After coming back from the Kuari Pass Trek in June, 2006 I was restless as to where would we go in December. When a colleague suggested Sikkim, I liked the idea and when I told him, so did Sesha. We did check out a few packages for Sikkim Tourism but in the end we decided to do it on our own. We were visiting Pelling and Gangtok, the rest of the itinerary was flexible.
But my biggest worry was, “Would I freeze to death in Sikkim in December?” “Would there be too much snow?” Of course, I searched on the internet and was reassured that people do go to Sikkim in December and come back to tell the tale.
So, now that I am back I decided to do a FAQ for going to Sikkim in December.
Q. Is December the right month to visit Sikkim? Will it be too cold?
A. Right month would depend on what you want to do in Sikkim. Flowers would not be in bloom but most of the tourist areas are accessible in December and less crowded. So if December is the only time you can manage to get those leaves, a visit to Sikkim is possible.
At lower regions like Pelling and Gangtok, it was not really that cold in December. Pelling is at a height of 6,800 feet (2,085 m) and Gangtok has an altitude of 5,840 feet (1769 m). The weather forecast may say that temperatures vary from 15 degree Celsius (high) to 0 degree (lowest) in December. The thing is that days are quite sunny and 15 degree does not feel bad. 0 degree happens (if at all) when you are safely tucked inside a bed at night.
Of course, heavy woolens are required but I could keep the cold at bay by using multiple layer of clothing and a heavy jacket. And I am a person who finds cold extremely difficult to handle. So, my feeling is that at places like Pelling and Gangtok, December is quite OK.
In fact, it became quite crowded in Gangtok from 25th December to 31 December. Since we do not book our hotels in advances, that gave us a mild anxiety attack but there were still vacant rooms available in Gangtok in December.
Q. Will a trip to Yumthang be possible in December or the routes get closed due to snow?
A. No, the routes do not normally close. We were able to visit Yumthang (11800 feet, 3596m) in December without any difficulty. In fact, there was no snow at the Yumthang valley itself. To see the snow, we had to go to what is called as ‘Zero Point’ (14,600 feet, 4450m). It is definitely much more colder at these heights. But Yumthang Valley and Zero Point do not offer accommodation. One has to visit the area and come back. So, wrap yourself properly and when it becomes too cold outside, crawl back into the vehicle that took you there. Our shared jeep group could take Zero Point only for 45 minutes but that was enough for everyone of us. For my visit (December 28, 2006) there was not really any need to wear snow boots in the area.
The place where night accomodation is offered on the Yumthang trip is usually Lachung (8800 feet, 2682 m) and I found it cold. But we carry good sleeping bags with us and I use it in addition to the hotel supply of quilts. This is also due to the fact that I find cold extremely difficult to handle. The hotel rooms at Lachung are very basic and not heated.
Q. Will a trip to Nathu-La be possible in December or the routes get closed due to snow?
A.A trip to Nathu-La is possible in December, the routes are open. However, as the Sikkim Government Website informs us “Nathula is open only for Indian nationals on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The visitors have to get the permit to visit the place by applying to the Tourism Department through a registered Travel Agency.” For the Indian nationals, the trip is possible. On my visit (December 30, 2006) there was no need to wear snow boots in the area.
Q. Can foreigners visit Nathu-La, the India China border?
A. If you look at the Sikkim governemnt website link above, it says as of now Nathu-La is open only to Indian nationals on specific days (look under the Nathu-La section).
Q. Will the Tsomgo lake (also known as Changu Lake) be frozen in December?
A. Tsomgo/Changu Lake is on the way to Nathu-La and the tourist jeeps make a stop here for lunch (even otherwise). On my trip (December 30, 2006) it was not frozen. However, a friend who visited Sikkim in February said it was frozen then. I had my lunch here on my way back from Nathu-La, and I found it really cold but bearable. Also, while going we made a brief stop and the weather was clear. On the way back, a thick fog had developed and I could not take anymore pictures of the lake due to the fog.
Q. Can foreigners visit Tsomgo/Changu Lake in Sikkim?
A. Again, quoting from the Sikkim government website, “Foreign visitors have to be in a group of two or more and have to apply for the visitors permit through a registered travel agency.” (look under the Tsomgo Lake section).
Q. Do I need to book al the tours before reaching Sikkim in December?
A. That depends on your comfort level. We did not pre-book hotels, or tours for Yumthang and Nathu-La (December 2006) and had no problem with anything. But we are backpackers. So, if you do not want to pre-book from your city, it is OK. We asked for a trip to Yumthang for next day and we had no problem in getting the permit.
Nathu-La is open only on specific days,so the trip requires a little bit of extra planning. For example I booked my 30th December tour to Nathu-La on 27th December and got the permit.
If you have any other question for going to Sikkim in December, please leave a comment. I would try to answer it as soon as possible.
Also, the information above should be treated with caution, as the guidelines and rules of the Indian government could change.
The weather is a fickle thing and what is true in 2006 may not remain the same in other years. Also, what is reasonably cold for one person may not be so for another. I have tried to give you my impressions an hope that it may help you for planning a trip to Sikkim in December.