North District in Sikkim

Phodong Monastery which belongs to the Kargyupa Sect (Karmapa), is situated about a kilometre uphill by a jeepable road that bifurcates from the North Sikkim Highway. Phodong monastery was built by the ChogyalGyurmedNamgyal somewhere in the first quarter of the eighteenth century

The main annual puja is performed on the 28th and 29th day of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar two days before Losoong when the religious Chaams or dances are also demonstrated.

Another kilometre uphill from Phodong Monastery on the same jeepable road is the Labrang Monastery which was built about one hundred years later but belongs to the Nyingmapa sect. Just below the road between Phodong Monastery and Labrang Monastery are the ruins of the third capital of Sikkim Tumlong. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the capital of Sikkim was shifted from Rabdanste to Tumlong which then remained the capital for almost ninety years.

The Raja’s house is now in complete ruins covered with a thick canopy of bushes but we can conjure up an image of what it looked like from Dr. Hooker’s account during his visit and imprisonment here in 1849. He wrote in the Himalayan Journal

It was an irregular low stone building of Tibetan architecture, with slanting walls and small window high up under the broad thatched roof, above which, in the middle, was a Chinese looking square copper gilt canopy, with projecting eaves and bells at the corners, surmounted by a ball and a square spire. On either gable of the roof was a round topped cylinder of gilded copper, some­thing like a closed umbrella.

The chortens surrounding the Palace have however withstood the vagaries of nature and many of them can be seen.

There are many buses plying on the route on which Phodong lies. Taxis are also readily available for Phodong from Gangtok. Cheap accommodation is available at Phodong Bazar which also has a few shops.

Photographs of the natural scenes of Switzerland and Yumthang valley look so similar that it is difficult to distinguish between them. Yumthang which is at an altitude of 3658m (12000 ft) is situated about 135 kilometres from Gangtok in North Sikkim. But going there is like travelling 135 years back in time – it is so remote and almost untouched by the vagaries of civilisation. It is well known for its hot springs to reach which one has to walk a few hundred yards from the road and across a pedestrian bridge on the River Lachung. For the convenience of bathers a hut with two pools in which the hot spring water collects has been constructed. Hot water rich in sulphur, emanates from a spring just behind the hut and is diverted to the pools. It is difficult to imagine that water so hot in its natural form could be found in a place so cold.

Yumthang is now open to foreigners and has also caught the fancy of filmmakers and a part of some movies have been shot here.

Although Yumthang itself is located on a flat valley and is near the tree-line, the surrounding mountains seem to touch the heavens. The route to Yumthang from Lachung – adjoining the Singba Forest Reserve -has a very picturesque landscape and is lined with rhododendrons which bloom at their best in May. What is particularly interesting about the rhododendrons of the Yumthang valley is that they bloom in different colours unlike those in other parts of Sikkim which are usually red.

Tourists require an Inner Line permit which can be obtained with the help of the travel agent to visit this place. Visitors are not permitted to take their private vehicles to Yumthang. Yumthang has a Forest Department Rest House but tourists are normally accommodated at the Tourist Lodge named Yaksey 6 kms from Lachung towards Yumthang. Yumthang itself has no population and the few yakherders around are nomadic.

Another 23 kilometres ahead of Yumthang are the hot springs of Yumey- Samdong on the river Sebu-chu at the foot of the mountain on which lies the Donkiala pass that connects the Lachung valley to the Lachen valley.

From Lachung one can also do a half day trip to Katau 35 kilometers away. You cross the Lachungchu river and then skirt the Lachung monastery and then the Mini Hydel Project. Many waterfalls leap out of the hills. The army has ingeniously constructed a bridge over one of these waterfalls. Rhododendrons are in bloom in the meadows as late as June whereas in Yumthang the rhodondrons wither away by mid May. You get glimpses of Lachung town once in a while. You then reach Katau at 13000ft. Even in the month of June you can see a lot of snow. Fifteen kilometers further is Patala on the Chinese border but is out of bound for tourists. So if you did not get to see snow and rhododenrons at Yumthang try Katau.