Sikkim has become one of the top adventure tourism destinations of the world. But, how can you be a tourist and escape other tourists at the same time? It’s difficult to do in India where crowds are a normal and expected part of life. I always encourage people to get off the beaten path and prioritize having extra time to rest and wander. After I married my Nepali Sikkimese husband, I joined him as he led excursions around this wild state. He knows every village, every homestay and every backwoods trail (or so it seems). One place we frequented a lot was North Sikkim, doing the tour from Mangan to Lachen and Lachung. A huge number of tourists go to these places, but from my experience, they leave just as quickly as they come, usually visiting a special site during the one day they have. We tend to avoid these sites during peak seasons, but nonetheless they are worth the trip!
Lachen itself has a very rich history and ancestry. We like to stay in a typical Lachenpa home with a host family. They have a big kitchen adorned with all sorts of copper pots and decorative tea mugs. Mornings are my favorite as we sit on yak stools around the warm fire with butter tea. The mother is usually found rolling out thick Tibetan bread and baking it in the fire. Then after breakfast we would try to catch a glimpse of the mountains cupping us in the valley. Many times we have stayed there in the heart of winter, where the temps go well below freezing. January is actually the best time to get great views. The warmth of local hospitality and some good millet beer, however, keep the cold at bay.
Lachung has its own feel to it. In peak season the small town is sold out to tourists on their way to Yumthang Valley. Instead, we like to drive out into the yak pastures of the locals, reaching heights of 12,000ft sometimes. My favorite memory is speaking with a mother who had her baby strapped to her back, both their cheeks rosy red from the harsh sun and wind. She was taken by surprise to see a bunch of foreign tourists hop out of a jeep to greet her! She told us about how yak need certain grass and herbs from the higher elevation, and how they provide dairy, meat, and skin for the Lachungpas. It’s a simple but harsh lifestyle that requires a resilience few people have.
In Mangan, the capital of the north, we stay at a homestay with perfect views of Khangchendzonga. Just as the sun is rising, you can see the mountain glowing victoriously pink. We wake up early to capture the beauty, then we indulge in a hearty local brunch. We set out after breakfast to the Lepcha villages surrounding Mangan, hiking on steep paths to hidden homes and gentle brooks. It always surprises people when you come up to their house asking for a small cup of salt tea, but they are more than happy to invite you into the kitchen and also offer local fruit or vegetable. You leave each home as if you are family with invitations to come back.
So, why waste your time stuck in traffic or bumping into other tourists? You can explore the hospitality and beauty of North Sikkim in peace if you choose to get off the beaten path. Let yourself wander around the wilderness, sip chai slowly, and just take in the wonder of creation that is North Sikkim.
You may also like to read:
Lachung: The picturesque village of Sikkim
Also by the author:
Fire on the foothills of the Himalayas
Homestay experience in North Sikkim
Trek to Keushong lake- North Sikkim
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