Pulsar 200NS across Sikkim | Gurudongmar Lake | Old Silk Route

Chandrajit Rudra

Tech Enthusiast and Blogger
So, sorry!! With too much workload, I missed out on updating :(
I think I have to head out somewhere again to clear my mind.... ;-)

Motorcycling across Sikkim | Day 5 | Pelling to Gangtok


While friends woke up early morning to see the magical Kanchenjunga from our balcony, treading outside the warmth of my blanket was out of question. Instead, I removed the curtains and peeked from my bed, keeping a balance between lethargy and curiosity. After sleeping for a few more hours, it was time to pack up and leave. Except Okhrey, the plan did not include halting at the same place for more than a day. Time bound plannings like these were too swift to enjoy the essence of a place.


Somewhere on the way...

I saddled up my motorcycle and a quick checkup revealed the obvious. With zero pressure on the front tire, the plan for leaving had to be pushed back by an hour. There was no puncture shop that had opened yet and I had to fix it myself. After inspecting for a long time, we blamed a small crack on the rubber as the culprit (i still doubt if it was) and shoved in a rubber strip. Initially, I had planned to ride from Pelling to Gangtok directly but tweaked it later to accommodate the Kanchejunga falls, diverting from the way. The roads were pretty good now. After riding on the Melli to Okhrey stretch on Day 2, I would probably call every road henceforth as a good one, unless they knock me off. This time, I did not pace ahead and kept a steady distance ahead of the car. I had to stop at a puncture repair shop to get an expert opinion, since I had been dealing with this trouble ever since the first day at Okhrey. Here the repair guy pointed out a problem with the valve and tightened it. I felt relieved as this was a new issue found and fixed. The days ahead would be tougher and scarcely populated. I did not hope to find such support there. So, finding issues and fixing them beforehand was good.


Kanchenjunga Falls
The direct distance from Pelling to Gangtok is around 110 kms and I considered it as another easy day. Later on, when Kanchenjunga Falls became an halt, the distance totaled to around 160 kms. Based on the treacherous roads over the past few days, maintaining an average speed of 20 kmph was normal and so the ride would be of around 8 hours, skipping breaks and mealtimes. But, missing Kanchenjunga falls was not an option. It is the biggest and most scenic waterfall across Sikkim. At Kanchenjunga Falls, the small stalls along the way sell a lot of stuffs like walnuts, cheese and even dates! But, save your money here. Their poor quality are not worth spending a single rupee. Get packed branded items, if necessary. We took a hour long break and ziplined for the first time here. It was a small but thrilling zipliner at just Rs. 100 per head. Previously, I had heard about a few cyclist tripping across Sikkim but this was the first time, I crossed path with a rather aged cyclist. He seemed to be more than 50, for sure. Hats off to his mettle, deciding to take a cycling trip across Sikkim at that age.


Is she really 90 yrs old??

By the time we left Kanchenjunga Falls, it was almost 12 noon and speeding ahead seemed like a better option. But, either way, reaching Gangtok before sunset was impossible. The ride was across a few villages covering both good and bad terrain. Most of the roads were well tarred and smooth but there were some extreme patches where loosing control of your motorcycle wouldn't be that hard. As one such point, the engine needed to be revved hard and in-spite of that, the tires skidded and found it hard to get a grip on the incline. Luckily, the motorcycle did pull up through that patch but I would say, its better to opt for a powerful motorcycle, if you plan to come here.

Riding across Legship and Tashiding, a steep slope spelled a notice: "Shooting Stones - Drive carefully". While riding, a sizeable stone fell in front of me and probably its sibling, a smaller one decided to hit the SJcam mounted on my top box behind me. Lucky, huh! They skipped my head!! The mount and the casing broke open and I had to stop for a moment, grab the same and speed out fast before the rest of the stone family hurled downhill. Patches like these are probably rare but dangerous and mishaps like these are unfortunate. You can ride defensive and think twice before you head but certain aspects have to be left at the mercy of nature.

Lunch was booked at Bakhim, a few kms before Rabongla where I had some beef momos but the taste was sub-standard. I am a fan of steaks but not beef momos anymore! I would prefer to stick to known chicken and veg momos henceforth. After finishing my lunch, I decided to move ahead without waiting for my friends, for it was already 3:00 pm and Gangtok was a healthy 70 kms away. But, I took it slow and easy since I knew that a certain portion of the ride would be on the National Highway. The roads from Rabongla to Gangtok are very good, when you compare it with the rest of Sikkim.

While riding across this place, at some point a rider on another Pulsar 200 NS started following me & continued for a long time. There were very few motorcyclist in these parts and getting the company of a rider on a similar motorcycle felt good. We got introduced on the way and stopped at a couple of places to chat and have some 'chai'. Mr. Thapa, my new friend worked at Rabongla and rode back to his hometown, Gangtok once a month. He also offered to show me around a tea garden on our way. But, due to lack of time, I had to turn down his offer. Before leaving for this journey, there were a lot of speculations about getting robbed/cheated/duped on the way. Instead, I got to meet nice people throughout. I guess, sometimes the world is way better than we think.


With Mr. Bhutia

After reaching Singtam, the best roads of Sikkim take you to its capital via NH10. The sun had already set, but being a populous National Highway with wide roads, there was no reason to hurry. I cruised along till my hotel in Gangtok. It was Hotel Sunshine which was around 2 kms away from M.G. Road. Though, the hotels were a part of pre-booked package for us, their rent is pretty cheap (around 1000/day) and they have enough space to park 3-4 motorcycles. I called up John to check the status of my permits. He informed me that I had to collect the same from Gangtok Police Checkpost next morning where he would be ready with all the required papers.


Parked in front of Hotel Sunshine, Gangtok

The next day, I would be riding from Gangtok to Lachen, North Sikkim, provided my permits had been cleared.

P.S. I also vlogged the journey and published it on Youtube. Subscribe if you like them. :)

Motovlog for the Day:
 
It is a real wonderful journey. I would love to do this some day and that is for sure. When the motorcycle falls generally clutch lever or break lever might break.
I think a rider must carry these as spares.
 

Chandrajit Rudra

Tech Enthusiast and Blogger
It is a real wonderful journey. I would love to do this some day and that is for sure. When the motorcycle falls generally clutch lever or break lever might break.
I think a rider must carry these as spares.
On Day 8 my motorcycle did fall again and my clutch did bend. Lucky, that I had all the necessary spares with me.
The vlogs explain in better detail. Do subscribe :)
 

Chandrajit Rudra

Tech Enthusiast and Blogger
Motorcycling across Sikkim | Day 6 | Gangtok to Lachen

I woke up before the alarm. It was around 5:30 am. On a normal day, it takes at least 3-4 alarms to get up. But, that thought was running through my head once again. Should I ride to Gurudongmar?

I knew that the roads I had faced till now were too good to compare to the terrains that lead to the highest lake of India. Riding to an altitude almost equal to the Everest base camp, it was not amusing to think of the journey that lay ahead. Siddharth had completed Gurudongmar a day before and warned me about the conditions last night. There were almost no roads to that place. Rocks, gravel and black ice lay like a devil. No rubber could grip its surface with ease. On top of that, narrow roads, steep inclines, sub-zero temperatures and thin air made things worse. He had fallen four times during his ride. But, still had the zeal and passion to conquer the terrain. I wondered how my journey would take its shape. Could I do it? But, challenges are what brought me here in the first place.

Before all that, I had this day to make it to Lachen, the quaint North Sikkimese village from where I would start riding tomorrow and for that permits were needed.


At M.G. Marg, Gangtok (6 am) for permits

In North Sikkim, Mangan onward, the Restricted Area starts and you need to obtain an ILP (Inner Line Permit) / RAP (Restricted Area Permit) for the same. Foreigners are not allowed here. You realize once again that you have always been an esteemed citizen . In general, one has to keep a day aside to obtain permits from the Home Department at Gangtok. But, with Sid's help, I was in touch with John Shanker, a Sikkimese local who agreed to help me get the permits for my motorcycle. I had mailed all documents to John a few days before the trip.


The 4 permits for 4 checkposts in North Sikkim

While the permits from Home Department were ready, you would need to get it stamped from the Police Check Post near M.G. Marg, Gangtok on the day you leave. John would be there and hand over the same to me after completing all formalities.


One of the permit copies

With permits in hand by 7:30 am, I had little time to settle my morning chores back at the hotel. I knew that my front tire had zero pressure and visiting a puncture repair shop was a priority. I actually wanted to get a new tire and get rid of the trouble but options nearby were limited. This time, I elaborated the repair guy about the background mystery (the tire was verified at 3 more places across West Sikkim - Okhrey, Pelling and Dentam but none of them found any defect). As usual, our Gangtok repair guy tried to find a puncture but failed. He certified that it was perfect. On insisting, he pumped till 60 PSI, removed the tire and dipped it in water to prove his point. Well, it was a definite mystery now.

I started off from Gangtok by 10:00 am with a faint hope that my front tire would not let me down for the day. Siddharth was also leaving Mangan nearly at the same time and we were to meet somewhere in between. The roads from Gangtok and Mangan are pretty good with some obviously dangerous patches. These are the areas where landslides and water crossings have washed the good work done by BRO. But, most of the part lets you enjoy the ride and get lost at the Himalyan ranges that keep up with their mesmerizing views.

A while after, I met Siddharth. He was coming back from Mangan, having completed Gurudongmar a day before. I was lucky to know a person in this journey who covered the toughest terrains before me. Sid helped me with a lot of info about the route conditions, how to handle black ice patches and stuff. We had some tea which he was carrying in his flask. He also helped me with warmees, which is kind of a self heating solution and left his gumboots for me at Guddu Ji's hotel at Mangan, in case I needed them. Taking about "Biking Brotherhood"? This is an example that Sid set.



Meeting Siddharth on the way back

Riding ahead, at the first check post (Kabi outpost), the permits are verified by the police. In between, there were two extremely difficult patches. Both, man made! Of course, I can't blame them because the steps they were taking were to construct a better road. On the first steep incline, broken boulders were laid, which would later be crushed by the road-roller. The incline, along with the rolling 'n' slipping rocks beneath the rubber made it extremely difficult to ride downhill. Twice, my motorcycle went nearly out of control and I had just managed to get its grip back on the road.

The second time, it was an uphill road which was an extremely slushy-muddy patch. You know how tires skid on small muddy patches back on the plains. This incline here was nearly at 30 degrees and the mud n water was deep enough to sink the tire rim in. A truck ahead of me was trying to climb up that incline while it kept slipping back numerous times. You had to wait for the vehicle ahead to climb up to the top and then start. Else, you never know when it slips back too much to knock you down. Had there been no rocks beneath that mud-water shit, it would have been 1000% impossible to ride/drive/walk on that. The problem was that you did not know if your tire was going to tread on a rock ahead for some grip or it would be a complete slip with mud and water beneath. It took more than 15 minutes of patience to cover a distance of around 100 meters and I stopped for some rest after crossing that patch. Everyone has a certain endurance limit and I just kept praying to let the roads ahead be at least good enough for me. I did not want to face any mishap as that meant a lifetime full-stop for my passion.

Luckily, the rest of the way did not bring in anymore drastic challenges.

Riding ahead, you have to cross the Siliguri - Gangtok - Mangan junction. I was not aware that one could reach Mangan without crossing Gangtok. So, next time you plan to ride to Gurudongmar, you can go straight to Mangan, call Gudduji (+919735065972) beforehand for a place to stay and he would also help you get your permits to Gurudongmar. From what I heard, he is a great guy at Mangan. If you need any help, get in touch with him.


Somewhere in between...

And, just before entering Mangan, you come across the second checkpost where you have to submit another xerox of the Gangtok checkpost paper. Generally, they don't ask you too many questions if you have all documents, but some ranked Officer was visiting this place when I came in and the police started being a smart ass asking me unnecessary questions. On top of that, he gave me a completely wrong information and asked me to visit the Mangan DC office for submitting my permit letter.

The last petrol pump of North Sikkim is located just before the Mangan market. If you are riding ahead, the most common route would be Mangan - Chungthang - Lachung - Zero Point - Lachung - Chungthang - Lachen - Gurudongmar - Lachen - Chungthang - Mangan. That is a distance of nearly 400 kms. Most budget friendly motorcycles (within 1.5 lacs) do not have enough mileage to cover this range on a full tank and no one would like to be stranded in such a desolate part of the country like North Sikkim. Even riding on reserve is unfathomable to me. My 200NS can give a maximum range of 350 kms on a full tank. To be on the safe side, I had a 1 liter jerry can in my saddle bag and I had given Sumalya a 5 liter can to bring it along in their car.

I got a few more permit xeroxes done from the Mangan market and as per the Mangan checkpost police, I followed his instructions being a noob in this place and went to the DC office which is at the top of Mangan, diverting 5-6 kms from the route. There I came to know that I had already got everything cleared from Gangtok and visiting this office was not necessary. Mangan DC office issues permits for those motorcycles or cars who did not get their permits done from Gangtok. A point to be noted: If you are planning to take your permits from Mangan, you should get it done before 2:30 pm as they do not issue the same after that.

I had wasted a lot of time at Mangan and the fear of bad terrain and darkness started creeping in. I knew that I had to take shorter breaks now. The ride ahead would give me very little opportunity to relax. I decided to skip my pre-booked lunch at a restaurant on the way and opted to keep myself light on chocolates and nutrition bars.


Tagged as one of the unforgettable lunch breaks of life...


Checkout the motovlog for Day 6, till break:

And, subscribe to my Youtube Channel (in signature) for future updates :)



After break:
Surprisingly, the roads from Mangan to Lachen were good apart from some bad patches. 'Good' is a relative term but trust me, if you ride to this point, your definition of 'good roads' will change forever. We cuss the potholes and cracked roads back at home. Ever wondered, how the daily life of people here are like? Riding amidst rocks and gravel for hundreds of kilometers now, a bit of pitch black tar in between felt like heaven. While I enjoyed the journey, my heart thumped with joy, wrists throttled with excitement but my butt carried a completely different persona. It had taken the pain for long and stretches like these were a few happy moments for it.



A break

At Chungthang, the Mell checkpost police informed me that permits would be verified at Lachen and I did not need to halt anywhere else. I continued my journey on the roads of North Sikkim amidst the desolate lands. The roads in North Sikkim were not good but BRO works hard to keep it in shape. At a few places, the roads winded up almost like a tunnel except that to your right, it was a free fall. A vertical wall descended steeply into the river Teesta. I bet, places like these could also be a good vantage point for the Nights watch against the white-walkers. As I rode across such stretches, my heart thumped. Looking down to the right, it was more scary and I sped fast keeping a sharp eye on the roads ahead. On terrains like these, the average speed is always limited to 20 kmph and covering distances is a pain. Of course, for riders that is a blessing in disguise.


Stopping on the way for a few minutes, to listen to the flowing Teesta amidst pin-drop silence...

The gates to Lachen welcomed me warmly signifying that my homestay should be near. But, I was so wrong. Our homestay, Lachen EcoNest was not marked on Google Maps. I had no option but to follow the old school method and inquire locals about my destination. Sadly, almost none of them had heard of such a place. I was in a dilemma but rode ahead because as per maps, the village of Lachen is quite a few kilometers away from the gates that welcome you.

At the Lachen Check post, the police guided me towards the homestay and I reached safely before the sun set. The cold winds had crept in long back when the sun rays stopped reaching the winding roads amidst the valley. But, you could see the shine and warmth on the peaks where it existed.


From the homestay, Lachen EcoNest

There was a small shop beside the homestay where you could get almost every necessary item. In a village like Lachen, I did not expect such a stock. And, talking about liquor, you even get all the basic varieties here.

I started with a beer and moved onto good ol' BP. It felt like a bliss after such a tiring ride.

I did not want to think about the next morning. It was already freezing cold and riding to Gurudongmar at 3:30 am was unimaginable. The more I would have thought, the more were the chances of my conscience deciding to take myself a step back.

I came here to ride to Gurudongmar and would return only after I was done.

The vlog after break:
 
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