Sikkim is the land of love and adventures. It will leave you mesmerized and always leave you wanting to go back again. The capital city of Gangtok is the gateway to Sikkim’s beauty, it charms you with its dense forests and Buddhist monasteries. Sikkim is known for its border with China on Nathula Pass and gorgeous Tsomgo Lake. Any Sikkim itinerary would not be complete without a day trip to Nathula Pas and Tsomgo Lake from Gangtok. To help you plan your Sikkim trip I will present how to plan Tsomgo Lake and Nathula pass day trip from Gangtok.
Nathula pass and Tsomgo Lake
Nathula is a mountain range in Sikkim, bordering China’s Tibet and has been a target of conflicts in the past. Now a famous tourist spot which you visit from Gangtok as a day trip. Nathula Pass is the path connecting Sikkim to Tibet so a high-security area. We can only drive to the base location of the Nathu La border, for the rest we have to walk the stairs to the actual border. Photography is strictly prohibited.
In East Sikkim is a beautiful glacial lake known as Tsomgo Lake or locals call it Chaangu Lake. The lake is generally frozen in the winter since it is located at a high altitude of 12000 feet.
Plan Tsomgo Lake and Nathula Pass day trip from Gangtok
Nathula Pass is almost 60 km from Gangtok and takes only 1.5 hours to reach. Tsomgo Lake comes on the way to Nathula and the locals recommend visiting Nathula first. Why? Because Nathula Pass is at a much higher altitude and the weather is highly unpredictable there. Hence, when returning from Nathula, best to stop at Tsomgo Lake.
The route from Gangtok takes us through some scenic mountains and remote villages of East Sikkim. So, I will share how to plan Tsomgo Lake and Nathula Pass day trip from Gangtok.
How to reach Nathula Pass?
When planning your day trip to Nathula Pass, you must decide how to reach there. As tourists there, we didn’t find any option to drive, so we contacted local guides on how to visit Nathula Pass.
Prepare for the trip to Nathula Pass and Tsomgo Lake
Nathula Pass is a border location with an aggressive neighbour China, hence we need a permit to visit here. The permit can be obtained via any travel agency or cab tour operator and costs 200 INR per person.
There are two options available for a cab to Nathula Pass from Gangtok – shared and personal. Shared cabs cost around 1000 INR per person. Individual cabs cost higher around 3000-4000. If you would like privacy & would like to go on your own time, I’d recommend a private cab. But keep in mind it will increase your travel budget.
The route from Gangtok to Nathula Pass
The route from Gangtok to Nathula takes us through a picturesque landscape of snow-capped mountains and gorgeous lakes. To my surprise, the roads were amazingly well-maintained and unlike those difficult road trips in Himachal Pradesh.
How to reach Nathula Pass
Nathula Pass is a mountainous range bordering China-controlled Tibet, hence a highly militarised zone. If you’re starting from Gangtok in a private cab, the guide would drive you passing Tsomgo Lake. Just a few yards away from Tsomgo Lake viewpoint is the connection point where we were shifted into a shared cab for security reasons.
Quick Tsomgo Lake Viewpoint Pitstop
At this stoppage, guides recommend renting warm clothes & snow boots if you haven’t brought your own. Since it was cold at this Tsomgo Lake viewpoint too, we chose to drink coffee & fill up on snacks aka Maggi.
I wore a sweater (jumper) and the guide smirked at me saying it won’t be enough and he was right. Believe me, rent some clothes here, you’d definitely need them in Nathula.
Don’t worry – you will be visiting Tsomgo Lake when coming back. There’s a reason for this – Nathula is at a much higher altitude and the weather here is unpredictable. It is recommended that you reach there as early as possible.
We started quite early – around 8 AM – from Gangtok to increase our chances to visit Nathula before the weather gets bad.
What to do in Nathula Pass
The shared cab drops us at the base location, and from there, we have to walk a few meters on the main road. Then we reach a point from where there’s a staircase to the main border. This location is mostly snowy, and it is easy to slip. I saw a few people who weren’t careful were slipping badly.
We were extremely careful, walking up the stairs slowly and not cutting lines. Cutting lines really won’t help you, since you’ll not have any rope to hold and it’ll be easy to fall. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I would suggest please follow the queue, you’ll have enough time. But keep yourself & others’ safety in mind.
As mentioned Nathula Pass is just a border with the Chinese army on the other side, photography is not allowed. Refrain from it else you might get an earful from the Indian army there. You can take pictures when you come down from the actual border.
Head back to Tsomgo Lake
Since we came to Nathula Pass from Tsomgo Lake in a shared cab, we had to wait for the rest of the members to come back. We took a few pictures, the landscape is truly magical there. It was then we realised it started snowing.
Guides & army personnel suddenly started telling people to head back to their cabs, since snowfall can lead to road blockages.
Throughout the route, it was snowing heavily now, and it was my snowfall and as anyone can expect I was loving every moment of it.
At the Tsomgo Lake connection point, we switched cabs again and we were back in our private cab. It was a relief since it was a bit too congested in the shared cab.
Tsomgo Lake is one of the most popular glacial lakes in Sikkim and remains frozen in the winter, in summer flowers bloom around the lake. There are numerous things to do in Tsomgo Lake from a small trek around the lake, Yak Safari or simply enjoying the scenery of the lake surrounded by the snow mountains.
When we reached here, it was still snowing, so the trek was out of the question. We enjoyed some time here, walked around and started our journey back to Gangtok.
If you only want to visit Tsomgo Lake and not Nathula Pass, it is easily doable as Tsomgo Lake is only 35 km from Gangtok.
Since these areas are remote there are no special food items available here, but basic food items taste amazing in cold weather. We had a proper meal when we reached Gangtok.
Lastly, we returned the rented warm clothes & shoes and came back with magical snow fill memories.
What to pack for Tsomgo Lake and Nathula Pass
Tsomgo Lake & Nathula Pass are 12000ft and 14000 ft respectively, so even in summer, it is pretty cold there. I packed only a sweater for my Sikkim trip which is definitely under packing from my side. Hence I had to pack a warmer jacket from the Tsomgo Lake base camp. I recommend packing the following items –
- Thick warm jacket
- Boots (not with heels) – you may also rent them from base camp
- A Sling bag for women, avoid heavy bags as they can be difficult to carry when you have to focus on snow & not slip while going up to Nathula Pass.
Hopefully, I have answered all the questions you might have about how to plan the Tsomgo Lake and Nathula pass day trip from Gangtok. Still, have anything in mind that I haven’t answered? Leave your question below in the comment box and I’ll get back to you.
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