It was a long standing dream to visit this mountaineous state & when the BNHS announced its camp to the Yumthang valley of North Sikkim, I was happy to sign on.

Sikkim is a border state in North-East India and is flanked by Nepal to its Northwest, Bhutan to its East and Tibet to its North East. With a long and chequered history, the then Chogyal (monarch) finally acceded his title and the tiny kingdom joined India as the 22nd state. Being a border state, the Indian Army has a very large presence and permits and restrictions to visit certain areas abound.

For a nature lover, Sikkim is a must visit at least once in a lifetime. It is a long journey - but well worth the effort. One of the bio-diversity hotspots of the country with as many as 5000 flowering plants, 500 orchids, 500 species of birds, 650 species of butterflies. April end is a short time when the Rhododendrons (an alpine species of shrubs) blooms transforming the hills and valleys into a real riot of colours. Sikkim is unfairly referred to as the "Switzerland of the East." Indeed there is no comparison between the Alps and the Himalayas -each boasts of its own beauty and benchmarking one against the other does little jsutice to either.

Assembling outside the the New Jalpaiguri Railway Station early morning, we greet our other campers and are welcomed by our cheerful tour leaders - Vandan Jhaveri form BNHS and Ganden Lachungpa who is the local contact for BNHS and we are on our way in 2 sturdy SUVs driven by 2 ever-beaming Tibetan drivers who will take us on the full day long drive to our destination - Lachung in North Sikkim.

The map below gives you an idea of Sikkim. This blog of 4 pages will take you from the entry point at Rangpo via Rangrang to Chungthang to Lachung - Yumthang and Yumesamdong. The last page gives you information on how to reach there. Enjoy the cyberjourney & do share your responses in the comments section!

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Entering Sikkim

From New Jalpaiguriguri it is an enchanting drive past some good scenary. We reach the entry point to Sikkim at Rangpo. A good idea to keep cameras and bincoulars handy for frequent clicking. Rangpo is a busy small town with lots of small restaurants for tourists to refuel themselves. While we stop for a tea break, I catch up with the entry Gate below. It has a jazzy local touch to it.

One of our jeeps with luggage well covered for protection against the rains

view of the winding river Teesta - beautiful pistachio green that winds its way through this Himalayan Kingdom

An interesting confluence of the Teesta River

an orchid

Chungthang at dusk en-route

Sikkim is powered by Hydel power. this is a view at Chungthang

View of the Teesta at our checkpost where we are required to show our perrmits for going further to North Sikkim

Board showing the road condition - our destination for the night is lachung 32 kms

Lachung & Shingringteng

We reach the quaint and cosy village of Lachung late evening. Despite the darkness, one can see that this village, home to the Lachungpas who originally came from Tibet has developed into a small town with lodges for visting tourists. Our lodge, Seasons House run by Ganden's nephew, Tashi Lachungpa is located 2 kms uphill at Shingrengteng. Rajshree & I get a room in the old wing that has wooden panelling giving it that cosy old world charm. We are introduced to Usha Lachungpa, (Ganden's wife), a walking encyclopaedia on the bio-diversity of Sikkim. Usha was formerly working with BNHS in Mumbai and is now with the Dept of Forests & Environment,  Govt. of Sikkim. Usha and Ganden were with us throughout the trip  and  gave us excellent insight into the species as well as the culture and lfietyle of the local people.

A very cold night as we were at 8,800 ft, but the next morning arose at 4.45 a.m. This is the eastern part of the country and hence it is way ahead of the IST so the day comes early. Peered out of the window that gave us some stunning views of the snow-clad mountains above and the the village of Lachung below. A quick cup of Temi tea, & was ready to begine exploring the area around our resort that promised to be rich in birdlife. See some of the scenes below 

view of a hotel in lachung

Green-backed Tit (Parus Monticolus) with its morning breakfast

a beautiful waterfall, one of the many around

Lachung river

Flock of Red-billed Chough (pronounced Chuffs)

Faded form of the Tortoiseshell - the only butterfly we could see in the area. we shall meet this species more often on the trip in better colour & poses.

Lachung village taken from my lodge

Maupin's Pika emerging from it home

another view of the Maupin's Pika

White-collared blackbird

Rhododendron arboreum

Our lodge- Seasons House

Could be the Tree pipit

Another view of the White-collared Blackbird - a common species in the area

White-naped yuhina- taken agaisnt the sunlight hence not a good photo

Rhododendron dalhousiae

Rufous-bellied Niltava on the prayer flags

View of a Pipit- could be olive-backed

Local greens which would form part of our dinner

Cobra Lily (part of the arisienia family)

Large-billed Leaf warbler perched on Rhododendron arboreum near the Lachungpa Rinpoche's home behind season's House

Could this be rosa webbiana? experts pls confirm or ID

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher - skulking in the bush behind our lodge

An inscription

Primula Denticulata - beautiful gems at our feet

A better shot of the White-collared Blackbird

More for our dinner - edible fern

View from my room

another view of the Large-billed leaf Warbler

Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary

about 10 kms from Lachung lies the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary. We are gradually to be acclimatised to high altitudes by going up a little higher every day. today Usha introduces us to the various species of Rhododendrons - a gorgeous sight. The season for flowering is short as the South West Monsoon has already started over North East India. we are told to be ready for rains & perhaps some snow too!
state flower of Sikkim - Rhododendron nivium

Bush of Rhododendron nivium

Rhododendorn arboreum

 These dainty flowers were common Primula denticulata

What a great combo- tortoishell sucking necktar from the Primula

Views of the snow-clad Himalays with the coniferous forests below

Taken at a distance - Yellow-billed magpie

Baby Yaks

Mama mia! - this female is on guard when Manpreet gets too close for comfort

Herd of Yaks

Mother & child
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