Places of Interest in
The Sikkimese often contend that North Sikkim is as beautiful as Switzerland . You may hear it or see it repeatedly mentioned in brochures and guide books. Why? Several decades earlier, a European guest of our late king had passed a remark to that order, and now the legend lives. True to this erstwhile visitor's remark, many after him have also reiterated the fact that North Sikkim is indeed truly beautiful.
The journey to the North follows the North Sikkim Highway , an adventurous drive through high hills and deep river valleys that ultimately ends up in the foothills of the Himalayas where gentle meadows overlook snow-clad rocky mountains. The ever-changing views along the way include rustic wayside hamlets surrounded by terraced fields, monasteries, torrential mountain streams with lush green forests everywhere.
Situated 17 kilometres from Gangtok along the North Sikkim Highway , this is the historical spot where blood brotherhood was solemnized between the Bhutia chieftain Khey Bum Sa and the Lepcha priest king Thekong Tek in the days of yore. Beneath a canopy of a dense virgin forest is a memorial stone pillar that marks the spot.
Situated 27 kilometres along the North Sikkim Highway is the Phensong Monastery. It was built in 1840 by Lama Jigme Pawo, and is regarded second only to the Pemayangtse Monastery for the Nyingmapa sect. It holds its annual chham on the 28th and 29th day of the 10th month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar.
One of the six premier monasteries of Sikkim, Phodong Gompa is situated 38 kilometres from Gangtok. This monastery belongs to the Karma Kagyu sect and was built by Chogyal Gyurmed Namgyal in 1740. This monastery is well known for its annual Kagyed Dance, a harvest thanksgiving festival held at the onset of winter - sometime between November and January.
Just four kilometres from Phodong is the Labrang Gompa, a monastery unique among all others in Sikkim for its unique architectural design.
A small hamlet some 70 kilometres along the North Sikkim Highway from Gangtok, Singhik perhaps offers the most magnificent view of the Khangchendzonga range. More than anything else, it is the viewing angle from this position that enhances the beauty of of Sikkim 's guardian deity. A lodge has been built by the state's tourism department where visitor's can spend the night to view an early morning sunrise over the mountain range.
Chungthang, a small town on the confluence of the Lachung Chu and Lachen Chu from where the Teesta River begins marks the end of the North Sikkim Highway at around 95 kilometres from Gangtok. From here the highway splits in two, right towards Lachung, and left, to Lachen; both places renown for their scenic beauty. A huge piece of rock over here is said to hold the footprints of Guru Rinpoche, and on that sacred spot, a shrine has been built.
An idyllic mountain village set amidst apple orchards and lofty peaks on both sides, Lachung at an altitude of 2,500 meters above sea level permeates an ethereal alpine glow. Peopled by a hardy stock of Bhutia who pride in calling themselves Lachungpa, this is a unique settlement having its very own self-governing body called the zumsa where all local disputes are settled by consensus.
Set at an elevation of 3575 meters above sea level, the Yumthang Valley is Sikkim's undisputed natural paradise that is easily accessible via road. (There are of course many more areas in Sikkim that surpass Yumthang's scenic grandeur, but these remain off the beaten track.) In the summertime the attractive scenery of this area reaches its zenith when an immense variety of alpine flora of cascade the meadows, hills and the valleys.
Set at an altitude of 2750 meters, slightly higher than that of Lachung, Lachen too has its apple orchards and alpine views. The The road onwards from Lachen is the portal to some of North Sikkim 's most beautiful areas such as the Tsho Lhamu and Gurudongmar Lakes high up in the Tibetan Plateau. It is from Lachen also that the Green Lakes Trek begins.
Yet another dazzling Himalayan spectacle that is accessible by road in North Sikkim is the high altitude lake of Gurudongmar. To experience the best views in and around this magnificent scenery, it is advisable to camp ahead in Lachen one day ahead and then move on to explore Gurudongmar at the crack of dawn
Green Lakes Trek
For the unfamiliar, Green Lake may conjure an image of a beautiful high altitude water body, but sadly this no longer holds true. By the turn of the last century, this lake had disappeared completely. In 1899, D. W. Freshfield observed the phenomena (of the dry bed) in the midst of the Zemu and the Green Lake glaciers. However, all that is offset by the superb close-up mountain-views from here, especially that of Mount Siniolchu, a symmetrical marvel of nature considered by many mountaineering veterans to be the world's most beautiful peak. And of course, another glorious sight of Mount Khangchendzonga , but this one is definitely a pick above the rest. A spectacular close-up of the world's third highest mountain barely 10 kilometres away reveals almost every minute detail on its surface. The smooth outlines that one is so accustomed to while viewing it from afar now appears more like a razor's cutting edge while along the slopes coarse chunks of granite protrude above the snow cover unmasking this indomitable mountain's mould.