Nestled in the heart of North Sikkim lies the charming town of Lachen – a destination that promises to satiate your thirst for natural beauty, cultural diversity, and adventure. Situated at an impressive altitude of 2,750 meters, Lachen boasts breathtaking landscapes and tranquil monasteries that attract visitors from all over the world.
But that’s not all – Lachen also serves as the perfect base camp for exploring the higher reaches of Gurudongmar Lake and Chopta Valley, offering some of the best treks in Sikkim. Adventurers, thrill-seekers, and nature lovers can bask in the glory of the Eastern Himalayas as they trek through pine-covered valleys and scale the snowy-white hills that start from Lachen.
This less-populated town is known for its lush vegetation, which predominantly comprises grasslands, shrubs, and apple orchards. The stunning black cliffs that dot the snowy-white hills offer an incredible contrast to the verdant greenery that surrounds them. As a result, Lachen has become the primary base station for trekking areas in North Sikkim.
Lachen also boasts of a distinctive form of local self-governance known as the “Dzumsa.” Under this traditional administrative system, every household in the village is a member, with the institution responsible for overseeing and coordinating activities within the community.
Places to visit in and around Lachen
Lachen Monastery is a sacred place that holds great significance for the local community and visitors alike. Also known as Ngodub Choling or the Launching Gompa, the monastery is situated in a breathtaking location that offers panoramic views of the surrounding area. The monastery is nestled amidst a serene and tranquil environment that adds to its spiritual aura.
As you approach the monastery, you will be greeted with colorful prayer flags that flutter in the gentle breeze, creating a mesmerizing sight. The monastery’s architecture is awe-inspiring, and the intricate carvings and decorations on its walls and ceilings are a testament to the skill of the artisans who built it.
Once inside, you will be struck by the beauty of the main prayer hall, which houses the statue of Guru Padmasambhava, a revered figure in the Buddhist faith. The hall is adorned with vibrant prayer flags and wheels, and the air is filled with the soothing sound of chanting monks.
Gurudongmar Lake, situated in the Mangan District of the Indian state of Sikkim, is one of the highest lakes in the world and in India, with an elevation of 5,430 meters as recognized by the Government of Sikkim. This stunningly beautiful lake is located in the Great Himalayas and is considered sacred by Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus.
Nestled amidst the mountains, Gurudongmar Lake is one of the most pristine and picturesque lakes in Sikkim. It is located in close proximity to the Tibetan and Chinese border in the north, adding to its unique charm. Despite its beauty, this freezing alpine lake is also a significant contributor to the Teesta River, which flows through Sikkim and West Bengal.
Nestled 30 kilometers north of Lachen, Thangu Valley is a serene and picturesque destination that offers visitors a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Reaching this stunning valley is easy, with taxis readily available to transport you to its scenic location.
With an altitude of approximately 3962 meters, Thangu Valley is often covered in a blanket of snow, adding to its natural charm and beauty. The valley is home to alpine meadows that are surrounded by the shimmering waters of the Teesta River, providing a breathtaking sight for visitors to behold. In addition to the Teesta River, the valley is also home to three other rivers – Chopta, Thangu, and Lassur.
The valley is also home to a small village of the same name, which serves as a popular stopover for tourists on their way to the renowned Gurudongmar Lake. The village is dotted with traditional wooden houses, which add to the picturesque and idyllic atmosphere of the valley.
Located at an altitude of 4023 meters on the way to the famous Gurudongmar Lake, Chopta Valley is a stunning destination that attracts a large number of tourists. Despite its popularity, Chopta Valley has managed to maintain its pristine and tranquil atmosphere, making it an ideal destination for travelers seeking a peaceful getaway.
Nestled amidst majestic snow-capped peaks and surrounded by pine forests and grazing fields, Chopta Valley offers a picturesque landscape that is perfect for trekkers and adventurers. The valley is also home to a variety of rare species of birds and animals, making it a popular destination for birders and wildlife enthusiasts.
Chopta Valley is also a haven for anglers and water sports enthusiasts, with its well-stocked river offering ample opportunities for fishing and water-based activities.
Things to do in Lachen
Go on a Birdwatching Tour
Lachen is a paradise for bird enthusiasts, where you can catch a glimpse of a diverse range of avian species that inhabit the surrounding forests and valleys. Bird-watching is one of the most sought-after outdoor activities in Lachen. The Northern Sikkim region is a haven for nature enthusiasts and bird watchers alike.
No matter where you venture, you are likely to come across unique and fascinating birds that migrate to this region from April onwards. During bird-watching excursions, one can expect to spot an array of birds, including black eagles, Indian Cuckoo, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, and many more.
Go on a Yak Safari
A Yak Safari is a unique way to explore the beautiful countryside around Lachen. Yaks are gentle animals that are well adapted to the harsh terrain of the Himalayas, and riding on one is an experience you will never forget. You can ride a yak through beautiful valleys, pastures, and forests, and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The best time to go on a Yak Safari is during the summer months when the weather is pleasant.
Attend the Chaam Festival
The Chaam Festival is a well-known Buddhist celebration that features the Kagyed Chaam dance. During this festival, masked monks and lamas perform intricate dance moves that represent the destruction of negative and evil forces. This is believed to bring about peace and prosperity in the new year for everyone.
The Lachen monastery is the site for the mask dances, which take place on the 18th and 19th days of the 11th month. This festival, which is a form of thanksgiving, marks the end of the harvest season and is celebrated by the Lepcha and Bhutia communities. It’s an excellent opportunity to experience the unique culture of Lachen and witness the traditional dances performed by the monks.
Enjoy Local Cuisine
Lachen is known for its unique cuisine, and you can enjoy a wide variety of traditional dishes during your visit. Some of the popular dishes in Lachen include momos, thukpa, churpi, and gundruk. Momos are dumplings filled with meat or vegetables and are a popular snack in Sikkim. Thukpa is a noodle soup that is made with vegetables, meat, or seafood and is a staple food in Sikkim. Churpi is a hard cheese made from yak milk, and it is a popular snack in the region. Gundruk is a fermented vegetable dish that is a popular side dish in Sikkim.
Shopping in Lachen
While Lachen may not have the bustling markets of a typical shopper’s paradise, the quaint hill town offers a unique and enriching shopping experience to tourists. Handicraft and handloom items produced locally include blankets made from yak and sheep wool, carpets, shawls, and handbags. Visitors can also find wooden crafts featuring Buddhist symbols and lucky signs at the Handicraft Centre. For those looking for something special, the Angora Rabbit Farm at Rabom produces warm and stylish caps and other products from Angora wool. Don’t forget to stop by the farm and take home a memorable souvenir.
Best Time to Visit Lachen
Lachen is best visited during the period from May to September when the climate is mild and pleasant, making it an ideal time for tourism. The summer season is particularly moderate and pleasant in Lachen, while the months of July and September witness mild to heavy rainfall. Tourists visiting Lachen during the summer can also catch the annual yak race called Thangu, which is a popular attraction. However, winters in Lachen can be quite cold, and it is during this time that the famous Gurdongmar Lake freezes completely, presenting a breathtaking sight.
How to Reach Lachen
The most convenient way to reach Lachen is via Gangtok, which is about 129 km away and can be reached through a six-and-a-half-hour road journey. However, if you’re an adventure junkie, you may choose to take the two-day trek from Yumthang Valley to Lachen, which is sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
The nearest domestic airport to Lachen is Bagdogra Airport, which is approximately four and a half hours away by car. Once you arrive at the airport, you can hire a taxi to reach Lachen.
The nearest railway station to Lachen is Darjeeling Railway Station, which is connected to most cities in Sikkim and is 171 km away from Lachen. It is well-connected with cities such as Siliguri, Sukna, Tindharia, Mahanadi, Dilaram, Sonada, Jorebungalow, and Ghum.
Lachen is easily accessible by road, with Sikkim State Road Transport Corporation (SSRTC) and private travel services offering regular bus services from Lachen to all major towns in Sikkim.
Lachen is indeed a gem of a destination that offers a unique combination of natural beauty, cultural diversity, and adventure. Whether you’re looking to trek through the Himalayas or immerse yourself in the local culture, Lachen promises to be an unforgettable experience.
Foreigners looking to visit certain restricted border areas around Lachen are required to obtain a Protected Area Permit (PAP) at check posts. The permit can be obtained at various offices including the District Administrative Centre in Mangan, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate’s Office at Chungthang, or the Sikkim Tourism Office.
Even domestic tourists are required to obtain a PAP to visit Gurudongmar Lake, with foreign nationals being prohibited from visiting the lake altogether. Domestic tourists can apply for the permit at the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation Office in Gangtok. It is recommended to apply at least 5 days in advance to avoid any last-minute complications.