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Countryside Village up North - Lachen, Sikkim

Countryside towns offer the raw charm of India and treat you to scenic surroundings. Lachen is one such village in North Sikkim.
Gurudongmer Lake was the second destination we had on our plans and hence we were looking for a town as a shelter in place on the long drive to the famous lake. On some research, we finalized Lachen as our pick. Of course, we would also spend a night in Gangtok on the way. As planned we bid goodbye to Darjeeling and looked forward to enjoying the journey ahead. We checked out of our Hotel by noon and boarded our car to take us to our next destination.

Just as we came out of the limits of the hill resort, we crossed the Jore Bungalow - the tri-crossing where three ways connect - towards Darjeeling, towards Siliguri, and towards Gangtok. This was a major trading point during the British rule owing to its strategic location and was used as a storage area for goods to be despatched to the far east. Our driver Thapa for this leg of the journey was a no-nonsense guy who was a Sikkimese in true spirit. He would provide us with all the information solicited and add context to our queries. He would at times boast of the beauty of the region and would encourage us to try delving into this remote part of the country. We did enjoy his company and appreciated him stopping at several points on the route which provided awesome views of the far hills and deep valleys. There were some viewpoints which were relatively undiscovered by tourists but did provide spectacular views. The roads in this region are mostly constructed by an specialized unit of army - Border Roads Organization - because of the strategic importance of the zone.

A video blog on the journey to Lachen

An hour and a half into the drive we stopped at Lamahatta - an eco-friendly village which took pride in maintaining a beautiful picnic spot. There is a nominal entry ticket to the eco-friendly garden which is spread over a large area. We loved the green expanses of carefully manicured lawns and plentiful of horticulture. We strolled in the gardens with a coffee in hand and this served as a great break on the road trip. We also climbed the viewpoint that has been developed in the center of the garden. The views from the top are bit restricted but the depth of the sight is amazing and we spent half an hour there. We took a few pictures around the place and leisured around before commencing on our further journey.

Soon, we were joined by the Teesta River on our journey. Teesta is an important river in the region and is formed by numerous tributaries which in turn are fed by thousands of small waterfalls coming down the hills. The river flows further into the plains and continues its path in Bangladesh. Sharing of water from this river is a crucial topic of discussion between India and Bangladesh and the final formula is still elusive. On our side, we saw multiple large-scale hydroelectric projects under progress in the upper reaches of the river. The river continued on its journey along with us and it definitely added to the overall charm of the journey. On the road, we observed a few vehicles with a red number plate as our co-travelers and we grew curious. Red number plates in India are restricted to demo cars which could not be the case with the ones we had on these roads. The driver informed us that this region gets a lot of tourists from other side of the border - Bhutan - who visit both for natural and religious tourism.

Guests From Bhutan
As we moved ahead on our journey we were accompanied by spectacular panoramic views of the mountains and valleys. The drive continued and after about three hours since we started, we were at the Sikkim border where we had to stop at the entry check post. The entry point was donned with a large concrete gate with the message – “Welcome to Sikkim” and the driver repeated those words to share his wishes. The government closely monitors the movement of tourists in Sikkim owing to its sensitive nature in terms of location. We were welcomed by the government official who asked us about the purpose of our visit and where we were from. He also inquired about our travel plans and checked our identity cards before giving us the go-ahead to enter the state. For foreign tourists, the procedure is bit more elaborate – nothing painful but longer. We were now officially in Sikkim – one of the most beautiful states in India.

Our journey continued. The driver kept showing us various strategic points offering views of nature and we enjoyed each of them. The slopes were covered with pine trees all along which gradually turned into tea plantations. The greenery and the forestry was a very welcome change from the concrete jungles of the plains. We also stopped a couple of times for light snacks and tea on the route. As we approached the city of Gangtok, we realized the rapid development occurring in the region. One sector that flourished was education – there are a number of universities and boarding schools that have come up in the area. Then the region has attracted a lot of pharmaceutical companies who obtain the valuable raw material from the hills and process them here itself. While all this development may be good in many aspects, we are apprehensive about the impact on the environment and tranquility of the region. Hopefully, the government would keep a check on the level of interference these establishments have on nature. One thing that impressed us on-route was the presence of barricaded footpath where towns existed along the main road. We saw that even small towns had a path reserved for pedestrians and this path was barricaded to prevent motorized vehicles from entering it.

Scenic Tea Plantations
We stopped in front of Hotel Helia at about 6 PM and we checked in our room. The lady at the reception was sweet and could call my name as soon as I approached the reception. I was sure all my bugging since the morning was partly behind it. We proceeded to our room and as we entered the room we were greeted with some special arrangement – a surprise I had planned for my wifey. Let's keep the details away from this as that is all to be kept private. As we settled in the room, we observed that the room was set nicely but the setup asked for maintenance. We had chosen the best room category of the facility – an attic suite, which was located on the top (sixth) floor. It was a cottage shaped room with wooden finish all around. There were only two such rooms and that was all they had on this floor. There was a common lounge with sofas to enjoy nature. The elevator was only available until the fifth floor beyond which there is an artistic wooden stairway. The fifth floor has a scenic bar for those inclined. While the facility may leave some things to be desired for, it was compensated with the service – courteous, prompt and accommodating. Further, from point of location, the hotel is nicely placed – close to major tourist interests and away from the major road to avoid noisy clutter. We relaxed for a while and then stepped out to explore the city. We were coming back here for a detailed trip around the city but still, we did not want to waste our time inside a hotel room.

We visited a local market in MG Marg area which is popular among tourists. It took us about 15 minutes of walk to there and locals were always gracious enough to direct us in right direction. The market has been developed as a promenade with shops and eateries all around a tiled traffic-less zone. We had some awesome vegetable rolls from a shop called Rolls-Mall and enjoyed them thoroughly. We decided to come back to this place when we are in the city again. We stayed there for about an hour and had our dinner at an eatery – Rasoi. The food was good and service basic yet courteous. We finished our food and returned to the hotel by 9 PM. We retired for the day to rest our bodies for next day.

The View that Stayed with us - Gangtok in Night
Next morning, we had a relaxed start as we had the morning to ourselves. We had our bed coffee enjoying the view of morning hills. Then we got ready and had our breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We had the continental plan at the hotel and hence breakfast came with it. The spread was decent but the quality of cooking wasn’t up to the mark. Again, service did compensate for it to some extent and they recooked a few items on our request. As we came out of the restaurant, we realized that it had been raining heavily since early morning and we soon grew apprehensive about our travel plans. We were scheduled to travel to northern parts of the state and the terrain is hilly and difficult. On top of this, the waiter’s input further warned us – “Sir, last year the landslide was heavy during rains and the route was closed for over two months.” Confused, I called Ajay – our point of contact at the travel agency handling our ground transportation. He assured us that these were routine rains and the weather would open up soon. He also confirmed that the tourist department had issued permits for our travel and we were good to go. However, we still cross checked the feasibility of travel with the lady at the hotel reception. She allayed our fears telling us that tourist department coordinates with defense establishment and meteorological team to consider all eventualities including weather before issuing permits. This did relieve us and we decided on to continue the trip as planned.

We checked out of the hotel by 10 AM and boarded the car. Authorities have strict traffic controls in the city and large tourist vehicles are restricted to outskirts of the city during busy hours. We had to be transferred to our vehicle – Mahindra Xylo parked in designated parking – by a smaller vehicle. We were rushing out of Gangtok by 11 AM towards our next destination – Lachen - and as we came out of the city we had the curvy hill roads surrounded by the lush green forests. The rains had lent a freshness to the green cover and everything seemed perfect for a road trip. Soon the rains relented and the sky opened up to light sunshine.

After about a couple of hours of the drive, we stopped for our first touristy break. We were at a waterfall and de-boarded the vehicle. It was a large waterfall with water gushing from higher reaches destined to meet Teesta river downstream. The transparent water stream with sprinkling water sending chills was a lovely sight to relish. We enjoyed the gift of nature for about half an hour and took a lot of photographs. We also enjoyed some tea from a hawker and then continued the drive. Next, we stopped at a small village for lunch. This was a usual stop for tourists and some shops there had tie-ups with packaged operators like MakeMyTrip who provide meals as part of the packages. We took our lunch at one such shops – basic thali for 120 bucks each which provide all components of a meal. The waiter also obliged us with fresh chapatis when the ones being served seemed cold. We spent about an hour here which gave us and the driver a chance to relax.

Next stop for us was after another hour of travel when we had another stream of water flowing through the slopes – this time much higher and faster. We had reached the Naga Falls and enjoyed the nature at its best. Also, we stopped at another viewpoint which gave a clear view of two gushing water bodies merging into one - the confluence of Lachung and Lachen river. Both these rivers get together to merge with Teesta River downstream and create a wonder view for those observing the phenomenon.

Tall and Long - Plantations en-route

Teesta River - Our Companion on Road
We reached the Lachen Village by 6 but could only reach the hotel by about 7 owing to the convoluted directions being guided by the hotel manager. Finally, we reached the Hotel Hill Retreat and checked into our room. This is a basic hotel with bare minimum facilities required to stay through a night. The room was spacious with a double and a single bed. The equipment in the room was similar in nature and we were okay with it. However, the major issue was with washrooms which needed to be cleaned. We had to struggle for quite a bit before that was sorted out. They served a fixed menu dinner to those who had meals included in the package and charged 190 bucks from those who did not. We were already stuffed and hence decided to skip the dinner. To compensate for our woes, the manager gave us an electric kettle and a room heater. Once we settled in the room, we ventured out to know a bit about the city we were spending a night in.

Lachen is a small village at about 9000 feet (3000 meters) above sea level in the North Sikkim – one of the districts in Sikkim other being East, West, and South. It is a picturesque village with raw beauty and spectacular views. The literal meaning of Lachen is 'Big Pass' and the village is popular among tourists as a shelter in place before embarking towards the further north. Nestled amidst the stunning Himalayan Mountains, Lachen offers a perfect retreat to relax and escape from the daily trap of city life. We walked across the village – hardly a couple of kilometers in length. Every year during the summers annual yak race is organized in Thangu.

The town has a population of about a 1000 people across some 200 odd houses. Earlier the only inhabitants of the town were the tribes who would spend their summers in upper regions around Tibet for their regular livelihood and come down to the town during harsh winters. While the town has its inhabitants now, there still are many who follow the schedule. It was indeed a new experience spending time in such a remote village which offered its charisma in multiple ways. We were happy that we decided to spend the night here. We returned to the hotel by 9 and called it a day to prepare ourselves for the coming rigors next day. Stay tuned for a lot more nature, excitement and adventure.

Don't these scenic roads tempt you?

How was your experience visiting this hill town along with us in this article? Did it excite you to plan a journey soon? Or have you already been there? Have some comments - praise, appreciation, criticism? Well, here is your chance to express all of it. We do appreciate each comment and are encouraged by them. So, keep them coming and in case you are inclined to - do share our post 🙂

This post first appeared on Tripping Tourists - Travel The World With Us, please read the originial post: here

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Countryside Village up North - Lachen, Sikkim


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