Yaks at Changu Lake

An unruly yak at Tsomgo Lake- Did I survive the ride?

Author: Lily Shanker
Date: 2022-05-10

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It’s a cold day. The snow has already settled on the hilltops and the Himalayas are as usual standing grander than ever draped in a frosty white coat of ice. The only time they take on a different appearance is during sunrise when golden rays set the pinnacles ablaze. Tashi Viewpoint, which is a 10-min drive from MG Marg in Gangtok, is a great place to witness this spectacle. Trust me on this one, I’ve seen it after driving up to the viewpoint at 4:30 in the morning, and it’s just breathtaking. 

Although the temperature outside is hovering close to 4 degrees Celcius, with the piercing cold penetrating through 4 layers of my clothing, it’s a great day though for the yaks. They love the cold and snow, and they would prefer doing nothing more than being lazy and the younger ones playful. Talk about being playful, I should know best after my ordeal riding on one. More on that later.


So it’s been on my wish list to take a yak ride in Sikkim, and the only places to do yak safaris are at Tsomgo Lake in East Sikkim and Yumthang Valley in North Sikkim. 

You can see yaks grazing literally everywhere in north Sikkim and they can be found living at altitudes of upto 20,000 feet. The wild yaks generally have dark blackish to brown coats whereas the domesticated yaks have patches of brown.


The yaks that are kept for safaris are adorned with colourful horns and saddles, and as they walk, sweet tinkling can be heard from their neck bells. I decided to go on a yak ride at Tsongmo Lake where you can find at least 2 dozen of them patiently waiting beside the lake. 

A short ride costs around INR 450 and a full ride costs INR 700. The prices have hiked up quite a bit in the past year and I guess there’s nothing to do about it except think of it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience and just go for it. 


It was time to choose the yak I wanted to sit on, and as I made my way down the line, my emotions went from pure excitement to downright fright. These bulky, sturdy creatures with their long, dense fur that hangs low below their bellies and sides, when standing up, can make you feel puny. If left unattended by the keeper, getting too close to them for a photo op can elicit an irritated grunt that can send you scampering for safety. 

Playing it safe, I chose a small one. She had cream-coloured curly hair on the top of her head (so endearing) and flecks of cream-coloured hair on her black fur coat. Her horns were covered in bright red threads and she had a matching red saddle too.