Northeast India Travel Guide to Gurudongmar Lake - The Dialogue Diaries

Northeast India Travel Guide to Gurudongmar Lake – The Dialogues Diaries™

India’s North East is opening up to host an increasing number of travelers. The Dialogue Diaries™, an interview platform by Backpacking Series, is delighted to feature early explorers who have ventured inside the region. In this Northeast India Travel Guide to Gurudongmar Lake, Ankit Anil Agarwal talks about his recent visit to North Sikkim with his buddies. He offers a low down on how to plan your visit, costs, and then some. Everything practical. But first…

Sikkim – A Quick Intro by Backpacking Series

Did you know that Nepalese is an official language in India? With Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet to its east, west and north respectively, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Sikkim is one of the smallest states in the country. It holds enviable distinctions of enforcing a smoking-ban in public places in letter and spirit, banning plastic water bottles, and, being India’s first 100 per cent organic state. Check out the travel guide to Sikkim.

What stands out for you about Sikkim, North East India?

If God ever asks me about heaven, I’d think of Sikkim! Glittering lakes, endless pastures, waterfalls at every turn, quiet monastery towns, and scenic drives (on some of the worst roads I’ve encountered – blame the regular landslides!).

What’s your favorite destination in Sikkim and why?

North Sikkim. It is all about snow scalped mountains, arid landscapes, glittering glacial waters and crisp mountain-air topped with a bright blue sky. The picture below and few more in this interview will convey a lot more!

Gurudongmar Lake, a protected site at an altitude of about 18000 feet, considered sacred by Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs, is a mind-boggling destination in North Sikkim. It was the show stopper for the six of us!

How would you guide a fellow traveler to Gurudongmar Lake?

A Quick Travel Guide to Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim

This largest district of Sikkim, sharing borders with Nepal and China, is home to places such as Kanchendzonga National Park, Shingba (rhododendron) Wildlife Sanctuary, and Gurudongmar Lake!

When to visit Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim?

We visited Gurudongmar Lake, Yumthang Valley, and Zero Point in the month of October, which is one of the best times to visit. I’d say anytime between October to January is good – roads are accessible, weather is pleasant, and the clear winter sky makes it a sheer delight.

PS: Many mountainous routes in the Himalayan region are prone to landslides during monsoons. Sikkim is no different. Therefore, it is best to avoid the wet season.

How to get to Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim?

Plan your travels to the North Sikkim district from Gangtok. So, first make your arrangements to reach Sikkim’s capital.

There are a few options for getting to Gangtok. You could choose to fly to Sikkim’s newest Pakyong airport (I flew in to Bagdogra before Pakyong was inaugurated). Or, you may ride a train till Siliguri or New Jalpaiguri railheads and then take a bus or a cab ride to Gangtok.

For the onward journey, given that you are going to protected areas of Sikkim, I suggest you to use a registered tour operator. We did a recce and eventually used an agency named Royal Sikkim Tours and Travel in Gangtok’s New Market and am happy to recommend it.

Do you need special permits to visit Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim?

Yes, visitors need a permit to go to Gurudongmar Lake and these are strictly enforced. Any registered tour operator will be able to help you with this documentation. You just need to carry an original and valid identity-cum-address proof and two passport-sized photographs. It takes about day or two to secure these permits and so, you must plan your Sikkim itinerary accordingly.

Note by Backpacking Series: At the time of this writing, Indians require special permits to make this excursion, whereas foreigners are not allowed to visit this protected area near the international border with China. Click to read more on the topic of permits for Northeast India.

How much does it cost to visit Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim?

Costs are ex-Gangtok. Though there’s not a great deal of variability in prices when you ask around, you can always try your luck with a discount or an extra!

The six of us paid INR 29,000 for a 2 nights and 3 days package to Gurudongmar Lake. The price included everyone’s permit, all meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and the to and fro shared taxi from Gangtok. In other words, it cost us about INR 5,000 per person, all inclusive.

Note by Backpacking Series: As a solo backpacker, you may also rely on your hostel’s / guesthouse’s front-desk to help you with all arrangements. They usually arrange tours for batches of individuals to Gurudongmar Lake.

Could you suggest an itinerary for Gurudongmar Lake?

Even though Sikkim is a relatively small state, you cannot visit places of interest in North Sikkim from Gangtok in a day. The quickest trip to Gurudongmar Lake and nearby destinations, which are the most popular with visitors, takes about 2-3 days. Also, as mentioned earlier, securing a permit takes about day or two. So, plan your Sikkim travels accordingly. A typical itinerary (just like ours) looks like this:

  • Day 1 – Gangtok to Lachen: Start by 9 am and reach your first destination before 6 pm.
  • Day 2 – Lachen-Gurudongmar Lake-Lachen and then to Lachung: Start by 5:30 am, cross Thangu village to reach Gurudongmar Lake by 9 am or so and then return to Lachen by 2 pm. After lunch, drive to and reach Lachung before 6 pm.
  • Day 3 – Lachung-Zero Point-Lachung and then to Gangtok: Start by 6 am to drive across the picturesque Yumthang Valley also called the Sikkim Valley of Flowers and to reach Zero Point – the farthest place civilians can get to on this route in Sikkim. Return to your Lachung hotel for lunch and then drive few more hours to reach Gangtok before 6 pm. Phew!

What are some must-try culinary recommendations from Sikkim?

Gangtok has many restaurants and menu options be it vegetarian or meat. Since you are in North East of India, you are likely to find momos, thukpa, or noodles. We tried a local dish (not sure whether its a Nepalese or Tibetan specialty) called Laphing, a popular street food with lots of spice – a must try!

However, as you head to the arid north, especially in North Sikkim district, you will have to settle for basic food like dal (lentils), rice, chapatis, and one or two vegetarian curries.

What’s the culture and lifestyle of North Sikkim?

I found the lifestyle in Sikkim as relatively simple and people, especially the youth, as fashion trendsetters – with new hairstyles and stylish clothing.

What are your recommended travel tips for Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim?

  • Look for Deals: Sikkim is increasingly becoming a popular travel destination, be it for bikers, backpackers, or package tours. There are chances that tour operators may quote a higher price and it never hurts to haggle a bit or request an extra.
  • Get Permits Early: Apply for permits within a day of reaching Gangtok, in case you have not made prior arrangements. That way, you can be sure to stick to your schedule, if you have one!
  • Keep Medicines: Gurudongmar Lake is at a high-altitude of about 18,000 feet. Some people may feel uneasy and it helps to keep a remedy handy. Consult a doctor for what’s best for you. I used a Diamox tablet.

What’s your new bucket list for North East India?

  • Assam: For its many ancient temples and monasteries (such as those in Majuli), famous tea gardens, and Kaziranga National Park.
  • Tripura: Bordering Bangladesh, this state is rich in cultural heritage, temples, handicraft, and is also famous for its wild life sanctuaries.
  • Meghalaya: One of the most beautiful states in Northeast India, known for adventure tourism such as trekking or caving.

What’s your favorite festival in North East India and why?

  • Ziro Festival of Music: An outdoor music fest in Arunachal Pradesh, showcasing the independent music scene of India.
  • Hornbill Festival: A high-energy tourism festival (with local music and folk dances) celebrated by the local communities, featuring some mouthwatering delicacies!

Traveler , Instagram @ank6464
I am a Technical Analyst, I love to travel and click pictures. I believe travelers are always young. Simply because traveling keeps you young forever!

Think North East India

For those who do not know, North East India comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. The Himalayas and its waters define the region’s terrain, climate, rich biodiversity, and the peculiar indigenous lifestyles her people follow.

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That North East India is bound by Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet to the north, Bangladesh to the south and west, and Myanmar to the east hints at the eclectic mix of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. This is where elements of Asia come together to do what they do best – cast a spell.

The region’s innate charms have remained under-explored. Travelers, who figure out how to backpack in North East India, find gems such as Dzükou Valley all to themselves. Importantly, the hospitable people of the region make sure that visitors take back the choicest of memories.

Meanwhile, pick up a copy of Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey. It covers over two dozen places and attempts to answer the question – what is it like to travel in the region? Give it a read and make your own choices.

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38 thoughts on “Northeast India Travel Guide to Gurudongmar Lake – The Dialogues Diaries™

  1. I am so impressed how India has so many different cuisines.. the food in Sikkim looks delicious! I hope one day I get to try too. Thanks for sharing – definitely will save it for later reference!

    1. Each part of India serves a different kind of cuisine, Some full of spice , some sweet….
      with so much to devour you will require some extra time 🙂

  2. WOW. Still working on planning a huge trekking trip to Northeast India, and this has certainly made my list. The food sounds fantastic too, which always helps!!! Those mountains are what my dreams are made of, and I can’t pass up a good lake 🙂

  3. I have been looking at doing a hiking trip to the mountains of India for a long time and reading this post as given me more inspiration to do this sooner than later. Love the mountain shots….beautiful.

  4. oh, wow this article is something! :))
    Sikkim goes straight into our India travel plans! Thnx for detailed info!
    will come back for more questions and will grab a copy of the book!

  5. Yes, I actually did know that Nepalese is an official language in India. I was surprised because I don’t usually know the answer to questions that start out with “did you know..” LOL! I would definitely be interested in Sikkim because of the snow capped mountains and glacial waters. This is one of my favorite types of landscapes to see all over the world and Sikkim’s looks gorgeous! Did I understand correctly that foreigners can’t visit this area though? 🙁 And yes, diamox is great for the prevention of altitude sickness. I took this for Rainbow Mountain, Perú (got up to 16,400 ft) and didn’t have any problems.

  6. Sikkim is like a beautiful paradise in India. Your pictures are breath taking. It’s great that you have mentioned the ideal time to visit there, as I was planning to be there in July next year. Will make sure to not visit during the monsoons now. Thanks for the wonderful tips.

  7. I have done the Goechala trek in Sikkim. One of the biggest highlights of the Goechala trek is the sunrise seen on the Kanchenjunga range. My Favourite festival in the North East is Nyokum Yullo in Arunachal Pradesh 🙂

  8. The three-day hiking itinerary looks fantastic. We can’t wait to visit this part of the world. All of our favourite things – amazing trekking and delicious food!

  9. I travel alot, never back-packed anywhere but your beautiful photos and descriptions are inspiring me to do something different! Thank you.

  10. Such a beautiful part of the world! I’d love to visit and see the snow topped mountains, lakes and try the food. But I guess as a foreigner I’ll have to wait until they change the rules…0

  11. I’ve not visited this part of India yet. Hornbill Festival sounds so interesting. And Sikkim is truly beautiful. Hoping to visit someday!

  12. The scenery here looks amazing. I have been to India twice but not to Sikkim. It just looks incredible, that lake, the mountains and I just love trying out Indian food, my favourite cuisine! Is it just the lake they won’t allow foreigners too? Or Sikkim in general?

  13. This is one of the places I regret not visiting while I was in India and by my own fault. I couldn’t get the permit to visit the lake area because the local authorities only issue group passes and I was traveling solo. It was really frustrating but would definitely want to visit one day.

  14. I never thought that you would find noodles in India! I love the sound of called Laphing – the spicier the food the more I like it! 🙂

  15. You have done a really extensive exploration of North East. Gurudongmar is fascinating but so many visitors shouting and chattering ruin the mood. I went there once, a long time back.

  16. I have been on a 10-day trip to the North East but Sikkim is now on my bucket list. Primarily because it’s an organic state and then it’s so beautiful. The scenery is so calming and awesome.

  17. I have never been on a backpacking trip before. I’ve got for day hikes but nothing overnight so it looks like I need to try it out after reading this article! Thanks for sharing!

  18. I learn more and more about Sikkim through these interviews. Gurudongmar Lake, with the snow capped mountains in the background is absolutely breathtaking. I love spicy food so I’d like to try Lahping sometime. Thank you for the reminder to apply for travel permits early since I can see why it’s becoming a more popular destination!

  19. A really interesting article. Many Thanks!
    I particularly liked the section about the food. It looks deliciously delicious. I love to enjoy regional food while traveling.

  20. I feel like this article cast a spell on me. Once in a great while, when I read something or see a picture of a place, it captivates me so much, I feel it in my chest like I have to go there. I hadn’t thought before about less popular regions of India. Although I’m desperate to visit India in general, I figured I would follow the typical tourist track. This makes me rethink that. I may need much more time in India than I thought. Thanks for inspiring me today!

  21. I have Sikkim on my bucket list and this guide to Gurudongmar Lake is perfect for me. Interesting to know that one needs a permit to visit this place. It looks so serene and beautiful. The itinerary and tips are really helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  22. I’d never thought of backpacking through northeast India but I might have to rethink that. This place looks stunning. I would love to visit Gurudongmar Lake, North Sikkim. It seems a bit complicated so not sure I’ll get so it soon but definitely on my list!

  23. With every post on the NE, I am intrigued to visit this region all the more. The captures look mesmerizing and I love this interview series that gives real bites about travel plans and tips.But altitude sickness is something that prevents me from visiting these beautiful places. Never heard of the dish Laphing. Lemme google if it is a vegetarian delicacy that I can try.

  24. Sikkim looks incredibily beautiful, the lakes remind me of the glacier lakes in Canada. As an American I can’t visit though? Is it just a certain part of Sikkim or is it the entire northern region? Why can’t they visit, is it a dangerous area to be or are they just trying to protect it from over tourism?

  25. I am actually doing this itinerary in November! I am so excited now after seeing all your pictures! I had heard so much about Sikkim before, that I knew I just had to visit. This was great to let me know what I might expect. I also had no idea that Nepali was an official language of India? (Having been to both countries – my bad)

  26. Sikkim looks like a beautiful region to visit. Of course, I am a fan of alpine vistas and mountain lakes, so the region has great appeal to me. Too bad that I am unable to visit Gurudongmar Lake since I am not an Indian citizen. I’ll simply have to admire it through pictures. It’s very interesting to learn that Sikkim is so aware and conscious of the environmental impact, banning plastic water bottles and being a 100% organic state.

  27. Gurudongmar Lake looks like a hidden secret gem in the Himalayas. I never knew about such a heavenly lake before reading this post. As this lake on a higher altitude and for necessary precautions, taking Diamox tablet is a very useful tip. I would surely try out Laphing, a popular street food of this place but hopefully, it is vegetarian. Thanks for sharing a detailed itinerary on this place as on internet there is not much information about it and also 5000INR per person for this beautiful place is a great deal which includes all stuff.

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