WHERE IS IT?
Lachen is a small town in the Protected Area of North Sikkim. The name Lachen means “big pass”. Tourists and pilgrims seeking to visit the holy Gurudongmar Lake can halt here for the night. Even though sparsely populated, most houses are turned into hotels to accommodate tourists.
HOW TO GET THERE?
Lachen is only accessible by road via Gangtok. Due to it’s close proximity to international borders, Lachen falls in the Protected Area region which means you need a permit to get there. To avoid the hassles of obtaining permits for entry to the protected area, it’s best to leave it to a tour organizer in Gangtok.
Since the checkpoint to North Sikkim is open only during the day, we made a 7 hour odd day journey to Lachen. The road to Lachen may not be the best but the scenery more than makes up for it. Half the route is along the Teesta River which is incredibly scenic with numerous waterfalls and the other half across the Lachung and Lachen rivers. We reached Lachen by nightfall after a tiring journey.
Gurudongmar Lake: To get to this lake and reach Lachung by sundown, we had to start our journey by 3:30 AM in the morning. Half sleepy we made it to the vehicle waiting outside. It was freezing cold and the temperature was just below zero but it was just about to get worse. The distance was only 70 km to travel but it was a dirt road with no streetlamps and sharp curves and frost formed along the road. Although I slept through most of this bumpy ride, I did acknowledge the expertise of the driver to drive in such rugged terrain in the dark.
After dawn, we were able to appreciate the beauty of the place. Glaciers, half frozen, flowed along the side of the road. Many frozen waterfalls across the mountains and yaks grazing on some rare patches of vegetation on the slopes. This place also has legends of the Yarsagumba, a rare fungus, which is said to be a miracle drug in keeping one young for decades. We did enquire about it but the driver said its not legally sold and has an incredible price in the black market.
We reached the Gurudongmar lake checkpoint early in the morning. Only Indian citizens are permitted to visit this lake. It was freezing out there(well below minus). There was an Indian Army camp adjacent to it and we were invited to warm ourselves at the fire place and they offered us tea and all of us sipped on it sitting around the fireplace. They refused to let us pay for the refreshing tea and said that they are just glad to help out tourists and pilgrims. A special mention of thanks to the Indian Army who keep the borders safe even in such harsh conditions.
We finally reached the lake and it was a sight beyond words. The lake was frozen entirely and the snow capped mountains surrounding it complimented the view. The wind blowing was freezing and our fingers would get numb within seconds of taking off the gloves to click pictures. The altitude (about 18000 ft above sea level) was not helping either as it was difficult to move due to the thinner air.
With the oxygen levels much lower than we are used to, Shilpa and Prema fainted briefly but fortunately they recovered in a couple of minutes and no harm was done. I did go down to the frozen lake to collect some water and a walk of about 20 metres that should be extremely easy let me panting and out of breath. But the sheer beauty of the place is worth the trouble.
The lake which is revered holy by both Hindus and Buddhists is also the second highest lake in India. The first highest lake, Tso Lhamo Lake, is also just 10 km away but tourists are not allowed without additional permit as it is just 4 km away from the Chinese border.
Additional Places To See: Chopta Valley and Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary are some additional places you can check out if you have the time.
The place is incredibly beautiful and we would recommend it as a must visit place. Anyone with a weak heart and breathing problems might want to skip this one due to the low levels of oxygen and unfriendly terrain.