Snowing at Changu Lake

A visit to Gangtokย would not be complete without seeing the mountains. Views of the mountains are easily seen in the city but to get closer to the mountain range requires a half day excursion out of Gangtok. The half day excursions are typically visits to Changu Lake and Nathu La Pass. What makes these visits interesting is the close distance to the border of India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region where one can see both Indian and Chinese soldiers guarding the border at 14,140ft above sea level. On the Indian side, Nathu La Pass is only 54km east of Gangtok, just an hour journey from the city.

Only Indians are allowed to visit Nathu La Pass. Foreign nationals like me are not allowed, hence I’m not able to share with you my experience of the pass. However, foreigners are allowed to visit Changu Lake which is en route to Nathu La Pass.

Sikkim on the way to change lake landscape



Since Sikkim is under restricted area regime due to its proximity to China, bureaucratic formalities are to be expected. In fact, there are many places in Sikkim where foreigners can travel to and explore but certain areas are defined as Protected Areas and/or have special army deployment, thus off-limits to foreigners. But to know which areas are accessible or off-limits, one needs to check with travel agencies in Gangtok.

To enter the state of Sikkim, foreigners are required to obtain a Inner Line Permit or Restricted Area Permit. And to travel around Sikkim (excluding Gangtok), foreigners are required to obtain another permit. This permitย is only allowed in groups with two (minimum) and has to be applied via the travel agencies in Gangtok.

This requirement can be a little tricky for solo travellers. For example, if you are a solo traveller wanting to go to Changu Lake, you will need to check with the travel agency if there is another foreigner wanting to do the same as well. If there is, then it’s well and good, and the cost of the tour can be shared. If there isn’t space in the vehicle for you, then you can hire your own guide and driver, and the travel agency will combine your permit and the permits of foreigners in the other vehicle, as a group travelling together. The vehicles must travel at the same time. The disadvantage with that arrangement is that you won’t be able to save cost for that excursion.

Travel agencies will not combine Indian and foreigners in the same group because locals and foreigners have different formalities, and Sikkimese adhere to the formalities very strictly. As for travelling to other parts of Sikkim, the solution is to probably join a group tour organised strictly for foreigners.

Sikkim mountain roads


Formalities aside, the short journey to Changu Lake was memorable. We drove on several hairpin bends, a highway cut through the mountains, and traversed past several army cantonments. Halfway through the journey at an altitude of 10,400ft, we stopped at the 15th Mile checkpost for a quick meal of instant noodles and cups of hot chai.

Sikkim change lake 15th mile checkpost

We stopped here for a quick meal and hot chai
We stopped here for a quick meal and hot chai
Sikkim girl prepares food
Sikkimese girl preparing food for travellers

Shortly after the 15th Mile checkpost, we reached Changu Lake. Changu Lake or also known as Tsomgo Lake is situated at an altitude of 12,313 ft. My trip was at the end of October 2015, and just my luck, it snowed the moment I arrived at the lake. In fact just a day before my trip, folks in Gangtok suspected that it would be snowing in Changu because they felt the cold snap coming through the city.

sikkim changu lake
Changu Lake
Sikkim changu lake snowing
It’s snowing!

The water of the lake comes from melting snow of the surrounding mountains, thus the lake never dries up. During the winter, the lake is frozen, and sometimes till April.

Sikkim changu lake snowing view

Kids on yak rides in the snow
Kids on yak rides in the snow

Friends were surprised that I had spent so much time and effort to apply for that additional permit to go to Changu Lake on a half-day excursion. Hmm, there are times I’m not able to justify logically, and simply because I just wanted to see the lake and to get closer to the mountains. There is no doubt that I wanted to see the rest of Sikkim but had found out about the formalities much too late on that trip. Anyhow, there’s something magical about the Himalayan mountain range – no matter how illogical the efforts and journeys – it will always draw you in and ensure that you never forget it.


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snowing at changu lake katpegimana

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  1. I loved the Himalayas and I can see the attraction of going through all that rigmarole for a visit to the lake. So cool to see the children riding the yaks! That lake is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    1. Thanks for appreciating why I went through all that effort just to see the lake and its surrounding mountains. The Himalayas is always magical and special to those who have seen it!

  2. I know there are myriad reasons for it, but it’s a shame there is so much bureaucracy involved. It seems like an area that would be great to just wander and explore. That said, I think you made the right decision in getting the extra paperwork to see the lake. And the 15th Mile! I would want to do it just for that. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. Yeah I know the bureaucracy can be an impediment to travellers but the entire Himalayan mountain range is also a political matter for 3 major powers in the area – India, China and Pakistan – hence the bureaucracy and paperwork. In fact, the drive up to the lake will pass by many army barracks and travellers are not allowed to take any photography in those areas.

  3. Does it usually snow as early as October at Changu Lake, or it’s because of the altitude that it gets cold so early in the season? #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Yeah it is difficult to visit with the complexities in applying for the permit. The entire Himalayan range has many “stakeholders”: China, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, and among them are 3 major political powers, hence I can understand why India makes it difficult for travellers to visit these mountainous borders ๐Ÿ™

    1. Hi Hui Min, I would love to go back to Sikkim again, to explore more of the state. There’s something magical about the mountains ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. You did a good thing by going to Changu lake to be near the mountains, that’s good enough reason to go… its so nice you feel this connect with the Himalayas… (: I have visited Nathula Pass and its nice to see those soldiers at the border… they are quite friendly with tourists(:

    1. Hi Maria, yeah, I’m glad that I went even though it was just a few hours’ of excursion that required so much of time and effort in securing the permit, etc, prior to the tour. Oh you were able to visit Nathula Pass? Lucky you! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I reckon the experience must have been surreal, standing so close to the border and probably waving at the soldiers haha…

      Thanks for your visit and comment, Maria. Cheers!

  5. “…thereโ€™s something magical about the Himalayan mountain range …” yes, there is – and will always be. You must be happy with your decision to go! Great post and photos.

  6. It’s sad that there’s too much of red-tape involved for non-Indians but cheers to you, you were not discouraged by it and followed your heart. This is exactly the majestic Himalayas does to you ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. I reckon it’s about time India collaborates with China and stop seeing each other as adversaries?? Hmm…I don’t think I see that coming in the near future because the Himalayan mountain range is very precious ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. When I arrived in Gangtok, a lot of people said to me that it might snow at Changu Lake but I didn’t take much notice because weather patterns could change. So I was very surprised and felt really happy (well, it was more like yippeeeeee!) when it snowed the moment I got out of the vehicle at the lake ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. It’s been one of my dream destination for a long time and still a dream ๐Ÿ™‚

    So nice to see that, you could make it to Sikkim and explore one of the most scenic places in India, or The Most Beautiful ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful post with some great images and very informative notes…

    Have a beautiful day ahead, Kat ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hi Sreejith, so nice to hear from you and thank you so much for your comments. I only saw a glimpse of Sikkim i.e. in Gangtok, and I was informed that other parts of Sikkim are more beautiful. Ya, it’s very scenic, Himalayan mountain range is so special ๐Ÿ™‚

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