Gangtok: Thukchuk Lachunga, one of the prominent names in Sikkim, breathed his last at a Delhi hospital on Wednesday.

A former legislator under late Nar Bahadur Bhandari’s Sikkim Sangram Parishad governement from 1984-89, Lachungpa had served as the forest minister. The 73-year-old had kept away from politics for the past 20 odd years, yet was popular for his philanthropy.

Lachungpa, who hailed from Lachung in North Sikkim, studied at the Tashi Namgyal Academy in 1960s and later joined Kumudini Homes in Kalimpong, West Bengal. Ever since he was a child, Lachungpa showed a keen interest in painting. His passion took him as far as Thailand to learn Thangka painting, popular across Asia. He was also a gold medalist in painting in the Asian art circuit. While he earned the distinction of being the first Sikkimese to sell his artwork internationally, his forte in art wasn’t just restricted to Thangka painting.

In the late 1970s, he ventured into politics, while initially being associated with RC Poudyal’s Rising Sun Party (Jhulke Ghaam). But in 1984, Lachungpa, along with veteran politician KN Upreti, joined the Sikkim Sangram Parishad led by Bhandari and served as a one-time legislator.

Lachungpa remained in politics even after the fall of Sangram Parishad, mostly remaining associated with the Sikkim Congress till the end of 1990s. Following his exit from politics, Lachungpa took up many building projects as a contractor, enough to label him as a builder in the Himalayan state. One of his highly-publicized housing project called Rey, near Gangtok, which still stands incomplete, was a much debated issue for the past decade.

He is highly acclaimed for promoting the Pang Lhabsol festival in Sikkim, which, according to history, was symbolic of Bhutia Lepcha unity and brotherhood in Sikkim. He went on to build a statue depicting the Pang Lhabsol and the unity in the heart of Gangtok at Tibet Road entry point of MG Marg. The same project was later developed, the statue covered with a pagoda-like structure that still stands today at the entry of MG Marg.

Over the years, Lachungpa donned many hats be it his pursuit in development of art and culture in the state or much later as a yoga guru, teaching people yoga every morning either at his own residence or at Bhutia Lepcha House on Tibet Road.

Lachungpa is also remembered for his philanthropy – any public event in Sikkim, specifically at MG Marg, would also have some financial support from the former legislator.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, he helped many in need with his charity. However, earlier this year, the eminent citizen of Sikkim contracted the COVID virus, extending his stay for months both at STNM Hospital in Gangtok as well as at a private nursing home in Siliguri. Rumours of his death circulated even then. However, he survived the virus and was brought back to his home in Gangtok where he spent many months before being taken for a check up in Delhi due to his persistent health concerns.

“In Thukchuk Lachungpa, Sikkim has lost a great philanthropist, an eminent citizen, someone who spoke for the unity of the people at a personal level to even promotion of various cultures of Sikkim,” shared KN Upreti.

Many senior journalists from Sikkim also recalled how at a time, when the freedom of press was curtailed in the past decade with the previous government putting an embargo on a few newspapers, Lachungpa came forth to support by allowing such newspapers to be distributed from his own building in MG Marg.

He is survived by his 5 wives and 8 children. His body is set to be brought home to Sikkim for final rites.

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