Lachen is a scenic mountain village, home to the Lachenpas, a unique Sikkimese Bhutia community. Lachen, which literally means “Big Pass” clings to grassy mountain slopes in a magnificent natural setting against a backdrop of imposing snow capped peaks, glaciers and rock cliffs. The village is in a picturesque valley amidst mixed conifer and Rhododendron forests.
Winter at Lachen
Just about 112 km from Gangtok, Lachen is located at an altitude of 8838 ft. Foot trails to the country’s highest mountain peak Mt. Khangchendzonga and Mt. Sinolchu, the most beautiful peak begin at your doorstep in Lachen.
Seasons unfold timelessly in this high altitude habitat: gaily painted with myriad flowers in the spring and monsoon, bathed in spectacular weather in autumn and snow clad fairy-tale winters.
Unlike other places in India, Lachen has a unique form of local self government called the “Dzumsa”. Every household is a member of this traditional administrative system, this institution is in charge of governing and organizing activities within the village.
Lachen valley has almost everything a traveler could wish for: a land of fairs and festivals, snow-clad mountains, lakes, valley of flora, fauna and a vibrant local culture. Visits to the Lachen monastery and the women’s handicraft centre to view weaving of traditional blankets and carpets will provide insights into the local way of life or perhaps a stunning mountain drive can be taken along the Tibetan plateau to Gurudongmar and Tsho Lhamu as a day tour from Lachen. The sacred Gurudongmar lake at a height of 17,100 ft encircled by snowy massifs is something one would not dare to miss on a visit to Sikkim. One can also stay over night at Thangu which is 30 kms away from Lachen. During summer and monsoon the entire place is dotted with flowers of all kinds.
Beautiful drives and culture apart, Lachen also provides many opportunities for the avid trekker and adventurer. Zemu or Green Lake Trek is probably the most outstanding and adventurous trek in the region. A two day walk sets you right amidst towering peaks and ‘growling’ Zemu glaciers. The trek route follows the left bank of the Zemu river and initially passes through the dense silver fir and rhododendron forests.
The other trek to Muguthang begins from near Thangu village (30 km above Lachen). This spectacular trek, in close proximity to the border with the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China, has only been opened to tourists recently. Summer is the best season; with passes and the Muguthang valley being accessible in the absence of snow.
This valley has historically been inhabited by hardy Tibetan yak herders called Dokpas who live in Muguthang throughout the year, even in bitter winters when temperatures fall below zero degrees. Visitors have the opportunity to stay with the Yak herder families and experience their way of life.
There are some spectacular short treks as well. Lama Angdang, Laser and Tarum to name a few. Lama Angdang is a peak shadowing over Lachen village, and is a 2 day trek. Laser and Tarum are new treks which pass through valleys of meandering rivers, water falls. The more adventurous hikers can also loop down into the Yumthang valley from Tarum Trek.
Apart from the trek an extravagant religious and cultural festivities can be witnessed in Lachen. Traditional Bhutia folk dance Tashi Sabdo and monastic cultural practices are colourful and lively vignettes of local culture.
Apart from April – May, the best time to visit Lachen is from October– February when Lachen is draped in few centimeters of snow to greet you,
Home stays’ have been developed by the local community where host families provide guests traditional food and homely accommodation. There are about 27 hotels and lodges run by locals to serve visitors through the year.
Lachen falls under the Restricted / Protected Area of North district Visitors making a trip to Lachen or nearby places are required to make their arrangement through tour and travel agents in Sikkim. Additionally, foreign nationals are required to travel in groups of two or more.
Lachen is one of the 36 Endogenous Tourism Project site in India funded by Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, through Rural Tourism Scheme (RTS) and UNDP.
Photo credit: Lachen Dzumsa, R.C. Lachenpa & N.T. Bhutia