Lachen to Lachung , Zero point: | North Sikkim Food & Travel Tour: Episode 5


The journey from Gangtok to Lachen was quite exciting. I have not seen so many beautiful waterfalls ever before. In the last episode you saw, we left Gangtok early morning and reached Lachen at the end of the day. There is a lot more exciting stuff to come up in North Sikkim tour. As we move on in our journey, the landscape starts getting even more beautiful. In Lachen, we enjoyed traditional food, stayed a night, and took a journey from Lachen to Zero Point next day. We’ve just reached the RC Homestay in Lachen. This kind of setup is something I had earlier seen in Fagu, Himachal Pradesh too. This allows the smoke to travel outwards; one can use this table to cook something, warm water, etc. This is the owner of the homestay. I was just talking to him about our journey that involves eating, drinking and roaming around. He agrees with that and says what else is there to life except eating, drinking and roaming around. (Both laughing) That is the tone of our conversation for the past 5-7 minutes. Now, let me enquire of him about what we would be eating. I had told him on phone earlier that we wanted to eat something traditional. Meanwhile, they have already served me tea in this interesting cup. Just take a look! What a beautiful way to serve tea to someone! Very nice! Fantastic Sir! Host: “What is this thing Sir?” Owner: “This is Khabze, a traditional biscuit here.” Host: “Khabze! So is it made of maida (refined flour)?” Owner: “Yes it is made of maida.” Host: “Hmmm. It is nice as a light snack with tea. Its taste is good.” Owner: “Anywhere you go to a Sikkimese Bhutia household, you will be served these.” Host: “Very nice! It is delicious.” First of all, they are preparing Khuri for me, for which, first of all, a batter is prepared of buckwheat flour or kuttu ka atta. A spoonful of batter is spread on a pan, without any oil, like this. Within 2-3 minutes, the base for Khuri is ready. Separately, in a pan, take some oil, add a bit of salt to it, so that it doesn’t splash when vegetables are added. Add chopped spring onions, chhurpi (called Chhu in Bhutia language), a lot of ghee on top of that and mix it well. After a while, add boiled, mashed potatoes to the mix and again mix well and cook further. Thus, the stuffing for khuri is ready. Now, this stuffing goes, one by one, into the Khuri base, and rolls are prepared, like these. The dish is ready. Here, chutney is made in a very traditional way and is called Khacha Thaksa. Take a flat stone grinder, put some chopped green chili on it, and grind it with a pestle manually. After it is properly grinded, they added chopped tomatoes and Chingsing, which we had bought on our way to Lachen earlier today. After everything is minced, salt is added as per taste, and our chutney is ready. Look at this tempting, inviting and healthy food that I am eating. I am already familiar with a few of these dishes. Maku (chhurpi & ghee), Simrayo, gundruk soup, chutney and khuri, both of which I saw being prepared myself. What a lovely taste! Too good. I don’t have words to praise this dish enough. Trust me! This layer of roti on the outside, the stuffing with multiple flavors inside! In that stuffing, the flavor of potatoes is the last thing, there is chhu before that, and ghee on top, everything weaving magic together. What a brilliant preparation this is! And once this stuffing is fried in ghee, the taste just becomes right! Before today, we have had kuttu ka atta during fasting days! But this is truly my first experience to enjoy a taste like this. I intended to eat a few more bites before speaking about it but I couldn’t stop myself. Very nice! Let me add a bit of this chutney to the inside of this roll and eat it thus. Hmm! What a preparation this is! Simplicity and ultimate taste! Green chilies are absolutely delicious in this chutney. Though I cannot enjoy chingsing separately, since it is my first taste of it, but this chutney is really wonderful. I’ve been told that this gundruk soup also relaxes the body and addresses tiredness. We are really tired from today’s journey and since I’ve already tasted it so I know what to expect. Very tasty! No spices at all. It just has salt in it and that too, at a mild level. I had told you that gundruk is made from fermenting rayo saag (mustard greens). Such a juicy vegetable! When I had gone to Himachal Pradesh, I ate desi ghee there, which was homemade. I am having the same experience in Sikkim. This ghee is so original and tasty, I cannot explain you in words. This ghee has flavor and you can realize it while eating that it is exceptionally tasty too. Too good! Eating this traditional, authentic food is so much fun for me. I am enjoying it like anything! Right now, we are leaving Lachen for Lachung. It is 5.15 am and we are planning to leave in 15 minutes maximum. I am having tea in the homestay. Chungthang is 29kms from here. And Lachung is further 22kms from Chungthang. This total journey takes approximately 2 and a half to 3 hours to complete the 51km journey. Obviously, it is hilly terrain and it is raining outside, so we are going to go slow on the road. So, we don’t mind even if we take more time to reach. However, since we have to travel to Zero Point from Lachung, we will try to minimize our halts on the way. I have with me the owners of this homestay. Host: “Ma’am, we enjoyed our dinner last night. The food was cooked well. Also, our stay was comfortable. Our only regret is that a day is too less a time to enjoy here. We should have stayed for a minimum of 2 nights here.” Host: “So, Sir, we are leaving for Lachung now.” Owner: “Sir, we have a temple in our house. You should take blessings before leaving for Lachung.” Host: “Sure, definitely!” This statue that you see is that of Bhagwan Guru Padmasambhava. These two pictures are that of the Gurus of Lachen monastery, third and fourth avatars. How difficult is it to resist yourself from taking even a 5 or 10 minute stop even as such beautiful waterfalls beckon you. Quite difficult! Not just waterfalls, look at the clouds, greenery all around, beautiful mountains. The scenery is such that you may want to top after every 10-15 minutes. But we cannot do that because we have to reach Zero Point after crossing Lachung. If we didn’t have to go to Zero Point, we would have definitely stopped every 15 minutes. This little bridge is so mesmerizing that one would want to just sit here and watch it. Too Good… A little further from the bridge, one can see the pressure with which the Teesta River is flowing. We’ve passed Chungthang. It took us 90 minutes to reach Chungthang from Lachen. Lachung is 22kms from here. For the first 2-3kms, the road was in bad condition but now, the road is alright. Visibility is very low. We can see the trees close by, but nothing beyond that. There are waterfalls on this route too, but these are located quite far from the road. We’ve reached Lachung and we are at an altitude of 9000 feet from sea level. We’ve just stopped to have some tea here. Our next destination is Yungthang Valley, which is 12,000 feet above sea level. We will stop there for a while, have our breakfast& then on to Zero Point, 15,500 feet above sea level. A light drizzle is pouring right now but the weather is becoming clear gradually. Looking at the clouds in front, one is tempted to stay here some more, but we will have to move on. The climate is grew colder as we reached Yungthang. I didn’t have a jacket with me, so I am wearing two sweater right now. There are 15-20 stalls here. In asked for some traditional food to eat here, but nothing traditional is available. Though, maggi is available here. We’ve already placed an order and maggi is getting ready. We are warming ourselves here. If you are at Yungthang and want to proceed further but have no woolens with you, you can rent the same from here. What I am eating right now is actually just maggi and nothing else. It is just maggi, masala cooked in boiling water. Weather is cold but I am enjoying it. While chatting with the lady here, I came to know that there is no electricity connection at this place. So, all the people who work here, they all live in Lachung and go back there every evening. There is no network at all, of any mobile company operator. As soon as you travel 3 kms up from Lachung, the mobile network shuts down. Even then, we are still enjoying our journey. We will leave in another 5-7 minutes to move on to Zero Point. They told me that the two sweaters that I am wearing won’t be enough where we are going. I needed this jacket because in case of rainfall, it would become even colder. Also, since the snow is melting up there, the road would be muddy to walk on. So, these high shoes to be able to walk in the mud. Yungthang Valley is very beautiful to look at. Our driver has told us that on our return journey, he would take us to the flower valley too, where there are still some varieties of flowers left for us to see. However, if we come in February, March or April, we can see a lot more varieties of flowers in full bloom. This is Yume-Samdong checkpost. The drivers are supposed to show their documents here. And from here, we are leaving for Zero Point, still 24kms away. The taxi charges Rs. 3000/- extra if one has to travel further from Yungthang Valley to Zero Point. Finally, we’ve reached Zero Point. You can see such beautiful scenery all around you. Very nice! I am really enjoying this view. Rocks and the water flowing like this through them, excellent! I just checked this board. We are at a height of 15,700 feet from the sea level. If you can see that small house visible far away in the background, it belongs to the people who herd yak in this valley. Yak, an important animal of this region, lives in this environment and people own 100-150 yaks each. They take out yaks to graze in the pastures around here and then herd them back into enclosures by evening. Apart from us, there is just one other tourist taxi here right now. I found out that they have come from Ahmedabad in Gujarat. There were other groups of tourists, who have already left for Lachung and Yungthang. We will also spend some 15 minutes here and then leave because the oxygen levels are low here. It is not advisable to stop here for more than 30 minutes at once. Too good! I am enjoying it! There is this small bridge, which we can use to cross over to the other side. I have with me Deepak Bhai, the driver of our taxi. He is guiding us on our journey to North Sikkim. It is 12.20 pm right now and he says, we should leave because it is already late. Anyways, last information regarding this place – The road that you back there, it is the end point. No tourists are allowed beyond this road. About 15-16kms down that road is the Tibet border. Only Army personnel and Army vehicles are allowed on that road, to send supplies to those guarding the borders. At the moment, the sun shone for 5 minutes and I was happy that the visibility would improve now. But suddenly the clouds are back and visibility is back to very low. After leaving here, we would go back to Yungthang Valley, check out some flower varieties and, hopefully, by 4 o’clock we should reach Lachung. Deepak Bhai, let’s go. The flower you are seeing right now is called Rhododendron. It is a very famous variety of flower in Sikkim. We are at Yungthang Valley and the weather is very nice. Thank God, it isn’t raining right now. Although, the visibility is quite low but the Teesta River is visible at a distance. I am trying to look but can’t see any other tourists here, though there were a few when we left here this morning. Now, if you come to this Valley in December or January, you will be able to enjoy snowfall here. And if you come in April or May, you will see lots of flowers here. Although, you won’t be able to see flowers right here! For that you will have to travel a kilometer ahead and then, for the next 8-10kms on either side of the road, you will see amazing flower varieties. In a way, you can call that area as the flower valley too. About a kilometer further from Yungthang, can you see that small building in the distance and another building above it? There is a hot water spring there, to which we are headed. Before that, we need to cross this bridge. Look at the flow of water down there. Too good! This bridge is moving a bit as I walk over it. The hot water spring is there inside that building. There are two separate sections – one for ladies and other for gentlemen. So, this is the gent’ section, where some people are already inside the pool. They told me that they have live close to this place and are regular visitors to the spring. When we were coming from Gangtok towards North Sikkim yesterday, we bought a few vegetables. Some of those, we were able to get prepared in Lachen, and some were leftover. So, here at Lachung, where we are staying in this resort, we requested the chef to make something for us out of the leftover vegetables. And, here are the dishes. Let me tell you what I’ve been served. Latte aloo (red spinach and potatoes) – here I got to know that Latte saag is also known as palange saag here. Fish curry – this is an additional item that I ordered. These are Chhurpi chutney and Gundruk chutney. By the way, you can make a soup or a vegetable dish out of Gundruk as well. Here it is in the form of chutney. And there is rice as well as chapatti too. The chapatti is very soft. The latte-aloo saag is a very simple preparation. One thing that I noticed in Sikkim is that in any preparation of potato, they make extensive use of kala jeera too. I saw this in Gangtok while eating Aloo Dum and the same is the case with latte-aloo saag too. Let me ask them to show you the Kala Jeera. I am not sure about the difference between kala Jeera and Kalonji but one thing I am sure about is that its flavor is amazing. I’ve been told that this fish curry is made in the local style of cooking. The local style involves use of mustard seeds (sarson) while tempering the dish. And this cooking style is popular with a lot of customers. I was talking to you about sarson. There is a vibrant flavor of sarson in this dish. I will ask them to show me sarson as well in its raw form. The fish has been deep fried before being cooked in a curry, which is giving decent flavor. Here is sarson and kala jeera. Sarson has been used in making fish curry & Kala jeera is used in this latte-aloo saag. Both of these are chutneys and I am going to taste them with spoon. Chhurpi chutney has tanginess. It is my first experience but enjoyable. This is called Gorkhe achar or Gorkhe chutney. It has a strong flavor of sarson in it. Ever since I came to Sikkim, one thing that I have repeatedly been feeling – the food is very simple. There is no place for heavy spices in it. It is tasty, organic and healthy. The Sikkimese food has all the good qualities. I enjoyed my meal today. There is no one dish that I would like to talk about specially. In fact, I enjoyed everything, whether it is latte saag-aloo, fish curry, chhurpi chutney or Gorkhe achar. That’s it. Good night for now! Tell me your thoughts about this video. As always, I will look forward to your comments. If you have your own experiences related to food in Sikkim, do share in your comments. Thanks for your time. I will now finish rest of my dinner. I hope you liked this episode. If you’ve seen my journey till now, you must be sure of one thing – if you haven’t travelled in North Sikkim yet, then you have missed a very exciting journey in life. If you have your own experiences related to North Sikkim, do share in your comments. As always, I will look forward to your comments. That’s it. Bye for now. See you soon!

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