Lachen - North Sikkim
If you plan to visit Chopta valley and Gurudongmar lake area of North Sikkim, Lachen is where you will have your base. Situated at an altitude of 8838 ft and at a distance of 120 kms from Gangtok along the North Sikkim highway, the small town stands on a grassy and bushy flat land separated by deep gorges of River Lachen-Chu. A six hour drive from Gangtok through some of the most picturesque places in sikkim takes one to this village. From here rises the pine-clad mountains with their snowy peaks and black cliffs.
It is a small Bhutia and Tibetan settlements, comprising of nearly 200 houses. This village was earlier inhabited only in winters by the owners who spend the summers on the alpine pastures along the Tibet border tending to their herd of yaks.
Lachen was opened for tourism activity only towards the end of year 2000. Since then several hotels have come up here to provide accommodation for the nature lovers. A fabulous trek route to the Green Lake at 15400ft in Kunchanjungha National Park originates here. The local monastery overlooking the village is worth a deko.
Lachen Monastery – If you have a couple of hours in hand, Lachen monastery is worth a visit. The Monastery is the highest point of town and offers breathtaking view of the entire area. You might find young monks playing in the large field in front of the monastery who do not mind outsiders joining the game.
Handicraft Centre - The Government handicraft centre is located in the heart of the town within couple of minutes walk from most hotels. Visit the centre to learn about local handicraft. You will find young children learning to produce wool from yak hair and make carpets and other items in handloom.
Gurudongmar Lake (60 kms) is the primary attraction and the reason for most tourists to visit Lachen. The Lake located close to Sino-Indian boarder is considered sacred and is famous for its pristine beauty. The lake is visited as part of a day trip as there is no accommodation there. more on Gurudongmar Lake.
Chopta Valley - This is a valley located about 30 kms from Lachen on the way to Gurudongmar lake. The valley is a riot of colours during summer months when the flowers are in full bloom. Foreigners are not allowed to visit Gurudongmar and their tour is limited to Chopta valley. Thangu, about a kilometre before Chopta valley is the last civilian village in the area. More on Chopta Valley.
The entire route from Lachen to Chopta valley and then on to Gurudongmar lake is a nature lovers delight. Within a few hours you will travel from a relatively low altitude of about 8500 feet to about 17000 feet.
Towards the beginning of your journey you will find subalpine evergreen forests. As you start climbing soon the vegetation distinctly changes into Alpine type with conical trees taking predominance. Soon after the large trees give away to smaller bushes and flower valley. Eventually past Chopta valley, you will find cold desert type harsh environment with little or no vegetation. Wildlife and Bird species also keep changing through the route.
Lachen is about 120 kms from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. Travel time varies between five to seven hours depending on present road condition. Although it is possible to reach here directly from other destinations of the region such as Pelling, Kalimpong and Darjeeling; it is highly recommended that you stay overnight at Gangtok before visiting North Sikkim to avoid excessive travel. A trip to North Sikkim is always in an SUV, as it is the only vehicle that can negotiate the narrow and often stone paved road comfortably.
Your first stop would be at Mangan, the district headquarter of North Sikkim. Here you may complete your restricted area visit related formalities. Further on there are checkposts which ensure only tourists with proper permit visit Lachen. As a result you can not visit the area directly by hiring a vehicle or in a shared cab. You must take a package tour that includes your accommodation and transportation and permits. About an hour and half from Mangan is Chungthan, an important town of North Sikkim. The road bifurcates from here and the road on the left leading to Lachen a further hours drive away. If you plan to visit Lachung and Yumthang valley in the same tour, you will come back to Chungthan and take the other road to reach Lachung