One Living Life: Motorcycling across Sikkim | Day 6 | Gangtok to Lachen

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Motorcycling across Sikkim | Day 6 | Gangtok to Lachen

I woke up before the alarm. It was around 5:30 am. On a normal day, it takes at least 3-4 alarms to get up. But, that thought was running through my head once again. Should I ride to Gurudongmar? 
I knew that the roads I had faced till now were too good to compare to the terrains that lead to the highest lake of India. Riding to an altitude almost equal to the Everest base camp, it was not amusing to think of the journey that lay ahead. Siddharth had completed Gurudongmar a day before and warned me about the conditions last night. There were almost no roads to that place. Rocks, gravel and black ice lay like a devil. No rubber could grip its surface with ease. On top of that, narrow roads, steep inclines, sub-zero temperatures and thin air made things worse. He had fallen four times during his ride. But, still had the zeal and passion to conquer the terrain. I wondered how my journey would take its shape. Could I do it? But, challenges are what brought me here in the first place.

Before all that, I had this day to make it to Lachen, the quaint North Sikkimese village from where I would start riding tomorrow and for that permits were needed.
At M.G. Marg, Gangtok (6 am) for permits

In North Sikkim, Mangan onward, the Restricted Area starts and you need to obtain an ILP (Inner Line Permit) / RAP (Restricted Area Permit) for the same. Foreigners are not allowed here. You realize once again that you have always been an esteemed citizen 😊. In general, one has to keep a day aside to obtain permits from the Home Department at Gangtok. But, with Sid's help, I was in touch with John Shanker, a Sikkimese local who agreed to help me get the permits for my motorcycle. I had mailed all documents to John a few days before the trip.

The 4 permits for 4 checkposts in North Sikkim
While the permits from Home Department were ready, you would need to get it stamped from the Police Check Post near M.G. Marg, Gangtok on the day you leave. John would be there and hand over the same to me after completing all formalities. (Call John @ +919434127252 for Sikkim permits)
One of the permit copies
With permits in hand by 7:30 am, I had little time to settle my morning chores back at the hotel. I knew that my front tire had zero pressure and visiting a puncture repair shop was a priority. I actually wanted to get a new tire and get rid of the trouble but options nearby were limited. This time, I elaborated the repair guy about the background mystery (the tire was verified at 3 more places across West Sikkim - Okhrey, Pelling and Dentam but none of them found any defect). As usual, our Gangtok repair guy tried to find a puncture but failed. He certified that it was perfect. On insisting, he pumped till 60 PSI, removed the tire and dipped it in water to prove his point. Well, it was a definite mystery now.

I started off from Gangtok by 10:00 am with a faint hope that my front tire would not let me down for the day. Siddharth was also leaving Mangan nearly at the same time and we were to meet somewhere in between. The roads from Gangtok and Mangan are pretty good with some obviously dangerous patches. These are the areas where landslides and water crossings have washed the good work done by BRO. But, most of the part lets you enjoy the ride and get lost at the Himalyan ranges that keep up with their mesmerizing views.

A while after, I met Siddharth. He was coming back from Mangan, having completed Gurudongmar a day before. I was lucky to know a person in this journey who covered the toughest terrains before me. Sid helped me with a lot of info about the route conditions, how to handle black ice patches and stuff. We had some tea which he was carrying in his flask. He also helped me with warmees, which is kind of a self heating solution and left his gumboots for me at Guddu Ji's hotel at Mangan, in case I needed them. Taking about "Biking Brotherhood"? This is an example that Sid set.
Meeting Siddharth on the way back

Riding ahead, at the first check post (Kabi outpost), the permits are verified by the police. In between, there were two extremely difficult patches. Both, man made! Of course, I can't blame them because the steps they were taking were to construct a better road. On the first steep incline, broken boulders were laid, which would later be crushed by the road-roller. The incline, along with the rolling 'n' slipping rocks beneath the rubber made it extremely difficult to ride downhill. Twice, my motorcycle went nearly out of control and I had just managed to get its grip back on the road.

The second time, it was an uphill road which was an extremely slushy-muddy patch. You know how tires skid on small muddy patches back on the plains. This incline here was nearly at 30 degrees and the mud n water was deep enough to sink the tire rim in. A truck ahead of me was trying to climb up that incline while it kept slipping back numerous times. You had to wait for the vehicle ahead to climb up to the top and then start. Else, you never know when it slips back too much to knock you down. Had there been no rocks beneath that mud-water shit, it would have been 1000% impossible to ride/drive/walk on that. The problem was that you did not know if your tire was going to tread on a rock ahead for some grip or it would be a complete slip with mud and water beneath. It took more than 15 minutes of patience to cover a distance of around 100 meters and I stopped for some rest after crossing that patch. Everyone has a certain endurance limit and I just kept praying to let the roads ahead be at least good enough for me. I did not want to face any mishap as that meant a lifetime full-stop for my passion.

Luckily, the rest of the way did not bring in anymore drastic challenges.

Riding ahead, you have to cross the Siliguri - Gangtok - Mangan junction. I was not aware that one could reach Mangan without crossing Gangtok. So, next time you plan to ride to Gurudongmar, you can go straight to Mangan, call Gudduji (+919735065972) beforehand for a place to stay and he would also help you get your permits to Gurudongmar. From what I heard, he is a great guy at Mangan. If you need any help, get in touch with him.
Somewhere in between...
And, just before entering Mangan, you come across the second checkpost where you have to submit another xerox of the Gangtok checkpost paper. Generally, they don't ask you too many questions if you have all documents, but some ranked Officer was visiting this place when I came in and the police started being a smart ass asking me unnecessary questions. On top of that, he gave me a completely wrong information and asked me to visit the Mangan DC office for submitting my permit letter.

The last petrol pump of North Sikkim is located just before the Mangan market. If you are riding ahead, the most common route would be Mangan - Chungthang - Lachung - Zero Point - Lachung - Chungthang - Lachen - Gurudongmar - Lachen - Chungthang - Mangan. That is a distance of nearly 400 kms. Most budget friendly motorcycles (within 1.5 lacs) do not have enough mileage to cover this range on a full tank and no one would like to be stranded in such a desolate part of the country like North Sikkim. Even riding on reserve is unfathomable to me. My 200NS can give a maximum range of 350 kms on a full tank. To be on the safe side, I had a 1 liter jerry can in my saddle bag and I had given Sumalya a 5 liter can to bring it along in their car.

I got a few more permit xeroxes done from the Mangan market and as per the Mangan checkpost police, I followed his instructions being a noob in this place and went to the DC office which is at the top of Mangan, diverting 5-6 kms from the route. There I came to know that I had already got everything cleared from Gangtok and visiting this office was not necessary. Mangan DC office issues permits for those motorcycles or cars who did not get their permits done from Gangtok. A point to be noted: If you are planning to take your permits from Mangan, you should get it done before 2:30 pm as they do not issue the same after that.

I had wasted a lot of time at Mangan and the fear of bad terrain and darkness started creeping in. I knew that I had to take shorter breaks now. The ride ahead would give me very little opportunity to relax. I decided to skip my pre-booked lunch at a restaurant on the way and opted to keep myself light on chocolates and nutrition bars.
Tagged as one of the unforgettable lunch breaks of life...

Btw, do checkout the motovlog for Day 6, till break:

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After break:

Surprisingly, the roads from Mangan to Lachen were good apart from some bad patches. 'Good' is a relative term but trust me, if you ride to this point, your definition of 'good roads' will change forever. We cuss the potholes and cracked roads back at home. Ever wondered, how the daily life of people here are like? Riding amidst rocks and gravel for hundreds of kilometers now, a bit of pitch black tar in between felt like heaven. While I enjoyed the journey, my heart thumped with joy, wrists throttled with excitement but my butt carried a completely different persona. It had taken the pain for long and stretches like these were a few happy moments for it.
A break

At Chungthang, the Mell checkpost police informed me that permits would be verified at Lachen and I did not need to halt anywhere else. I continued my journey on the roads of North Sikkim amidst the desolate lands. The roads in North Sikkim were not good but BRO works hard to keep it in shape.  At a few places, the roads winded up almost like a tunnel except that to your right, it was a free fall. A vertical wall descended steeply into the river Teesta. I bet, places like these could also be a good vantage point for the Nights watch against the white-walkers. As I rode across such stretches, my heart thumped. Looking down to the right, it was more scary and I sped fast keeping a sharp eye on the roads ahead. On terrains like these, the average speed is always limited to 20 kmph and covering distances is a pain. Of course, for riders that is a blessing in disguise.
Stopping on the way for a few minutes, to listen to the flowing Teesta amidst pin-drop silence...

The gates to Lachen welcomed me warmly signifying that my homestay should be near. But, I was so wrong. Our homestay, Lachen EcoNest was not marked on Google Maps. I had no option but to follow the old school method and inquire locals about my destination. Sadly, almost none of them had heard of such a place. I was in a dilemma but rode ahead because as per maps, the village of Lachen is quite a few kilometers away from the gates that welcome you.

At the Lachen Check post, the police guided me towards the homestay and I reached safely before the sun set. The cold winds had crept in long back when the sun rays stopped reaching the winding roads amidst the valley. But, you could see the shine and warmth on the peaks where it existed.
From the homestay, Lachen EcoNest
There was a small shop beside the homestay where you could get almost every necessary item. In a village like Lachen, I did not expect such a stock. And, talking about liquor, you even get all the basic varieties here.

I started with a beer and moved onto good ol' BP. It felt like a bliss after such a tiring ride.

I did not want to think about the next morning. It was already freezing cold and riding to Gurudongmar at 3:30 am was unimaginable. The more I would have thought, the more were the chances of my conscience deciding to take myself a step back.

I came here to ride to Gurudongmar and would return only after I was done.

The vlog after break:



  1. Hey there! What an adventure! Beautiful pictures and wonderful places! All the best to the rest of your trip! I'm certainly looking out for the rest of your blog entries!

    Incidentally, I have also recently completed a 49-day, 11,000km, 6-country ride around SE Asia on my Pulsar 200NS ( I've not been to India yet, but would definitely love to visit some day!

    1. Hi SgBikerBoy, Nice to see you drop by.

      I have already gone through a couple of your blogs, specially because you are the only person online to get Givi boxes for your 200ns. Boy, I looked for such boxes for my touring requirements so much but sadly Givi ain't there in India.

      And, kudos to that wonderful trip man. I hope to ride across countries someday soon. :)

    2. And, do let me know if you ride to India. It would be great to meet and ride together. :)

    3. Oh really? You can't get Givi in India easily? Anyway, for the kind of roads that you travel there, I'd recommend either using soft panniers or ultra durable aluminium ones. Soft paniers cushion drops better (though you shouldn't put aything fragile inside them) and aluminium panniers are pretty much field repairable. I had one side of my plastic Givi e22n pannier break from just 1 drop when in northern Laos. So yeah, you're not missing much without the Givi panniers.

      I think there're a couple of Indonesian Pulsar riders who fitted their 200NS with Givi panniers too.

    4. Yeah, when there is no way Saddle bags it is.

      Those Givis look great, though!! :)

    Resort in Alibaug