Sikkim Travelogue - 5

17 Nov 2022

I fell sick the next day we got back from the north trip. I suppose all the sleepless nights finally caught up. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad, and a couple of doses of crocin fixed it. We were going on a bike trip that weekend, so I went to the market on Friday to see if I could get anything useful. Only got a pair of gloves. The same day, there was a performance by a local band - Nunaom, in a sister cafe of the hostel. Everyone from our hostel attended that. The night started with some wonderful performances by the band. Their tunes were catchy. We didn’t know the language, but that didn’t stop us from participating in the chorus of local teenagers. Beers helped too. After the performances, there was a free for all dance session which was a lot of fun. A nice change from other sightseeing experiences.

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East Sikkim

On Saturday, we started early from our hostel so that we would reach Nathu la on time. When we reached the rental shop, our police permits hadn’t arrived. So we had breakfast, took a pre-ride video of the bike, and waited. Note to self: ordering dosa in northern states is not a good idea. We finally got the permits and left the shop around 9 AM. There was already some traffic jam on the route towards Nathu la. To add to that, Shekhar noticed some issue with the 2nd gear of the bike. We even turned around to go back to the shop to get it sorted out, but it kinda got resolved on the way back. So we turned and continued towards Nathu la.

Once we passed the first checkpoint, where they checked for the permit, it was a beautiful ride. The road kept going up and up. Gangtok is at an elevation of 5400 ft, and Nathu la is at 14000+ ft. We had a lot of altitude to gain. Soon the entire road was covered in fog/clouds. We couldn’t see anything beyond the road’s edge, and the temperature dropped. The thermals I was carrying proved useful for the first time. At one point, we stopped and layered up. There were multiple viewpoints on the way, but we couldn’t see anything because of poor visibility.

We reached Tsongmo Lake(~12000 ft) around 10:30 AM. We could only see part of the lake because of poor visibility. We loitered around, took photos of Yaks, and proceeded towards Nathu la. Low visibility and roads without diversions meant I had nothing to do as a pillion. That, combined with nice cold weather, caused me to drift in and out of sleep. I actually dozed off a couple of times and slightly lost balance. Fortunately, I didn’t fall, but it alarmed Shekhar. Finally, we reached Nathu la and were greeted by hoards of tourists. We went up with the crowd, saw the China border, and came down. There wasn’t really much to see.

Reaching Tsongmo

Nathu la was manned by the Maratha regiment as there were a couple of statues of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. And I could see Maharashtrian surnames on soldiers’ name tapes.

Maratha Regiment

While coming down the Nathu La road, we stopped at a point to get a view of Sarathang and Nathula Lake. Later we even took an off-road just because we had a Himalayan Royal Enfield. But that road took us to an army camp, so we had to turn back. There was a traffic jam on the road to the new Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple, largely because of tourist vehicles on a day tour of East Sikkim. The new temple is constructed by the army near Nathu la pass for convenience of tourists. It was so crowded that we decided to skip it. We were anyway going to visit the original temple.

Beyond Nathu La

All the East Sikkim tours originating from Gangtok end at the new Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple, so the road after that was almost empty. We stopped near a little village on the way. Till that point, I was riding pillion and was itching to ride the bike. Even though I don’t ride a bike in cities, I have ridden in Ladakh. That too to the famous Khardungla Pass. So I thought if I rode slowly for a few kilometers, I would get a hang of the bike. There were multiple holes in that argument - I didn’t have a pillion in Leh, here there was bulked up Shekhar. In Leh, it was a cruiser bike - Avenger, here it was a touring motorcycle that was much taller and heavier. Before Leh, I had had some practice on a friend’s bike inside office’s compound, here I was riding a geared motorcycle after 6 years. But my enthusiasm trumped all these, and I decided to try. I was a little intimidated by the bike though.

I positioned myself on the left side of the bike, flung my right leg over the other side, and got it off the stand. I tried to shift the bike’s weight on my right foot so that I could put my left foot on the gear shifter, but my right foot didn’t touch the ground. And before I realized what was happening, the bike was flat on the road. In my enthusiasm to ride the bike, I had misjudged the ground on the right side. So before the right foot touched the ground, the entire weight of the bike had shifted on one side, and I couldn’t control the fall. We both lifted the bike up and put it on the stand. Because of the altitude, just this much effort caused shortness of breath. We also noticed some petrol leaking from the side on which it had fallen. Fortunately, nothing was broken because of the leg guards, and the leak stopped in a few seconds. I tried riding for a very short distance alone, but that fall had crushed my confidence. I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to handle Shekhar as a pillion. We decided that Shekhar should ride it for the rest of the trip so that we make it back to Gangtok alive.

We showed our permit at a check post in the village and continued towards Zuluk. Near Elephant lake, we saw a few people trying to get back a Himalayan Royal enfiled on the road. We came to know that it hadn’t accidentally gone off-road. There was a little plateau near the road, which offered better views. It was connected to the road by a trail, but the trail dipped sharply right off the road before it climbed slowly to reach the plateau. A couple of adventurous youths had taken their bike to the plateau, but while coming back, the slope was too steep for the bike to climb. So they ended up calling the local police for help. We walked to the plateau, wondering why and how they pulled it off. The view from there was great. We took lots of photos and continued towards Harbhajan Babaji ka Bunker.

Clouds were back, so we couldn’t see much around. The road had become worse as well. The road from New Baba Mandir to Zuluk is still being built. There was a lot of road construction going on when we passed from there. I suppose in a couple of years the road will be built, and these relatively untouched spaces will get flocked by tourists. When we reached Harbhajan Babaji ka Bunker it was very cold. There were hardly any civilians. The place was full of Army soldiers. Army also runs a canteen next to the bunker. We had Maggi and Pakoda there and chatted a bit with a local politician sitting nearby. It was already 3PM, and we had a good deal of distance to cover. So we hurried off towards Zuluk.

Baba Harbhajan's Bunker

The road was mostly unpaved. Visibility was better for a little while as we went through an opening among mountains. Once we reached the end of the opening, it started drizzling. We had to stop and get our windcheaters out. The drizzle turned into proper rain in no time and drenched everything not protected by our windcheaters. Visibility was low, and because of the rain I couldn’t check the map either, so we had no idea how far we had reached. There was no other road, so we just kept going.

On the way to Zuluk

Suddenly after a turn, we saw a road winding down the mountain. At first, we were confused. Had we reached Zuluk loops? As we went down a couple of hairpin bends, there was no doubt left. We were greeted with mesmerizing view of Zuluk loops through gaps in the cloud cover. The first time we got a glimpse of it, we were speechless. Only after coming down a few loops, the rain stopped, and we could take our phones out. Throughout our downhill journey, we experienced a play of clouds and Zuluk village. It was a surreal experience. Something that couldn’t be captured using a camera.

Zuluk Loops

Upon reaching Zuluk, we found a homestay and freshened up. Shekhar hadn’t brought a spare set of clothes, so he had to alternate between using his towel as a lungi and my windcheater pants (which looked like it was made of tarpaulin). We had simple but scrumptious lunch. After lunch, we lay down under blankets so that we don’t fall sick. There wasn’t much to do outside because of the rain, so we had dinner and called it a day.

The next day we had a filling breakfast and took photos with the host family. Shekhar’s charger had stopped working, and our phones were almost dead. The weather was such that even our quick-dry stuff hadn’t dried. We did some jugaad around both problems and left the homestay at around 9.30 AM. Zuluk was still wrapped in clouds. After winding down a few hairpin bends, we stopped at Eco Nature park and spent some time there. More hairpin bends later, we were under the clouds and could see mountains till far.


We had a lot of time, so we were going slow. Enjoying the views and stopping frequently. At one place in a village, we nearly got attacked by a bird (probably a turkey). It was all hairpin bends till Nimachen, then the road straightened up, and soon we reached Rongli. We had descended a lot and were starting to feel the heat. We stopped at a corner near Rongli, had some snacks, and removed excessive layers of clothing. There were a couple of cute furry friends to play with us. Just before that, Shekhar did a stunt and tried to get the bike up a pile of gravel. He thought there was a platform at the top where he could park the bike, which turned out to be open container-like boxes. Luckily the bike did not go all the way up.

On The Way To Rongli

First, we were thinking of going to Rolep, a small beautiful hamlet in east Sikkim. But our host in Zuluk had informed us that the roads were bad, so we decided not to take the detour. Since Pakyong airport was on the way, we decided to visit it. We were going on a road along the Rangpo river which merged into a well-paved highway after Mulukey. This highway looked recently made and went all the way to Pakyong. It was a smooth ride, with Shekhar getting to 5th gear for the first time. At Pakyong, we were surprised that they let us go all the way to the airport building. There were other tourists as well, waiting to witness a flight landing. We freshened up and spent some time there and then proceeded towards Gangtok.


By the time we reached Gangtok, we were hungry. We couldn’t find parking near M.G. Marg, so we went to Kundey again and had delicious Bhutanese food. We still had a lot of time and petrol left, so we decided to go to Gonjang Monastery. The monastery wasn’t noteworthy, but it offered a great view of Gangtok city. We stayed there till the monastery closed. While returning, we took a slight detour and visited Ganesh Tok before returning the bike and walking to the hostel.

Gojang Monastery

Our two-day motorbike adventure had come to an end. The weather played a bit of spoilsport, but it was a memorable bike trip. I definitely want to do a Gangtok - Tsomgo Lake - Nathu La - Zuluk trip again during a better weather window, preferably riding a bike or even a cycle. It’s just that beautiful.

East Sikkim End