In this episode, you will see me traveling from Gangtok to Lachen, in North Sikkim. Speaking in geographical terms, North is the largest district in Sikkim. If you want to visit all the four districts of Sikkim, you will have to start your journey in Gangtok, like we did. You can go from Gangtok to North Sikkim and back. After that you can go further to West and South districts too. There is just one word to describe the beauty of North Sikkim – heaven! Hello friends! Welcome to Visa2explore! This is your host, Harish Bali. It is 6.30 in the morning and we are about to leave Gangtok for Lachen in North Sikkim. I was checking online and it is showing a distance of 107 kms to be covered in 4 hours and 7 minutes. But this is Mr. Deepak, our driver, who says it is 124 kms, not 107 kms. Anyways, we will check the distance ourselves. We intend to stop at many places enroute and from Lachen, we will continue our journey through the North. You can see this iron bridge just next to the cemented bridge which we just crossed. My driver told me that a year ago, traffic used to pass through this iron bridge only. The new bridge was constructed by the Border Roads Organization (BRO). This place is so beautiful that one would just want to keep viewing the scenery while traveling. Wow! Finally we are entering North Sikkim. Welcome to North Sikkim! Right now we are going towards Namsingh Waterfall. We’ve travelled just 18 kilometers from Gangtok and we came across this huge waterfall. Look at how water is traveling over huge rocks and gushing down from such a height. Let us go closer for a better look. (Host laughing) Very nice! Oh God! Look at how fast this water is flowing downwards from the roadside. The speed is such that it seems like no one would be able to stand in its way. Too good! You may want to just sit here for an hour or so and just watch this waterfall. We’ve just entered North Sikkim and such a beautiful place it is. The Seven Sisters Waterfall is such a beautiful waterfall. This place on the milestone, Chungthang, is the place where the way to Lachen and Lachung goes in different directions. And we would be passing this Mangan district on our way to Lachen. Look at the height from which the water is falling here, such crystal clear water. This beautiful view is beyond anyone’s imagination. There is a dhaba (roadside eatery) right next to this waterfall. What a beautiful scenery it is – I am enjoying this samosa with chhole (chickpeas) and a cup of tea. It looks like they have filled corn along with potatoes inside the samosa. The spice level is decent. But trust me, eating this samosa, like this, in a place with a view like this, is an amazing experience. It has been 2 and half hours since we left Gangtok and we’ve covered just 30 kms so far. It is now that I’ve realized why people take 8-9 hours to reach Lachung or Lachen. This is because people opt for multiple stops during the journey like us. Deepak bhai has suggested that whatever vegetables we plan to eat for the next two days, we should keep purchasing it on our way. Host: “Hello! Can we eat these vegetables for the next two days?” Woman: “Yes!” Host: “Okay, tell me if I am wrong. This is what I’ve learnt so far. This is gundruk, ghee, Chhurpi, Simrayo, Iskus Munta (Squash leaf). Fantastic! What is the name of this vegetable?” Woman: “Lotthe.” Host: “Lotthe?” Woman: “Yes.” Host: “And this one?” Woman: “Chimping.” Host: “Chimping. So, Chimping will go into making a chutney and we can make a dish out of Lotthe?” Woman: “Yes.” We bought five ingredients from her, at her suggestion itself. She said we could make a chutney of chimping, Simrayo can be made into a dish with chhurpi, or we can make Lotthe with chhurpi. And we can make soup out of gundruk. Perfect! All these ingredients cost me Rs. 170/-. Host: “I will pay you right now.” Host: “Here’s your money. Deepak Bhai, we’ve bought all these vegetables but who is going to cook it?” Deepak: “We will ask the hotel kitchen to prepare these dishes for us. And if they don’t, I will cook it for you.” Host: “Really! That would be amazing!” Let us pick up the stuff. Thank you, Dhanyawaad! Host: “Do you have a packet to carry these?” Woman: “No Sir.” Host: “You don’t? Okay, no problem. Thank you!” I’ve just met this guy, who is coming from Kolkata on way to Lachen. Host: “We are also going to Lachen.” Man: “Yeah!” Host: “Tomorrow he wants to go that lake, what is it called?” Man: “Gurudongmar Lake.” Host: “Gurudongmar Lake. We won’t go there because we will be travelling to Lachung tomorrow and from there we will go to Zero Point. That is our plan for now because day after tomorrow we need to be back in Gangtok.” By the way, the scenic view from this point is really very amazing. In fact, it is written here that you can enjoy a ‘wonderful view’ from this point. Host: “this view is amazing, isn’t it?” Man: “It is too good. If it wasn’t so foggy, it would have been much better.” Host: “Correct.” Man: “Yeah, excellent.” Host: “We do not carry a drone camera for shooting. Otherwise, if we could shoot this view with a drone, it would be worth it.” Man: “Yeah, yeah, perfect! You guys will be going to Zero Point?” Host: “Yeah, we plan to go to Zero Point also. Great!” We have stopped at another vegetable shop here. We are buying two things – two varieties of green chilies. This one will be used in making chutney and this one will go into vegetable dishes. This one is hot and this one is not. We are also buying some tomatoes, because, we need these for vegetable dishes, of course. This man, who was at the vegetable shop, brought us here to see his vegetable farm. They practice organic farming here and live just behind this farm. Host: “Buddy, which vegetable are you showing us now?” Man: “Iskus Munta.” Host: “Okay. So this has not ripened yet?” Man: “No, it is not ripe yet.” Man: “We harvest it like this and chop it into smaller pieces to cook a dish.” Organic farming is a really popular practice within Sikkim. And you can find organic farms everywhere. Very good! Right now, I am at Tingchim Zero, with this family. Host: “Hello.” Couple: “Hello!” Host: “So, will you please explain once, what all we can eat at your place?” Man: “Sure. I will cook 3 dishes for you – Maku (crumbled cottage cheese made into a thick yellow curry with ghee). Second item is Iskus ko Munta. Third item would be saag with chicken. The fourth is this mint achar(pickle).” I saw these dishes being cooked in front of my eyes. First, we will talk about iskus ko munta. First of all, in hot refined oil, we fry onion, tomatoes and dried red chili. After 5 minutes, add turmeric powder and salt as per taste and sauté further. After another 5 minutes, add the greens, stir it, cover it and leave it to cook for another 10 minutes on low flame. The dish is ready. To make saag with chicken, both saag and chicken were finely chopped. In a pan, they added oil. Once hot, they added onion, turmeric, salt, garlic and chopped tomatoes and sautéed for 10-12 minutes. After that, they added chopped saag and fried for 2-3 minutes. Later on, they added chopped chicken too and cooked for another while. The dish is ready. To make Maku, add ghee to the pan. Once the ghee is melted completely, he added crumbled chhurpi, also known as cottage cheese. Then, he added salt as per taste and cooked for a bit. Maku is ready. To make the mint achar, the recipe goes like this – a tomato is first boiled. After that, they take a mortar-pestle set, called Gudung here, and add dried red chili, mint leaves, and boiled and peeled tomato. He also added salt as per taste and small pieces of garlic. The achar was grounded by hand. Now, they believe that the mint achar flavor that we get in mortar-pestle cannot be replicated in a mixer-grinder. It is 12 o’clock in the afternoon. We are having our breakfast now though it is quite late for that. Now what could be healthier than this! We saw the food being prepared in front of our eyes. Everything is organic. Now, let me mix every dish, one by one, with the rice and eat it. By the way, I’ve already tried this Iskus ko Munta in Gangtok. But I do not seem to remember its taste with rice. Wow! It is delicious. What simplicity! I saw while cooking that this dish has nothing else except turmeric powder and salt. And this dish has such a delicious flavor! It tastes marvelous with this rice. Too good! This Chicken with saag is looking so tempting and inviting that I’m sure it will taste amazing. Its taste is mind-blowing! I mean I ate this dish and I was impressed, but this saag with chicken is just amazing! Chicken has a flavor of its own. Simplicity is at its peak in this dish and taste at its peak! And the saag is so juicy in this dish! To eat this saag with chicken, beyond imagination! Too good! Mint leaves of Sikkim, in the achar made of tomato and lots of dry chili. It had not less but lots of red chili! The bottom-line is that we should eat this achar a little bit at a time! But there is one thing – if I add it a little at a time, it would taste delicious! I just ate more than I should have. Very different, very tasty, amazing! There is a lot of ghee in the Maku, obviously! I could never imagine that I would get to eat such a dish in Sikkim. By the way, they have a restaurant of their own and there is a seating arrangement inside as well. However, the light was dim and I thought the video wouldn’t be clear inside. Therefore, I planned to shoot outside, while enjoying the traffic,the greenery & the clouds. Right in front of me is the second-last petrol pump of North Sikkim or you can say, of Mangan. Ohh God! Crazy taste! If you love the taste of pure ghee, you will like this dish. Nowadays, people usually avoid eating ghee, because you need to work out a lot after eating it. But truly, great taste! From among the dishes I am eating today, Iskus ka Munta is a seasonal vegetable available during the months of May, June and July. Rayo ka saag is available throughout the year. Chhurpi is also available all year through but I am very interested to see how it is made. I will check if that would be possible in North. The mint achar that we ate contains the red chili, which is used after drying and it is available throughout the year. But you need to dry it in a particular season to be able to eat it later. I liked every dish. I can’t choose any favorites, no choice on that! I loved it and that is my last line about this food! Too good! I have with me all the members of the family, which cooked the meal for me. I’ve already told you about their restaurant and their home is right above the restaurant. Host: “Trust me, I loved coming here.” Man: “Thank you so much.” Host: “And not just one or two dishes, everything I had was delicious. Especially that achar was amazing!” Host: “And I liked meeting you kids too! So nice meeting you all! Thank you so much.” Man: “Thank you so much!” Chungthang is 30 kms away from here. Once we reach there, we will be able to see the separate roads leading to Lachung and Lachen. This petrol pump that you see here, is the last petrol pump of the North district, which means if you go to either Lachung or Lachen, you won’t get petrol there. Right now, we have entered Mangan district. There are 30-40 shops here, on both sides of the road. If someone needs to do shopping or if small shopkeepers need to purchase something in wholesale, they come to Mangan for their shopping. It is a pleasure to stand here at this viewpoint and watch the mountains in the distance. It feels too good! The mountains far away, beyond the mountains in the front, include the Kanchenjunga Peak too. The view is not clear today but here is where people stop to look at the Kanchenjunga. On a clear day, you can watch 10 mountains on either side of your view and the 11 mountain, beyond these 10 mountains, is the Kanchenjunga. The clouds look so beautiful. So does the Teesta River flowing down in the valley. I happened to look at this board showing a cafeteria located downstairs. Though we are not in a mood to eat, but let us go down and check out the cafeteria. Host: “We can get momos, maggi here.” Girl: “Yes you will get maggi here.” Host: “However, Phalay will take time to cook.” Girl: “Yes, it will take time.” Host: “Phalay will take 30-45 min to cook. It is just like momo but deep fried.” Girl: “Yes, fried.” Host: “Correct. So, maybe some other time! We will come to eat here on our return journey, if possible.” Host: “Thanks.” Chungthang is 14 kms away now. This waterfall’s name is Manul. This beautiful waterfall is worth watching. It looks like there is an abundance of beautiful waterfalls in North Sikkim. We are enjoying watching waterfalls, one after the other. I cannot explain the joy one gets at watching this crystal clear water. It feels good to dip feet into this water and splash it over my face. I am enjoying this like anything. There is a waterfall at every 5 kms on our way. Look at the pressure of waterfall here. Unbelievable! I haven’t seen water flowing with such intensity in a waterfall ever in my life. This waterfall is as fast in pressure as the Seven Sisters waterfall. Look at all that water flowing down with so much speed. Mind-blowing! We need to cross this small bridge in order to get closer to the waterfall. There is a light drizzle right now. Naga Waterfall! Look at the speed at which the water is falling! Although it is raining, so the view is not clear. But I can still see enough to understand that this is a high-speed waterfall, with an unending supply of water. I just found out that the villagers living nearby travel for 3-4 days and take a different route to reach the top of this waterfall, where they rear yaks. There is a maggi stall here and, though I am not hungry, my cameraman, Himanshu, will eat maggi here. I will have a cup of tea instead. But beautiful waterfall! So, if you come this way, you should definitely stop here for some time and enjoy this view. Of course, you should stay away from the water, because it is quite risky to go near this high-speed waterfall. The authorities have even placed a board here warning people to not go near the water. Eating maggi while watching this huge waterfall is an experience in itself! Also, it is raining heavily, so that adds to the charm. There is this Toong checkpost, about 10 kms before Chungthang. Here, you need to show the permit that you got made in Gangtok. In fact, even if you are a local resident, you need to get a permit to travel to Lachung or Lachen. The permit also needs to be shown while coming back. This is an important piece of information. If you take a taxi from Gangtok, then, obviously, the taxi driver would know about the permit. But if you are traveling on your own, you should know that you need to get this permit in Gangtok itself. Right now, we are standing near a military checkpost in Chungthang. There are two roads from here. One goes directly to Lachung and the other goes to Lachen. Right now, we are traveling towards Lachen. Lachen is 22 kms away and it will take at least 45 minutes to reach there. The road between Chungthang and Lachen is a mixed bag. We are driving at a speed of 15-20 kms per hour. Chungthang is situated at an altitude of 5900 feet above sea level. The road from here towards Lachen is quite steep. Look at the rushing waters of Teesta. Too fast! And we are going towards Lachen, which is at a height of 9500 feet above sea level. So, it should take at least 45 minutes to reach there. We are 5 kms from Lachen and we’ve stopped to watch the last waterfall. There is no other waterfall after this, till Lachen. The view is so beautiful and the water is flowing down with such speed. We will stop here for another 5-10 minutes and then direct to Lachen. One more thing, we also checked the meter reading of our taxi and we’ve covered 130 kms so far. Add 5 more and it becomes 135 kms. So, the distance between Gangtok and Lachen is 135 kms. As we left Chungthang, the weather became colder and I had to wear this sweater. I am really enjoying this trip. One can say Sikkim is heaven. Finally, we are in Lachen. Right now, we are outside the police checkpost. Here, you need to make an entry of the permit that you’ve brought with you. After that, you can enter into Lachen. That is important information. Second thing is about those travelers who come to Lachen so as to visit the Gurudongmar Lake next morning. I would like to share with you important information related to that. First and foremost, you cannot cross Thangu before 7.30 am to reach Gurudongmar Lake. Thangu is approximately 33 kms from Lachen. Thangu checkpost opens at 7.30 am. Further from Thangu, Gurudongmar Lake is another 35 kms from there. So, the total distance is 68-70 kms. We are not going to Gurudongmar Lake. Instead, we will be leaving for Lachung from here tomorrow. We may visit the Lake some other time when we come to Sikkim again. However, there is a gentleman here, who has got a video of the lake, which I am going to show you. This is the video capturing Gurudongmar lake. The lake is really beautiful. This video was recorded in the month of August. However, if you want to visit the Lake, you cannot do so during the winter season, when there is snowfall. This is because during a snowfall, you won’t be able to reach Lachen itself. Therefore, before coming here do check with your travel agent whether you will be able to reach Lachen or not. This is important because Lachen is base for travelling further to Gurudongmar Lake. I hope you liked this episode. If you have your own experiences related to North Sikkim, do share in your comments. As always, I will look forward to your comments. In the next episode, you will see the traditional food of North Sikkim and the most exciting travel destination of this journey – Zero Point. Till then, goodbye, see you soon!