On the map, the road from Gangtok to Lachen looks pretty straight forward. I mean literally, it looks like a straight north west jobby with a few little turns. But we soon learnt this was far from true. This next stage of our journey was a drive into the north of Sikkim, where we would arrive in the remote mountain town of Lachen, the start point of the trek and the home of last bed we would sleep in for 15 days.
Lachen is important in my journey as it’s where I officially leave my modern equipment behind and put on the traditional clothes Alexandra David-Néel would have worn. This place is also an important part of Alexandra’s story as she spent a huge amount of time there in 1912. She became the student of Lachen Gomchen Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk with superior status similar to that of Dalai Lama. Lachen is also the nearest town to Alexandra’s remote cave where she meditated alone for a year and a half. Her teacher Gomchen Rinpoche also had a cave very close to hers as shown below.
As we left the bustling Gangtok, the road started snaking up and around through the mountains. I say road, because this is literally the only road that goes into the north of Sikkim towards Tibet, which means we were sharing with everyone else - bicycles, carts, cows, mopeds, huge colourful trucks and a sight that would become very familiar, huge army trucks in convoy.
We passed through small colourful villages where every house was adorned with flowering pot plants and prayer flags hung from the rooftops and across the vast canyons below. As we gained altitude (we went up 1400m) and our ears starting popping, our hearts were also having a workout, leaping into our mouths each time we caught a glimpse of the sheer drop down the side of the road. If you drove over that you really wouldn’t be coming back for a second helping of dahl and momo’s.
Six hours and four army checkpoints later we arrived in Lachen, and it was beyond what I’d imagined from Alexandra’s memoirs. It was the most beautiful mountain town I’d ever seen, nestled comfortably amongst some of the highest and most unpredictable mountains on the planet. The sun was beating down on colourful tin roofs and large prayer flags were swimming in the cold breeze that woke us from our long journey. The people here were so welcoming, and the whole place had a calm and reassuring feel to it. I’m sure Alexandra would have felt something similar all those years ago when she first arrived here.