Sikkim is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in India. The northeastern state is surrounded by Bhutan, Nepal and China. Previously, Bangladeshi passport holders had to seek permission from New Delhi to visit it, but the restrictions were lifted a few years ago.
We were planning to visit Sikkim for quite a while and although our schedule was tight, we decided to embark on the journey anyway. After crossing the Burimari border in Lalmonirhat, our first destination was Siliguri. Border experiences here were never good in the past, and this time it was the same - exhausting to say the least. Then we reserved a jeep and started towards Gangtok via Rangpo.
Our driver was an expert one, because navigating through mountain roads at night is very risky, yet we were quite comfortable throughout the journey. After obtaining the permit from Rangpo, we reached Gangtok late at night.
The next morning, we decided to take a short trip around Gangtok City and then go to Lachung. We were excited to see Kanchenjunga from our hotel and were told that on our way to Lachung, we would get an even better view of the mountain.
Gangtok is clean and pristine, almost resembling a European city. Its population is around 30,000. Although it is busier than other places in Sikkim, it is undoubtedly a beautiful city.
We had breakfast in the MG Marg area and took a few pictures in front of the famous statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Carrying our passport copies and pictures, we then went to Lachung Permission Centre - you have to take permission to visit every point in Sikkim. Within half an hour, we were on our way to Lachung. Our driver was booked long ago so things went smoothly.
The picturesque view made us realise why Sikkim is sometimes compared with Switzerland. White mountains and stunning natural beauty all around mesmerised us. A local guide soon accompanied us for the trip to the Zero Point.
We saw Butterfly Falls and a gorgeous rocky river beside the road. Turns out, this was our very own Teesta River with a completely different look. Originating from the Himalayas, Teesta flows all the way to Bangladesh through Sikkim, and West Bengal's Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri.
Lunch was not very good, although the items were similar to what Bangalis eat. The journey seemed never ending and we were tired by the time we reached the Naga Falls, one of Sikkim's largest waterfalls. Although the size was enormous, there was not much water in winter.
By evening, we reached the Bhim Nala Falls. We could not stop laughing after learning that this one is also known as Amitabh Bachchan Falls because it is the tallest waterfall in Sikkim.
By 6pm, we were in Lachung. Not many tourists come to this town because of the distance, but if you have not been to Lachung and Yumthang Valley, you have not really visited Sikkim.
Two tributaries of Teesta River flow near Lachung: Lachung and Lachen. The tranquil town was bitter cold in November. After a quick dinner, we could not remain awake for long.
Our plan was to visit Yumthang Valley and Zero Point the next morning and return to Gangtok the same day. These areas border China so entry is uncertain most of the time. Moreover, after December, snowfall blocks the roads and permits are not given.
The Indian Army does not allow anyone to take pictures or videos. Also Lachung is a plastic-free area, so you cannot carry plastic water bottles. We could not help but wonder how this one step could drastically reduce plastic pollution in our Saint Martin's Island.
Yumthang Valley is 15 kilometres from Lachung and it took us 45 minutes to reach its entry point. You will find jackets, gloves, shoes, caps etc in stores, suitable for minus temperature. Zero Point was 26 kilometres from here. This area is even more beautiful with snow capped mountains and serpentine roads.
Situated at approximately 15,300 feet, civilians are not allowed to visit outside the Zero Point. Some people face breathing issues because of the height so, be careful while coming here. After enjoying some piping hot momos, we went back to Yumthang Valley.
Surrounded by silver mountains, the valley is a small piece of heaven on earth. The greenish sparkling water reminded us of precious stones. By 7pm, we were back in Gangtok.
Our next destination was Tsomgo Lake. Also known as Changgu Lake, you need yet another permit to visit it. But this time it was the responsibility of our jeep's driver. The lake is around 40 kilometres from Gangtok. On our way, we saw huge mountains. A word of advice for those with vertigo, do not look down at the ditch.
Changgu Lake is located at around 12,300 feet. Its green water freezes during winter. Locals wait with yaks near it. You can take a picture sitting on one of them for Rs50. If you walk uphill following the lakeside, you will get a nice view of the entire place. You can also enjoy ropeway rides at Rs300.
The next day we were in Siliguri and soon, we were home.
Visa, permits, transport and hotel
To visit Sikkim from Bangladesh, the first thing you will need is a valid Indian tourist visa. You can choose Phulbari or Chengrabandha Port.
Before embarking on the journey, you have to get the entry pass for Sikkim from Siliguri or Rangpo. There are several buses to go to Gangtok from Siliguri. You can also reserve a vehicle.
After reaching Sikkim, you have to take separate permits to visit Lachung and Changgu Lake. You will save a lot of trouble if you carry 8-10 photos, copies of passport and Covid vaccination certificates with you.
For Lachung or Tsomgo Lake, it is best to talk to your hotel authority or a reliable agency to get permits, book transport etc.
Gangtok has good hotels within Rs1000-Rs1200. Sikkim is extremely organised and clean so please refrain from littering wherever you go.