The village of Lachung and Yumthang Valley, in North Sikkim, India

Before we embarked on our journey to North Sikkim, we bought a few warm pieces of clothing for Jules in the city of Gangtok.
I had already brought with me from home everything I needed for the cold weather.

Our guide Sudesh, bought a ski hat, a scarf, gloves and a heavy jacket.
For Jules we bought a new warm fleece jacket, a warm vest and warm sweatpants to sleep with in the room when the electric power fails, which we heard happens a few times per day.
We knew that after the power is cut off, we would have no heater, and it might get very cold.

We spoke to a British couple who had just returned from North Sikkim, and they described the Nature as stunningly beautiful, but that the hotels we will be staying in were freezing cold and that they had to sit in their beds wearing all of their clothes, and that they were still shaking, with their teeth chattering.

To enter North Sikkim, we needed to fill out more permits and paperwork, and to hire a local car that was registered in North Sikkim, plus hire an additional guide and a driver who were from North Sikkim.

Our new car is a sports utility vehicle with high ground clearance, to allow us to drive on all the rocky and unpaved roads up North.

Our additional guide to North Sikkim is named Tashi, and he is a cool guy, extremely skinny with long hair and a sweet energy.

We left Gangtok and drove north.
Along the way we saw an ancient meeting place in a forest clearing, at which the chief of the local Lepcha tribes had made a blood brotherhood vow with the king of the Bhutia tribe.

They had soaked their feet in a vessel filled with animal blood, and sworn that the tribes will stay brothers for as long as the mighty Rangit river flows, and Mount Kanchenjanga remains standing.

We passed the Seven Sisters Waterfall, named for the seven levels of dropping waterfalls, but only four of them were visible to us.

We visited the Phodong Monastery (or Phodang), which is a Buddhist monastery of the Kagyu (or Kargyu) (black hat) Buddhist sect.

In the courtyard of the monastery stood an old tree that had grown very gnarly, twisting its limbs into an impossible shape.
The monks built a support pillar for it, and I saw photos of prior years’ Cham mask dances that were performed under this tree.

On the upper level of the monastery we saw old black and white photos of the French explorer Alexandra David Neel, who visited this monastery and infiltrated the forbidden region of Tibet, masquerading as a native man.
She later wrote a few great books about what she had learned and seen in Tibet.

We ate a lunch of Momos and fried rice in Mangan, the capital city of North Sikkim,
and we passed through more checkpoints to examine our passports and permits.

North Sikkim was the epicenter of last year’s earthquake that devastated the entire region, creating damage as far away as Bhutan.

We could see from the road the scale of the damage.
It seemed as if whole mountainsides had come down.
Rock slides and major road damage were visible everywhere.
The earthquake, compounded by the last monsoon season, has made the whole area look like a disaster zone.

But as we climbed up into the small town of Lachung, the area seemed to have suffered less damage.

Our hotel, the Yarlam Resort, is surprisingly nice.
We got a lovely room with nice furniture and a lovely divan sofa for two.
After the long drive up, we laid together on the sofa, covered with a warm comforter, and with half an eye open, we watched a few travel and cooking shows on TV.

Hot tea was delivered to our room, and the generator promptly kicked in and started working, after the main power had failed.
We had lights and a TV, but the heater did not work for a little while.

I was not cold at all in our cozy room with a hot water bottle and a heater, and two sets of comforters.
The comfort of a good bed, a wide sofa, a clean and pleasant room and a hot tasty dinner, kept me toasty and pleased.

The next day we headed to Yumthang valley.
Yum-thang means “Snow Valley.”
It is located high up in the mountains, at an altitude of 4500 Meters (aprox 13,500 feet).

The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary lines both sides of the road, with beautiful Rhododendron plants that bloom in March and April.
24 species of Rhododendrons bloom in this area, creating a nature walk that is absolutely heavenly.

The road runs through picture postcard landscapes, with high snowy mountain peaks and tall trees.

We hiked by a fast flowing glacial river, and admired the alpine forest and the upland mossy meadows, which were dotted with large herds of grazing yaks.

Everywhere I looked, we were surrounded by tall mountains and along the horizon, I could see the snow clad ridges enclosing the valley.

We walked by a small mountain hot spring, and I was warmly invited by the three local ladies who were sitting in the hot sulphur waters, to take a dip with them.
They sat there looking content and happy, their cheeks red from the heat, and they signaled to me that it was a good opportunity to wash my hair and have a great clean up…

Regretfully I had to refuse…. Not that I needed the hot shower…. Unlike the locals, we are privileged enough to have a hot shower daily….
But we had a full day of activities ahead of us and I could not spend the extra hour to enjoy the hot spring and the company of those lovely ladies….

The beginning of winter is showing in this beautiful landscape.
The meadows are sprinkled with a dusting of snow, and shallow water pools are already frozen.

The mineral content by the river made the moss and the soil shine in beautiful bright colors.
Just hiking along the fast flowing glacial river with the Rhododendron, the moss, the yak herders’ summer huts and the quietly grazing yaks, felt so calm and enriching to me.

I felt so alive and so happy to be there and to be hiking in this beautiful valley.
The colors, the smells the beauty of the landscape, and the crisp air all blended into an intoxicating mix, and I felt so joyful, I wanted to continue walking there for many more hours…..

All the small inconveniences, like the lack of power to heat our room, were just dwarfed completely by the beauty of this place.

After a nice lunch of Chinese noodles and a delicious Veg Paneer made to taste like lemon chicken, we continued on to the small town of Lachen.

Most of North Sikkim used to be closed to tourists.
Only in the past four years has this region been opened to allow tourists to visit.
Most of the North is still off limits, and even Indian tourists are only allowed up to Gurudongma Lake.

The afternoon drive to the small high altitude hill town of Lachen, took us on he same dirt road that had suffered much flooding and earthquake damage.

The narrow dirt road was barely a one lane road, and since it has to service both going and upcoming cars, I was grateful that the traffic was light.

Every time a car or a truck approached from the other side, we had to squeeze into the rocks, or to stand still at the edge of the crumbling cliff, or drive in reverse to a part of the road that was a bit wider, to allow the upcoming car to pass.

This part of Sikkim is very close to the Tibetan-Chinese border, and we passed by a lot of army camps and whole villages that were obviously built only for the Indian army.

The road became beautiful again as we reached Lachen,.
Large waterfalls fell from tall mountains, and hairy goats and large yaks roamed the road.
Sweet looking kids with warm hats and shorts walked the steep country roads of the villages, and prayer flags waved in the afternoon wind.

We could not approach the Apple Orchard hotel, because the locals were fixing the road and they had just poured fresh concrete on that part of the road.

We walked up the hill to our lovely family run hotel.
Our room was nicely designed with native wood on the floors and walls, and nice furniture.
I did not expect to be so comfortable in such a remote place.

Electricity is very unstable in this region after last year’s earthquake.
Power has been restored, but it still runs on temporary lines, and it is cut off frequently every day.

The hotel had a generator, but because we were the only guests, the manager was a bit reluctant to turn it on.

We enjoyed a good dinner of delicious Indian dishes, including a dish of a vegetable we had never eaten before.
It was cooked with fried onions, and it looked like green beans, but it was not a bean but a green local veg that looked like a cucumber.

The room was cold and that night we slept with all of our clothes on and even with our warm hats.
The only pieces of clothing that we did not wear were our winter coats and shoes.

It is cold in the mountains
And you must choose one jewel from among the precious stones,
To warm you up on cold nights.
I won’t persuade you to choose me,
I am like the simple Turquoise,
I do not shine.

The other stones are beautiful.
The Sapphire gives a bright light
The diamond glows like a pure drop of ice
The emerald holds the lakes at its heart.

It is cold in the mountains
And you must choose one jewel from among the precious stones,
To warm you up on cold nights.
I won’t persuade you to choose me,
I am just a simple turquoise.

But if you look intently at a turquoise
You will see the blue of the vast sky,
The green of quiet deep lakes
The white veins of snowy mountains,
Dots of pink of newly born birds
And the silvery glow of the midnight stars.

It is cold in the mountains
And you must choose one jewel from among the precious stones,
To warm you up on cold nights.
I won’t persuade you to choose me.

(A Tibetan song of courting)

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