of the lake that wasn’t frozen, while the rest of it was!
Pramit and Disha walked a little higher up from the banks, getting closer to the peaks! The rest of us strolled at our own pace, soaking in the silence. And with each breath, I felt grateful for being there – for having a chance to witness what was there right in front of my eyes – for living that moment, away from the chaos and cacophony of life!
I remembered the words of Jane Wilson-Howarth – “The mountains were so wild and so stark and so very beautiful that I wanted to cry. I breathed in another wonderful moment to keep safe in my heart.”
Day 6 – Lachen to Gangtok!
There was a beautiful school right in front of our homestay, which Deepa has sketched. She showed it to me that morning when I peeped out of the window, and it felt so good to see how beautifully she had poured the colors on that piece of paper. We wrapped up, had breakfast and loaded our luggage in the jeep.
We were at the last leg of the trip, and it was time for us to check out from the Lachen homestay, to head back to Gangtok! Stopping at Chunthang once again on our way, we finally reached Tagalong Hostel at around 4’O clock in the evening.
We were all a bit exhausted, but still enthusiastic enough to explore Gangtok! I had to visit Rachna Bookstores – a place that Sambit & Disha had mentioned a couple of times. It indeed was the best place to pick up souvenirs like postcards and bookmarks, but I did end up buying some books as well. We took a walk around MG Marg as well – the most happening street in this Himalayan capital city!
Day 7 – Exploring Gangtok & Rumtek!
There was nothing fixed in the itinerary for this day, but we all agreed to visit Rumtek Monastery in the morning and later, to have authentic local lunch. One of the most significant and largest monasteries in Sikkim, Rumtek is perched on a hill overlooking Gangtok. Located at a distance of about 23 KM, the monastery houses some of the rarest Buddhist religious artwork in the world in form of wall murals & thankas (scrolls with intricate hand paintings), 1001 miniature golden models of Buddha, etc.
We returned back to MG Marg and binged at a Nepali restaurant, before roaming around the markets to shop! It was our last day and it seemed that we were all trying to make the most of it. That night, we had dinner at the Traveler’s Cafe in Tagalong, with Manisha Di & Bhavana – the lovely women running the hostel.
(If you happen to be in Gangtok, you gotta visit this place for their freshly baked cakes and the delicious chicken burger – not kidding!)
It was kinda’ time say ‘goodbye’ to all, as the next morning we had to leave and our flights were at different times. The week passed by the wink of an eye, and it was beautiful to have met such amazing people on the roads!
Day 8 – Heading Back To Bagdogra!
As all good things come to an end, so did this! On our way back to Bagdogra, Pramit, Deepa & I kept talking about the last couple of days, looking back and cherishing the moments we lived together in North Sikkim.
All thanks to Disha & Sambit – for curating such an amazing itinerary, managing the logistics in some of the remotest parts of the country by collaborating with the locals and taking us closer to the Himalayas! Otherwise, probably we wouldn’t have had the chance to experience the goodness of the local culture, know about the local tales, make momos and drink thongba, and visit the offbeat places.