Sikkim is a traveller’s dream come true. The towering snow capped Kanchenjunga and the flat lowlands with their diverse flora and fauna leave you overwhelmed. The state has something for everyone: spectacular landscapes, romantic getaways, Buddhist art and medieval architecture. You can drive around, trek, climb mountains and feast on local cuisines along the way.
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For me, waking up to the sound of the La-Chung-Chu flowing below my window was like music to the ears. The sight of the mountain ranges in this mostly unspoilt Himalayan region throws up visions of God choosing this as a place to go for a stroll. It even seemed to bring out a hidden poet in me.
We had to proceed to Yumthang, a beautiful hamlet in Sikkim located 135 km from Gangtok.. Yumthang can be said to be comparable to Switzerland by what we had seen in photographs earlier; it has also caught the fancy of filmmakers who have shot parts of movies here.
After a quick breakfast of momos and baked beans on toast we left the hotel carrying some packed lunch with us as we had been advised by our driver. Our driver too belonged to Lachung and he told us to drink plenty of water and carry chocolates with us to avoid mountain sickness at altitudes of 12,000 ft in Yumthang. The driver being from the local village requested us if we would allow his sisters to come along with us to Yumthang as they ran a small cafeteria there. We obviously had no problems and the girls got into the car with us. The girls were well attired, and even though they were talking in their native language, the use of English words in between reflected the high levels of literacy in Sikkim.
Tourists require an Inner Line Permit to visit this place and that can be easily obtained with the help of a travel agent. It is open to foreigners also now. Our driver told us that Yumthang itself has no population and the few yak herders are nomadic.
The route to Yumthang from Lachung adjoining the Singba Forest Reserve has a very picturesque landscape and is lined with rhododendrons which bloom at their best in May. The rhododendrons of the Yumthang valley come in different colours unlike those in other parts of Sikkim which are usually red.
Yumthang is 24 km from Lachung and it took us about an hour to reach the place. Its beauty and mystical ambience cannot be imagined till you actually see it. Wherever I tread the land gave me the essence of a virgin opening to my touch unspoilt by the vagaries of civilization. As we are about to enter Yumthang we could see to our left the sheer rock face of one of the mountains. The valley is close to the tree line.
The rugged outcrops of polished sheer brown rock face bring to our mind the Dolomites of Italy. The colour of the rocks are a contrast to the rich green trees lining the road. Our excitement grew as we saw snow sprinkled all over the valley for the first time, it being the middle of December. Touching the snow felt heavenly when I got off in the intense cold to take some photographs. As we drove, the tyres made a crunching sound as if eating something; I wish the drive would never end.
Winter was in full swing in the Yumthang valley. Snow covered peaks were reaching out to the skies with snow all over. A river flowing through it was partly frozen on the surface. This seemed the place where one could have a complete communion with God. A perfect place to introspect and try to evolve as a better human.
The paradise spread into the horizon and beyond all around; there were no flowers and the frozen grass under our feet made some raw noises. This place seemed like an ideal oasis to quench the thirst of the avid traveler.
The valley comes alive in April and May. We were told that there were 108 varieties of orchids which bloom in different colors. You also have rhododendrons, chimals, primolas, magnolias and poppies besides another 4,000 varieties of wild flowers, rare trees and shrubs giving the landscape the title of being a ‘Valley of Flowers.’ The snow beds of winter give way to beds of flowers in the summer. I could stay forever, surrounded by this bounty of Nature. All worries of the world seem trivial here, and you realize what true peace is.
With not too many travellers venturing to this valley, the words of Thomas Gray seemed apt here:
“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness in the desert air.”
Our driver pointed to a narrow mountain trail going deep into the forests in the surrounding mountains. These forests are full of mushrooms in the rainy season, and locals collect these by the sacks to be sold in the villages and in Gangtok.
My friends called out to me for a refreshing cup of tea in the warmth of a cafeteria run by two young girls. These girls stay here all by themselves with no fear to serve tourists and supplement their family incomes. The small population of the state finds ample employment with the Government, leading to comfortable economic standards for most people and thus keeping crime rates low. The jails in Sikkim are thus practically empty.
We also spotted a beautiful and romantic looking PWD bungalow on the other side of the valley; if we had known about it earlier, we could have made arrangements to stay there. People here may be living under extreme conditions, with even water in their pipelines freezing the winters, but we felt the sheer beauty of their surroundings more than made up for it.
Our driver also took us to the hot water sulphur springs located a 10 minute walk from the highway on the Ranjit river. The water was surprisingly hot even during peak winter. It is believed these springs offer relief to those suffering from any ailments. This could well have been true.
You cannot leave Yumthang with a desire lurking in your heart – an aching desire to return.
Travel Tip: The only way to get to Lachung and Yumthang from Gangtok is by road.
This piece including photographs were contributed by Aditi S to Kunzum. A special thanks for this. Cannot wait to go to Sikkim.