The dark of the Alpine green turns to a muted white of the snow. A further drive through the winding roads and a few minutes later, you leave the comfort of the car to walk past the clouds with snowflakes settling on your clothes, while a semi-frozen lake resting in its placid glory awaits you as you get closer to the frigid waters even in the coldest month of the year.
Situated in the east of Sikkim, the Tsomgo Lake takes an hour to drive through the rocky mountains from the capital, Gangtok. Some would say planning a vacation to Sikkim in January is foolhardy, but when you want to seek unusual experiences and offbeat addresses, you should take a crack at it.
Over the years, the touristy appeal of the place has spiked up. After meandering through the rocky mountains, passing by a few eateries, a few native folks selling gloves and sundry other items and crossing several security checks, you reach the place. Before you can even set your eyes on the lake, you spot an exotic pack of yaks, enough to lure the tourists to pay to ride these mild-mannered yet tough beasts.
Interestingly, this is a recent development. Earlier these ungulates were not allowed near the lake for its sanctity. But the rise in tourism has given the yak breeders an opportunity to earn more. And tourists, of course, don’t mind. At 12,313 ft and -10 degree Celsius, not many would say no to an unusual offering.
The lake, which sits lower than the road, looks like a large hollow surrounded by the mountains, which lead to the Nathu La border touching China. In ancient times, Tibetan monks used to meditate sitting at the lakeshore. They could foretell the future just by examining the changing colours of the lake.
The waters here are considered sacred by the local folk and the lakefront is adorned with a string of Buddhist prayer flags. The origin of the water source is unknown and according to folklore, the waterbody was actually a pasture land for the yaks and the entire area was a village for the tribals. Till today the natives come here to pray for the departed souls of their ancestors. There is a lingering mystery that sits heavy in the air and your reflections about the past and the present dwindle and fade away just as the blowing wind stirs up the calm water.
The next obvious haunt is the Rumtek monastery. Situated 23 km from Gangtok, the monastery is perched atop a hill. A long, steep walk up the hill will leave you breathless but the first glimpse of the striking monastery is worth the effort. The dulcet sound of cymbals and the Buddhist long horn along with chants coming from a distance fill the air.
Built in the mid-17th century, the monastery is dedicated to the Kargyupa sect of Buddhism and houses the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. The monastery remains heavily guarded due to the dispute over the recognition of the 17th Karmapa. Now with the Pakyong airport coming into the picture, it remains to be seen whether breaking into the mainstream would sully the pristine charm of the state.