Sikkim Sojourn- Part 2
(For Part 1 click here - Sikkim Sojourn - Part 1)
The sun shone brightly now, with the lake looking more ethereal than ever. Enchanted by the grandiose Gurudongmar, we did not wish to leave the place despite the sub zero temperatures accompanied by breathing problems and altitude sickness. The raw beauty of the lake with its pristine waters, serene atmosphere, fluttering prayer flags and the clear blue skies made me feel so ecstatic.
|Is this a dream?|
With great despair we climbed back into our car for the descent back to Lachen. I was so smitten by the beauty of Gurudongmar that the breathing issues did not bother me much at the lake, but now on the way back, I started feeling very uncomfortable and had to breathe through my mouth to compensate my oxygen intake. In the midst of pleasure and pain, our car started jerking and screeched to a halt. I guessed, the tyre had been punctured and the driver would replace it with the spare one so there was nothing to worry. But I was wrong. The driver gravely informed us that the cross bearing of the car had crashed and it would be impossible to get it immediately fixed at this altitude. The only option we had was to ask for lifts from the other tourists’ vehicles – but the issue was who would offer 7 of us a lift ! The driver informed us that there was a mutual understanding between all the drivers which meant that they would help other drivers and their passengers in times of distress.
Luckily we found a car having an empty backseat where four of my fellow travelers received a lift back to Lachen. Left stranded, the remaining three of us waited for more cars to take us back while I kept grasping for breaths ! After a couple of cars refused us a lift on account of lack of space, realization dawned on us that we had to travel in different cars to reach back to Lachen. Eventually we found three cars who reluctantly offered each of us lifts in their different cars. While the others got normal seats, I found a place to sit in the front row next to the driver where there was no seat in the first place!! Adjusting my bum between the driver’s seat and the front passenger’s seat, with the gear between my legs, I realized that this drive was not going to be a comfortable one. With every passing minute posing a challenge for me, the driver kept me in good humor with his nonstop banter while the other aged Bengali passengers kept on cribbing about the harsh weather at Gurudongmar. The weather became pleasant as the car descended the altitude. The five hour drive was dotted with glorious views of beautiful valleys, snow clad mountains and waterfalls, but all I wanted was to reach back to the comforts of the hotel as the journey in the middle of the two seats was really uncomfortable. There were parts at which the car was crawling at a speed of 4km/hr which made me more and more restless. Finally at 1 pm, I reached back to the hotel where all of us reunited.
Tired to the core, we freshened up post which we went to the dining room where an unpalatable lunch of rice and dal was made available to us. In the midst of growing tension of not having a car to go ahead, a few of us had our bland lunch while the others nursed the after-effects of altitude sickness. Post lunch we started following up with the tour operator to provide us with an alternate car so that we could proceed on our journey ahead. Initially shocking us by telling us that no cars would be available till the next day, our tour operator provided us a temporary car for a ride to Lachung. Immediately packing off our belongings we rushed to the car for our journey to Lachung. Still tired on account of the post Gurudongmar debacle, I tried to take a nap in the middle of a throbbing headache. Nandish comforted me by offering a powerful head massage to ease the splitting pain. After a span of nearly four hours we reached the beautiful town of Lachung.
Situated at an altitude of 9,600 ft, Lachung is sprawled across the banks of the Lachung Chu river and is embraced by snow capped mountain peaks, breathtaking waterfalls and sparkling streams. The view from our hotel was breathtaking- A waterfall cutting the beautiful mountain valley into two on one side and the gurgling waters of river Lachung Chu (a tributary of Teesta) on the other side. A warm welcome by our hoteliers was well appreciated - they even spoke Gujarati much to our surprise! Steaming cups of coffee refreshed us in no time and we headed towards the rocky banks of Lachung Chu replete with a small waterfall. The river with its gurgles sounded alive and looked enchanting even in the low visibility. Back to our hotel, we had a sumptuous spicy meal cooked by the owner’s daughter where she even expressed her desire to marry a gujju guy! After the hearty meal and a game of cards we called it a day!
26th March 2016
Waking up in the paradise named Lachung, we got ready for our excursion to Yumthang and Zero Point. Even after completing our breakfast our backup car did not arrive, making us feel helpless yet again. Repeated calls to our tour operator yielded no results as he could not get hold of a spare car due to the holiday season. Our hoteliers and Nandish pulled all plugs to ensure that an availability of a car, but with no success. Finally our hoteliers offered the only solution available to us- To take the car of other guests staying at the hotel and return before they wake up! The plan seemed fine to us, but such a short duration meant that we had to skip the famed Zero Point much to our disappointment. However our troubles had not ended yet ! Our permits were still stuck in the old car (which were uncleared as the car had not yet passed by the army checkposts back to Lachen) without which we could not travel to Yumthang. Finding a solution for this, our hoteliers advised us to carry on and request the army authorities by explaining the situation. Left with no other viable option, we took the car available to us and headed off to Yumthang valley.
In a short while we reached the army checkpost where we had to explain our situation to the authorities. After a lengthy discussion, the authorities permitted our visit on submission of copies of ID proofs and a letter explaining our situation (I guess Pooja’s puppy face expressions had also helped in melting the officer's heart !)
|Views enroute Yumthang|
|Views enroute Yumthang|
|Views enroute Yumthang|
|Views enroute Yumthang|
The journey to Yumthang was more picturesque than any of our earlier journeys. With music playing in loud volumes, we savored the beauty of Sikkim offered to us. Scores of snow clad hills passed by and the greenery on both sides of the road enticed us! A nearly two hour drive took us to the famed Yumthang valley – which remains covered in snow from December to March and is carpeted by various species of flowers April onwards.
Popularly known as the Switzerland of Sikkim, Yumthang is situated at an elevation of 11,800 ft. It is a paradise for nature lovers with a fascinating blend of flora, fauna and breathtaking grandeur. The river Lachung chu flows past the valley. The snow clad Himalayan peaks in the distance and the Lachung Chu river were all a treat to the eye. Snow balls were hurled at each other amidst skidding and slipping on the floor with Pooja nearly surviving a near death experience of falling off the cliff by trying to prevent herself from our attack of snow balls! Post our wonderful experience at Yumthang, we resumed our journey back to Lachung.
|The magical Yumthang Valley|
|The magical Yumthang Valley|
|Lachung Chu River|
|A panoramic view of Yumthang valley|
Back to Lachung, we faced the same crisis, experienced in the morning- No car to take us to Gangtok! We again requested the guests staying at the hotel (whose car we had used for Yumthang excursion) to offer a few of us a lift to Gangtok. Sportingly, they allowed us to use their back seat which could accommodate 3 persons- but 5 of us squeezed in ! The uncomfortable drive was finally completed once we reached Gangtok in 5 hours.
27th March 2016
Finally with a new car at our disposal, we initiated our journey to Namchi from Gangtok early in the day. Namchi which means Sky (Nam) High (Chi) in Sikkimese is the district headquarters of the South Sikkim district. Near to the Namchi town lies the famous Temi Tea Gardens, Samdruptse Hill and Char Dham Temple.
Temi Tea Gardens:
Laid over a gradually sloping hill, the Temi Tea Garden situated in Ravangla, was established in 1969 by the Government of Sikkim and is the only tea garden in Sikkim known worldwide for its teas. The tea gardens cover an area of 177 hectares on gentle slopes that originate from the Tendong hill range. The tea marked by its exotic flavor carries a premium and costs around Rs. 800/- a kg.
|At Temi Tea Gardens|
At a height of 118 feet, the tall statue of Buddhist Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche- the patron saint of Sikkim) greets the devotees on the Samdruptse hill (literally meaning The Wish Fulfilling well) opposite Namchi. It’s foundation was laid by the Dalai Lama and was completed in February 2004. It is said that the Samdruptse hill is actually a dormant volcano for which the buddhist monks offer prayers here to keep the volcano calm. Painted in shimmering copper , the tall statue of Guru Rinpoche lords over the forested Samdruptse ridge. The monastery is WiFi enabled - immediately blessing those who are in need of data !
|The imposing statue|
|When we also meditate !|
|Prayer Flags at Samdruptse|
Siddhesvara Chaar Dhaam
Inaugurated in 2011, Siddhesvara Dhaam is a Hindu pilgrimage having a 87 ft statue of Lord Shiva and replicas of four Dhaams of the country at one place at Solophok hilltop in Namchi. Char Dham, the four most revered Dhams of the Hindus have been replicated in this fantastic complex to benefit the devotees and tourists. There are replicas of the “Dwadash Jyotirlingas” (the twelve jyotirlingas) surrounding the statue of Lord Shiva and the Char Dhams. The best part of the temple was its cafeteria where we gorged on jain Momo’s!
|At Char Dham|
We left Namchi at 3pm amidst a light drizzle towards Siliguri from where we had a bus to catch at 7 pm. I guess Sikkim was also sad that we were leaving. At around 5 pm we got another shock that our bus was cancelled and we had to board another bus which would depart at 6 pm instead of 7 pm. With still 2 hours away from Siliguri , we panicked realising that we would not be able to reach on time. We requested our driver to rush as fast as he could to make us reach on time. The driver zipped past the winding roads with the maximum speed he could take and dropped us at Siliguri at 6:30 pm where we found out that the bus would take another hour to depart ! So much adventure for nothing !
Despite all the adventures and misadventures, the trip to Sikkim will remain etched throughout in our memories. Many more secrets are yet to be uncovered which will definitely lead me back to this wonderful place. Open with abiding charms, do visit this magical Shangri la to spend some moments in the lap of mother nature.