North Sikkim - Dream Fulfilled

Ashutosh Kumar

Live Young, Live Free
It’s been year since my last year Arunachal trip and I was raring to go. North Sikkim was always in my mind, but did not materialized because of uncertainty of getting the ILP.This was one of my most unplanned road trip of mine with lot of uncertainty. Though I was planning for this trip for quite sometime may be for more than 3 years. I was only able to complete this trip in 2017.

Every time I thought of this trip, there was uncertainty about the permit to North Sikkim. In the meantime i was reading lot of travelogues available on the internet. Getting idea on the routes, conditions, getting the ILPs etc.

The main challenge in a road trip to North Sikkim is to get the permit for North Sikkim for self-driving a Car. Most of the travelogues were through travel agents or the one with self-drive car had contact in the Army or higher ups. Very few have got the permit themselves. I had contacted some of them through various forums about the details, but did not get a satisfactory response. I was so disappointed I had relented and was thinking of taking this trip through agents in Gangtok.

In April 2017 I finally made up my mind that be whatever, i will drive towards Sikkim and try for permit. If I do not get the permit I will travel through the travel agents. This was the time when I was reading one of the travelogues from PointZero (BCMT Handle), which I had gone through numerous times in the past. He is the person who has explored various parts of Sikkim more than once. He can be considered as the expert as far as Sikkim Tourism is considered, especially for North and East Sikkim. There are many travelogues from him on BCMT and TBHP. I wonder how this guy remembers each and every point of his journeys as he pens down each and every detail in this travelogue. I used to forget almost half of the details as soon as I reach my home. I connected with him and boy…. he was a blessing in disguise. He gave me enough idea and confidence about getting the permits by approaching the authorities in person. The other hindrance for this trip was with my youngest son (3 years), whom I did not want to take him to high altitudes. He is averse to cold conditions. To mitigate this, I decided to leave him along with my wife to my in laws at Shillong. This was done a week before start of this trip.

Finally the plan was made to begin the journey on 20th May 2017.As a backup plan, in case I do not get the permit I had planned to hire a taxi and proceed with the trip. I would like to thank PointZero for his immense help and guidance. Accompanying me on this trip was my elder son (6 yrs), my parents (in their late 50’s).
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Ashutosh Kumar

Live Young, Live Free
The itinerary was as follows

20/5/17 – Jamshedpur to Siliguri

21/5/17 Siliguri to Mangan

22/5/17 Mangan to Lachung

23/5/17 Lachung – Yumthang-Zero Point- Lachen

24/5/17 Lachen –Gurudongmar – Mangan

25/5/17 Mangan – Shillong

26/5/17 to 28/5/17 – In and around Shillong

29/5 Shillong – Siliguri

30/5 Siliguri – Jamshedpur

Day 1: (Jamshedpur to Siliguri – 650 kms)

Our plan was to start early from Jamshedpur, so that we can reach Siliguri. Keeping in mind about the bad stretches between Dumka and Bhagalpur, we started at 8 am. We followed the following route Jamshedpur- Chandil- Purulia- Jamtara- Jama More- Basukinath- Nonihat- Hansdiha-Bhagalpur.

I was aware about the humongous craters on the Dumka Bhagalpur stretch. The roads were in awful condition during my last year trip to Arunachal. Before Dumka I inquired about the road condition between Dumka and Bhagalpur. They said that the roads in Bihar has been freshly laid and the roads in Jharkhand are under construction. The instructed me to reach Nonihat through Basukinath which will bypass the under-construction road from Dumka and reduce our traversing on bad roads to mere 20kms till Hansdiha, from where the roads are newly laid till Bhagalpur. We followed the advice and we reached Bhagalpur comfortably. Rest of the day was uneventful and we reached Bagdogra by 9 pm where we had our dinner in a road side restaurant. It started raining heavily the time we left the restaurant in Bagdogra. We had booked the hotel at Siliguri before leaving Jamshedpur. It was still raining heavily, hence searching hotel took some time and we finally reached the hotel by 11 pm and retired for the day.

Day 2: (Siliguri to Mangan- 140 kms)

This day was going to be easy and our last leg in the plains. Our plan was to reach Mangan and try for the ILP. 21st May being Sunday, the SDPO office remains closed, we had no option but to stay at Mangan and try for the ILP next day. We had booked a hotel at Mangan as well before leaving Jamshedpur. That was the best hotel in Mangan. One would not expect of such a good facility hotel at Mangan.

We started a little late from Siliguri by 9 am through beautiful Sevoke road and reached Sikkim Gate at 11:30 am Passing through the Rangpo we reached Singtam and took left towards Mangan. The right from Singtam takes you to Gangtok. The roads from Singtam deteriorated with good patches in between. Quickly adapting to the surface is the key here. I have observed over years of driving that it takes some time (may be few hrs or a day) for you to adapt to hill driving after driving in the plains. We reached Mangan at 2 pm and quickly checked in the hotel. The hotel was much more that what we had expected. The ILP was still hovering on my mind. Whether I will get it or not?

I asked the manager of the hotel if he can help me in getting the permit tomorrow. He asked one of the staff to accompany me to the SDPO office tomorrow morning. Since my parents and my elder son ws with me, the responsibility index was higher on me and it was putting some pressure. The reason might be the bad patched which I had been through from Singtam to Mangan and the thought of even more bad roads was keeping the pressure on. To ease out the pressure, I casually asked the manager if he could arrange a drive who would accompany me on the trip on payable basis. He said “ Let me try”. Later in the evening he told me that the drive who stays nearby the hotel to whom he was speaking has injured his leg and he is not in a condition to drive. I said ”Hello…I asked for a drive to accompany me. I will be the only person to drive to and fro”. He replied but still he will not be able to go. I said – OK. Not an issue”. Later in the evening when I was just having a stroll inside the hotel premise, the same drive wsa talking to one of the staffs. I went to him and enquired about his injury. He was a local Taxi driver and drives taxi between Singtam to Mangan. I asked him to accompany me and I will pay you accordingly so that your livelihood is not compromised. He said Anyways he is not able to drive since last 1 week. I said – You don’t need to drive. You just need to be with me as a local support and sit with me in front seat with food and accommodation to and fro. After initial YES and NO he agreed to accompany me and I was like “Huuuuuuh”. Relieved a lot. He affirmation helped me released the pressure out of me. It proved to be a good decision as he was of immense throughout the trip. He helped and guided me crossing the bad and narrow patches, crossing the stream. He talked to locals , hotel owners in Lachung and Lachne in his own local language and that proved vital in arranging the rooms in the hotels. He helped me getting gelled with other Taxi drivers heading towards North Sikkim and I had built a good rapport with them. We shared our stories of my earlier experience, the drive, my car and them sharing their experiences on North Sikkim. It was fun mixing with the locals.

Coming back relieved after agreement with the drive. I told him to be ready by 11 am so that we will leave by 11:30 or so.

It was chilling at Mangan that evening. We had simple dinner of Rice, Roti , Dal and Vegetables and retired for the day. While on the bed I was constantly thinking of the IPL, whether I i will get it or not ? what if they reject it and I have to go back to Gangtok to hire Taxi. You cannot get hired Taxi for North Sikkim at Mangan as told by the Hotel Manager.

Beautiful Sevoke Road




Glimpse of Beautiful Testa River



Glimpse of Teesta River




Approaching Sikkim


Approaching Sikkim Gate







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Ashutosh Kumar

Live Young, Live Free
Day 3: (Mangan to Lachung – 100 kms)

The next morning, I woke up late and was ready after quick breakfast to got to SDPO office. The staff was accompanying me. He helped me to get the application form for ILP from the office itself. Though there was no role of that person in getting the permit, it was a huge morale booster to me to have some local with me at the SDPO office.

I filled the form and went to one of the clerks who did the initial scrutiny of the form. He asked for the purpose of my visit and checks all the relevant documents. Once done he asked me to go another room where SDPO sits. I went there and saw that the officer was already with some other persons. After 5 mins of so, he called me. He asked for the purpose of my visit , who all are accompanying me. He asked where is your wife? I told him that I have a small kid and I did not wanted to risk brining him to such high altitude, hence she along with my kid are with my in laws. He said OK and signed on the ILP. VIOLA……I was so ecstatic. Finally, I was able to get the ILP. Is it so easy to get ? Then why there is so much fuss about it? I was able to get it by personally meeting the officials, so could anybody. That time I was thanking PointZero a million time of his advice to go and meet the official personally and this is what I did precisely. At Gangtok , there is a different story though. There is a nexus between the Taxi association and the administration, due to which common people like us are deprived of driving to North Sikkim.

Anyway, with permits in my had I happily returned to the Hotel and asked my parents to be ready to leave. I also asked the hotel manager to help me arrange hotels at Lachung, which he did by connecting to some people. By 11:30 we along with Anil – the local man left the hotel and proceeded towards Lachung. The road towards Lachung are mixed bag you can say. Bad roads early on to good tarmac later on with again bad roads before Lachung. Having said that the scenic beauty all around was amazing and made us forget the treacherous roads. We reached lachung in the late afternoon and it took some time to locate the hotel as it was away from the main road. Anil was again a big help through out the trip my helping me maneuver the car through those treacherous and narrow roads. Sometime he got down the car and helped me get out of those tricky incline, slush. Though I can understand that he might not be enjoying on the adjacent seat to me, as this was not his usual sitting position. The riders always wants to be at the helm. Isn’t it? We checked into the hotel and as it was very cold at that time we took all the woolens that we had and put them on us. We were the first to reach at the hotel. We ordered some maggi, tea and pakoras to relish. Soon it was dark and the chill was increasing. Later in the evening 2 other families from Kolkata arrived at the hotel through the hired vehicles. I did not had any bookings at Lachen and being a peak season I was really worried about the rooms availability. I have tried few hotel myself by getting the contact from the Internet, but everyone replied in negative. I met one of the drivers and had chit chat on the road conditions, Lachung, Lachen, Gurudongmar Lake. He was very curious about my XUV and started querying about the details of the car. It was nice chatting with that guy and soon we were good friends. He advised me to leave early as there will be huge crowd of tourist at Zero Point and hence would be difficult to find parking. He also gave me contact details of a person who would help me to get rooms at Lachen. I spoke to the person who was actually the owner of a homestay at Lachen who readily agreed to provide two rooms. Since it was very cold outside, we decided to have quick dinner and call it the day.


Hotel at Mangan























Welcome to Lachung






Reshung resort at Lachung

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Ashutosh Kumar

Live Young, Live Free
Day 4: (Lachung – Yumthang – ZeroPoint- Lachen)

The plan for the day was to wake up early and head towards Yumthang and Zero Point. Get back to Lachung, have lunch and drive to Lachen.

We woke up early and after having breakfast, we were out of the hotel by 7 am for Zero Point. On enquiring, I found that the drive I talked with last night had left for zero point at 6 am itself. There is a check post at the outskirts of Lachung where we need to submit the permits. As it was morning time, there was long queue of the vehicles going towards Zero Point. After about 30 mins I was able to reach the check post and after submitting the permit, we went ahead. Till Yumthang, the roads were OK as per the hills standards. The place was full of colorful flowers, which enhanced the beauty of the valley. Since it was late May, the flowers and the colors were little less as compared to the month of Mar-April. Never the less we enjoyed soaking in the beauty. There is a small market after the Yumthang valley where you can buy gifts and souvenirs. The roads deteriorated after crossing Yumthang. We were cruising slowly steadily towards Zero Point, when we saw a queue of vehicle. On enquiring I found that there has been landslide and a detour was created to pass the vehicles. To my bad, an army truck was stranded even on the detour created. The only option left for us was another temporary detour created to pass through, which looked horrible with only big stones and craters created by the tourist vehicles .A Mahindra Max drive came to me and said “ Aapki Gaadi ke neeche to lagega hi” – “Your car underbody would definitely get hit as there are huge boulders lying throughout 500 mts ahead due to landslide. I asked why. He replied that our car also get hit sometime even if the GC of Max is quite high. That made me tensed and worried about the underbelly hit. I waited and watched other cars passing through the detour. I composed myself and started driving ultra-slow through the landslide area. For some time I had my heart in my mouth. There were huge boulders enough to hit the underbody and that too with steep incline. Slowly, very slowly after careful maneuvering, I was able to cross that stretch without any hit. The entire stretch of 500 mts or so was horrible to say the least. It indeed gave the idea about North Sikkim’s treacherous terrain what I had heard of. Never the less we reached Zero Point without any further major incidence. And I found each and every word of the drive true. There was a line of bee of tourist vehicles, parked in both the directions. At some place, we are not able to pass through the vehicles because of narrow space. There we saw that driver which i met at Lachung Hotel returning back. And I wondered how true he was when he told us to leave early for Zero Point. He advised me to find a place nearby for parking park the car nearby and don’t go far as the return would take much time due to Jam. There was no space left by the tourist vehicle nearby. I moved forward 200 mts and parked by car in a smallest of the space available and went to are where some snow was still present. My son enjoyed a lot in the snow as this was his first time. We also shad some maggi from the nearby stall to fill up our tummy. I knew that being at such high altitude for long can affect you with AMS. An i saw few cases there where one of the lady got fainted because of low oxygen. I asked his husband to give mouth to mouth respiration and take her quickly downwards. Since my parents Owing to the conditions and with the fact that my parents and son were with me, i did not wanted to stay there for long. After spending 45 minutes we decided to move towards Lachung. While returning I found that the broken Army truck was mended and the original detour was available for us to pass through, which was a cake walk as compared to the 2nd detour. We reached Lachung and quickly had the lunch and checked out of the hotel to move towards Lachen. In the meantime I called the Lachen homestay owner and told him our time of arrival. The roads till Chungthang was good, from where we had to take a right turn towards Lachen. The straight road goes to Gangtok/Mangan. The road further was well tarred but narrow, due to which I had to drive slowly looking for oncoming vehicles at every sharp turn. Soon that roads started deteriorating. Steep incline with rocky roads which we were accustomed till now. Slowly we reached Lachen before sunset, where we had to submit the permit at the check post at the outskirts of Lachen. After few inquiries, we located the homestay and checked into. The homestay was quite basic and one can manage to spend a night. The dinner was arranged within the homestay. The owner advised us to leave early around 4 in the morning, so that we are allowed towards Gurudongmar lake. Sometime the winds at the lake is so furious that after 12 pm, the Army does not allow tourists further after the last check post. Knowing that we have to leave early at 4, we had the dinner and crashed on the bed.



























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Ashutosh Kumar

Live Young, Live Free
I am not able to add caption to the photo after uploading them. I am not sure if i am doing some mistake.
Can anybody help?

Ashutosh Kumar

Live Young, Live Free
Day 5: (Lachen – Gurudongmar Lake- Mangan 130 kms – 670 kms)

We woke up early at 3:30 am . After finishing the daily chores, we had a hot cup of tea prepared by the owner of the homestay. It was really cold then. We left the homestay a little before 5 am and it was still dark. The road ahead was all the kuchcha roads with stones, pebbles, mud, steep inclines. Now I understood why it takes close to 4 hrs to drive mere 50-60 kms. The conditions were really challenging, but the view were equally enchanting. The calmness, the beauty, the serenity of the valley cannot be penned down. Feeling was like “stay there forever”. We stopped in betweenat Thangu for breakfast. Thangu stands at the height of 14 K ft. It is basically a military area with some locals staying there. There are nothing called restaurants or dhaba. They were actually the locals who uses their cozy homes as a place for quick bites for tourists. for It was freezing cold, the moment we stepped out of our car. It was simple maggi and a cup of tea we had their as our breakfast. The hot maggi taste was something which I would relish for long. It wouldn’t get better that that, complementing the surrounding and the chill. After a brief stay for 30 minutes we resumed our drive towards the lake. The roads ahead were still kuchcha but the incline had gone and were better and wider than the tracks before Thangu. Gradually soaking in the beauty we reached the check post at 8 am. There was a small picket at the check post where all the tourist cab drivers were queued up for submitting the permits in originals. I joined them in the queue chit chatting with them. The wind was quite strong at that time and I was shivering inspite of having 3 layers of clothing. The thin air was aiding to the discomfort. The army man gave me a token number which I need to mention to get the original papers back while returning. The roads thereafter was well tarred , which reminds me of roads just before ladakh when you come from Srinagar. First time after leaving Lachen I ws able to put the 4th gear. The ride till now ws most in 2nd gear with occasional 3rd gear. After 10-15 kms we have to leave the roads and move uphill towards right ot reach the lake. I wsa taken aback with the uphill track. Infact there was no track. You can drive whichever way you want. But I was making sure that I follow the tyre marks. The uphill drive was again in 1st and 2nd gear. After driving for 10-15 mins we reached the Lake at 8:30 am. As expected the chill was there and I could feel the lack of oxygen at 18k feet. We did not waited there for long as I was aware about the AMS and the passengers with me. I did not wanted to take chances. After customary photographs and admiring the beauty of the lake we decided to move downwards. The downward drive was comfortable as compared to the uphill drive. We reached the check post and collected our original documents. There is an army canteen at the check post where hot snacks and tea are available. We relished some veg pakoras and few cups of tea to warm us and moved towards Lachen. Since we had already checked out of the homestay in the morning we kept on moving without stopping at Lachen. The plan to try to reach Rangpo and look for stay option. But the roads conditions did not allow us to reach Rangpo. It was becoming dark just before we were approaching Mangan. We decide to stay at Mangan at the same Hotel we stayed few days back. Quickly connected with manager and he readily arranged 2 rooms for us. We had nothing to do that evening. We chit chatted for a while remembering the trip. I asked Anil what shall be the appropriate payback for his immense help and the company. He said “ Aap ko jo thik lage”. I offered him 2K and he accepted it happily. I don’t know if that was sufficient or more than enough. But he was happy with the deal. We had the dinner early, and retired for the day.






















Ashutosh Kumar

Live Young, Live Free
Day 6: (Mangan-Shillong)

The plan for the day was to leave early so that we can reach Shillong. Hence we decided to leave the hotel at Mangan without having the breakfast. We could feel the heat of the plains once we reached Rangpo. We stopped after Rongpo to have the breakfast at one of the road side restaurants. We had a comparatively heavier breakfast, so that we do not take multiple steps to fill our tummy or avoid the lunch if at all possible. It was 12:30 when we crossed the Sevoke bridge towards Malbazaar. The rest of the day was un eventful. We reached Shillong at 9 in the night. We had to stay here at my inlaws house for next 3 days. We utilized these 3 days to visit the tourist attractions in Meghalaya like, Cherrapunji, Laithlum, Root Bridge, wahrashi Falls, Dawki etc. This was my 3rd trip to Shillong , hence most of the tourist attraction was repeat for me. My parents enjoyed it though, being their first trip to Shillong. The time I am writing this travelogue I am already back from my 4th visit to Shillong.

Day 7,8,9 ( Shillong and Around)

The rest of the story would be photolouge mostly.






















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Ashutosh Kumar

Live Young, Live Free
Day 10 & 11( Shillong to Siliguri- 550 kms) - (Siliguri to Jamshedpur – 680 kms)

Shillong to Jamshedpur has been a usual drive for me, which takes around 26 hrs. Generally, I take night halt a Siliguri. Shillong to Siliguri takes around 11-12 hrs whereas Siliguri to Jamshedpur takes 13-14 hrs time.