North Sikkim Tour (Part-1)
“Snow” was a virtual reality for me before October 2018 and I was ardently looking for an opportunity to have its real experience. After lot of discussions we decided that we should explore North Sikkim, specifically Gurudongmar, not only because of the snow but also for a feeling – feeling divine.
Cover page of the 'Silver Hoof' -- Silver Hoof jumping over snow
Daryonka started begging, “Please take me with you, grandpa. I’ll stay at the cabin. Maybe Silver Hoof will come close and I’ll take a peek.”
The old man refused at first, “No way! No way! It’s no place for a little girl to walk around the woods in winter! I’ll be on skis, and you don’t know how. You’ll get stuck in the snow. What am I going to do with you? You’ll freeze!”
--- (Silver Hoof by Pavel Bazhov)
This is where I first came to know about snow at the age of seven. I am blessed to have a bookworm elder sister ‘Didi’ whose treasured collection brought this Russian Fairy-tale by Pavel Bazhov to me. A kind of fascination, then attraction and then a yearning I conceive day after day until October 2018 for Snow. Our North Sikkim tour is the germination of my long-cherished wish.
Kolkata – Gangtok – Lachen (Day 1 and Day 2)
Our tour started with a very much non-fairy tale like disaster. Romanticism got hanged when our flight to Pakyong was announced cancelled from SpiceJet authority after waiting for long four hours holding the boarding passes in our hands. However, if there is a wish there is a way. Bought ticket in AirAsia flight and reached Bagdogra airport smoothly. We lost our valuable 12 hours: we were supposed to reach Gangtok at 12 noon, but we checked in our hotel in Gangtok at 12 mid night. As a consequence, we started late next morning and reached Lachen at 7.30 pm.
We set out with Bkas (this is how he writes his name, smart guy) and his Bolero from Gangtok. On the way almost 32 kms away from Gangtok, crossed Kabi check post then we saw the Seven sister Falls. But I was more attracted by the blooming cherry trees. In November North Sikkim is glorified with Sakura, a very much Japanese beauty.
Cherry Blossom. Seven Sisters falls at the backdrop
To tell you the truth, road towards Lachen is not comfortable really. Due to occasional landslide and undaunted water falls, roads often take refuge to stones and boulders. But don’t be disheartened, a driver in Sikkim is no less than the Bahubali, they are very skilled.
After two and half hours came the first town Mangan, 52.7 km away from Gangtok. Here we had our lunch. Then we moved towards Chunthang. There is Tung check post in Chunthang block before Chungthang town. No plastic bottles are allowed beyond this point and if found a heavy monetary fine will be charged. We threw our bottles among the heap of plastics at Tung check post.
Keep a pet or metal water bottle if travelling to Lachen, Lachung and Gurudongmar. Plastic is not allowed in Lachen and Lachung.
As our car started, it began to rain. To add to our worry, it became dark very soon.
Sorry to say that we missed the beauty of Lachen in the dark of the night. It was chilling cold at Lachen. Our next day trip was to Gurudongmar Lake early morning. So, we somehow had our dinner and thought of going to bed. At this point the manager of the hotel appeared. He seemed to be very methodical. Before speaking he had a voluntary cough , then in a theatrical way he started his speech in Bengali(yes, he was a Bengali…a Bengali as a manager even in a remote village like Lachen),” Well, what do you prefer to have in your breakfast though I hope you know that you need to start at 4 am for Gurudongmar.”
My son promptly replied,” No, Uncle. As there are not many tourists at this time, Bkas uncle told us to start at dot 5 in the morning.”
Mr. Pal looked tensed but said,” Okay…fine. Tell me what you would like in your breakfast.”
Arindam asked, “What do you have?”
“Well, see as you will be setting out at an early hour you cannot eat anything at that moment therefore, we provide you with crispy toasted breads spreading a good quantity of fruit jam on them and one boiled egg for each person.”
-- What else?
-- Sorry, we have only this.
-- So, there is no question of preference. Good, give us what you said in a packet.
-- Yes, Sir.
I felt so sad for the manager. He should have more lines to speak. His theatrical style was such an entertainment after yesterday’s serious affair.
We went to the balcony, our age-old practice, and enjoyed the chill and nature in dark outside. Sleep came to soothe our weary souls.
Gurudongmar Lake (Day 3)
We started right at 5 am for Gurudongmar and it was still dark outside. Gradually daylight came out. My friend Anirban told me that he had a trip to Gurudongmar 10 years ago and the road was very steep. I didn’t find it very steep or bumpy…it was very comfortable.
The scenario changes as we go on. The mellow nature became harsh, green became grey and a charming roughness was presenting itself to some threesome excited souls.
Thangu Check post
We reached Thangu at 13,000 ft, the check post before heading towards Gurudongmar. I remember all those warnings: at high altitude, you may feel vomiting, you may feel short of breath, you may collapse. As I remembered all those advices, I tried to look for the naphthalene packet in my hand bag. Before I got it, I found a cup of hot salted Sikkimese tea in a shack by Dichen.
At Thangu there are many shacks run by the dwellers of Lachen. You will get Maggi, tea, Coffee, Rum, Gin, Beer and Hot salted water to save you from the chilling cold wind outside.
I opened the food pack given from our hotel and found a new unopened one-pound bread packet, a bottle of jam, a table spoon and three deskinned boiled eggs wrapped in aluminium foil pack. Once more I came to know theatre and reality are never ever same.
The check post opens at 7.30 am and we showed our permit and left for our destination. The whole area is under Indian Army and therefore, photography is prohibited at particular points. Foreigners are not allowed beyond this check post.
We rode through rough and rugged plateau. This area is a part of the Tibetan Plateau and is 5 kms south to the Tibetan border of China. The road from Thangu to Gurudongmar is 31.9 km and it takes roughly one and half hour. We rode through the ups and downs of the plateau and different coloured mountains around under a clear blue sky. Now we see a black mountain on our left and a dry green mountain on our right, after the next turn we see a vanilla coloured peak glittering in the morning sun in front of us. The journey towards the lake is beautiful itself. Herds of yak roam about carelessly having occasional curious glances towards the tourist cars. I heard that locals eat Yak meat also, but it is very stiff.
As we reached Gurudongmar Lake, the first thing that made me happy was the scarcity of tourists. Maximum ten tourist vehicles were there, and it enhanced the beauty of the place thousand times.
I hold a hand of Riblu tightly and went to meet Gurudongmar. My Goodness!! I am in front of a lake at an altitude of 17,800 ft (5,430m), just imagine Mt.Everest is at 8848m so only 3418m below the highest peak of the world. Beauty? ask me not, name any shades of blue, it is there in the water of the lake. The peaks of Kanchengyao range (not Kanchenjungha) are guarding the lake all around and the crystalline blue water of the lake is holding their images in her heart—clear reflection of the peaks will keep you spellbound. This place has no word called ‘Pollution” in its dictionary.
This lake is holy to the Buddhists, the Hindus and the Sikhs, but it is no less holy to the romantics for its calm, quiet and pure beauty.
While I was planning for this trip, I read so many advices about the high-altitude sickness that the words of a friend who is an experienced doctor, gave me a sort of solace. I was a bit worried about my companions, of course. My friend listened to my worries and asked, “Do any of you suffer from COPD?”
I said, “No”.
“Then go…don’t think about anything anymore.”
Still I took a packet of naphthalene (you may take camphor) and somehow my stock came to work. My son felt nauseated and it is common due to the low amount of oxygen at this high altitude. I gave him 2/3 biscuits and opened up the packet of naphthalene under his nose. He felt alright within minutes. I can say one thing --- if you really want to meet Gurudongmar, please don’t get afraid. Just take a few precautions as I said and march forward. I can assure you of one thing ---it will be a moment of revelation if you feel it properly.
There is a Gurudwara beside the lake. It was built by some Sikh regiment of Indian Army, but disputes raised their voice as the lake was sanctified by Guru Padmasambhava and this is a holy Buddhist place for the Sikkimese. However, this place is now looked after by the authority of the Lachen Monastery and we found it totally closed.
We paid our respect to pure beauty, true beauty, to mother nature and left for our next destination.
You know what did we see within 5 mins of our journey? A blue sheep or Indian Bharal!! They usually loiter in herds, but somehow it was left alone and stood in front of our car. Before we could even take out our camera, it hid itself among bushes. A blessing he left for us – try to keep something in your memory too.
My memory will never erase you dear blue sheep.
Our next destination is Kala Pathar…. A land of snow and ice. A point of freezing and frenzy.
How to go to North Sikkim
-- By Train to NJP Station . Rented car available for Gangtok. From NJP to Gangtok Innova will take Rs.3500/-, Xylo - Rs. 3000/-(approx.). ( All cars will provide with AC)
-- By Air to Pakyong or Bagdogra . Pakyong to Gangtok rented car will take Rs.1500/-. Bagdogra to Gangtok : Innova - Rs.3500/- and Xylo - Rs.3000/- ( All cars will provide with AC)
-- From Gangtok rented car can be booked for entire North Sikkim Tour ( Approx charge Rs.4000/- per day). Shared vehicles are also available.