Located at a towering 11800 plus feet above sea level, Yumthang is a stunning Valley of Flowers in spring when primulas and Rhododendrons dot the landscape and the river Teesta flows in all its majesty.
I first heard of the Rhododendron flower when I had a red hued welcome drink at a property I was visiting in Kumaon in Uttarakhand. What was even more fascinating was that my host explained that the flower changes colour at different altitudes and only the red coloured flower is made into a juice that is believed to have several health benefits too.
Rolling greens filled with wild flowers, clear blue streams that slither their way amidst snowcapped mountains may seem like a painting, but this is the exact scene that greets you at Sikkim’s Yumthang Valley, located 140 km north of Gangtok. Popularly referred to as the valley of flowers (not to be confused with the one in Uttarakhand), this place is home to several rivers, green meadows, lush green forests, waterfalls and hot springs. This is where the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary is located where you have not one or two but 24 species of Rhododendron flowers (the state flower) blooming from late February to mid-June. The State Forest Department is in charge of the annual International Rhododendron Festival between March to May. Some of the flowers you can see in the region include the Himalayan Yellow Poppy, Pink Scaly Rhododendrons, Avens, Griffith’s Cobra Lily, yellow Buttercups, Clematis vine, Forget-Me-Not, pink Geraniums, Cinquefoils and more. Incidentally this place is known as tree line as trees do not grow beyond this point and the valley is bursting with flowers. A treat for nature lovers, trekking is a popular activity here courtesy its elevation at a towering 3564 metres above mean sea level. The annual Losar Festival takes place between February and March which will get you up close to the local traditions as well as tribal life including their clothing and more.
The valley is filled with yaks that are commonly seen grazing on the grass here. Yumthang Valley is a paradise for nature lovers and also has some hot springs like the one at Yume Samdong at the river Sebu chhu that is believed to have miraculous healing powers as the water is rich in Sulphur. A well-known Shiva temple is located at this place as well.There are several waterfalls that cascade through the hills with stunning views of the Himalayan peaks like the Pauhunri and Shundu Tsenpa. The town of Lachen is a must see here and is also the base for Chopta Valley and Gurudongmar Lake. The Yumthang Chu River is arguably one of the most serene and Instagramable places of the region. A popular stop is at the Zero Point about 23 km away from Yumthang where you can see the meeting point of three rivers is as stunning as it is awe inspiring. This is also the last motorable point of the region as the China border is close by. It is popular as this is where you can see snow almost at every time of the year and offers stunning unobstructed views of the Himalayan peaks. A holiday in the valley is everything that nature has to offer and gives a peak into the North East way of life which is still largely unknown. And therein lies the charm of the valley, it gives you a peak into India that you probably did not know exists.
- The closest airport is at Gangtok.
- There is no accommodation in the valley but you can stay at one of the resorts at Lachung that is an hour’s drive away.
- Yumthang Valley is closed between December and March due to the heavy snowfall.
- Best time to visit is Late February to Mid June. If you want clear views of the peaks, go between September and December.
- Being close to the China border, a Protected Area Permit /Inner Line Permit is required for tourists.
- Warm clothes are a must as it is relatively cold through the year.
- Medication for high altitude sickness is recommended.
- There are no ATMs in Yumthang so keep cash handy.
This story first appeared in Airports Magazine’s February 2020 issue here: