I am not a fan of cold places but somehow I found myself en route to Gangtok and then to Lachung last month. It was one of the things that I felt would probably be the death of me but my friends wouldn’t take no for an answer. And so, we took a flight to Bagdogra and then took a cab till Gangtok. Since Lachung is 125 kms away from the capital, we thought we would stay the night in Gangtok and leave for Lachung the next day.
Gangtok to Lachung
We booked rooms at Hotel Summit Namnang Courtyard and Spa. The hotel is a 5-minute walk away from MG Road. Affordable and cozy, this is a great place to stay if you are visiting Gangtok for business or holiday. After a quiet meal, we retired for the night. Next morning, after a breakfast of sandwiches and momos, we headed to Lachung. It takes about 6 hours to get to Lachung if there is not much traffic. Once you start nearing the town, temperatures drop and the air starts thinning so you need to take slow, steady breaths to help your body adjust.
We reached our hotel, Etho Metho, around 6 in the evening. It was very cold but we were disappointed as we couldn’t see any snow. After unpacking and piling on extra sweaters and coats, we made our way to the restaurant which is right next to the main building of the hotel. There we got the staff to light a fire in the fireplace, and we sat around with our drinks and snacks. The first night was the most difficult for all of us as we were not used to below 0o temperatures. We tried everything we could to keep ourselves warm – dancing, stomping our feet, jogging in place, rubbing our palms together and drinking way too much rum and brandy than we should but nothing seemed to work, we only managed to get more and more out of breath. After eating dinner, we decided to head back to our rooms where our heaters and blankets were waiting for us.
The First Snowfall
The next morning, I did the biggest mistake of letting my bare feet touch the floor. It felt like I had put my feet on a block of ice. That was the last time my feet were without socks during the entire trip. Breakfast was simple – toast, butter, jam, omelettes, puri and sabzi, but we were so hungry that we gobbled it all. There is something about the air in a hill station that makes me hungry all the time; this also makes me wonder how locals manage to stay so skinny.
After breakfast, we washed up and decided to take a trip to Yumthang Valley. We had just come down to the parking lot when it started snowing. It was light and the snow was more like flurry at that point but even that made us happy. We clicked pictures, tried to eat the snow, recorded videos, and ran around under the snow. In hindsight, the hotel staff probably thought we had lost our minds but we didn’t care.
Since it had been snowing on and off in Lachung for a few days before we came, we couldn’t go all the way to Yumthang Valley as the roads were filled with snow. We made it halfway though, where we got down to throw snowballs at each other and take pictures. At first, it was fun but after a few minutes, we felt our toes and hands going numb so we ran back to the car. Thankfully, there were other visitors there who had got hot tea and snacks which they happily shared with us. They even lit a small fire which we sat around. That and the tea helped us feel alive again.
The Club in the Hills
Once we were back at the hotel, we had some hot pork thukpa for lunch and took a lazy afternoon nap. It was way too cold to go sightseeing or exploring. In the evening, we asked the staff to get more pork from the market. A friend of mine who is a good cook, prepped the meat and veggies and made pork curry for dinner. The staff was very accommodating and helped him with the chopping and grating. They also lit a fire and allowed us to pair our phones with their Bluetooth speakers. Since there weren’t any other guests that night, the restaurant turned into our private club. The playlist for the night had everything from EDM to old Bollywood tracks to Assamese folk songs.
At around 10, it started to snow again and temperatures dropped once again but we were having too much fun to notice. We simply put on our gloves and woollen caps and went on partying like we were locals used to -5o temperatures. It was around midnight when we wrapped up, we stuffed our faces with rice and pork and went to our respective rooms to get some sleep before heading back to Gangtok the next morning.
The Last Evening at MG Marg
Once we were back in Gangtok, we freshened up and made our way to MG Marg. This is really one place that every tourist visiting Sikkim should visit at least once. It has nice places to shop, quirky and lively pubs, good restaurants and cosy cafes where you can spend all day and all evening if need be. We picked up some cute kitten-shaped ear muffs and stylish mufflers.
We also had some tea, waffles and muffins at Baker’s Cafe. I have always had a soft spot for this cafe, it is affordable, cosy, and they have an extensive menu. I had been to Baker’s Cafe once before when I had breakfast which was quite yummy. This is one place that I would recommend to everyone visiting Gangtok for the first time.
After roaming about for a while, we decided to go for Korean BBQ at Mu Kimchi, located on Namnang Road, for dinner. A relatively new restaurant in Gangtok, Mu Kimchi serves authentic Korean cuisine. We ordered the Kimbap which is meat or fish with vegetables rolled in rice and seaweed for starters. And for the main course, we ordered the Samgyup Set which consists of kimchi, veg pancake, rice, pork, boiled vegetables, lettuce and soup as the main course. Their portions are good enough for two. I loved the pork barbeque but the kimbap was by far the best I have ever had. This restaurant is a good place for people who love Korean food and for people who want to try something new. Do not forget to order soju which is the famous alcoholic beverage in Korea, it tastes similar to vodka.
With full and content stomachs and happy smiles on our faces, we walked down to Hotel Summit Namnang Courtyard and Spa where we were staying. We slept early because we had to catch our flight the next day and we would need to leave Gangtok early morning. Although I am not too fond of hill stations, I think if I hadn’t come on this trip, I would have missed out on all the funny and happy experiences that would stay with me forever. Note to myself – travel more, travel often!
Where to Stay
Hotel Summit Namnang Courtyard and Spa
Vishal Gaon, Below Big Bazaar, Gangtok, Sikkim – 737101
Shingring, Near New SBI Bank, Lachung, Sikkim – 737120
Things to Remember
- It is always wise to take extra woollens if you are travelling in January or February
- Rather than hiring individuals cabs from the airport or railway station to Gangtok to Lachung and back, contact a certified local cab service beforehand and book all your rides. This way, you can stick to your time table without having to worry about the car.
- Lachung doesn’t have too many shops so take your liquor and essentials from Gangtok.
- You need permits to enter Lachung and Yumthang Valley. To visit Yumthang Valley, you should leave early as you won’t be allowed to enter after noon.
By Meeta Borah
This article was first published in Eclectic Northeast (February 2017) issue