North Sikkim for most, means Lachen-Lachung. These quaint villages, still untrammelled by tourists, serve as the base camps for travelling to the higher reaches of North Sikkim including the spectacular Gurudongmar Lake. You can reach Lachen by evening from Gangtok or Mangan and acclimatise at 9,000 ft to prepare for your early morning drive to the Gurudongmar Lake. Perched at an altitude of 8500 ft, Lachen is drenched in its own simplicity and a never-experienced-before freshness.
With fewer than 200 houses dotting its hilly landscape, Lachen not only serves as a transit point to the pristine Gurudongmar Lake but is also the base camp for some of the most incredible treks North Sikkim has to offer. Most of the residents of this little hamlet are involved in tourism and have made hotels and modest homestays. They spend their summers tending to their yaks in the alpine valleys bordering Tibet.
A short walk around the village takes you through traditional wooden houses featuring imposing windows and lots of flower baskets stick to their walls. Most of the homes stock wood logs almost all times of the year to keep warm. While you may not be able to take an early morning walk here because of your early morning travel plan to Gurudongmar Lake, you can take a short stroll around the village once you are back.
There’s nothing much to see or do in Lachen, no night life as such. The entire village goes to sleep by 8.30 pm and mobile networks are also down. A few of the bigger hotels have been designed like Tibetan monasteries with intricate carvings and murals of Tibetan deities adorning their walls and pillars. Apart from the Lachen Gompa (monastery), the village has no special tourist attractions. When it comes to accommodation, Lachen has a number of staying options, with the Apple Orchard Resort being the best and most upscale of all.
THINGS TO SEE
Located on the gentle slope extending from Kabi to Phodong, the Phensang Monastery is inarguably one of the most beautiful monasteries of Sikkim. Dating back to 1721, the monastery was built during the reign of Jigme Pawo. It was destructed by a catastrophic fire in 1947 and was later rebuilt by the lamas. The monastery is home to around 300 lamas of the Nyingmapa Buddhist Order. An annual festival is held on the 28th and 29th day of the tenth month of the Tibetan Calendar (usually December). As part of the grand festivities, sacred dances are performed to celebrate the Sikkimese New Year. The monastery can also be visited from Gangtok, as it is only 17 km from the capital city.
View this post on Instagram
This is the place where indigenous tribes Bhutia-Lepcha had sworn-in as blood brothers to live harmoniously in the hidden valley. According to local legend, AD Khye Bumsa, the great ancestor of the Bhutias and Thekong Tek, the Lepcha Chief Priest along with their retinue, had assembled at this spot to swear-in as blood brothers. They invoked all the powerful spirits of the valley as witness and swore to remain as blood brothers until river Rangit ceases to flow and Mt Khangchendzonga remains. They put their feet in a vessel filled with animal blood and erected a stone as a mark of this event. The place offers absolute solace while making you fall in love with nature all over again.
A walk on a mossy trail covered with fallen jamuns leads you to the memorial stones. Cemented benches surround the periphery of the main spot. You can sit here endlessly; such is the serenity that this place offers. As you walk a little further from the main stones, on your right, you will see imposing bronze statues of Bhutia chief Khye Bumsa and his wife taking blessings from Thekong Tek, the Lepcha Chief Priest. Prayer flags decorate the already gorgeous and green surroundings of the memorial stones, making it a must-visit place.
Seven Sister Falls
Located at a distance of 32km from Gangtok, the majestic Seven Sister Waterfalls can be visited on your way to Lachen/Lachung or during your return journey to Gangtok from North Sikkim. The waterfalls cascade down into three distinct tiers and are formed by a series of seven water streams falling harmoniously on a wide, rugged cliff from a great height in all their glory. As you park your vehicle near the tea stalls and public toilets built on the opposite side of the falls, you will first reach a small footbridge that crosses over the stream and offers amazing views of the waterfalls. As you climb further, the steps lead you to another view point which offers a kaleidoscopic view of the waterfalls.
It’s difficult to see all the seven drops together and one really needs to climb up to reach a vantage point hidden behind the huge rocky boulders surrounding the waterfalls. Most tourists visit the waterfalls as a quick pit stop for tea and photographs and therefore, do not find the time to reach the vantage point. Even if you don’t get to see the waterfalls in their entirety, you can still appreciate the part that’s visible. An imposing Buddha statue has also been carved on the rock near the falls. When done taking pictures at the falls, head to the small eateries outside and try hot momos with masala chai.
You can also shop for impressive souvenirs like traditional wall carpets, artefacts, keychains and jewellery. A waiting shed and cafeteria have also been set up by the Tourism Department to give tourists a better experience.
Located at a distance of 28km from Gangtok, the Phodong Monastery belongs to the Kagyupa Sect of Buddhism and dates back to 1740 AD. Built by King Gyurmed Namgyal, who unfortunately died before its completion in 1734. The lamas however took support from the laities and the monastery was completed in 1740 AD. It was damaged after an earthquake hit the region and was rebuilt in 1977. The monastery became famous after French explorer Alexander David Neel wrote about it after spending quite a few years learning Buddhism here in the beginning of 1912.
Some of the festivals that are celebrated with great pomp at the Phodong Monastery include Losoong, the main festival of the Bhutias. The Bhutia New Year or Losoong occurs between 25th to 29th day of the tenth month of the Tibetan year (Dec-Jan). The festival also marks the onset of the harvest season. Chham dance performances are the highlight of this festival, which are held on the 28th and 29th day of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar.
Two kilometres further and renowned for its unique octagonal structure called Rinchen Surgay, is the Labrang Monastery. The interiors of the beautiful monastery are decorated with murals of Tibetan deities. The monastery was raised in honour of Latsum Chembo of Kongpu, who started the Nyingmapa School of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery houses six institutes of learning, a gilded stupa, 18 halls and about 60,000 sutras in the sutra debate area. You can also visit the museum which exhibits a collection of Buddha statues and murals along with Tibetan books. Just below the road between Phodong and Labrang monasteries are the ruins of Tumlong Palace, the third capital of Sikkim.
Chungthang, a little hamlet located at the confluence of Lachen and Lachung, holds immense historical and religious significance. It is home to the famous Gurudwara Guru Nanak Lama Sahib. Read more about it here.
After taking blessings from the almighty at the Gurudwara and a hearty meal, carry on your journey to Lachen. Stop at Munsithang to enjoy unmatched views of the Teesta flowing amidst souring mountains covered with dense shrubs. You have to take a short walk on a rocky terrain from where your driver will park the car. The short walk takes you to the banks of river Teesta where you can spend some quality leisure time with your loved ones. If you are in a rush, taking a few selfies and landscape shots would also do.
View this post on Instagram
This monastery, also known as Nyudrup Choeling Gompa, is located at the highest point in Lachen village so it’s a stiff 20-minute walk and is best visited either early morning or late afternoon since the doors to the main temple might be closed in the afternoons. The monastery enjoys a gorgeous location at the top of the town, with panoramic views of the surrounding hills and countryside. The typical Tibetan monastery architecture featuring imposing wooden windows with intricately carved Tibetan mythological characters and colourful thangkas will surely leave you impressed.
From Gangtok, take the route via the narrow NH31A or North Sikkim Highway. Located at a distance of 124km from Gangtok and 59km from Mangan, Lachen can be reached by hired taxi. It is also well-connected by road with Chungthang, just 29km away. Shared vehicles from Gangtok and Mangan ply in the morning. It is advisable to request your travel agency to arrange a reserved SUV with valid permits. It is best that you take the same vehicle during your trip to Gurudongmar Lake and further to Lachung.
Foreigners need to obtain Protected Area Permit (PAP) at check posts to enter certain restricted border areas around Lachen. These can be made at the District Administrative Centre in Mangan, Sub-Divisional Magistrate’s Office at Chungthang or at Gangtok Tourism Office.
Domestic Tourists also need PAP to visit Gurudongmar Lake while foreign nationals are prohibited from visiting the lake. Domestic Tourists can obtain the permit from the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation Office at Gangtok. Apply at least 5 days in advance.