Do's and Dont's while travelling to Gurudongmar

Friday, October 21, 2016

If you are planning your next vacation to North Sikkim, then this is the post for you. When I was planning my trip, I was looking for these similar information over the internet that I am going to share with you. But I could not find much. There are a lot of things that you should keep in mind especially for trips in these remote locations. I am also going to share some tips that I gathered from my experience and journey.

How to reach

The only way to reach North Sikkim, is by car to be booked from Gangtok. I have seen that most of the cars are either Sumo Gold or Bolero, very few are Mahindra Xylo and Innova. Trust me, it is safer to travel in Sumo and Bolero as these are meant for tough roads. I could spot some Safari's also but I am sure for these, the charges would be different and they are not the shared ones. In shared cars, they book for 10 people, 2 in front, 4 in the middle and 4 in the back. Hardly you would get any option to choose your seat preferences. Most tourists prefer front and middle seats, and the tour company would never give you all front and middle seats. They always make sure that everyone gets fair options and the car is fully booked before they set out for journey. You can imagine how difficult it would be for 4 person to be sitting jam packed on such a bumpy road, even more difficult if the persons are quite healthy. We went in October 2016, during the Durga Puja time, and most of the tour companies were charging Rs 3300 to Rs 3600 per person for 2 night / 3 days ( Lachen, Gurudongmar, Lachung, Yumthang ). But we got a great deal from a tour company called Altitude tours and travels situated on M.G. Marg just beside the Sikkim tourism office. The owner is named Baichung, a smart guy who knows how to retain customers. He charged us Rs 2900 per person which includes all meals, stay and the entire trip. There is also 2 days / 1 night trip option only for Yumthang, as many tourists cannot travel to Gurudongmar due to health reasons.

Tip: Plan with a big group preferably 6-8 people, so that you can book the whole car. Just pay for 2 extra people and share the cost. You can travel comfortably with 3 people sitting in middle and back seat. That's what we did, we were 4 people and booked for 5. We booked the entire middle seat and one seat in the back. The tour company did not allow us to book any seat in the front, the guy was very adamant on not giving us all the best ones. We had to take one at the back. We paid Rs 14500 (2900*5 ), which was about Rs 3625 per person. The price was reasonable since we traveled comfortably and 4 of us took turn in sitting in the middle seat 3 at a time. If you are husband and wife, then negotiate for the front seat with them.
The tour company also informed us that now a days tourists book only car and they book stay in Lachen and Lachung on their own, as there are plenty of good hotels options available now. So if you are looking for luxury trip, then you can opt for this option also. But that would be very very costly.

Point to note : There is permit check in many check posts and you have to travel in the car for which permit is issued. If in case of emergency if you have to cut shot your trip and have to come down to Gangtok ( when a packaged trip is booked ), it may cost you around Rs 10000 to Rs 15000 to issue an emergency permit on your name and travel back separately. Happened with us, my friend's uncle had passed away while we were in Lachung, we just could not manage to cut short our trip and get back due to permit issue.

Where to stay

Since the stay is within the package, the tour company gives you hotels / home stays to stay for the night. There are plenty of good options to stay. For packaged tour, you would not have any say on hotel choice, as those would totally be based on hotel / home stay availability associated with the travel company. 5 years ago there were only handful of cottages, but now there are multi storied buildings with twin sharing rooms, attached bathroom with geyser for hot water both in Lachen and Lachung. The raw beauty of these remote villages are almost gone due to this. Lachen is still better, Lachung has become crowded with hotels and resorts whose per night tariff can shoot up to around Rs 13000 ( Yarlam Resort ). Can you believe it !! So check online for hotel options first, if you are planning for leisure trip and then you can book only the car from the travel company.

What to eat / drink

Since breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the package, you do not have worry about it.  Breakfast are usually bread and jam and these can be easily carried by the driver. Wherever they stop for breakfast, there you would get another option of maggi. There is no other food option. I have seen people asking for butter with breads and other demands, sadly they cannot offer it. Lunch and dinner is simple rice, daal, sabzi, chicken or egg and no other option. All tour companies has their own contacts on hotels, so food is already cooked and made ready when you arrive. If you are very finicky about food, you have to carry your own condiments, biscuits, cake, dry fruits and chocolates. But it is advisable not to make your luggage heavy and this would make the vehicle heavy and risky to drive. Lachen is particularly plastic free zone. You would not get any bottled water there, and if you are happening to carry plastic water bottles, make sure you do not throw them out the window. You have to drink the spring water that the village has to offer. There is no other option. The home stays usually offer hot water to drink, so they are absolutely pure and safe. It is extremely cold there, carry your own booze to keep you warm, you would not get options of good liquor there.

Things to carry

The motto is not to carry unnecessary luggage which can be very risky. Do not carry way too many clothes. But there are few things that you just cannot travel without. If you have many luggage, keep them in your hotel locker in Gangtok and carry the absolute necessary things with you. If you have read by previous post on Gurudongmar, I wrote about a car which was stuck in mud. Trust me when we moved past it after it was recovered, the Xylo was loaded with luggage and only 5 people inside. 

Identity Proof: Minimum 4 copies of recent passport size photo and identity proof. Drivers license do not work, so carry with you voters id card / adhaar card / passport photocopy with originals. 2 passport size photo is required along with the id proof for permit issue by the Indian Army ( that's what I am told, I thought Sikkim Govt issues permit, but someone told me its the Indian Army ).

Warm Clothes: Carry good quality thermals / wooly cots both upper and lower. Weather has become really unpredictable in the mountains, no one can be sure when it would not rain. We went in march and faced torrential rain for which all the roads were blocked. Even in October, it was raining continuously. So its better to carry jackets which are water proof synthetic insulated jackets. I wasn't carrying any, so my jacket was getting soaked in rain. Thankfully the insides of my jacket had synthetic lining. My husband carried PU jacket, he was quite warm and protected. Also carry woolen caps preferably monkey caps, mufflers as a must. If you do not own any such winter jackets, then do not worry, the places where they take you for breakfast, there they rent out all these at Rs 50 to Rs 150 depending on the item. I found them to be very dirty and my husband had already warned me earlier about their dirty condition. 

Shoes: Preferably heavy duty mountain shoes from Woodlands, or sneakers in materials that would not get wet easily. I suggest calf length boots for girls, avoid high heels though. Water proof gum boots can also be rented like the jackets.

Inner garments and socks: Carry plenty of inner garments and extra socks. There is no option of laundry and in wet weather, socks can easily get wet. Even if there are geysers in bathroom, there is barely any electricity to run them. There is just enough to light bulbs at night till the time you are asleep. After that the lights go off, even in day time also you might not have electricity. So hot water for shower is not possible. I doubt anyone can take shower there, at least clean, fresh inner garments is necessity. 

Towel and bed sheet: Water is also not abundant there, so the villagers barely get enough to wash and dry laundry, bed sheets and even towels. Many might not even provide any complimentary towel, its better to have one handy. In both Lachen and Lachung, the bed sheets were feeling damp due to cold and clouds, also I wasn't sure for how long they could not wash and dry the sheets. So my bed sheet came in handy.

Facial wipes and etc: Carry facial wipes and cleansing wipes, tissue rolls, hand sanitizers and mouthwash. Trust me you would thank me later. The water is so freezing cold, that splashing yourself with it and trying to brush your teeth might give you hypothermia !!

Power Bank: If you have power bank, it is good to have. We could not charge our phones and camera due to power outage. Thankfully, our friends had fully charged power banks with them.

Torch, match sticks, umbrella, sunglasses: Cigarette gas lighter do not work high up there, so carry match sticks. You must carry a torch without fail. Mountains is not devoid of insects and bugs or may be snakes. Thank God, we did not have any close encounter with snakes. But insects and bugs were every where. Without electricity, it is difficult. You must carry umbrella as well for sudden rains. And also sunglasses to protect your eyes from cold wind, sun and also from sun ray's reflection in snow ( if you are visiting from November to March ).

Medicines: I did not spot medicine shop in Lachen or Lachung, for any medical emergency, the help would be nearest army base. So carry basic medications like paracetamol, anti-acids, something for stomach upset, band aids, antiseptics creams. Most importantly carry inhalers, high altitude with low oxygen level causes breathing problems.

Skin care and Cosmetic : It is essential for me to let the girls know what they should carry as skincare. Girls, you would not get much scope to pamper yourself in that rustic environment, so keep it as minimal as possible. A face wash and multi-purpose face and body butter is enough. Sunscreen with high SPF is a must as snow reflects sun rays way more as usual. Do not carry lotions and too many liquid products, as low pressure can make the bottles and tubes leak damaging luggage. Carry just a compact, kajal and lipstick.

DONT'S for Gurudongmar

Don't jump around and get over excited, after reaching Gurudongmar . Be calm, walk slowly. Over excitement will make you faint and fall ill, due to low oxygen and breathlessness. Breathing troubles is inevitable.

Don't bring children under 10 and senior citizens above 60 with you. They would not be permitted to travel. Also anyone who has asthmas or any sort high altitude and pressure related issues.

Don't smoke or get overly drunk while travelling to Gurudongmar, it will cause breathing problems.

Don't just wander off to places in Gurudongmar, always stay in the area where it is crowded. If in any case you fall ill, it will be difficult to come back.

Don't try to get fashion and selfie conscious and take off the unflattering monkey cap or mufflers, the cold wind will faint you. We actually saw a tourist fainting in front of us !!

Gurudongmar is a must visit at least once in your life time. I hope this post was useful to you. 

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