Thursday, 19 March 2015

Yumthang Valley, Sikkim

North Sikkim Travelogue Part 2


For 2 ½ hours we were enchanted by the beauty of India’s 2nd highest lake, Gurudongmar, but we finally had to make a move for the equally beautiful grazing pasture called Yumthang Valley, in North Sikkim. After a short stop for lunch, I and my friend Prasenjit reached the little town of Lachung, where we would rest for the night. Our tour operator had set us up in a top floor room and we had a beautiful view of the mountains from our window, and since I can never sleep peacefully in a new place, I woke up obscenely early, and managed once again, to get that “sunrise in the mountains” shot, that so fascinates tourists.


Sunrise at Lachung



At a height of 9600 feet (3000 metres), Lachung was once a busy trading post. All that changed in 1950, when the Chinese annexed Tibet. The border was sealed, the trade dried up, and the town shut down. Things have started looking up now with the arrival of tourists between October and May every year. The main attractions are the Lachung Monastery and the Rhododendron Valley Trek, which starts from Yumthang Valley and ends in Lachen Valley. The “most picturesque village in Sikkim” (according to Joseph Dalton Hooker) does however have a small problem; the availability of snacks. We wanted some pakoras to go with our drink in the evening, and the hotel kitchen couldn’t manage since they were in the middle of preparing for dinner. So we decided to walk around, and find a shop, but alas! No potato chips or chanachur anywhere to be found! Entirely understandable of course, this being the mountains, every little thing has to be hauled up at great expense. Thankfully the one thing easily available everywhere was Wai Wai noodles. This particular brand of instant noodles can be eaten dry, as a snack, and we found it went rather well with rum and coke. Dinner was Indian; nothing out of the ordinary but hot and delicious. I woke up early next morning like I said, and after some sunrise photography, and breakfast, we were off to Yumthang Valley.


A Buddhist Stupa in Yumthang Valley

Since we were only at around 11,800 feet (3,564 metres), the road to Yumthang was nowhere near as desolate as that to Gurudongmar. We saw some beautiful sights on the way. But everything paled in comparison to the valley itself. With huge, rugged, snow-capped mountains on both sides, a massive snow-capped peak in the distance, a stream running through a green pasture and one single road, like a black ribbon through the middle of it all, Yumthang was the very definition of paradise. Right in the middle of it, was a small Buddhist Stupa, and there were yaks, actual live yaks grazing. Me and Prasenjit had never seen yaks in real life, we had only read about them in books, and at the sight, both of us simultaneously let out, “Dude! What the Yak”!


A Yak grazing in Yumthang Valley

But then, I was hit with a question. What does one do in a place like this? I eventually decided, walking around would be the best thing, and I was glad that I did. Yumthang is a Rhododendron sanctuary, and we had heard that parts of the valley turn entirely red with the flowers. But to be honest, we were a little underwhelmed. We did see Rhododendrons, but not as many as we would have liked, and the strong sunlight had made them wilt a little bit. But how often does one get to see Rhododendrons in the city anyway? We also noticed one tiny little flower growing all over the place, which was making parts of the valley look a cute shade of purple. When I say tiny, I do mean tiny, like the nail on my little finger. These, we later identified as Primula Denticulata. There were also yellow buttercups of some sort, and a reddish brown plant, with tiny waxy leaves, growing among the grass. The last plant, I have as yet been unable to identify. Have a look at the photographs, and let me know if you have better luck.


Flowers of Yumthang Valley


Yumthang is definitely much easier to visit and explore, than Gurudongmar. Even if you are old, or a little unfit, and decide not to trek to the Valley, you can take a car like we did, and walk around in the valley. If you’re planning to take pictures of the flowers, bring along a decent macro lens, and for the really small flowers, lie down in the grass. For Canon shooters with crop sensor cameras, the new EF 40mm is an affordable and very decent lens. Just be careful not to land in petrified (or fresh) Yak dung. I almost did a few times! Tourists generally proceed from Yumthang to Zero Point. Zero Point lies at the end of the road that cuts through Yumthang Valley, and is quite literally the last outpost of civilisation. It is covered in snow round the year, and that is the main attraction. There isn’t much to do there but take in the sights. We decided to skip Zero Point, and asked our dashing and handsome chauffeur, Wangchuk Lepcha to take us back to Lachung for lunch.


Prasenjit tries photographing Primula Denticulata


Our next destination was to be Dzongu, the holy land of the Lepchas.

To be continued…

- by Deepanjan Ghosh

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • Bookings and planning handled by Desh Duniya Tours. Check out their official website http://www.deshduniyatour.com/
  • Sikkim transport, stay and permissions (I.L.P.) arranged by Galaxy Tours and Treks. Check out their official website http://www.tourhimalayas.com/
  • Many thanks to Amrita Dutta for liaising with the local guys and always being available on the phone for us.
  • Thanks to Prasenjit Das for the company, and to Santanu Dutta for originally suggesting the trip.

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