By Akash Shukla
At a height of 3,564 metres above sea level, Yumthang Valley is a sylvan pasture surrounded by the Himalayan range in North Sikkim and is popularly known as the 'Valley of Flowers'.
It is home to Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary, which has over 24 species of the state flower rhododendron. A tributary of the river Teesta flows past the valley and the town of Lachung, the nearest inhabited centre.
Due to heavy snowfall, Yumthang is closed between December and March.
A rest house in forest is the only permanent residence in the valley. During spring, the area blooms with poppies, primulas, iris and other flora. During summer, villagers take their cattle to these heights to graze. This practice is known as Yaylag Pastoralism.
Due to increase in tourist count, there is a high probability of environmental degradation. The spot also offers view of a stunning array of peaks with Pauhunri and Shundu Tsenpa. The valley witnesses a number of hot springs and they provide a pleasantly unexpected opportunity to relish the warmth of the water even in freezing temperature.
Rich in sulphur, these springs are believed to have miraculous healing power.
Road to Yumthang from Gangtok follows river Teesta. It surpasses a spectacular gorge over the Rang Rang suspension bridge. The last major town is Chungthang. From there, Lachung is an hour-long drive to the spot where tourists stay overnight.
Yumthang Valley, the road under siege of scenic beauty from Lachung and Yumthang, is decked with rhododendrons on both ends and they blossom during April and May. And, this is the reason why it is named 'Valley of Flowers'.
Yumthang Valley happens to be located at what is called 'the tree-line'. It is the altitude above which there in no vegetation, or even trees for that matter. This makes Yumthang Valley unique as it has trees and rhododendrons. It has low-growing Himalayan flowers in abundance.
In spring, the valley is like a collage of little forests painted in different colours. The flowering of rhododendrons ends by May. In June (read monsoon), the valley blooms with Louseworts, Cinquefoils, and Cobra-lilies. This scenario is enchanting but takes a keen observer to unearth true appreciation for the valley.
Due to its closeness to the Chinese border, the region was inaccessible to common tourists, both Indian and foreign. Even now, Yumthang is reached mostly as part of a tour group. Independent travel stints can be organized on demand.