Showing posts with label India traveler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India traveler. Show all posts

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Jewel of North Sikkim - Gurudongmar Lake





When a sparkling blue lake in the middle of a cold desert with crystal clear sky above leaves you speechless, you know you are at Gurudongmar lake in Sikkim. Dramatically perched atop cascading hills, 18000 feet above sea level, the place leaves you breathless, literally. Even the harsh terrain, sub-zero temperature and close proximity to China do not deter people from visiting this gem of North Sikkim. After having heard so much about this gorgeous place, husband and I finally made it there.
The pristine Gurudongmar Lake of Sikkim

As beautiful as this place looks, it is equally difficult to reach. Here is how you can plan your journey to Gurudongmar Lake.

The only way to reach  Gurudongmar is from Lachen via Thangu. So the first step is to travel to Lachen through the curvy and rough roads. Be prepared for traffic jams, long convoys of Indian army trucks, landslides, sudden change in weather and heavy rainfall. We travelled for almost seven hours from Gangtok to reach Lachen at 7 pm. It was pitch dark and luckily it poured after we checked into our homestay. The place was in ruins and looked like a bus shelter. Located in the wilderness with no market place around, we had to settle with the bad food cooked in the dirty kitchen. Our room was in bad shape. Though on our request they changed our room, we could not sleep at all. I don't want to talk about the horrible night.

Since your travel itinerary would include a night stay in Lachen, do read reviews online in advance.  Also, your travel agent or driver would have obtained your entry passes which are verified while entering Lachen. (All tourists need to have permission to enter North Sikkim in advance).

Know how to plan your trip to North Sikkim. 

Post spending one night in Lachen, you would be required to leave early morning for Gurudongmar after another bumpy ride of almost five hours. Once the Sun touches the mountain tops and the balmy sky brightens, you would get the incredible, to-die-for mountain view. The sun played through the tree tops, painting the mountains velvety green while we watched, mesmerized. 



Breakfast point at Gurudongmar


All vehicles are checked and passes re-verified at Gurudongmar entrance which starts around 7.00 am. Since tourists leave from the hotel at dawn, breakfast is served at cafes or tiny home stays at the checkpoint. While our driver was out for our passes verification, a warm Sikkimese family served us breakfast in their home kitchen with authentic antique aesthetics. A river flowing by, a foggy mountain view, friendly furry canines, the movement of army vehicles and the chill in the air multiply your excitement to witness the lake. Advisable to eat well here and take washroom break, since no settlement is found ahead.

Warming up post breakfast. Isnt the view stunning?

My furry encounter and happy selfie



Post a journey of about two hours you are required to halt again, where the passes are checked for the last time by army officials. It was here when I saw water frozen and restless female tourists in makeshift washroom queue. Don't expect any luxury here because even Indian army personnel work hard to arrange basic necessities for themselves. Yet they serve the nation with a smile.


Ship of the cold desert

Vegetation starts to vanish as you ascend higher. The intimidating brown mountains, the herd of massive yaks and little streams of rivers with a thin layer of ice greeted us. You would be enticed to get off your car, but the narrow roads and difficulty in breathing wouldn't let you.  Though the last 15 kilometers through barren landscape towards the lake point is smooth.

Towards Gurudongmar, after the last checkpost





Finally, when we got off the car to witness the marvel of nature, I was speechless. My fatigue vanished at that splendid view.  The pains we took to reach here proved to be worth.  The sight was too good to be true. The shimmering blue water of the lake looked so inviting with the clear sky beautifully embracing the towering mountains. I stared at the blue stretch with brimmed eyes, breathing slowly, trying to forget the low air pressure.









At this high altitude, it is recommended to move out within half an hour or else the low pressure takes a toll on you, causing nausea, breathlessness, rapid pulse or hallucination. Soaking in the beauty as much as we could, we bid goodbye to Gurudongmar. The place is etched in my memories forever.

On the way back, your driver would take you to Chopta Valley or Kaala Pathhar if mentioned in your itinerary and then back to Lachen for lunch.

Some safety and health tips for Gurudongmar:
-In case you have an ill, aged person or a child with you, do not take them to Gurudongmar. Lack of oxygen creates several problems. Mind you, medical facilities are not reachable, so are phone networks.

-Since it is located in the northernmost mountains of Sikkim, the place remains cold throughout the year. Needless to say, you would wear warm clothes and carry extra as well.

-If you have altitude or motion sickness, carry medicines with you.

-Advisable to keep ready to eat food with you, especially if you are travelling with elder or younger ones.

-Plastic water bottles (the packaged branded ones) are not allowed anywhere in North Sikkim. Carry your own sipper lest you should be penalized. Packaged juices are available and surprisingly allowed to be sold, but please do not leave the trash there. Non biodegradable plastic tucked between rocks or popping out in water, is a huge turn off. Plus, plastic remains in the ecosystem forever , polluting the planet. It shows the least amount of respect one has for the planet, humanity and self.

In case you are planning a trip to Zero Point in Lachung, read this.

P.S- This trip was in October 2018.
Also, the post made it to the top most list of posts on Indiblogger home page.

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

All about planning a trip to Nathula Pass




Sikkim was one hell of a trip for us (husband and me). While searching for Sikkim tour places, Nathula made it to top priority list. Since there were a lot of surprises and changes in plan,  I wasn't sure if  we would be able to make here as Gangtok to Nathula pass taxi fares were high. At last we found a travel agent in Gangtok Gandhi market, who made necessary arrangements at 1000 INR per person. (It varies between Rs 700-1000 depending on the season.) Booking a whole taxi costs around Rs 2500 which is recommended for a group or family travelling together

P.S- Visitors are required to fill up a form with details which is submitted by the agent at the border authority office. The forms are queued up for next day and signaled for 'permit'.  Hence one must apply for the same a day before the intended visit.

For altitude sickness and breathlessness, it is recommended to have popcorns. Buy a packet or two from vendors at the taxi stand.



The shared taxis (usually Tata Sumo or Bolero) ferry ten people in one go. We left sharp at 9 am with 8 more people as co-passengers. The breathtaking views on the old Silk route of 53 km from the taxi stand to Nathula Pass left us speechless. The views changed from emerald cover of mountains to tree tops wrapped in fluff of clouds. The rapidly changing landscape compensated for the little challenges on the curvy road. Narrow roads along with solo bikers slowed us down and we got stuck at a check post for half an hour. Yet our excitement throughout the journey remained on a high.


Be prepared for road blockages or broken bridges that happen due to avalanche and the only people who take responsibility to repair the damages is Indian Army. Roads are a lifeline of Sikkim as well as strategically important due to proximity from China. Hats off to our Army who rapidly come into action and keep everything moving.

P.S- Due to this bridge construction, entry to Nathula was stopped for two days. Luckily the roads were opened just a day before we inquired. Do get in touch with Sikkim tourist information center before you make booking for Nathula.



Our stoppage on the way where we were greeted by a furry lot. 

Enroute Nathula

The driver would usually stop midway for a short break. Advisable to to relieve yourself or fuel up with food during the break, since the facilities vanish as you near Nathula. Your driver would have a collaboration with these tiny eating joints, where you are required to place your order for lunch in advance.

(Food is quite costly; one plate of fried rice was Rs 180 and a humble thali of rice, daal and dry veggies was priced at Rs 200.  But its okay. Given the harsh terrain where logistics support is negligible, that's how they make a living)

Vegetation started thinning and temperature dropped gradually as we sped through the uphill curves. Our co-passengers had come to a common consensus to visit Nathula Pass first followed by Tsongmo Lake and Baba Mandir on the way back.








Stepping out at an altitude of 14000 feet in spine chilling cold towards Nathula Pass post was a life-learning. We took one step at a time on the stairs, slowly inching towards the Indo-Chinese post facing each other. Icy wind hit our ears and lack of oxygen made us breathless. But you know what kept us going? It was the Indian Army soldiers who had a smile on their face while braving the odds. Nothing puts them off guard or off duty even in sub zero temperature.

Read about my fascinating experience in Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim here. 

An Army personnel narrates stories of the post formation, the ill-fated war and history of Chinese invasion. Both the country's flag flutter in chilled winds, each representing the respective nation's pride. While you can look at the Chinese guard post and sometimes their soldiers on inspection rounds, photography is strictly prohibited. We were told that Indian tourists out of excitement take pictures and post on social media which Chinese use as a propaganda against India. They have accused India in past of war preparations.

PS: If caught, mobile phones are confiscated. Use of SLR camera is a big no. You can carry your camera but in no case would be allowed to use it.

Imbibing the stories and paying our respect at the war memorial, we made our way out through the canteen grabbing some jalebi and momos. Army also sells small collectibles and gift items worth carrying home as memories. We bought a wall poster on which has a space to paste a picture and write the date of visit. This was the best collectible from Nathula for us.

P.S- Do spend a little at the souvenir shop. It can be an amount as small as Rs 50. The money goes to Army welfare. This is the least you can contribute for the brave-hearts on duty. 

Enriched with a sense of pride, saluting the heroes of the nation and paying a quiet homage at the war memorial, we bid adieu to Nathula hoping to come back some day again.   Our next stops were Baba Mandir and Lake Tsongmo.





P.S- My trip to Nathula was in October 2018.
This post made it to Indiblogger Homepage as the featured post of the day as well as the top post of the day.
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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Touring Sikkim's largest monastery: Rumtek





Visiting temples or monasteries rarely make it to my priority list unless they are exceptional. Never had I thought about seeing any monastery on my trip to Sikkim. However, after reading about the unique History and having heard a lot from the locals, husband and I made quick plan to visit Rumtek; the largest and most popular monastery of Sikkim.


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22 km from the capital, Rumtek stands  at an altitude of 4900 feet against the backdrop of the beautiful Himalayan Range. Made in mid 1700, Rumtek is home to hundreds of monks with a long history of clashes over stewardship of the monastery and its contents. Heavily guarded by ITBP, the monastery is under strict surveillance 24x7.
The heavily guarded entrance 

P.S- Weapons or sharp objects are restricted to entry. Use of camera/mobile phones are allowed in the outer premises, not inside the assembly hall.

The pillar of good luck

A pillar stands across the main temple in the center of the courtyard where tourists engage themselves by throwing coin on the top of the pillar. The coin if perches the pole is said to bring good luck.




Rich and vibrantly colored murals in the traditional, Tibetan painting style grace the entrance of the main temple. Here, on each side of the door, stand life-size images of the four guardians of the universe: Virudaka, Virupaksha, Dritarashtra, and Vaishravana, protecting the four directions, respectively. (photography is allowed only till point)







The assembly hall leaves you breathless. The spacious and intricately decorated Main Shrine Hall is supported by robust red pillars. Long, round silk banners and ancient thangkas hang from these columns. One side of the main hall houses a complete set of religious scriptures dating thousand years ago. The ornate details and paintings on the walls are truly mesmerizing. (Photography is not allowed here). 


The main assembly hall is surrounded by the monks' quarters and through them leads a path towards the Golden Stupa and the Nalanda Institute of Higher Buddhism Studies. The Golden Stupa contains the precious relics and holy remains of His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. You can meditate or pray here and feel the positive aura surrounding you. (Photography is prohibited here)


The Nalanda Institute is a center dedicated for Buddhism studies.


Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies



You can buy souvenirs at the little shop near the Nalanda Institute's complex or capture nature's bliss around. I was impressed to see how the authorities conserve nature and make the most of the resources available. City dwellers need some serious learning from them.


Road conditions: 
The road condition is extremely bad in patches. Since the ride is bumpy and uncomfortable, the slow drive will elongate the journey. Recommended to visit Rumtek during the day or else the bumpy roads are not visible in the dark due to absence of street lights. Apart from few settlements and shops, the entire road is isolated.

Timings- 10 am to 5 pm everyday

Total time to spend: 1 to 2 hours

P.S- This trip of mine was in October 2018.
This also made it to Indiblogger's Featured Post and Indiblogger's Top post.


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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Heritage Transport Museum- The first of its kind in India





History and heritage have always been of my prime interest since childhood. Delhi gave me loads of opportunities to discover the rich heritage of Indian History through the magnificent monuments and preserved artifacts. This time it was Heritage Transport Museum where I  witnessed the grandeur of mediums of transport that has evolved across centuries. Being one of its kind and the only transport museum of India, you cannot give it a miss. Bring this on your do-do list in NCR and tick it off your bucket list like I did.



A brief history- The brainchild of Mr. Tarun Thakral, Heritage Transport Museum was opened to public in 2013 highlighting how transport changed its course in different era and how it influenced our life. You can read more about the same on its website.

The three acre space has four levels, with each housing an extra ordinary variety of transport mediums, paintings, collectibles and audio-visuals. The audio guided tour throws light on the history and usage of the displayed items. Here is a visual tour of the museum for you in brief.



The Basement has vintage cars, artifacts from roadside shops, fuel and gas station, display of transport used in Bollywood movies and more..



Fiery red beauties

Remember this from Dil To Pagal Hai?


Yesteryear's fuel station- A remake 

A rusty old van found near Ramgarh, picked in as is condition



The ground floor houses  initial history of transport, luxurious train, Horse/camel carts, carriages, tucks, buses, artwork by artists, souvenir shop, small pantry.

Wheels- From where it all started 




                   This terracotta toy, named a bird card was found during the Indus Valley Civilization. This proves that people were                                                  aware of the use of wheels and drew inspiration from the real world.






Set up of railway station from the past

Jodhpur Salon, the predecessor of Palace on Wheels



First Floor
- This houses bikes, scooters, legacy of Hero bikes, cycles, auto and interesting "jugaad" of few states.






Jugaad from Gujarat

"Jugaad" from Haryana


The second floor exhibits a small aircraft, marine transport, a library, the legacy of Maruti, Ambassador, works of artists, childhood nostalgia, toys.


Twinning with Ambassador. Well almost :)

Peek a boo


A smiley tribute to Maruti

The outer premises has traffic signals, truck bonnets and bus from the British time on display.











Note-

Timings- 10 am to 7 pm. Closed on Monday.
Entrance fees- Rs 400 adults, Rs 200 for children. Free for kid below 3 years
How to reach- While driving from Gurgaon, cross Kherki Daula toll, stay on the flyover. Take left on Torau Road. Keep moving straight. The museum will be on left.




The entire experience is enhanced by audio guide (The gadgets would be provided to you at the entrance)
Wheelchair friendly- Yes (With slope ramps and elevator)

Pantry- Grab a bite if hungry. Otherwise expensive. (No other restaurant or eating joint nearby). Advisable to carry food with you and keep in your car. 

Souvenir shop-  From stationery and books to mugs, wallets and coasters, the shop has a great variety but is too pricey. (I did not find it worth)

This is great place for history enthusiasts, car and bike lovers, artists, photographers, kids, elders Basically for all age group. No body would be disappointed here. The 400 INR that you spend here are totally worth it.

P.S: My visit to the museum was in September 2018.
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