From Zero point, the next destination was Lachen, the tiny village from where Gurudongmar Lake could be accessed. This day was our relaxation day, the day where we simply drove a 2 hour drive from Lachung to Lachen and chilled.
Naturally, such relaxation was tough with hyper-me and the newly-more-hyper-hubby, who clocked his time out with precision. So, we complicated our day by a drive up yet another mountain, Mt Katao (where else can one go at the foothills of the Himalayas!)
- All the places we visited in North Sikkim are underlined
The driver warned us that it was a sunny day and we might not get snow, but we didn’t mind, after the kid’s disastrous experience with snow at zero point. We set off enthusiastically, well-rested, and crossed the beautiful Lachung la river, to reach the main town of Lachung, with its colorful hotels and buildings, and naturally the dslr went bonkers.
We didn’t stop in the town, instead, ascended swiftly towards Katao. By the previous day’s experience, I knew that we were going to ascend very swiftly through a series of sharp bends. It was a clear bright sky with clouds sitting happily on top of all the snowies around us. I was very surprised to see autumn colors in the trees here.
Every bend and turn provided different colors. The kid and I went nuts; both of us love fall colors, and had hungrily devoured google images of trees in the fall; and here we were, in spring, in India, seeing the same trees.
- Lovely colors against a backdrop of conifers and snow-capped mountains
The road was in a much better condition than the one to Zero point, and our backs were grateful to the large army presence up here, close to the border with China. Also, it’s off the main tourist trail, so there are practically no vehicles there. In fact, I was relieved by the complete lack of vehicles on the route, as the road was so narrow, that 2 vehicles couldn’t pass without the wheels of one hanging off the road.
Soon we were halfway up the mountain. The driver stopped the car and we climbed out and suddenly realized that we were right at the edge of the road. As we hurriedly moved in a bit, we looked down onto the picturesque hamlet of Lachung.
- The river that we’d stood in a day before was gushing powerfully through the village
From this height, we could see the river with the tiny houses on both the sides, with the tall, green mountains merging into snowcapped ones at the very top. What a stunning view. Happily, we posed for pictures very glad that we’d chosen to take this road less travelled.
Back in the car, we continued to climb higher. The fall trees were replaced by deep green conifers, standing proud and tall. Row after row of them. Had we come up here 2 days ago, we would have seen them draped with snow. Instead today, they stood in all their green livery.
As we ascended, we suddenly came upon a roaring waterfall that I’d seen from a little lower down.
Tall and majestic, with a bridge over it, the fall looked wonderful from below in its entire length, but grander from up close. We climbed out happily and stood on the bridge getting wet by the spray. As I happily took picture after picture, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t see the hubby and the kid anymore. They had climbed up the rocks beside the waterfall and were busy trying to touch the water.
There was no dearth of words needing asterisks running through my head. How irresponsible of the hubby and how totally dumb of the kid! And they merrily laughed and laughed at me, standing on the bridge.
“Loosen up mum, chill sometimes,” is what the happily laughing duo told the hyperventilating me. Some people have no insight at all.
After feeding real dogs (who like Parle G), we got in the car to go higher. There were no trees now, the snowline was much closer, and despite the bright sun, it was still very cold. Just a little short of the snow line, at an army camp, the driver stopped and said that we had to turn back as we didn’t have an army permit. Part of me was disappointed not to see the snow, part of me was relieved not to go up that scary road. Suddenly, I noticed that the army regiment was a Maratha regiment. I took my shy kid by the hand and set off to meet the soldiers there. It was very pretty here. The snow was very nearby and the tree filled slopes seemed to flow down from where we stood.
- The stunning valley from the army post. The convoluted roads are seen so well
We walked up to the soldiers and I started talking in Marathi. He was so happy to meet someone from his home land that he started yapping away with us. Soon the hubby and the driver joined us. The junior soldier soon came out with steaming hot cups of tea. The army people told us about their life and wars they had been in. It was truly humbling to meet these great men who spent their lives away from their loved ones to keep us safe with ours.
We must have spent some 20 minutes with them and had a great time. It was much later after coming back that the hubby told me that we could have gone higher by just asking them. Hmmmmpphh. He could have told me then.
We descended swiftly now, watching the flora turn from brown reed-like trees, to green conifers, to my favorite fall trees and watched the sun gleaming on this stunning mountain. I didn’t miss seeing the snow one bit, no, the sun, the colors and the beauty of the valley was far more today and I sang in my head, ” Here comes the sun, here comes the sun and I say, it’s all right.” God bless the Beatles.
We drove swiftly through Lachung and reached Chumthang soon, after a terribly curvy and rough road that made the kid terribly uncomfortable. We were so happy to get out the car to see the Teesta dam at Chumthang, if only to be on level ground for a while.
The road to Lachen was even more picturesque than the one to Yumthang and a little less winding I thought. The Lachen chu, the tributary of the Teesta that meets Lachung chu at Chumthang was always by our side. That lovely green river tumbled over the rocks with such a force, such a sound that I could not help being smitten. Mountains after mountains we crossed, but the river never left us.
Soon, we passed a board welcoming us to Lachen. I was thrilled that the journey had come to an end and food was waiting for us. To my surprise, instead of reaching the hotel, we started going higher and higher. It was too cold to keep the windows open now even for pictures. We were at a great height now, and the river was only a speck deep in the valley.
Clouds were now gathering in, and I could no longer see the snow-capped mountains around us. Now the road was actually frightening. We were way above the valley, with no villages anywhere on the path. Finally, 1 hour from the entry to Lachen district, we reached Lachen village. As I looked happily around, a policeman walked up to me and told me that we were unfortunately here on a very cloudy day and that on a bright day, we could see snow-covered mountains all around. I didn’t mind the view at all, but I realized the importance of what he was saying over the next 2 days. For me at that moment the lovely green valley with the clouds floating through was paradise enough. It was made even more impressive by the fact that they had banned plastic bottles.
- The snow-covered mountains were now completely hidden by the clouds, and we only saw them on the day we left
The town of Lachen was a little way ahead and much more compact than Lachung. All the houses were packed together. They were painted in myriads of colors and they all had traditional Tibetan work on the roof and windows.
- The charming village of Lachen with the clouds hanging over the valley
Apple Orchard, our hotel in Lachen, was our costliest hotel in this trip and was well worth it. Perched at the very top of Lachen, it offered a wonderful view of the entire village.
To my greatest surprise, I got terribly breathless climbing up the steps to the hotel. Lachen was only 10000 feet above sea level. It shouldn’t be difficult to climb at this level, but I was huffing and puffing like a steam engine. The hubby had a great laugh and called me the most unfit gymmer ever.
After a hot, delicious Chinese meal, and a great bath, we set out to explore Lachen. It was afternoon but the clouds had rolled right in and it was very cold. We walked out of the hotel into the neighboring monastery, but it was very small and there wasn’t much to do.
I was shivering despite the warm clothes. I could see the entire town of Lachen below me, but there was no easy way to get down there and we realized by the drive up, that one had to walk a long long way there and back, that would be very difficult. That’s how we never explored this little town.
We did roam about our hotel, which turned out to be quite a charmer. Lovely Himalayan flowers grew all over their lawns, and there were cherry blossom trees everywhere.
There was a rough stone path leading to a wooden tree house. I huffed and puffed my way up the path to the tree house. My daughter climbed up and started yelling happily at the top, “I can see the village, I can see mountains.”
- The mountains around us
It was drizzling and very cold by now, and we felt like we were sitting on clouds. So, we got back to the room (which had a heater) and enjoyed hot chocolate and parathas and lots of games of Uno. This was the most relaxing evening of our trip.
- The kid’s fixed position in Lachen
The kid was so thrilled by the heater that she spent every minute in the room draped in front of it. If she had her way, she would have stayed in the room only and never stepped out even for meals, leave alone Gurudongmar lake.
That night, we slept early, in preparation for the long journey to Gurudongmar Lake, but with lots of trepidation, as today had been a terribly wet and cloudy day. I prayed for a safe journey to the lake and clear skies, and fell asleep listening to thunder. How this trip went, I shall write about next. Let me simply say that clouds were very much there when I woke the next day, and the only clear sky I had in Lachen was the day I left, when I looked out of my room to this.
And drove to Gangtok with this farewell view of Lachen village.
All in all, Lachen was my best stay in Sikkim, not only because of Gurudongmar Lake and Apple Orchard hotel, but mainly meeting the brave Indian soldiers.