Lachung – the Land of Small Pass
If you are visiting North Sikkim, it would be a sin not to visit Lachung. The quaint hamlet is located at an altitude of 8610 ft is surrounded by snow-covered mountain ranges, running mountain streams and stunning waterfalls. Lachung means ‘small pass’ (Lachen means ‘big pass’) situated at a distance of 118 km from Gangtok. Lachung serves as the base for the tourist wanting to visit the Yumthang Valley and Zero point or Yumesamdong. But Lachung itself demands attention from the tourists and travellers for its own charm and beauty.
Lachung, nestled along the banks of Lachung Chu (Chu means river) is a serene and quiet destination; although it receives a number of tourists all around the year. Lachung is known for its orchards – apple, peaches and apricots. This village in North Sikkim is a wonderful respite for nature lovers from the city life.
At Lachung, you can visit the Lachung Monastery located high up on the hilltop amidst an apple orchard. This ancient monastery was built in 1880. There is also a handicraft centre at the village. From Lachung, you can visit the Yumthang Valley, Zero Point, marvel at the rhododendrons at the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary and can also indulge in fishing and bird watching. There are a number of hot springs at Yumthang valley and Zero point as well.
The residents of Lachung who are mostly Bhutias call themselves Lachungpas. The people here follow a system of local governance known as Zumsa. Here all the local disputes are taken care of by an elected body of people headed by the Pipon or leader. The Pipon is also democratically elected.
All those who love their dose of adventure will also fall in love with Lachung. Zero Point is a popular trekking destination and the place will leave in in awe with its stunning vistas of the mountains. Mt. Katao is also a must visit place for the adventure lovers. Yumthang too is a famous winter sports destination. So before you travel to Yumthang and other attractions, stay at Lachung as it offers are scenic views, a melting pot of culture, ubiquitous handicrafts and wonderful natural flora.
Things to do at Lachung
Yumthang Valley is one of the most picturesque valleys in India and is often compared to Switzerland. Infact Dr. Joseph Hooker had mentioned Yumthang and Lachung as the most picturesque places in the entire Sikkim in his “Himalayan Journal” of 1855. The valley is known for the rhododendrons that bloom here and the sulphurous hot springs. The Shingba rhododendron sanctuary that is so well known for its variety of rhododendrons is a part of the Yumthang Valley. The valley is famously known as the Valley of flowers. In flowering season between April to June, the entire valley gets covered by a carpet of flowers of different colours. It is indeed a spectacular sight during that time. A small tributary of the Teesta River crisscrosses through the valley at the backdrop the mountain ranges. You can see the peaks of Pauhunri and Shundi on the way to Yumthang. There is a hot water spring at Yumthang. There is a wooden bridge with a number of fluttering prayer flags over the rivulet. You have to cross the bridge and hike uphill to reach the hot spring. The waters of the hot spring is said to have medicinal properties. From Yumthang, you can travel further to Yumesamdong or Zero Point where you will find snow at all times of the year. The best time to visit Yumthang Valley is between April to June when the entire region becomes a riot of colours. Heavy snowfall takes place in the winter months from December to January. Yumthang Valley can be visited after staying overnight at Lachung and the entire trip is usually done combined with a trip to Lachen and Gurudongmar Lake.
Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary
Sikkim is known for its variety of flowers and Shingba Rhododendron is the place where you will find a variety of rhododendron species. The sanctuary is located in the Yumthang Valley around 137 km from Gangtok. The sanctuary covers an area of 43 sq km and in this area, you will find as many as 40 varieties of rhododendrons. Towards the east of Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary is the Chuba Sagochen Mountain range and towards the west is the Chomzomei Tso extending upto the Lava Pass. The Yumthang Chu flows through the sanctuary. The sanctuary is rich in vegetation that mainly comprises of the rhododendrons. During the spring season, the entire sanctuary is full of rhododendron blossoms of various colours. Yellow, red, white, pink, blue and many others – you will see a riot of colours in the spring. Other flowers that are found here are aconites, primulas, poppies and saxifrages. Shingba is more famous than Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary because of the varieties of rhododendrons found here. You can visit the sanctuary along with your trip to Yumthang Valley. You can also get guides to explore the Sanctuary.
Yumesamdong or Zero Point is the last point in the valley. Beyond this point, there is no further road. Located at an altitude of 15300 ft above the sea level, the place is wrapped with the magical charm of the snow and serenity. It is such a place where silence rules and time has stood still. There is only the sound of the blowing icy wind that you will get at the Zero Point. At Yumesamdong, it is the blue skies, fascinating views of the snow covered mountain peaks and a few yaks grazing here and there. The place is also the meeting point of three rivers. Yumesamdong remains snow covered for most of the time of the year. So you will not be disappointed if you visit there to see the snow. There is hardly any vegetation here and some patches of grass can be seen only when the snow melts. There is a hot spring at Yumesamdong at Sebu Chu (Chu means river). Donkia Pass that connects Lachen and Lachung is also located here, however, the pass is not accessible. Yumesamdong or Zero Point is further 23 km from Yumthang Valley and takes another 1.5 hours to reach there. You can visit Yumesamdong on your trip to Yumthang Valley. However, you have to visit the place at an extra cost. Being close to the Indo-China border, foreign tourists are not allowed at this point.
Flowers: Rhododendrons, Blue Poppy and Primulas
Sikkim is known as the kingdom of flowers. The climate of the place is conducive for the growth of exotic orchids and flowers. Over 4000 species of wild flowers, shrubs and rare trees are found in Sikkim, which includes almost 700 species of rare orchids and rhododendrons. If you want to see the flowers in their natural environment, then North Sikkim is the place. Yumthang Valley is the best place where you can see the flowers. During the spring months from March to June, the area blooms with rhododendrons, primulas, poppies, iris and other flora. The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary is known for its variety of rhododendrons. The entire region becomes a colourful spectacle when the flower blooms. The entire valley looks like a carpet of flowers. Yumthang Valley is also known as the Valley of Flowers.
Lachung Monastery or Samten Choling Monastery is a small and colourful monastery and is one of the most important attractions of Lachung. This ancient monastery was built in 1880 and is located amidst a beautiful apple orchard. It is a two-storeyed building with two identical metal dragons above the porch and a giant prayer wheel. You can walk down the Lachung village and reach the monastery. In this way, you will also get to explore and look around the other sights at the village.
Handicraft & Weaving Center
There is a handicraft and weaving Centre just near the Lachung Monastery. Weaving carpets and blankets are age-old practice of the inhabitants of Lachung. Many households still have their own looms where they make carpets and blankets for their own use. In earlier times, the entire process of making the thread, preparing the dyes and then dyeing the wool was done at home. Nowadays, they use synthetic yarn to make carpets. You will get blankets made from yak and sheep wool, carpet, rugs, wall hangings, shawls and handbags here. Besides these handlooms, wooden handicrafts like Buddhist signs and symbols are also found at the Handicraft Centre. The Weaving and Handicraft Centre is a must visit place if you want to get a souvenir from Lachung.
28 km from Lachung, Mt. Katao is one of the extreme places in North Sikkim. The place is situated at an altitude of 13500 ft far away from the civilization. The beauty of the place can be rivalled to Yumthang Valley because of the panoramic views of the snow covered peaks. The region is sparsely covered with vegetation and you will find a few species of rhododendrons and primulas at this height. You cannot visit Katao by obtaining a standard North Sikkim tour package. A special permit from the army is required for visiting the place. The tours to Katao, Zero Point are available at supplement cost. Adventure activities like snowboarding and skiing can be done here.