Great Tourist Destinations in North Sikkim
North Sikkim hugs the Himalayan Mountains closely and is different from any other place in India. The northern zone of Sikkim is the coldest, prettiest and has a wild celestial beauty that few can resist. Whether you are craving for adventure or on quest for spirituality or simply want to spend some peaceful time in the company of beautiful nature …North Sikkim will give you the ultimate opportunity. Below are the list of top places in North Sikkim that you will really enjoy visiting.
Note that most of North Sikkim is high altitude and the air has rarefied oxygen levels so you need to accilitimise yourself at base camps and avoid long stretches of travel that involve drastic shifts in the oxygen levels in air. You also need to travel in a sturdy vehicle like a Jeep as the roads are mostly rocky and full of sharp turns. It’s better to hire a good driver and vehicle from a reputed travel agency for exploring North Sikkim.
Several parts of North Sikkim fall under protected area and you would need a special permit and go through a registered tour & travel agency of Sikkim.
A serene little hamlet nestling on the banks of the Lachung River, Lachung is the best possible destination for those who really love nature. Incidentally the name Lachung means small pass. Quiet and serene (though a considerable number of tourists visit it) Lachung doesn’t have any commercial, glitzy attractions and is close to the Tibet border. What it offers are scenic views, a melting pot of culture, ubiquitous handicrafts and wonderful natural flora.
The Lachung Gompa is one of the primary attractions of this small picturesque town. This ancient monastery was built in 1880 and it lies amidst a luscious apple orchard. You can easily recognize the monastery as it has two identical metal dragons and huge prayer wheels. Try walking through the village to the monastery… it’s a short walk and you get to see many sights on the way. You can either opt for the main Katao road that leads up to the signed gateway of the monastery or you can take the longer prettier route that forks left after the bridge. There is a handicraft center near the monastery which sells blankets, rugs and wall hangings…. these are locally woven and represent the unique style of north Sikkim.
Lachung is famous for its fruit production…apples, peaches and apricots are found in abundance there. Interestingly this area follows Zumsa that is a system of self-governance wherein all local disputes are looked over by a body of people which is headed by a Pipon who is democratically elected. This is very similar to the Panchayat system in other villages in the Indian heartlands.
From lachung…you can travel to Phuni, Yumthang Valley and even go for the famous rhodenderon valley trek. You can also indulge in fishing and birding here.
Accommodation in Lachung isn’t an issue…you will find a number of hotels (of different categories) along with homestays and even a Dak Bungalow. Some of the best known hotels in this area are Yarlam, Etho Metho, Modern Residency, Tenzing Retreat etc.
Preferred Time to visit: Lachung is quite close to Yumthang and Phuni that are winter sports destinations. If you want to enjoy winter sports then the best time to visit is between Dec to march. Otherwise summers in Lachung are pleasant and the ideal time is between March to June
Location and route: Lachung is 195km away from the Bagdogra airport and 190 km away from the NJP Railway station. Sikkim’s capital Gangtok is 116 km away from Lachung and the latter enjoys good connectivity to Darjeeling, Tashiding, Yuksom, Pelling too. From Gangtok it takes about 4 hr 35 minutes to reach Lachung by car.
A lovely little place in North Sikkim, the valley of Yumthang is well known for its hot sulphurous springs and valley of beautiful rhodenderons. Home to 24 different species of these beautiful flowers Yumthang is also called the Valley of Flowers. North East India’s loveliest river Teesta flows right through the Yumthang Valley making it a place like the paradise.
The lovely Singhba Rhodenderon sanctuary that contains more than 24 species of rhodenderons is a part of Yumthang valley. In flowering season you will see primulas, iris, poppies etc in the region. The Chuba Sagochen mountain ranges flank the sanctuary on the east while the Chomzomei flanks the mountains on the west…the total area of this sanctuary is more than 43 sq. km. it’s possible to take day trips in the sanctuary between 8a.m. too 3 p.m. if one takes the help of a trained guide.
A small tributary of Teesta flows besides Yumthang valley and there is a hot spring with alleged medicinal properties in that area. Enroute to Yumthang valley you will see lots of natural streams and waterfalls along with excellent views of peaks of Pauhunri and Shundi. Go a little more north and you can trek to the Tungabhadra Shiva temple. Another good tourist attraction nearby is Yumesamdong or Zero Point that’s full of fascinating views of the Himalayas.
Preferred Time to visit: it’s almost a sin to visit Yumthang and not see Singhba Rhodenderon sanctuary…the season of flowers is from March to middle of June and the place resembles a rainbow in this period. February to March is also the season of Losar festival and the locals put up amazing cultural shows, food extravaganzas and musical programs in this area. Heavy snowfall tales place during winter (December to February).
Location and route: Yumthang is about 142 km from Gangtok and only 26kms (1 hour drive) from Lachung. Tourists stay at Lachung and make a day visit to Yumthang. Roads are not that pleasant and you need to return from Yumthang by 5.30 p.m. (it gets terribly dark afterwards). You can also explore Yumthang as a part of 3-4 day treks organised by popular travel companies…you will be able to cover Lachen and Lachung too.
One of the loveliest and yet relatively unexplored skiing destinations in India, Phuni is just 20 km away from Lachung. In fact you can use Lachung as a base for exploring Phuni though it deserves a special individual mention. The snow that covers Phuni all winter, lovely gentle slopes and an altitude of 11,500 feet makes it an attractive destination for ski lovers across the globe. The SMA (Sikkim mountaineering association) organises ice skiing festivals at Phuni every March for 15 days to popularize this sport amongst tourists.
Tourists don’t usually prefer staying in Phuni valley as Lachung is a much more convenient base.
Preferred time to visit: the snow starts in December so if you are interested in skiing and winter sports then the best time to visit is between Decembers to March.
Location and Route: it will take you 45 minutes to reach Phuni valley from Lachung and only 15 minutes to reach Phuni from Yumthang (7 km away).
Lachen means big pass in native Sikimese and it (like Lachung) is full of beautiful scenic sights. Lachen has not yet become as big a tourist destination like Lachung so there is an untouched beauty about the place. Less than 250 houses stand in Lachen and some of them offer homestay accommodations for tourists. The people here are mostly herders and call themselves Lachenpas… Sikkim govt is working towards promoting Lachen as a village tourism hub.
The Lachen Gompa presides over this small hamlet and luscious forests form a canopy around the settlement. Snow clad peaks are easily visible here and in the spring many varieties of flowers dot the place. In summers the annual Yak race takes place here and that’s an ideal time to visit. It will take you almost 2 days to explore Lachen and its surroundings fully…many tourists utilise Lachen as a base for exploring Gurudongmar and Lhamu lakes.
Lachen is also used as a base for the Green Lake Trek …this alpine lake is the base camp for Mt Kanchendzonga. The lake is beside the Zhemu glacier and at an altitude of 5,000 meters… it’s an adventurous trekking trail but a lovely one that passes through rhododendron, poppy and primula forests. The trek from Lachen to Green Lake will pass through Talem, Yabuk, Jakthang etc and is a 30 km stretch.
Preferred Time to visit: Summers (April – May… because of the glorious yearly yak race and beautiful flowers).
Location and route: Gangtok is 5 hours away from Lachen (125 km). You can combine a visit to visit Lachen and Lachung as a part of the same travel package.
Gurudongmar is considered to be one of the highest altitude lakes in the world. The lake is known after Guru Padmasambhava who had paid a visit here in the 8th century. The revered Guru Nanak had also visited and blessed this lake in the 15th century. The Gurundongmar Lake is sustained by glaciers that lie to the north of Kangchengyao range… this lake also contributes to the formation of Teesta River. The surrounding area is known as Gurudongmar and is populated by blue sheep, yaks and other species of wildlife. Currently a Lama from Lachen Monastery looks after the upkeep of the lake.
Chopta Valley is not verdant and green like most other parts of Sikkim... it has rather a barren and austere landscape that seems exotic. In the spring however the valley transforms itself and becomes a riot of colours as primulas and rhodendrons and thousands of unnamed blooms color it up.
Chopta valley falls en-route the extreme high altitude trek to Mungthang and its best visited on the way from Lachen to Gurudongmar Lake. You need to take a detour while travelling from Thangu to Gurudongmar to arrive at Chopta valley (13200 feet). A rough mud hewn road runs along the valley and it’s recommended to park your car here for a couple of hours to imbibe the tranquillity all around and take some great pictures.
The place contains several snaking rivers which freeze over from autumn onwards. Look at the scattered green shrubbery dotting the valley…these are the last greens on this vista as the road goes up to the Tibetan plateau that’s virtually bare. It’s here that you can experience walking on a frozen river (extra caution recommended!!) you can opt to go on a super adventurous trek to Mungthang valley (15,500 feet) from Chopta. Don’t confuse this Chopta valley with the Uttarkhand Chopta valley that has Tungabhadra and Chandrashila peaks.
The nomadic Lachenpa tribes chose Chopta as their summer home and some years back it was the practice of the entire village to follow group migration practices. The whole village shifted to Thangu from Lachen in summers but right now they have started leading a more settled life.
The Chopta Valley offers grand sweeping mountainous vistas, fresh air and lovely wildflowers along with birds who have not yet begun to shy away from humans. These are rough and untamed lands though …don’t expect coffee shops and public toilets here. There is no accommodation option here…you need to choose to stay either in Thangu or in Lachen while exploring Gurudongmar lake and Chopta valley.
Preferred Time to visit
Try visiting anytime between Aprils to October. However try avoiding July and August as the routes become slippery and treacherous due to rains. The spring months are best for experiencing the flowers and autumn is good for seeing the frozen rivers.
Location and Route
Chopta valley is 160 km away from Gangtok and most tourists stop overnight at Lachen
and energize themselves for the journey to Chopta valley via Thangu. Please note that international tourists have travel restrictions to Chopta…however a pass can be obtained from the permits office at Gangtok if one so desires. Thangu has a military check post where your driver needs to get down and complete some paperwork before you can actually proceed further. Thangu to Chopta Valley will only take 20 minutes if there aren’t any road obstructions. Stock up on maggi, momos and butter tea from the stalls here….Chopta is beyond the reach of such amenities.
Chungthang sits on the junction of the rivers Lachung chu and Lachen chu. It is actually a historical town and both Padmasambhava and Guru Nanak were supposed to have visited Chungthang. Apart from being an important attraction in itself, Chungthang is also used as a base for travelling to Lachen, Lachun, Yumthang, Gurudongmar, Yumesandong, Tso Lamu lake and Katao lake.
In Chungthang there is a rock that contains the handprints and footprints of Padmasambhava. There is a small opening in the rock and rich mineral water constantly flows from it. Also there is a patch of land nearby sprouting paddy… whereas the land all around is bare and infertile. This piece of lands was supposedly blessed by Padmasambhava who sprinkled some grains over it… the hidden valley of rice (Sikkim’s nick name) originated from this legend.
Once in Chungthang check the massive hydroelectric project that’s happening over the river confluence…note that an entire village has sprouted up besides Lachen Chu to support the project work.
Preferred Time to visit: though a part of North Sikkim, Chungthang isn’t that cold as the altitude is moderate. It’s best to avoid the monsoons as landslides happen and the area becomes treacherous.
Location and route: Chungthang is 95 km away from Gangtok and can be reached in 3.5 hours (roads are rough). From Gangtok…tourists usually stop at Mangan and then they follow the Teesta River to Chungthang.
A sleepy peaceful village, Thangu is also a military base for the Indian army. Many tourists prefer staying in Thangu and getting themselves acclimatized to the rarefied air and sharp cold that the higher altitudes of north Sikkim bring. People who trek to Gurudongmar Lake, Mugthang and Chopta valley often use Thangu as a base.
This region is untouched, sparsely populated and time seems to have come to a halt here … all these reasons contribute to its unique charm.
Thangu is at an altitude of 13,000 feet and it’s 30 km to the north of Lachen. Every year between Octobers to May is snow covered while in the summers the alpine vegetation here covers it with so many colours. There are many streams and mini rivulets that dissect Thangu and you should be able to identify the Chopta Chu, Lassur Chu and Thangu Chu.
Thangu has some basic accommodation options but you need a special permit to stay here. Most tourists do not opt for a night stay in Thangu…they use Lachen for an overnight halt.
Preferred Time to visit: Thangu is snowed over in the winters and conditions can get extreme. It’s better to come here during March to June. However if your sole purpose is travelling to Gurudongmar and Mungthang then you can choose any time between November to June.
Location and route: Thangu is about 155 km away from Gangtok (about 7 hours by car)…you can either travel directly or opt for a stopover in Lachen. From Lachen Thangu is 35 km but this is a difficult road often plagued by landslides.
Serious trekkers are well acquainted with Mangan that serves as a gateway to the unchartered virgin terrains of North Sikkim. This is the capital as well as market center for North Sikkim and so many fruit and spice sellers visit this hamlet plying their wares…in fact this is one of the best places to visit in North Sikkim should you want to shop for fresh produce. Mangan is recognised as the official entry point to Lachen and Lachung. It is called the cardamom capital of India and is also the administrative headquarters of Northern Sikkim. There is mixed vegetation here with pine and fir forests thinning up to desert scrubs. The best thing about Mangan are the many natural waterfalls that dot its sides.
Mangan is very close to Singhik (4 km only) so all the nearby attractions and short trek destinations are common for both places.
The Kanchenjungha mountain views here are amazing and that’s just one of the reasons you should plan a visit to this pretty little place. There is a heritage house named Rong Lungten Lee that’s 8 km away from Mangan and it contains a good variety of ancient artefacts that belong to Lepcha tribe.
Mangan is also used as a base for the trek to Tosar Lake that stands at an altitude of 4,000 meters near the Chola range of mountains. Tosar Lake stands by a huge cliff that’s considered to be holy by the locals. The trek to the lake starts from Tom Naga or Naksuk near Mangan and then a full days trek follows. The route is via Sohar De…Naksuk…Se Patnam and then Tosar Lake. Enroute you get to explore Naga villages, bamboo forests, pine forests, rhodenderons and stunning views. The famous Yak trails can also be seen along this route.
Mangan has relatively more accommodation options as compared to Singhik. There are some like The Planters Home that offer an optimal mix of nature’s company and modern comfort. You can try booking a room …there are 3 cottages each with 4 bedrooms in the Planters House.
Phone No: 03592 – 234286 / 234824
+91 - 7478181311 / +91 - 9735615240
Address: Dr.Lobzang Tenzing Marg, Pentok, North Sikkim
Preferred Time to Visit: this is an all year destination but if you plan to use it as a base for treks to higher altitudes then avoid the winters and monsoons.
Location and Route: Mangan is 65 km away from Gangtok…it takes approximately 2.5 hours to reach. An alternative route to reach Mangan is through Singtam that’s 95 km away. The Bagdogra airport is 145 km away and the NJP Railway station is 146 km away. Regular taxis from Gangtok also ply to Mangan along with state and private buses.
This is an area in north Sikkim comprising of several Lepcha villages. It takes less than 3 hours from Gangtok to reach Dzongu. This small mountain area has been preserved for Lepchas to showcase their ethnic & traditional lifestyle which is in perfect harmony with nature. In fact Lepchas believe this place has been blessed by god. There are no commercial hotels here. However several local Lepcha villagers have extended their homes to offer cozy homestays to tourists. Other than experiencing the local village culture, you can savor traditional Lepcha as well Sikkimese homemade food and drinks.
What you get to see here are stunning views of mountains including Kanchenjunga snow peaks, lakes that are considered sacred by the villagers, plenty of gushing waterfalls, landscapes full of vegetation & cardamom plantations, paddy fields etc and of course traditional Lepcha lifestyle that has been followed since ages retaining the old ethnic practices. And you can go for wonderful treks, fishing, bird & butterfly watching, village tours and other nature friendly activities.
Another hamlet in the lap of natural beauty, Singhik has started gaining recognition as an exotic getaway. You can plan treks, nature trails and long walks from Singhik as there are lots of such opportunities. Singhik has great views of the whole Kanchenjungha range including clear ones of Mount Siniolchu.
Spending time in Singhik will allow you to see a lot of attractions… the Singhik Monastery and the traditional House of the Lepchas are just two of those attractions. The Phodong monastery is only 30 km away from Singhik…the Waterfalls of Naga and Seven Sisters can also be explored with an hour’s drive.
The village of Kabi where the treaty of blood brotherhood was signed in the 14th century is just 40 km away from Singhik….tourists interested in spiritual destinations might find Kabi alluring. Dzongu and Tingchim village (there is a beautiful emerald lake here and a 100 year old monastery)…both of these are 15 km away from Singhik. Bird watching, going on short and beautiful treks, tribal interaction programs are some of the major things you can do in Singhik. As far as trekking is concerned it’s better to go through a known tour operator if you are going on major treks like the Tosha Lake Trek…for day trips to spots like Jhandi View Point…going unsupervised is okay.
Singhik Bungalow maintained and run by the Heritage Bungalow group is about 5,200 feet above sea level.
Only a few accommodation options are available in Singhik and the Govt Owned Singhik tourist Bungalow (it stands on a hilltop) that’s now managed by Mr Tempa Lehendup is one of the best options. Great views of Kanchenjungha, good food and nice facilities are on offer.
You can call 09635839939 to make a booking at the tourist bungalow.
Preferred Time to visit: Singhik can be visited at any time of the year however summers and autumn are temperate and suitable for a visit if you want to avoid the plunging Celsius.
Location and route: Gangtok is 56kms away from Singhik and it’s possible to travel within 2.5 hours. You will find several modes of conveyance like taxis, buses too apart from jeeps on this route. Mangan is just 4 km away from Singhik and shared cabs and buses ply between these two places.
Deepak Saligram (September 2018)
Dear Mr. Raj, My sincere thanks for sharing this girth of information and beautiful photographs, I have a query, how good is it to plan a visit to North Sikkim in end of November. Plan to do this with wife and 2.5 year old toddler (Is it advisable to take a young child to Gurudongmar? - She has already seen Bhutan (May) and complete Himachal (Jan) and was quite ok in cold weather).
If not in November, which months are best to plan a visit to the same? places we wish to cover are Nathu La, Guru Dongmar, Yumathang, Zero point and anything else you would recommend (have seen Gangtok and around, missed Nathu La). Awaiting your response.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2018
Hello, it is not at all advisable to take a 2.5 year old infant to altitudes of Nathula, Gurudongmar etc. In fact the guards at the check posts may not allow a child below 5 years to visit. This is not because of cold, but due to lack of adequate oxygen at such places which can cause illness. November is otherwise a good time although it would be biting cold up there.
Prasad (August 2018)
Dear Mr. Raj, Kindly give info. on availability of vehicles from Mangan to Darjeeling. We are four adult males , ready travel even in any shared vehicle- if these are available. Thanks in advance.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) August 2018
Hello, there are private taxis at Mangan to take a transfer to Gangtok or Darjeeling. Occasional shared jeeps too are available at Mangan for Gangtok (not for Darjeeling though).
Debapriya Roy (May 2018)
I with my husband and father wish to visit Gurudongmar and Yumthang in the last week of October. We will stay at Gangtok for a day before going up and a day after coming down from North Sikkim. In that case, do we carry all our luggage with us to North Sikkim? Or carry just what is needed? What is usually the norm? Please suggest.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) May 2018
You need to carry all your heaviest woolens to Yumthang and Gurudongmar apart from the essentials. If that comprises majority of your luggage then better to carry everything, else you can leave some part of the luggage at your hotel in Gangtok if they have storage facility.
Purba Bhattacharya (January 2018)
At the beginning I wish to thank and commend you for your extensive and excellent work. It is truly helpful and highly appreciated. My family and I are planning to visit Sikkim in May. I just want to know whether going to Lachung directly from Darjeeling and then Lachen and Gangtok is a good idea. If so, then from where do we get the necessary permits? I'll be really grateful if you could respond and help us out.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) January 2018
Hi, you can't visit Lachung or Lachen directly from Darjeeling. You need to get your permits done at Gangtok through a registered tour operator (minimum one day required for this).