Sikkim Sojourn - Part 1

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart"
-Helen Keller.

For Sikkim this is a fact, because though one can see the beauty of Sikkim and even touch its enchanting mounts and valleys, flora and fauna, but there is no Sikkim in that. Sikkim lies in a feeling - a feeling of natural beauty casting its magical spell on its visitors, a feeling of loftiness which the majestic Kanchenjunga instills, a feeling of mystery and tranquility that its monasteries and isolated caverns echo in!

Bewitching valleys

Although my visit to Sikkim was visualized by the constant nagging by my wanderlust friend Pooja, a few Instagram pictures had already inspired me to visit this magical land. Enticed by the prospects of visiting the famed Gurudongmar Lake, we zeroed in on our itinerary covering the road less traveled.

Travelling during the peak season in the midst of the Holi festival, we found ourselves having no confirmed seats on the train we were supposed to board. Determined to the core, we didn't bother about the wait listed tickets and purchased bus tickets to Kishanganj as a backup. From Kishanganj we were supposed to take a local rickety state bus to Siliguri, but God saved us from all these pains by confirming our tickets at the last minute! (We really thank Samir Bhai from the bottom of our hearts for this miracle :p ). With the confirmed tickets in hand we nonchalantly disposed our bus tickets and boarded the Howrah New Jalpaiguri AC Superfast express (the only NJP bound train from Howrah, the rest depart from Sealdah) on the night of 22nd March. Our better luck continued and thankfully we reached Siliguri the next morning delayed by just an hour.


23rd March 2016
Wasting no time, we headed off towards our destination driving through Sevoke, and passing by the Coronation Bridge from where the meandering Teesta gave us company. A short drive of nearly 2 hours led us to the town of Melli, famous for its white water rafting.  Ranked at Grade 4 on the International scale, the turbulent waters of Teesta offer a great adventure opportunity here. We made our bookings with the sport providers at a rate of Rs. 3,500/- per raft accommodating 5 persons and also hired a cameraman to film the entire adventure.

The Teesta

The rafters seated us in an age old jeep and loaded the raft on its roof. A downhill bumpy ride led us to the rocky shores of Teesta, where the guides gave us a short training on the entire process. Armed with oars and life jackets we hopped on to our raft and started the adventure. The first part of the ride was pretty hair-raising; we hit a notorious rapid and wall after wall of freezing water hit us and the iciness took our breaths away. The force of the water rammed the oars into our bodies and each passing wave made us shriek in awe, fear and glee at the same time! The peaks and valleys of the crazy rapids made for a truly fantastic experience. Watch a clip of our experience below:




The happiness on completing the adventure :)

Left terribly hungry post the wonderful experience, we gorged on whatever food available to us in Melli and drove uphill to reach Gangtok in another two hours. The entire road journey through the hills and valleys dotted with terraced farms was really pleasing to the soul. Located at an elevation of 5,900 feet, Gangtok the capital of Sikkim and is known for its pleasant weather and several Buddhist institutions. However, we were not very keen on touring Gangtok and had just made a base there to acclimatize ourselves to the hills ahead.  Procuring our permits to Lachen, Gurudongmar lake, Lachung and Yumthang, we retired for the day after taking a stroll down the famous MG Marg.


24th March 2016
After taking a quick breakfast, we made our way towards the helipad to enjoy a short helicopter joyride over Gangtok. The helicopter service offered by Pawan Hans is provided by the Sikkim Tourism Development and can accomodate 5 persons. The entire charter flight set us back by Rs. 9,500.  The 10 minute flight over Gangtok offered picturesque sights of the wonderful landscapes from the sky, the winding roads, the alleyways, the houses, the ridges, the monasteries and obviously the majestic Kanchenjunga.

Mission Chopper Ride ! Aye Aye Captain!

Gangtok from the sky !

All smiles post the joyride

Post the chopper ride, we began our journey towards Lachen. Due to poor condition of roads of our journey ahead, our hoteliers had advised us to take minimal baggage and leave the rest behind. They also packed the food and snacks as getting Jain food in Lachen would not be possible. The 6 hour drive from Gangtok to Lachen is the best road trip, one could ever enjoy. On the way we stopped for sightseeing spots like Butterfly falls and the mighty Naga Waterfall. 

Butterfly falls

The grand Naga falls

Passing through scenic valleys, innumerable waterfalls, prayer flag laden bridges, rivulets and gorges, this journey offered us the views of the breathtaking beauty bestowed upon Sikkim. Accompanied by the melodious romantic tracks, I wished that the drive wouldn’t end- "Manzil se behtar lagne lage hai yeh raaste!"

Around 5 pm we reached Chungthang from where the road divides itself - The left goes to Lachen and the right to Lachung. The roads were very dangerous and a fear of an avalanche always looms on the minds of the drivers. By late evening we reached Lachen for an overnight stay. 

Paradise anyone?


The dangerous roads !

The snow clad peaks

The snow clad peaks

The beautiful valley!

Located at a height of nearly 9,000 feet Lachen literally means the “Big Pass” and is situated against the backdrop of towering snow peaks.  Here, the temperatures dipped to around 2-3 degrees and our driver gave us more shock by instructing us to be ready by 3 AM in the morning for our long awaited excursion to Gurudongmar lake! Snuggling beneath the layers of warm blankets we retired for the day.

The beautiful woods

Lachen Village

25th March 2016

Amidst freezing temperatures, we woke up with a great deal of difficulty to the shrill of the alarm at 2:30 AM.  Half sleepy and the remaining half battling the cold, we got ready for the most exciting leg of our journey! The drive amidst the darkness was scary as well as bewitchingly beautiful. Wherever our eyes reached, we could see the shining snow laden peaks of mountains around us! At around 6 AM, we reached Thangu, the last village of human population at this altitude. Surrounded  mostly by the military base we could witness scores of Regiments, tanks, shelling equipment’s etc. It felt proud when to see how the brave army men worked to protect us even in such freezing altitude. Although, not very keen, we had our Bread-Jam-Tea breakfast at a warm wood cottage in Thangu on the instructions of our driver as consumption of food was not possible at higher altitudes.  

Views from the Thangu Village

Post our breakfast we resumed our journey towards Gurudongmar where we encountered our first brush with snow ! The landscape looked barren like a snow clad desert. The temperatures fell gradually when we witnessed even small puddles of water in the middle of the roads getting frozen. From here our breathing became heavy and we found it difficult to breathe due to the lack of oxygen. Ahead, we stopped at a military post where the army men checked on us as whether we were feeling fine and were fit enough to go ahead. Many people who had fainted and felt sick due to mountain sickness were treated here. Small children and senior citizens were not allowed to go beyond this point. This was the final checkpoint and after that, the road was like a massive field from one horizon to the other. On the both sides of the road, we could see snow clad mountains accompanied by sightings of Yaks. The drive from the checkpost to the Gurudongmar lake is a smooth one as the quality of the roads improved due to the proximity to the Chinese border. The nearly 30 minutes drive amidst the snow clad barren desert led us to the grand Gurudongmar lake !


Landscape en-route Gurudongmar

Yaks !
Situated just 5 kilometres from China, Gurudongmar Lake offers an experience for a life time. With its majestic emerald blue water, Gurudongmar Lake is surrounded by snow capped mountains and a glacier which shares its name with the lake.  Located at an altitude of 17,800 feet, Gurudongmar Lake is one of the highest lakes in the world.  The lake is highly revered by Buddhists and the Sikhs and is named after Guru Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche), the founder of tantric Buddhism who conducted rituals here. The lake remains milky in colour throughout the year and it is believed that Guru Padmasambhava had touched the lake whilst he visited Tibet from this area, hence, a portion of the lake never freezes.

A panoramic view of Lake Gurudongmar 

The grandiose Gurudongmar !

The frozen lake

In another fable, Guru Nanak during his journeys had, while on his return from Tibet visited Sikkim had passed through the lake. He was requested by the local people to help them to make the lake a drinking water source as it remained frozen throughout the winter period. Guru Nanak then touched a part of the lake with his stick and from then onward a part of the lake has remained snow free throughout the year.

A moment treasured for a lifetime !

Posing at the Gurudongmar!

Surrounded by barren and cold landscape the lake is fed by a melting glacier. The thin air and lack of oxygen supply always left us wanting for more and more air all the time. At 17,800 feet, it is not surprising to have breathing trouble, especially when we had gained that altitude from 9000 feet at that early part of the day in just about 5 hours.  But this challenge of hard terrain and the reward of glorious views of Gurudongmar lake made this trip worthwhile for us. The warm sun rays helped us sustain in the sub zero temperatures. My hands froze while posing for and clicking the photographs, but every moment at Gurudongmar was just worth it. You have to be there to experience it first hand!

We also visited the small shrine dedicated to Guru Rinpoche and Guru Nanak there and reluctantly bode farewell to Gurudongmar. The sun shone brightly now, and with great despair we climbed into the car. On our way back the valley was looking nothing less than Ladakh with the snow clad mountains shining on the horizon underneath the blue sky.

The shrine

Prayer flags at Gurudongmar

Then suddenly the unexpected occurred.......which changed the course of our entire journey !


To be continued......

Read more about my Sikkim Experiences in Part 2 here.

Comments

  1. Nice pics....waiting for to be continued..............

    ReplyDelete
  2. Gurudongmar seems to be a treat for all senses. Brilliantly described!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I just read the blog.... waah finance wale yeh sab bhi karte..really excellent

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    Replies
    1. Thanks ! Office me hi sirf Finance hota hai... !

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