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Monday, 25 November 2013

Drive to Lachen, North Sikkim

15th Nov 13
Yes , in Lachen, the bottled mineral water is banned here since you get the natural and pure mineral water of the Himalayas to drink in plenty. An appreciable effort to keep the valley safe, clean, pure and very organic. One should only ensure that the drinking water is boiled so that you don’t become victim to parasites and bacterias.
The journey to this valley begins from Gangtok (5400 ft) early morning after the due formalities of Permits for the individual travelers.

Lachen is the base for Gurudongmar Lake and Lachung, the base for Yumthang Valley/Zero Point. These being restricted areas, permit would have to be taken from Gangtok itself. Any travel agent is efficient enough to procure the permit in few hours with proper ID, address proof and two passport size photographs.
In case if you wish to take your own vehicle, RaPAP (Restricted and Protected Area Permit) would be required from Home Ministry, Gangtok. This could be a task of one day with proper justifications and document of the vehicle (2 wheeler or 4-wheeler). Travel agent may not do this task of RaPAP and hence your adventure would begin right from here.
Detailed to good extent

Lachen (9700 Ft), the base location for travelers to Gurudongmar Lake is 120 Kms away from Gangtok, is 7 hours drive with no disturbance of landslides or road block or road construction. It is always wiser to take 2-3 hours as buffer for the day and travel. Buses don’t ply on these roads. Only Army vehicles or Sumo/Bolero/Cars ply. The roads and curves are definitely challenging for a driver new to such terrain.

Tashi View Point – 7 Kms from Gangtok town on the way to Lachen lies this view point, where the Kanchenjunga range view is as closest and huge one can see on clear sky. From this view point also the road divides to Changu Lake/Nathu La Pass.

Seven Sister Waterfall – About 32 Kms away from Gangtok, the water falls through seven steps from a rocky hill. Upto 4 Steps would be visible to the tourists after a few feet climb to the rest house. Since one can see almost all ladies in Sikkim with Silky hair, we popularly named these waterfall as Seven Silky Sister Waterfall

The single lane road through this hilly terrain with least traffic is a journey to remember. Your driving momentum could be disturbed at bridges or road constructions where only one vehicle can pass through at a time.  Else there are plenty of spectacular sights of the green valleys, colorful fluttering prayer flags along the road and also the snow capped mountains at distance peacefully basking in the sunlight, the views of which are tempting enough to halt and click.

At Rang Rang, we meet on the 2 Lane highway that connects Siliguri via Singtam.

As we cross Mangan, the splendid view of Mt Kanchanjunga  and Mt Siniolchu is the closest we can see on this route. The winding river below, criss cross of hills in ascending order, as it ascends so does the hill changes its colour from light green to dark green to brown, (this variation being more of distance effect) and finally culminating at the snow capped mountain range.

The roads are a mix of metalled and non metalled. The first check post is located at valley named Toong, appx 80Kms from Gangtok, where the permit needs to be shown. A copy of the permit (given by the tour operator) is kept here for record.
From here, 10 Kms drive in 30 minutes would reach to Chungthang. This particularly track is a kutcha road with drive through an arch of stones above the vehicle which would initially raise many terrible questions in your mind.
Chunghtang  valley is at the cross road, the leftward  would lead to Lachen, the road to the right would lead to Lachung. These cross road are also followed by the Two largest tributaries of River Teesta,  Lachen River and Lachungpa River both of which has a confluence at Chungthang.  After the confluence, the work is in progress for construction of a Dam. It is widely believed that such dam constructions at various locations on River Teesta are responsible for the major earthquake with epicenter in North Sikkim in 2011.
28 Kms and 1.5 Hours of drive from Chungthang would end at Lachen.
Lachen is a serene and beautiful valley dominated by the Buddhist locals known as “Lachenpa”, who are basically “Bhutia”, with population of appx 2000 heads with 1000 heads as eligible voters. The Panchayati Raj system prevails here, evident that this place is headed by a Sarpanch.
As you enter Lachen, You would be welcomed by the Sikkim Police check post where the permits of the individuals as well as the vehicle would be checked. In case any of the permit is not available, you can expect disappointment and return back. Else it would be upto the individual to make the famous method of pleasing the officials with good bucks work. Easier said than done as it poses safety threat to the individual as well as at the Indo China border, hence the officials are stringent on scanning each and every vehicle and individuals for documents.
This serene valley is the base for all travelers on 4 wheelers.
For the Bikers, another additional drive of 1.5 Hours would be required to reach Thangu at 15000 Ft altitude, where the access to Gurudongmar Lake would be a relatively easy and comfortable ride the next day.
Must Have: Camera, gloves, warm caps, warm inners and atleast two layers of warm clothes and socks, sun glasses, some medicine for mountain sickness and headache.
Must Do: Booking of Hotels in Lachen from Gangtok, Respect Locals as they are highly hospitable and would serve you home cooked food, respect their language and their food habits.
The hotel where we stayed had this statement “Come as guest, go as friend”. The owner, a Lachenpa, is true to his statement.

Must Try: Wai Wai Noodles,  Tongba ( Local fermented alcohol made of millet), Yak meat, Yak Dried Cheese (Hard Nut to Crack)