BENGALURU: Seeing is believing, and travelling along the rugged landscape above 13,000 ft surpasses the view in postcards in comparison. A three-hour journey by air takes you from Bengaluru to Bagdogra. Shared cabs are available to Gangtok from Bagdogra – the gateway to the Himalayas. The silver-lined Teesta gushes below, and the distant peaks and Nepali songs playing on car stereos add to the charm.
It was drizzling when we reached chilly Gangtok around 9pm, and streets appeared desolate. We realised the peak season might pose a problem to our schedule. Only a limited number of cars are allowed till 6pm a day at Nathula.We were lucky to find a cab, and after submitting government IDs for permits, we were set for the journey the next morning. Paying `1,000 per person for a day trip, we set off for Nathula Pass.
Although the winding path was traffic-logged, the cold mist, wild orchids, and Buddhist prayer flags made it a pleasant journey. The white flags, the driver explained, are meant to ward off spirits. At an elevation of 14,140 ft, Nathula Pass used to serve as a trading corridor between India and Tibet. As the Army personnel hesitated to let us go to the India-China border around closing time, my friend screamed, “It’s showing 7pm on my phone!,” when it was only 5pm. The GPS had located China’s standard time. It was close to 5°C. “It’s summer, and the weather seems pleasant,” smiled a jawan. Another talked about how there’s no border tension as of now.
We next headed towards Baba Harbhajan Singh temple, known as Baba Mandir. It is said that in 1968, the sentry of Punjab Regiment drowned while escorting mules. Later, he appeared in a sentry’s dream and asked him to make a memorial in his name. Word has it that Singh’s spirit visits at night and his bedsheet is found crumpled in the morning. We saw Army jawans praying at the temple before joining duty.
Tsongmo lake, although a sight to behold, is falling prey to commercialisation. It is, thankfully, barricaded and tourists have a gala time posing with yaks, before returning to Gangtok.Next morning, we left for Lachen and Lachung in North Sikkim. The waterfalls on the way are enough to keep you under a spell. At the check post before Lachen, we were told to discard plastic items. Waking up at dawn the next day, we started for Gurudongmar Lake, one of the world’s highest, at 17,000 ft, and said to have been blessed by Guru Nanak. Army camps and other armouries dot the way.
Our plans to go to the snow-covered Kalapathar were ruined by landslides. Extreme cold makes the area inhabitable in winter, and people seek out lower zones. “Getting food becomes a task,” said a shopkeeper.
The evening at Lachung showcased how quiet life becomes after dusk, especially due to lack of electricity. Early next morning, we started for Yumthang Valley, and crossed the breathtaking Singhba Rhododendron Sanctuary. The place near the Valley is filled with eateries and gift shops. We were advised to rent gumboots before going to the snow-covered Zero Point.
Just a couple of kilometres from Yumthang lies Zero Point, and oh, what a scene. A woman was selling instant noodles, omelette, coffee and Old Monk (yes!). Teesta flows though Yumthang Valley and allows you to see the boulders below; the cool wind only accentuates the moment.A trip like this, a peek into the harsh life in the mountains and the spirit of local residents – hugely evident if you opt for home stays – make you leave the Himalayas truly inspired.