"Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf" ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Yumthang Valley - Last Shangri La

Moin Urazee chose Yumthang Valley as his honeymoon destination and recalls a journey that will remain a dream realised.

The Commander jeep crossed Mangan, the district head quarters of North Sikkim and the biting November wind struck us squarely on our faces. I wrapped my arms around Nahid, my wife of seven days, to protect her from the bitter cold. It was purely survival instinct. Had nothing to do with romance.

Chatterjida, our friend, philosopher and guide on the trip, looked out of the jeep at the awesome scenic beauty that greeted us at every bend on this serpentine road. The other couple, the Modaks from Calcutta, also newly married, sat huddled together on the far side. Like us, survival was uppermost on their minds too!

More About Sikkim
An Overview

Journey to Remember
Footprints in Snow

Freedom From Fear
Classic Dzongri Trek

On crossing Singhik, we got a glorious view of the majestic Mt.Khangchendzonga, the third highest peak in the world. The Teesta river gurgled past us, the water level-low due to the onset of winter. We were still a good 3 hrs away from Lachung, a tiny village near the Indo-China border, and our destination for the night. Tomorrow, we would be visiting Yumthang Valley situated at an altitude of 11,800 ft - our ultimate destination and the reason why we had travelled 2800 odd kms from Mumbai to celebrate our honeymoon in the wilderness.

When our friend Rajinder, partner in 'The Wanderers' suggested we go to North Sikkim to enjoy our honeymoon in the solitude of Yumthang Valley in knee-deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, it was an idea that appealed least to us. Moreover, he promised us, there would be no luxuries in Lachung and Yumthang. For four days there would be no televisions, newspapers, telephones and other modern day necessities. We would be cut off from the rest of the world, watching time pass us by in paradise

Reaching Lachung, we were escorted to Yakshey - a resort 15 kms from Lachung . The well furnished room was made entirely of pine wood. It was cozy and warm with a room heater. The attached bath had a geyser ensuring a steaming hot shower. Tired but happy, we ate dinner and turned in for the night.


After an early breakfast the next morning, we drove down to Yumthang Valley, 24 kms from Lachung through the Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary, that erupts into a riot of colours in April and May. Today on both sides of the road there was knee-deep snow, the thin branches of the trees stooping down, laden with fresh snow. The sky was crystal clear, it was the truest blue I had ever seen. The snow-sheathed mountains rose all around to greet us silently. The jeep turned a bend and Yumthang Valley unfolded in front of our eyes in all its majestic splendour. The huge valley was covered in snow. The mountains on both sides had a thick forest cover, the green of the trees visible beneath the white canopy. Wherever I looked the sheer beauty of nature numbed my senses. For the next two hours , I walked with my wife in the valley in total silence. There was not another soul besides the six of us, who had travelled there together. The snow boots we wore, cast footprints on the untrodden snow and we grew acutely aware that we were tresspassing on virgin land.

Sitting around a campfire in Yakshey Retreat that evening, Chatterjida informed us that Sikkim merged with the Indian Union in 1975. On the left is Nepal, the North and East is China and Tibet. Bhutan is on the South-East and the southern boundary of Sikkim is lined by the dreaded jungles of Dooars in West Bengal. With a population of only 4,21,000 i.e less than the population of Chandni Chowk in New Delhi, most of Sikkim is uninhabited. The entire state is hilly and almost 65-70% is out of bounds for tourists due to defence stipulations.


For four days there would be no televisions, newspapers, telephones and other modern day necessities. We would be cut off from the rest of the world, watching time pass us by in paradise.

The 126 km, 6 1/2 hour drive from Gangtok took us along winding roads with the river Teesta flowing beside us and prayer flags fluttering at intervals. We left behind Kabi Longstck where the treaty of brotherhood between the Lepcha chieftian, Tetong Tek and the Tibetan chief Khye Bumsa was signed. We halted for a while at Phodong Monastery which belongs to the Kargyapa sect (karmapa), and was built by the Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal in the first quarter of the 18th century. After two hours, the beautiful valley of Chungthang unfolded before us. It is at the confluence of the Lachen-Chu and the Lachung-Chu rivers which form the river Teesta. Lachung is only 24 kms from here.

Back in Gangtok at an altitude of 5800 ft we stayed at the retreat, a delightful middle-budget hotel near the Assembly. Chatterjida and his son Babi were once again our gracious hosts and stuffed us with chicken pakodas and other delicacies that the cook churned out at intervals. We had our fill of momos and Thukpas in Gangtok. In the evening around five, we sipped chang (Thomba), a local beer which is made by fermenting millet using yeast.


The next day, we visited Changu Lake, situated 35 kms from Gangtok (2 hours drive), at an altitude of 12,400 ft and only 20 km away from Nathula Pass on the Indo-China border. Lhasa in Tibet, is only 400 km from here. Due to the onset of winters, the lake was partly frozen. The surrounding mountains were completely snow-clad, and breath-taking in their beauty. The drive from Gangtok is through the Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary famous for the blood pleasant ( the state bird of Sikkim)and also the Himalayan Marmot, which has been re-introduced here. One is not allowed to stay at Changu lake.

The sky was crystal clear, it was the truest blue I had ever seen. The snow-sheathed mountains rose all around to greet us silently.
The following day, our last in Sikkim, was spent sight-seeing the local spots of Gangtok. We visited the Research Institute of Tibetology, the Enchey Monastery belonging to the Nyingma Order, the Hanuman Tok, Tashi View Point and the world famous Rumtek monastery, situated 24 kms from Gangtok. It is the largest monastery in Sikkim and is the seat of the `Kagyu Order' and a close replica of the original Kagyu in Tibet.

Back home in Mumbai, I wake up in the middle of the night wondering if my honeymoon was real. Then I took a look across at the photograph on the wall. Nahid and I are standing there in knee-deep snow, grinning from ear to ear, bundled up in thick woolens against the backdrop of snow-laden Yumthang. Yes, I've been there before, I sigh. Thanks to 'The Wanderers'. Perhaps, I'll be there again.


Additional Information

All foreigners need to avail a 15 days permit to enter Sikkim. This should be procured well in advance from any Indian mission abroad or Sikkim Tourism offices in Delhi, Siliguri, Calcutta and Gangtok with requisite documents. For Indians, no such permit is required to visit Sikkim. However, to visit Yumthang Valley in North Sikkim, even Indians require Inner Line Permits (ILP) and all our permits were taken care of by the Calcutta office of `The Wanderers'.

The nearest airport is Bagdogra near Siliguri which is 124 kms or approximately 5 hours drive from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. It has regular Indian Airlines services from Calcutta, Delhi and also the North-East. The two closest railway stations are Siliguri (114 kms) and New Jalpaiguri (125 kms) connecting Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai, Guwahati, Lucknow and other important cities in India. Gangtok is also connected by road with Darjeeling (94 kms), Kalimpong (75 kms), Siliguri (110 km) and Pemayantse (112 km) in west Sikkim. The drives are between 3 1/2 to 6 hrs. each.


Yumthang Valley, at an altitude of 11,800 ft is 24 kms. from Lachung in North Sikkim, very close to the Chinese border. For the more adventurous, Sikkim offers fascinating treks. West Sikkim is trekking country. The world famous Yuksom-Dzongri-Goechala (16,400 ft) trek to the Mt.Khangchendzonga base camp takes about 8-10 days to complete. The Hilley Varshey trek route in the south-western corner of Sikkim is a 2 day trek from Hilley and in the summers, the rhododendrons in the dense forest burst into a riot of colours taking the spellbound trekker by surprise. The Damthang to Tendong trek through the Tendong Forest Sanctuary and the Rabangla to Maenam Bhakdunga Trek, through the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary are both two day treks that are relative easy for the uninitiated novice and are great fun. Nearer Gangtok, there is the famous one day Tashi View Point to Tinjure trek through the Tambong Zho Wildlife Sanctuary. All tourists, including foreigners, are required to obtain regulated permit from the Chief Wildlife Warden or the DFO (Wild Life), Sikkim.

The best way to wind up a trip to Sikkim is to go for a fun-filled white-water rafting trip on the Tista river. It is an unique and exhilarating experience. No prior experience of rafting is required. One can even be a non swimmer. The different trips are - a two trip with a night halt camping by the river, with transport, rafting equipment, food, guides, accommodation in good tents on a twin sharing basis and loads of fun. It is a once in a life time experience.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.