Visiting Lake Tsongmo From Gangtok, India.
When we arrived in Sikkim for a short holiday, after spending a couple of days in Kolkata, our plan was to visit Lake Tsongmo on a day trip. We actually wanted to visit Nathu La pass, but unfortunately the pass is closed to foreigners and even Indians need to go as a group of at least two people with a guide to get up there. So, since it wasn’t that easy to get to the lake, we’ll try and give you a bit of an insight on how to do so.
What do you need to get up there?
First you have to look for a tour company, since its forbidden to visit individually (we were not fond of this of course). We found a travel agent at the right end of the main square in Gangtok, where we had to apply for a ‘visitor permission’ – this must be done the day before you travel. What that meant was that we needed 3 (!!!) passport photos, our passports, one passport copy, a copy of our Indian visa, as well as a copy of the arrival stamp … typically bureaucratic Indian style. Anyway, in case you don’t have all these things together, the travel company will guide you to a photo shop to get the passport photos and the copies for very little money.
Besides all the permits you obviously also need a car … We met an Indian/American couple who wanted to take the same route, which was great because we could share the car. For 4 people we paid 4.000 Rupees (for 2 people, we would have paid 3.500 Rupees, so it’s better to find some others).
You’re not alone.
The travel agent the also has to apply for a permit on the day of travelling. This means that you’ll start around 8.00 am at the earliest. Even though the weather wasn’t really good on our travelling day, there was quite a lot of traffic up to Lake Tsongmo and our guide only got the permit at 9.30 am. We were car number 343 and realized immediately that it wouldn’t be a trip to a remote location as we thought beforehand…
The distance up to Lake Tsongmo is about 40 km and takes approx. two hours from Gangtok. Sometimes it’s a stop and go situation because of the heavy traffic.
- All cars need to pass a check-point up the pass before 11.00 am.
- Cars can only drive back to Gangtok after 2.00 pm.
The reason behind the check-point is the narrow and steep road. Cars can only drive in one direction, otherwise dangerous situations could occur. But of course, there are exceptions; military trucks can drive as they please…
The weather condition is very changeable up North. Most of the times it’s very foggy – as it was when we where up there. As soon as we approached higher grounds, the fog got thicker and ticker and there were moments when we couldn’t even see the car in front of us any more.
After we finally reached the parking lot, we realized that the area was packed with people – mainly Indians on vacation. Up at 3.753 meters it was freezing cold, so be sure to dress accordingly. In case you do forget to bring warm cloths, you can buy down jackets, scarf and gloves in one of the shops.
The fog only lifted for a couple of minutes while we were up there and we could see the lake for a short time. But the view was definitely worth all the hassle.