Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Excursion from Gangtok


In the morning, I woke up to the majestic view of the Himalayas. The sun was out and it was a perfect day for excursion to Nathula Pass, Baba Mandir, Tsongmo Lake and Tukla Valley.

Tsongmo Lake
Tsongmo Lake
We had already booked a taxi for our excursion today through the hotel itself. For a visit to Nathula Pass one need to have a permit. The permit is easy to obtain. You need to provide two passport size photograph and one valid ID card (Voter ID or Passport. Pan Card and Aadhaar Card are not acceptable). Leave the hassle of taking the permit to the taxi operator.

We had our breakfast on the terrace restaurant of the hotel, soaking in the sun and the captivating view of the Himalayas. I was ready and looking forward to a day of exploring.

Google Map from Gangtok to Nathula Pass
Gantok - Tsongmo Lake - Nathula Pass - Baba Mandir
The hotel had arranged for a taxi (Sumo for Rs 5000) for our excursion. We started from our hotel just after 8:00 am. After picking our permits we were on our way to Nathula Pass which is 56 Kms from Gangtok. Since I had already researched a lot, I asked the driver about Tukla Valley, Memencho Lake, Jelepa Pass.

Road to Nathula Pass
The Winding Roads
The roads are mostly bad and there is lot of construction work going on. On top of that there are landslides and fallen boulders. The road are in shambles and are very narrow. It is a very slow journey. At some places the roads are very narrow. It is a class act to see how two trucks or jeeps that come face to face maneuver each other. The Border Road Organisation (BRO) is doing an amazing work of making the roads and we could see lovely stretches of road in some areas.

Road to Nathula Pass
The "Good" Road

Rough terrain to Nathula Pass
The "Bad" Road
Muddy Road to Nathula Pass
And the "Ugly" Road
On our way we gave a lift to an army jawan – Mr. Ansaari who is from Varanasi. He was carrying a gas cylinder uphill. The same was required to make the white lining on the sides of the road. He told us that he has been stationed here for 3 years out of which he has already finished 2 years. He also said that Indian Army allows the jawans to go home after every three months.

Jawan at Nathula Pass
Jawan waiting....
We first headed to Tukla Valley. Had to pay Rs 1,200 extra to the driver to visit Tukla Valley as it is not a part of the package. While heading to the Valley we crossed Tsomgo Lake but the driver said that we will halt here on our way back.

Tukla Valley
Tukla Valley
You get the best view of the Himalayan Range at Tukla Valley. The view from this point was mesmerizing. We could see the entire range of mountain covered in deep sheet of snow… fully white.. we were speechless.

Tukla Valley
View from Tukla Valley
It was very cold and windy. So make sure you have your warm clothes on and a good set of cap and gloves. 

While heading to Tukla Valley we crossed Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir – A memorial to the soldier Harbhajan Singh. This is the temple which has been made for the tourist as it is easily accessible. The original Mandir is post Tukla Valley. Our driver took us to the original temple. The temple is very small perched on top of a hill. You need to climb few steps to reach the temple. Be careful as the oxygen level is low. Take the steps slowly. Inside the temple there is a small room where a bed etc is placed. Inside the room there is another room which is the temple. There is a specific arti also for this temple.

Baba Mandir
Baba Harbhajan Mandir

Baba Mandir Steps
Steps to Baba Mandir
Walk down the steps and on your left you will be given a prasaad of delicious halwa.

Baba Mandir
Flags hovering a midst clouds at Baba Mandir
Post Harbhajan Singh Temple we headed to Nathula Pass. We again crossed the newly constructed Baba Harbhajan Mandir which we gave a miss. One of the boards on the way back read "Caution! You are under Chinese Observation!". The road is picturesque and inspiring.

Army Jawans
Jawans working hard to build the road
We saw many beautiful lakes on the way. We got a glimpse of Memencho Lake and Biton Cho which is also known as Elephant Lake.
Elephant Lake
Elephant Lake

Momencho Lake
Momencho Lake
We then headed to Nathula Pass which is located at an altitude of 14,500 ft above sea level. Gangtok is around 5,000 ft above sea level. So in just 50 kms we have climbed 9,500 ft approx.

Nathula Pass is opened till 1:00 pm and is closed on Monday and Tuesday. We reached the place at 1:00 pm and had to coax a jawan a little in order to let us see the pass with the promise that we won’t take long. To reach to the top of the pass you need to climb few steps which can be very exhausting because of the low oxygen level. It was very windy here and it is absolutely must to cover your ear in order to avoid severe headache. The cold winds here were numbing.

Nathula Pass
Nathula Pass
It was a different feeling to see the border and see our National Flag flying in the wind. I also felt a deep sense of gratitude towards our Army and Soldiers who endure the tough weather and terrain of Sikkim every day to keep us safe.

We were not allowed to take pictures here. There is a cafĂ© where you can enjoy a hot cup of tea and coffee.  We again gave lift to three jawans who were headed to the check point where the inner line permits are checked. We were more than obliged to give them a lift.

After dropping the three jawans we again give a lift to a Sardar jawan who wanted a lift for few kms. Post that, we headed to Tsomgo Lake. We had earlier crossed this lake while heading uphill. This lake is at an altitude of 10,500 ft above sea level. The lake is quite scenic with lots of colourful player flags enhancing the beauty of the lake. Enjoy the beauty of the serene lake on the backdrop of mountains. You can take a ride on one of the many beautifully decorated yaks. Get yourself clicked wearing the traditional Sikkimese clothes. It will add to your collection of memories from Sikkim.

Tsongmo Lake
Tsongmo Lake
The weather throughout was good. Post the lake we headed downhill and stopped for lunch. It was very cold by now and we savored a hot cup of tea, a plate of magi, boiled eggs and omelette. 

On our way to Gangtok we had to park our car on the side of the road many times as there were big military trucks with big machinery and ancillary making their way up. We were back in our hotel by 6:00 pm.

Teesta River
Teesta River
In the evening we went to the famous upscale M.G. Road of Gangtok. It is a 15 mins walk from our hotel and is opened till 9:00 pm. It is lined with shops, branded showrooms, restaurants and clubs playing live music. A portion of the road is pedestrian only and this portion of road is cobble stoned with fountains in the middle and number of green painted benches to sit and relax. It is a nice place to spend the evening.

M.G. Road in Gangtok
M.G. Road

M.G. Road in Gangtok
M.G. Road in Gangtok
It is a perfect place to buy warm clothes and souvenirs like prayer wheels, lucky coin, statue of a monk, wind chimes etc. You can buy warm clothes at very economical rate here. The souvenirs are also reasonably priced. Just after M.G. Road, is Lal Bazaar which is said to be more economical as compared to M.G. Road. You can try it.

After a brief shopping spree and a fulfilling dinner, we went back to the hotel. The night was spent relaxing and sleep came quiet easily. 

Points to remember:

1. As the sun sets early in this part of the world, start your day early.
2. In order to see Nathula Pass you need to be an Indian Citizen and should obtain permit for the same. Ask your travel agent to arrange for the required permit. Also remember that Nathula Pass is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Also, it is opened till 1:00 pm only, so visit this first before Baba Mandir, Tsongmo Lake, Tukla Valley or any other point. 
Carry two passport size photographs and copy and original photo ID proof. (Voter ID or Passport)
3. Only SUVs are allowed for excursion to Nathula Pass, Baba Mandir and Tsongmo Lake.
4. Book an Innova or a Xylo for a comfortable travel. As the roads are bad travel in Sumo or Maxx can be cumbersome.
5. Although the distance between places is not far because of the rough terrain it takes a considerable time to go from one place to another. So plan accordingly.
6. To visit Tukla Valley you have to pay extra to the driver. I recommend a visit to this valley. The view from here is worth every penny.
7. You require one full day to see Nathula Pass, Baba Mandir, Tsongmo Lake and Tukla Valley. There are people who might suggest you to finish these points in half a day. It is recommended to take an entire day for these points and do justice to them and your health.
8. Please carry warm clothes including sweater, jacket, cap, mufflers, socks and gloves. Wear shoes and not sandals or chappals.
9. Be easy on steps and while walking. Avoid brisk walk or running at high altitudes as the oxygen level is low.
10. If you are feeling mountain sickness have chocolate of popcorn. It helps.
11. Sikkim is plastic free zone. Please don’t litter and maintain the beauty of nature.
12. Expense of the day:

For 4 ppl
Per Person
Breakfast in the hotel
Taxi for Excursion to Nathula Pass, Baba Mandir, Tsongmo Lake & Tukla Valley
Dinner at M.G. Road
One night stay at the Hotel

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