The valley of flowers
by Charukesi Ramadurai
31 March 2010
The trip planned for the day is to Yumthang valley and we have moved to Lachung village from Lachen in preparation. After that nerve-wracking ride to Gurudongmar Lake and all the discomfort caused by high altitude, we are sure that this drive is going to be easy. And so it is, comparatively speaking. For one, it is a mere 24 kilometers away from Lachung village. Also, Yumthang is at a much lower altitude, just less than 12000 feet.
This route is very pleasant, through roads lined with rhododendron trees in full bloom on either side. Dubbed "the valley of flowers", this area comes under the protected Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary (home to over 24 species of this flower) and is especially pretty during the early summer months when the ground is covered with flowers of all colours. Herds of yaks graze peacefully along the sides, unfazed by curious visitors who point their cameras at them; the driver says that this used to be only a pasture for yaks before tourism suddenly burst into the scene.
The Yumthang valley is the quintessential postcard panorama. Snow-capped mountains surround the valley from all sides while the Yumthang river flows placidly in the middle. Tiny flowers blossom in clumps from the green grass, with small carpets of yellow and purple as far as the eye can see. The water of the Yumthang is crystal clear, a blue-grey speckled with green that looks deceptively inviting since it is freezing cold even in peak summer, as we discover when we tentatively step into it.
When in Yumthang valley, don't miss the hot sulphur spring across the river, accessed through a rickety wooden bridge. Known locally as Tsa Chu, the spring is believed to have curative and healing properties. As everywhere else in Sikkim, colourful prayer flags flutter in the breeze across the bridge, waving out to visitors.
It is best to visit the Yumthang valley in summer to experience the flowers in bloom and enjoy the mild, slightly sunny weather. However, in summer there is no snow in this region and eager tourists usually head further up to Katao (roughly 15000 feet), known locally as Yumsedong or "zero point" , since it has snow all year long.