In Pics: Yak Race at 15,000 feet in Lashar Valley
Yak race at Lashar Valley

Lashar: Sikkim has a unique way of celebrating the Drukpa Tshechi festival — observed every year to commemorate Buddha’s first preaching of the Four Noble Truths. The festival falls on the 4th day of the 6th month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar, which usually falls between August and September.

The celebration takes place in Lashar Valley, locally known as Zachu, in North Sikkim, in an open field at an altitude of 15,000 feet with a race track as yaks line up to cross the finish line in the shortest time possible.

And reaching Lashar is not an easy task. It comes with a 3-hour hike from Thangu in North Sikkim — almost 125 kms from Gangtok. But if one manages the uphill stretch to the racecourse, they will be greeted with the presence of Sikkim’s only oxbow lake along the way. The U-shaped lake that starts out as a curve from River Teesta stretches beyond the Lashar Valley towards Saket. To seal the deal, there are glaciers!

Once in Lashar, you’ll find small dwellings or typical yak sheds housed by yak herders, locally known as the Drokpas. It is part of the Drokpa tradition to carry out the yak race in the open fields of Zachu. There are two ways to go about the unique yak race — you either sit on the yak or drag it to the finish line. The animals, meanwhile, are decorated with a saddle of Tibetan carpets and scarves around their necks before participating in the event.

The tradition and festivities of Drukpa Tshechi in Lashar Valley have been passed down through generations. This year’s race had six participants. One of the participants is Sonam Tshering Lachenpa, who is not a yak herder by profession, but has been carrying the tradition as part of his family lineage to Dokpas and Lachenpas.

Apart from the yak race, many other traditional games such as shot put using stones, carrying heavy stones and tug of war for both men and women also took place during the festival. Locals from various parts of Sikkim along with tourists also took part in the one-day event.

Lashar is a lesser-known valley with a huge tourism potential owing to Oxbow Lake and the picturesque valley and mountains that surround the area. Ideally, tourists tend to visit Gurudongmar Lake where the roads tend to reach. But even the locals and travel agents want to avoid the ongoing construction on roads and other concrete infrastructure. They claim that the remoteness and uniqueness of Lashar Valley can be sustained if it is kept the way how nature intended it to be — by hiking to the spot of race.

The road so far reaches a few kilometres above Thangu from where the hike begins. While Lashar does not have the presence of the Indian Army, military presence can be spotted on the opposite hills of Thangu, Muguthang. The locals also feel that maybe Lashar is not strategically important for the Army as it is remote and hidden.

The beauty of Lashar is magnified by its unique flora, including Rheum nobile, a version of Rhubarb, which, according to folklore, closes itself when it senses a human presence nearby. Apart from flora, unique fauna including endangered species such as the Blue Sheep, Mountain Goats and Tibetan Gazelle frequent the Valley.

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