Mangan is the Gateway of Alpine Valleys. It is the North District headquarter, 65 km from Gangtok. It has historic beginning, Rinzing Namgyal, the local landlord of the area had established the town in 1903 during Young Husband’s tour of North Sikkim. It is also known for its annual Music Festival when musical bands from across the country converge at Mangan public ground and enthral the crowd through the night. Ringhim Gompa, where the annual lama Gongdu prayers are held is few kilometre uphill Mangan town. The monastery overlooking Kanchenjunga has also a monastic school, while those looking for adventure can try their nerves at the nearby Rock Climbing Centre. Pakshak View Point, around 3km north of the town on the highway provides a view of the eastern face of Kanchenjunga. Filmmaker Satyajit Ray had called this the best view of the Kanchenjunga when he shot a movie here. Around 2 km from Mangan is Singhik View Point, which offers beautiful view of Teesta River.
It is located at 8,610ft near the border with China and 118km from Gangtok. An idyllic mountain village set amidst primulas and rhododendrons and resplendent in its crown of snow-capped mountains, breath-taking waterfalls and sparkling streams, Lachung permeates an ethereal alpine glow. Lachung means small pass and Yumthang, the valley of flowers have been described as the most picturesque places in Sikkim by Dr. Joseph Hooker in his ‘Himalayan Journey’ (1855), comparing its general features with those of the narrow Swiss Valleys. The hardy stock of Bhutias of Lachung and Lachen call themselves Lachungpas and Lachenpas and have their own self-governing body ‘Dzumsa’ where all local disputes are settled by consensus.
It is located at 11,800ft and 24 km from Lachung. Yumthang or the Valley of Flowers is where the tree line end and the rhododendron groves cover the landscape in a surreal shade. From March-May the entire stretch is aflame with rhododendron and beneath your feet is an endless carpet of bright alpine flowers. Before entering the valley a small pedestrian road goes through a small bridge which connects Yumthang Hot Spring. The sulphur rich water that emanates from a small spring is diverted inside a hut where two pools are made for bathers, wanting to heal themselves. You can also engage in angling at the nearby Yumthang Chhu and Phuniya Chhu.
About 23 km ahead of Yumthang on the border part of the lachung valley are the hot spring of Yumey Samdong above 15,000ft on the river Sebu Chhu at the foot of the mountain on which lies the Donkia-La (18,400ft). Donkia-la connects Lachung Valley to Lachen Valley. At Yumey Samdong, three rivers meet providing yet another scenic view.
Another place of interest is Katao at 12,600ft, where Thanka-La borders India and China. There is also Dombang forest another heaven of rhododendron and primulas. The 30 minutes drive from Lachung to Katao is considered one of the most scenic.
Lachen rests on an alpine meadow from which rise the pine clad mountains with their snowy peaks. At 9,400ft, the big
pass is good acclimatization place for trekkers trekking up to 15,000ft and above. Staying there, one can stroll
around Lachen village tagged as one of UNDP’s 36 heritage village site in India. It has over 100 traditionally built
houses with Lachen Gompa at its top. Beside occasional monastic ceremonies, the Gompa showcases ancient mask dance
sometimes in January.
Lachen like Lachung has a peculiar system of government called Dzumsa, a system of local governance, something unique to the country. Here time stands still. No telephone works. Only the muffled drone of Lachen River, some hundred feet below become audible. The population of about 1,000 odd thrives on tourism or revolve around milking their Yaks, making cheese, weaving warm clothes and carpets from the wool of high altitude sheep or making special shoes out of yak skin. Lachenpas spent their summers at Palung or Tso Lahmo, both over 16,000ft tending yaks. They go there in June and return only in September.
Thangu at 13,500ft is the second stage of acclimatisation. It is chilly even in summers. There are few shops here, which provides tea, hot noodles soup, rice and vegetables. You can also get a yak cheese at reasonable price. Few minutes from Thangu is Chopta Valley at 13,200ft, it is rich in alpine vegetation. The valley is criss-crossed by meandering rivers. Nearby is Thangu Monastery, which host the annual Pang Lhabsol and its monks stage Pangtoed Chaam. An Adventure trek through Chopta valley leads to Muguthang or Lhonak Valley (15,000ft). Very few Dokpas settle in Muguthang for food and for gazing their yaks.
The lake at 17,000ft is surrounded by holy peaks and held sacred by both Hindus and Buddhists. The dovoult, it is said, get to see the future in the form of letters or scenes on the lake water after required prayers and offerings have been made. Gurudongmar literally means “The Red Faced Guru” and sound similar to “Guru Dragmar”, which means the red coloured wrathful form of Guru Padmasambhava.
A 15 minute drive from Gurudongmar lake will reach you Tso Lahmo, above 18,000ft . Except in July-August the water remains complete frozen. Tso Lahmo or the fairies lake below Zemu Glaciers is considered the source of River Teesta.
If you are the sort that loves nothing more than to be left alone to gaze at nature with a pair of binocular and a gurgling river to give you company, come to Dzongu. If you are the sort who wants to learn the lifestyle and culture of a primitive tribe Lepcha, be at Dzongu and live with them, If you are the kind who seeks adventure trails like trekking visit Dzongu. This quaint village with population just hovering around 7,000 is enveloped by beautiful mountains covered with forests, interspersed with cardamom and rice fields, villages, lakes and rivers – all with a story that tells us about the lepcha folklore, culture and tradition. Lepchas are the very nice people and have a great folktales to keep you occupied while drinking Chee, Traditional Lepcha drive brewed from millets. The climate and geography vary from the moderately hot and humid forests in the valleys to the snow-capped mountains. The erstwhile King of Sikkim had officially recognized Dzongu as the reserve of the Lepchas for safeguarding the tribe’s culture.