Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lost in #Sikkim

I was tired of travelling to the typical hill stations of India. Cool as they may be, they are overcrowded, commercialised and without charm. So I coaxed my beach-loving husband to travel to Sikkim with me. I wanted to disappear in the isolation and raw beauty of #North Sikkim. So I, a novice at planning vacations, called up a local travel agency in Sikkim. It was called blue something. I did my research before calling them.

I knew exactly where I was going.

At the end of April in 2008, we flew to Bagdogra and then took a taxi to Gangtok. My concern that the journey might be too drawn-out was drowned in a shower of surprise. The rain had washed the trees and shrubs to reveal the infinite possibilities of green. With my eyes plastered to the wet scenery outside, four hours flew swiftly. Our hotel room was quaint and tiny, with a fabulous view of the skyline. In the evening we strolled around the neatly planned market in the heart of the capital. The bakeries and souvenir shops were inviting and very modern. 

But my heart couldn’t wait to get on the road again.

Next morning, our taxi guy--designated by the “blue something” travel agency--arrived.  It was not a comfy Scorpio or Endeavor. It was a hybrid of a Qualis and a Maruti Van. Its utility was not comfort but stability and strength on the treacherous mountain roads. Especially since in the name of roads, there was just a primitive, necessary carving on the side of a mountain to allow tyres to roll. No side railings. No sir. It was either entrust your life in the hands of the driver or go back home.


The bad state of roads was soon forgotten. The lush green trees were beautiful, yes. But what took my breath away were the exquisite flowers that lined the tiny cottages and the hills. Flowers were growing out of the rocky facade of the hills. Flowers decorated the sides of tiny tin shops on the shoulders. Flowers thrived in the most unexpected places. Was I was glad I chose to visit in the flowering season.

After 5 hours of drive, it was soon dark as expected. There wasn’t a flash of street or car light. Our phone networks had bid adieu long ago. I thought to myself. If we get lost, or if something goes wrong, no one will find us. We were truly, utterly lost in Sikkim.

After a while we reached #Lachung, a town that shares a border with Tibet. A quick dinner and we were asleep. Next morning, I surveyed the serene town in the soft morning light. I took a short walk up the road and the town ended. It was smaller than a block in a Delhi colony.

Shortly, our quiet taxi guy arrived. Soon we entered the #Rhodendron park. The whole place was speckled with purples and pinks of these unusual flowers. As we ascended towards #Yumsamadong valley, we made short halts on the way as we came across a few horses and some picturesque spots perfect for a snap. Then, unceremoniously, the taxi stopped. Our driver announced our arrival at the valley.

Surprised, we stepped out and down below was the biggest expanse of green I’d ever seen. We carefully inched down to the valley. Thin streams of water trickled down from everywhere. Yaks grazed peacefully enjoying the #snow-capped-mountain view in the background. Miniscule purple blooms dotted the valley floor. The air was cold and invigorating. We just walked and clicked for a long time.

I did not want to leave. I wanted to make a small hut and stay there forever. My husband smirked and reminded me of the lack of basic amenities and I decided I will just take more pictures.

The taxi drove up further. The landscape became barren and dry. No greens, only brown rocks and deserted army bunks.  Then unexpectedly, came a blizzard. Even our local guy was surprised. But I was happy. It was my first time with snow. And it was so cold and we were so not well-clad. As the taxi drove on I saw a depression on the side of the road that had been turned into a surreal pond by the snow. It was a magical setting. Reluctantly we drove on and reached the 15,000 ft milestone. 

On our way back, we stopped across a bridge frosted with snow. There, in the midst of nowhere was a tiny tent with an old, kind-faced woman selling rum. We scurried towards her and asked for two pegs of rum from her Old Monk bottle.  Sipping, we realised it was just some local alcoholic concoction. Nevertheless, it was warming novelty on that cold day.

#Lachung was our next destination. We drove on through the eye-boggling scenery next day until the driver shattered our reverie with his statement, “I can’t find the pass. It’s not here. I think I gave both the passes at the Lachen checkpoint. We will have to go back.”

We had been travelling for 5 hours already. The city girl in me took charge and told him to find another way. So we took a detour to some official’s house to get a temp pass made. The fact that the driver found a way to remedy the situation earned him my instant forgiveness. And I got back to adoring God’s creative gallery.

We reached the lodge at Lachung. Now I must add that Lachung was even smaller than Lachen. It was more like a small complex of lodges and matchbox-sized houses within a span of ½ km. We retired early.

In the morning we got some stove-boiled water to bathe with. We rented 2 jackets and caps for our excursion to #Gurudongmar lake. On arrival, we parked and walked over to the crowd looking down below. The deepest, purest blue I’d ever seen coloured the water body at the bottom of the crater.

A narrow path ran across the perimeter of the lake. But we were advised to not go down as it’s a long walk and the air is very thin. We took their advice as we were already panting in the violent wind at an altitude of 17,000 ft. We snapped some pictures against the vibrant triangular flags adorning the mountain top and quickly took refuge in the warmth of our cab.

The next morning we said our byes to the friendly helper at the lodge and headed back to #Gangtok. We spent a quiet evening with wine and rain at the hotel, relishing our last night in the untainted land of Sikkim. It was uncomfortable. Yes. The watered-down fish curry was awful. Yes. But nothing can overshadow the beauty our eyes witnessed. Nothing can diminish the memory of the grass-laden, floral valley; the magical snow; the sparkling blue of Gurudongmar and the priceless rum on a frosty day.

1 comment:

SANJIV said...

Beautifully written.......excellent piece of personal experience...... Some time these small unknown hill stations become part of ur eternal memories.......