Sikkim Diaries – Driving far North to Lachung

It was our second day in Gangtok. Up early again, fresh and upbeat for another day of travel, we again stepped out for a little walk to see what the town was upto on a Monday morning. Far from the madding crowd of our own metropolis we did not have any blues on the day. A short distance from our hotel we had found a small sweet shop which had started its service, we ordered ourselves tea and our little daughter got her customary pack of juice. While we slowly sipped our tea the street got busier, kids hurried to their schools and elder ones to their work. Just the fact that we could watch this busy routine of a working day shape up without ourselves being part of it was quite relieving.We walked further to MG Road, the crowded street of previous night was now empty with only a few early risers who went through with their rituals. Sun rays in the meantime filtered in reflecting against the colourful facades of the buildings there.

MG Road mroning
Beautiful MG road of Gangtok gets ready for another busy day !

The main agenda of the day was to reach Lachung, one of the destinations in North Sikkim, doorway to Yumthang Valley and Zero Point (Yumesamdong). The pictures of these places had already fascinated us. Although we did not include Zero Point in our itinerary because of its high altitude( approx. 15000 ft) which is not advisable for kids below 5 years, the anticipation of going to the beautiful Yumthang Valley (also known as Valley of Flowers because of lovely red Rhododendrons which bloom here in May) made us keen to get going. We were on the road by 9.30 am. It was going to be a long journey of around 6-7 hours (approx. 120 Km) up north from Gangtok. Once the city was left behind the narrow highway meandered through densely forested hills. hopping from one hill to the other over iron bridges, small rivulets flowing below them. These bridges would be a feature of our entire drive all the way to Lachung and shortly we crossed the one which welcomed us into North Sikkim.

Bridges of Sikkim
As you drive up and down Sikkim crossing these bridges which take you from one hill to other is a regular feature

Another regular sight on this drive was that of the Buddhist prayer flags with sacred mantras printed on them, indicating prominence of Buddhism in this region. They are there in every village which you pass and almost every bridge you cross. These flags which added colours to a green and serene countryside are one of ways of religious expression here.

Road to Lachung
All along the route the colourful prayer flags are a common sight –  The ones here are the vertical prayer flags called Darchog

The colors of the flag indeed have a meaning and are not merely there for aesthetic purpose. They’re arranged in a special order that represents the five elements. Blue symbolizes sky and space, white symbolizes air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth.It is the balance of these five elements or Panchtatva, as we call them, which brings harmony in nature, an idea we have also grown up hearing. People here express the same by putting up these flags everywhere, tied at higher vantage points where the wind can blow through them. It is believed that wind passing through these flags spreads the vibration of the prayers and spiritual intention behind them all around. In fact fading of colours of these flags is also considered to be auspicious meaning that the message has been taken across.

Winds of Faith
The colours apart from their beauty also have a significance as each one of them stands for one of the five elements. The flags are put in such a way that they can flutter in the wind which is supposed to carry the message in these prayer flags all around –  These here are the horizontal prayer flags called Lung Ta

We had taken our first stop where the milestone said 30 km to Gangtok. There was a beautiful waterfall here amidst lush green vegetation. Barring the chatter of the tourists who had stopped here and vehicles which crossed the bridge, underneath which the water flew down the hill, there was nothing else which corrupted the beautiful way of nature here. Although the place was admirable but we had to move on as there was a fair distance still to be covered.

30TH mile Waterfall
The waterfall at 30th Milestone

The drive kept getting prettier as we notched up more kilometers, although a little treacherous as mostly this highway was still a work in progress. There were patches which had been completed only to fool us into a false sense of hope of a smoother road ahead. The bumpy ride was a testing fourth dimension to an absolutely fantastic view of lovely lush green mountains we got from our windows. Our next stop was a little before Mangan, the headquarter of North Sikkim district. The driver had insisted on having lunch there. Although we were not too hungry we didn’t mind as it gave us another opportunity to take a break and stretch our legs. It was a rustic restaurant which offered basic meals and snacks easy on pockets. There was a cute little bakery from where we got awesome swiss rolls, again at a price which almost brought tears to our eyes. So after a quick-lunch and a dose of local pastry we got going again. We crossed Mangan after a few minutes and were almost halfway through our journey to Lachung.

North Sikkim Landscape
Taken from my phone as we drove along – These are the views which present themselves while  you drive up to North Sikkim.

Our itinerary had identified two waterfalls in our drive further to Lachung. The first one of them was the Naga Waterfalls which you arrive at before you cross the town of  Chungthang. It was beautiful in the way the water flew down after falling over the cliff at some distance from where we stood, tucked between the thick forestation on either side. A string of coloured prayer flags was tied across, waving in the slight breeze which blew. From the edge of the road River Teesta was visible flowing deep down in the valley.

Naga Waterfalls.jpg

We reached Chungthang around 2.00 pm, a town located at the confluence of Lachen and Lachung rivers. It is also a junction from where one road leads to Lachen and another one to Lachung. We took the turn to Lachung crossing the bridge over one of the rivers (the direction from which it came suggested it was Lachen). Just after crossing this small town we came to the other waterfall which was listed – Bhim Nala. Sadly the weather did not permit us to stay for long here, it had grown dark and started drizzling. I had hurriedly captured the sight of not only the waterfall but also the view of the snow-capped mountain peaks which were visible as you looked in the other direction. We rushed to complete the last stretch before the rains got heavier.

Bhim Nala Waterfalls
Bhim Nala waterfall
View from BhimNala_
Snow capped peaks visible from Bhim Nala Waterfall

This last stretch of a few kilometers in this very remote countryside of Lachung was simply marvellous. Lachung River kept us company as we made our final ascent, flowing in the green valley guarded by spectacular mountains. Snow capped peaks had now started overlooking this entire scene. As we approached the village small colourful houses peppered the valley. We passed by some of these houses as we made our way to our accommodation – Yorling Zimkhong where we reached around 4.00 pm.

A thunderous rain came down as we settled in the resort.

View from Norling Zimkhong
Standing on the porch of our resort this is the view we had. Yarlam Resort is supposedly the best in Lachung, ours Yorling Zimkhong was the second best at almost half the rate.

 

Things to Note:

  • Distance from Gangtok to Lachung is around 120km. It is easily a 7 hour drive including all the stops in between. It is advisable to start early in order to reach there before dark.
  • The roads as of now are under construction hence a SUV is a preferrable vehicle
  • North Sikkim also needs permits which get checked at three different posts on the way up to Lachung and also on the return journey.
  • Keep track of  weather and plan travel accordingly to avoid heavy rains.
  • Yorling Zimkhong where we stayed is a good option to stay in Lachung with facility of hot water and heater.
  •  Sources I referred for prayer flags:

http://www.indiatimes.com/lifestyle/self/8-things-you-should-know-about-tibetan-prayer-flags-before-hanging-them-up-257899.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_flag

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