My son Judhajit (Babai) has completed his MBBS and internship in Gangtok, Sikkim. Jaya and I went there to get his things packed and transported. Sikkim is divided into four parts: North, South, East and West. We managed to chip in a quick 3D2N trip to North Sikkim during our stay and things were lined up to manage a trip. We, three of us, like to travel very well. Jaya has a problem of travel sickness on the circuitous roads of mountains. But, that doesn’t daunt her from venturing on mountainous roads. She travels with her stock of medicines always in her purse.
Gangtok lies in the East and the road north culminates with the villages of Lachen (‘big pass’) and Lachung (‘small pass’) beyond which the asphalt turns into a gravel track and eventually disappears. That’s where we’re headed.
Due to the proximity of the India-Tibet border, every tourist needs to take permit beforehand and it, generally, takes a day. The tour operators or the taxi drivers arrange for the permits and they only need copies of valid photo ID card and photographs for getting the permits. Babai had booked our trip so that we don’t lose a day.
We started from Gangtok at 9.40 a.m. Our first night halt was at Lachen.
The road is not in the best condition, but also not in the worst. It doesn’t really feel bumpy for most parts of the journey and the speed with which you travel gives you ample time to absorb in the beauty outside.
Sikkim is a land of exotic waterfalls. This small Himalayan state boasts of a thousand waterfalls! Most of the waterfalls of Sikkim are snow-fed and ultimately meets either Teesta or Rangeet river. Some of the waterfalls jump on the road creating a mist and the droplets make you wet.
The Dzongu area and the road between Lachung and Mangan in North Sikkim are blessed with the maximum numbers of waterfalls in Sikkim. Numerous waterfalls astride the main road make the trip to North Sikkim extremely picturesque.
North Sikkim is close to international borders with China and therefore the movement in this area is monitored by Indian army.
The first check-post was at Kabi. The driver had several copies of the permits to be submitted and registered at each such check-posts.
Kabi is a historic site of significance where the two important tribes of Sikkim i.e. Bhutia and Lepcha signed the ‘Treaty of Blood Brotherhood’ in the 13th Century. Mt. Kangchenjunga was held as witness to the treaty wherein the two tribes proclaimed to remain as blood brothers.
After we crossed the Kabi check-post at around 11.30 a.m., we stopped at a huge, cascading waterfall, known as Seven Sisters Waterfall at Kabi Lungchok. This is a serene waterfall seen in three distinct tiers. From the road, all the waterfalls are not visible. There is a rack of steps which can be taken to view it a bit more closer. A further climb up the steps leads to another kaleidoscopic view of the waterfalls. to give the clients a better view of the 4th drop but there are more falls hidden above which is not visible from the vantage point hidden behind the rocks somewhere. The water is very transparent and shallow at few places. There is also a mini cave like structure near the waterfalls walkway.
To facilitate the tourist to savor the pristine beauty and to be with nature, Sikkim Tourism Department has set up a waiting shed and a cafeteria where visitors can take a refreshing break. After having tea at the waterfall cafeteria, we moved on.
There was another check-post at Rongong near Phodong. After crossing the Rongong post, we stopped for our lunch. It was then 1.00 p.m. We had our lunch at a restaurant named Green Valley. After a warm nice Sikkimese lunch, we moved on. The journey was going quite smooth. There was a wet patch before Mangan as it had rained last night. A truck with cement mixing machine was finding a bit difficult to move at a point and our driver thought of overtaking the truck. But the right side wheels got stuck in the mud. It’s a heavy Innova car and it couldn’t manage to pull it up despite having 4-wheel drive. Seeing us in distress, a couple of vehicles stopped by and helped us in pushing up the heavy Innova. The more we tried, the deeper it was slipping into the ditch. There was a truck standing nearby. One of the fellow vehicle driver managed a rope and the truck pulled it up while we all pushed the car. Thanks to all these strangers and drivers who helped us in the afternoon on a mountainous road.
We moved on and passed by the largest town of north Sikkim – Mangan. It is the headquarters of North Sikkim. Mangan is known as the Cardamom Capital of the world. The climate and terrain best suit the cultivation of the larger variety of Cardamom here.
On the way to Lachen, we also passed by many unknown waterfalls on the way. After crossing Mangan, we stopped at the Naga Waterfalls. It’s also a cascading waterfall. It was drizzling there and the wind was chilly, but still we moved out to enjoy the beauty of the waterfalls.
It was then 4.00 p.m. and it’s raining. We had a cup of hot tea at one of the tea-stalls on the side of the road. Then we moved ahead towards Toong. There is another check-post here. After the formalities done by the driver, we moved ahead and reached Chungthang. The town of Chungthang is present at the confluence of the rivers Lachen and Lachung Chu. There is a dam on the river here. Chungthang is a historical town and it’s believed that Guru Padmasambhaba and Guru Nanak visited this place. From Chungtham, the road splits with one road going up towards Lachen and the other one going to Lachung.
Lachen is a lovely hill station near the Indo-Tibetan Border, on the North Sikkim Highway. It is about 129 km from the capital Gangtok. The pine-covered valleys and black cliffs of snowy-white hills of the Eastern Himalayas start from Lachen, which makes it one of the most gorgeous towns in Sikkim and is a very attractive tourist place. It is located at an elevation of 9,022 ft (2,750 m). The natural beauty and lush vegetation is worth all the praise. Lachen is a scarcely populated town and is famous as the gateway to the sacred Gurudongmar lake. Lachen is the home to Bhutia tribes and Tibetans and there are about only 150 houses there.
Lachen is well-known for the Lachen monastery. Lachen Monastery is one of the oldest in Sikkim and built in 1858. It was then a small hut like structure with only 6 monks. But later in 1977 with financial aid from Sikkim Government, it was reconstructed to its current form. The strongest faith here is the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism. The Lachen Monastery is positioned atop the village and provides you with a bird’s-eye view of the village and also of Lachen Chu and the alpine forests. Guru Padmasambhava introduced the people of Tibet to the practice of Tantric Buddhism. He is regarded as the founder of the Nyingma tradition. The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. “Nyingma” literally means “ancient.” The Nyingma tradition actually comprises several distinct lineages that all trace their origins to Guru Padmasambhava.
Lachen was made open to tourists only towards the end of 2000 and since then a handful of options to stay and essential facilities have been established. Tourists come here only to enjoy the true beauty of Mother Nature. We were booked in Hotel Holiday. It was already dark, when we reached there, although it was just 6.00 p.m. and it was raining. The owners of the hotel we stayed in were courteous and cheerful, and had us all comfortably settled in within no time. We were told that the power transformer has blown up and so there was no electricity in the town that day. The generator at the hotel would stop running after 8.30 p.m. and so we had to finish our dinner by 7.30 p.m. Babai and I went out in the drizzle to buy a battery-powered torch and to have a look of the tiny town. We realised then that we should have carried a torch with us. There wasn’t much to explore — just more hotels and a few ration shops along the main road till half a kilometer and nothing beyond that. What was interesting to see was that the all ration shops sold liquor as well (different types of rum), which we assumed was popular due to the cold climate.
There is no proper tourist accommodation beyond Lachen. So almost all tourists visiting Gurudongmar Lake stay at Lachen overnight before proceeding to the lake next morning. And along with the lake, a typical tour also combines a visit to Chopta Valley, a beautiful valley located in-between Lachen and Gurudongmar which gets covered with flowers in spring and with snow during winter.
We were tired after a day-long journey through treacherous road and we fell asleep after having dinner while dreaming for the next day visit to Gurudongmar lake. We slept early as we had to get up and leave for Gurudongmar Lake at 6.00 a.m. next morning. Located at 17,100 feet above sea level, this is one of the highest freshwater lakes in the world. Interestingly, a portion of the lake doesn’t freeze even in extreme winter conditions.