Romancing Yumthang…

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Dr. Joseph Hooker in his “Himalayan Journal” of 1855 mentioned that Lachung and Yumthang are the two most picturesque places in the whole of Sikkim and had even compared them to the valleys of Switzerland. Everyone will agree with him after having the magnificent view of these vast grassy meadows covered with so many flowers of different colours. It was as if a carpet of flowers spread over the bare ground!

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Yumthang, situated at a height of 11800 ft is located at a distance of about 150 kms from Gangtok. The scenic beauty of this valley of flowers is breathtaking. The alpine meadows covered with primulas, the natural vegetation comprising of silver fir and pines, the blooming Rhododendron forests, the snow peaks of Himalayas with the Lachung River cutting across it is truly a fascinating destination for nature-lovers.

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The mountain peaks like Pauhunri and Shundu Tsenpa and some other glaciers form the backdrop of the river Teesta. Another speciality of Yumthang is the hotsprings. Yeah, even in the freezing temperatures, one can feel the warmth of this sulfur rich hot water, which is believed to have healing powers. A hot spring is located just right side of the river which is in a close proximity to our base camp. But, didn’t go there as it was snowing continuously and the water was not that warm 😦

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Our next destination is Shiv Mandir; six kms away further north. The trek to this place was so refreshing and exhilarating. The serenity of the valley cannot be described in words and one should experience this at least once in a life time! We started our trek towards Shiv Mandir early in the morning when it started to drizzle. Though the road is quite treacherous, the marvelous scenic views offered by the snow-clad mountains were awesome. Except for the road, everything else which we could see is covered with snow.

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There was a point when we missed the off-road track leading to Shiv Mandir and started stopping the car drivers asking for the directions. Interestingly, almost all the drivers stopped by and were very cordial in guiding us. Not only Yumthang is great, but it’s ambiance too! After trespassing few walls, passing through the barely grown shrubs and plants, sliding down the sloppy ice-sheets, we were at the Shiv Mandir finally.

The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This is not a regular temple; I mean not a big one which we generally see. It was aloof, small, and dark and lit by some lamps. The linga is placed on an elevated platform and there is a small track around it to do the pradakshinas. The tranquility of the premises invokes the spiritual nature of every person who visits this temple. Om Namah Shivaayah!

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Further up and about 23 kms from Yumthang at an altitude of over 15000 ft, there is a place called Zero Point or YumeSamdong. For most of the times, this place remains covered with snow. Without a visit to zero point, the visit to Yumthang would be incomplete! Anyways, my romance with one of the most beautiful places on the earth came to an end with this last trek..

Time to pack my bags.. 🙂

Let’s go hand-in-hand and embrace the nature!

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On the track around 7 AM in the morning. Very punctual huh 😛 Started our trek towards Yumthang which is located at a distance of 25 kms from Lachung and at an altitude of 11800 ft. The road leading to Yumthang is through the snow covered mountains and lush green meadows.  After a km distance from our base camp at Lachung, we were out on to a vast meadow which is covered with lavender and yellow colored Primulas (small flowers which occurs in many colors). Now, I can understand why this place is called “The valley of flowers”. The entire meadow sees like an unforgettable combination of colors.

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The first leg of the trek is mostly a road trek through the lush green meadows, to some extent forests and the cascading waterfalls and streams. The day was sunny and it gave us a chance to enjoy the true colors of the nature surrounding us. Today it was some more special as I could see the group getting more and more close. Though it’s been more than a week since we met, we are yet to break the ice :p And this trek proved to be that ice breaking session!!

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 Yumthang is a land of more than a hundred species of Rhododendrons, Primulas and Magnolia. The valley has nearly 24 varieties of Rhododendrons itself, and to protect these varieties, a sanctuary name “Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary” has been declared by the forest department here. Though we got to see a wide variety of Primulas, we didn’t get a chance of seeing Rhododendrons except one or two, as they were still in the budding stage. Rhododendrons bloom from April to May end.

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After the sanctuary, the roads turned steeper and steeper. There was a stretch of moraines, the sediments that were carried down and deposited by the glaciers at the foothills of the mountains. Though this turned the trek route a bit difficult to access, the view of the moraines along with the glaciers and Snow Mountains was breathtaking.

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The nature has left a mark just after these moraines which is yet another picturesque scene. There is a lake which is greenish blue in colour and the specialty of this lake is it’s an artificial one. Now don’t think that it was human made, but it was made by the nature itself. Yes, it was created by an avalanche, after which an entire range of peaks got destructed and the snow got deposited there!

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We rested near the lake for half-an-hour and as I always say that the climate here is unpredictable, the temperatures dropped out drastically and it started to drizzle. Just after this lake, our second leg of the trek started and this was more adventurous than all the previous ones. Though the roads leading to Yumthang from Lachung are not in that good condition, the trek route engraved through the dense forests and streams is way better. As it was raining and snowing, the track was filled up with mosses and snow, which turned the way slippery. But, that was truly one awesome experience.

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Trekking for me is not merely walking along the roads or through the woods or a travel to a new place. Trekking is more like a learning process for me. Every time I go on a trek, I learn and earn. Yes, I learnt some of the most important lessons of life like “I don’t need a lot of material things in my life to be happy”, “we can’t take control of everything” and much more. I earned too, I earned a lot of friends some turned out to be my family too. This trek gave me a chance of molding myself into a better person.

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I could see lots of our friends talking with each other, exchanging greetings, encouraging and motivating each other. It opened up our hearts, now we are like one single family. It was 2 pm by the time we reach our base camp at Yumthang. Some of our friends who reached earlier than us has set up our tents and were busy preparing some food for us. We had our lunch around 3 pm, relaxed and it started drizzling by 4 pm. The temperature was around 10o. We had a camp fire around 6.30 pm and danced to the hilt! Thanks to our Quarter Master who prepared some delicious pakoras (savouries) and hot soup to energize us!

The real fun starts now 🙂 😀

 

Lachung – the Zumsa governed!!

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The night was very cold. But probably for the locals, it might be relatively warm. Usually it snows in Lachung till the month of March, but not this time 😀  Seven of us occupied a small room and it was pretty warm, might be because of the abnormal population which occupied it 😀 Yet another sound sleeps 🙂

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Hurrah! It’s a sunny day again. The day started with more like a poll. The poll was about whether we would like to trek to Yumthang on the same day or the next. As we hail from a democratic country, everyone has their own right to say what they feel and ultimately there will be a hung, the same happened there too. Half of us wanted to trek on the same day, while the other half wanted to do it the next. The deadlock got resolved with the intervention of our instructors and it was decided to continue the trek the next day.

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And what we gonna do all the day? Well, we’re going on a hike, not a long one though. We quickly finished off the puri sabji that has been served to us and got ready to go on a walk around the beautiful mountain village Lachung. Lachung, situated at an altitude of 9000 ft is about 115 kms from Gangtok and is the last village in North Sikkim before Yumthang. The village, spread out on either side of the river Lachung Chu, is surrounded by mighty mountains of which some are covered with snow and some not. And the beautiful waterfalls on almost all the mountains add to the charm of this little village.

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There are lots of hotels and lodges in this village; I think there is a 3-star hotel too. So accommodation is not a problem here and hence became an important tourist spot. There are small shops all along the roads; which sells all kinds of eateries and liquor, which the state is so famous for ;). We followed a road just beside the helipad located in Lachung. The narrow road bifurcates just after crossing the helipad. While the left one leads to Yumthang, the right one leads to the remote parts of this village.

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We took the right one, and this is one of the best so far. One can see that the nature is so beautiful as well as feel the wrath of it. Probably this is one the biggest marks of an Avalanche I have seen so far. Perhaps after 5 or 6 kms of walk, we reached a small monastery, sorry for not remembering it’s name (something like Chhuwa). It was so simple, yet very beautiful.. so peaceful with the positive vibes spreading throughout its premises. To my surprise, there was no one in the monastery as well as the premises. The sanctum was on an elevated platform and there were no lights inside except for some flickering butter lamps. I could see a statue of Buddha along with some statues of others, probably of Guru Padmasambava. 

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We were back by 2 pm and went on to a small walk to the helipad in the evening. It was rightly said that the weather is so unpredictable here. The day was so sunny, but by 4 pm the temperatures dropped so drastically and in a while it started to drizzle. We returned to our rooms and started the fun part of dancing and singing, as well as packing for the next days’ as it is going to be tougher.

Wait.. Wait.. Many of you might be thinking that I left something unsaid. The title of the post, right? Well, that is the most important feature of this little beautiful village. Lachung has a unique local and traditional self-government body called the Zumsa, a part of their rich tradition and culture. The Zumsa takes care of all the local disputes and are settled by a totally representative body of the village which is headed by an elected Pipon.

The best is yet to come! Stay tuned!!!

Time to move on! Lachung is waiting!!

 

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Though the classrooms were way dark and pretty cool, we, at least I managed to grab some good sleep that night. My darling friend Shweta woke me up early in the morning around 4.30 AM and when moved out of the room to the open ground, that was one awesome scene with the twinkling stars up above the sky, the moon throwing some bright light and the tips of the surrounding mountains shining dim in the moon light. But, I couldn’t get a chance to capture that awesome scene as it was extremely difficult to find out my camera in that dark cosy classroom 😦

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It was a sunny day and the weather was clear. We packed our rucksacks and left for breakfast. Before moving on, we quickly cleaned up the surroundings and set on to the track for Lachung, our next base camp at around 7.30 AM. Lachung is a small mountain village located at an altitude of 8600 ft and a distance of about 110 kms from Gangtok and 25 kms from Chungthang. And we gonna trek this 25 kms in a single day. Though excited, we were a bit scared too. Scared not because of the distance, but coz of the off-road route which we gonna follow!

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The way to Lachung is through quaint villages, scenic spots, and waterfalls. The first leg is of 12 or 13 kms. It’s almost a road trek except for one or two shortcuts. We stopped at a roadside tea spot around 10 AM where we got some buns and tea as refreshments. After relaxing for a short span of 20 minutes, we resumed our trek towards Lachung. They told us that the next leg is of another 12 kms but it’s only at the end of the trek we realized that it is nearly 16 kms.

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The second leg is far more beautiful than the first leg, as there were lots of streams which cut right through the roads, some lush green agri fields probably of some millets or fodder, yaks, Rhododendrons, waterfalls and the beautiful Teesta River running all way along with us. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the trek as the short hikes through the forests were spine chilling, because of the narrow margins and rough terrain.

DSC_0245We could see more and more number of army people and their vehicles as were nearing Lachung. Before 1950, Lachung served as a trade point between Sikkim and Tibet and after the Chinese annexation, this has been shut down. The Indian Army now has a forward base at Lachung. Finally at around 3.30 PM we reached our base camp at Lachung. A hot meal was served to us and it felt so good to have something hot after a long trek.

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We had lots of fun before having our dinner and retiring to our beds. Lucky enough to get a bed to sleep, but not in the sleeping bag 😀 .  Stay tuned to see what’s waiting for us in Lachung!!

Adieu Gangtok.. Here we come Chungthang!!

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It’s time to move from Gangtok to our final destination Yumthang – the valley of flowers enroute Chungthang and Lachung. And the plan is to reach Chungthang by bus, and to follow a permissible route along the Teesta River to the picturesque riverside village of Lachung and then trek to Yumthang. The route to Chungthang is via Kabi Longtsok, Phodong, Mangan (head quarters of North Sikkim).

JpegWe celebrated Holi – the festival of colors in Gangtok and around 2 pm, set on our journey  to Chungthang, a valley located at a distance of about 100 kms from Gangtok in our buses.  Our first halt on the way was Kabi Longtsok, which is at a distance of about 11 km from the Northern Highway of Gangtok. Kabi Longtsok is a historical place where the colonists from Tibet settled down in the early 14th century.

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This spot has witnessed a historical event which came to be known as “the treaty of blood brotherhood”. It was a treaty of friendship in between the Lepcha chief and the Bhutia king to encourage the religious tolerance amongst devotees and people around the state. A stone pillar was also there in memory of this event. The lush green surroundings made this place spell bound. There is also a belief associated with this place. The belief is that if we construct a small stone building and pray for our wishes to come true, they would come true. We too tried our hands at it and succeeded in erecting some stone buildings.

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The road leading to Chungthang from here is very rough and narrow, especially filled with large size stones and boulders. The real fun is when there comes a bridge and we all have to get down our buses and cross over the bridges so that our buses and we would be safe :p. 

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Unfortunately a huge stone got stuck in between the back tyres of one of our buses, and we turned out to be fortunate as this gave us a chance of enjoying the scenic beauty of North Sikkim. After struggling for about an hour, finally our drivers succeeded in removing the stone and we resumed our journey. We reached Chungthang around 7 pm and our accommodation was arranged in a school premises which has no electricity.

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As it was the month of March, the weather was a bit stable throughout our journey and was relatively warm. But there was a drastic drop in the night temperature and it was very cold in Chungthang. We turned the classrooms into our bedrooms for the night by spreading out carry mats and sleeping bags.

Let me sleep tight tonight, so that I can trek down to the beautiful Lachung tomorrow 🙂 😀