Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Land of a Thousand Waterfalls -1

'You guys have to experience the Pooja celebrations in Bengal!!’
Our friends Dipan and Piyu had been telling us this for sometime now and last October, we decided that we should.

We’d gone to Leh in September and had taken the less trodden route back to Delhi…..via Kargil – Srinagar. From Delhi, we flew into Siliguri the same day that our friends were to come from Bangalore. After all the high altitude and mountains and out of this world experiences we had had, Siliguri seemed like a whole new world!!

Since we all were going to be in Siliguri for almost 2 whole weeks, our friends had planned little trips for us. We went to Darjeeling and Jorpokhri and had amazing times!! But the trip that took our breath away again was the one to Sikkim.

Three of us Sai, Dipan and me started early in the morning (ok….not that early…at around 6) for our long trip to Lachen. The route was stunning in the morning mist!! All of us were wide awake with Dipan giving us a running commentary about the area, the localites and anecdotes of all the times he’s been here. He had been to Gangtok before but this was his first trip to Gurudongmar and Yumthang.
We followed the mighty Teesta all the way. And she is formidable!! You could see that even in October… was not even the proper monsoons!! We had breakfast at a little dhaba overlooking the Teesta and soon after, entered Sikkim. We were not taking the usual route into Sikkim which would take one via Rangpo but the one via Singtam which would take us to Mangan.

We were told that the government of Sikkim does now allow vehicles from other states to bring tourists into Sikkim and so we had to change vehicles in Mangan. We met our guide and driver for the next 3 days here – Karma and Jung Bahadur. I have to say, if it weren’t for them, our trip wouldn’t have been the same!! Dipan had been dying to stock up on beer and breezers and rum and whisky since we entered Sikkim and at Mangan, he let himself loose!! Fully equipped and well stocked, we made our way to Lachen where we would halt for the night.

We’d reached Mangan a little before noon…..not yet time for lunch so we decided to push on and stop later. The three of us enjoyed our beer and breezers and soon fell fast asleep. We were woken up for lunch is the tiniest little eatery in the middle of nowhere!! It was amazing to me that such a place could actually even exist!! There was nothing around the hut other than the Teesta on one side and a very green precipice on the other with the road in between. But we had the bestest dal and rice there!!

Onward to Lachen……and with altitude, the hillocks become hills, the hills gave way to mountains. And the greenery!! I have no words!! Quaint little villages on the way with most of the village folk either playing or watching football, the chickens and goats running along the road, little kids playing and the green, green fields!! You have to experience it at least once!!

We reached Lachen an hour or so before the sun went down and decided to go for a short walk around the little village to warm ourselves!! After warm, humid Siliguri, chill Lachen was a little shock!! One of the things I had grown to love about the villages in Leh and now in Sikkim was the colourful prayer flags fluttering in the wind……seeing them gives me an immense sense of calm. The colours make me feel free…..

Dipan had just gone to Goa and there he had gone to a new casino where he has apparently mastered blackjack!! And according to him, the dealor never lost. We’d picked up our deck of cards before leaving Siliguri itself and after a nice walk around Lachen, we got back to our hotel for a filling dinner and then a game of cards with Dipan, of course, as the dealor. He would have regretted that decision for the rest of his life cause as we discovered, the dealor doesn’t always win… fact, he almost never wins!! Sai and me had he ball of our lives!! We kept winning and winning and winning till we all finally decided to head to bed!!

We got ready early in the morning (this time actually early… 5!!) in near freezing temperatures to go for our day trip to Gurudongmar Lake. After a hot cup of tea, we were all awake enough to travel!! The drive to Gurudongmar was well worth waking up at that insane hour (esp cause it was so cold!!). We kept asking Jung Bahadur to stop so that we could take pictures all along the way!!

Sai and me were amazed at how different Sikkim was from Leh!! We had managed to do 2 totally different sides of the mighty Himalayas in the same trip and the contrast to us was outstanding!! Breathtakingly beautiful and barren Leh and awesome, green and stunning Sikkim!! That’s all we could talk about for months later!! J

We stopped for breakfast at Thanggu. The last village on our way to the lake. That trip, all the places that we had food were wonderful and different!! This time, we were in a nice little kitchen huddled around a warm chimney while food was being prepared right next to us!! The little kids of the house were playing with the onion and potato peels while we coaxed them to pose for us while our yummy maggi soup was beginning to make our mouths water!!

From there on, till we reached the army check post, it was a feast for the eyes!! A stream which would eventually become the Teesta was flowing on one side of the road and there were beautiful green mountains with their tips covered in snow!! We passed dozens and dozens of army trucks and herds of sheep and yak. Never realized how nimble footed these animals were till I saw them making their way foraging for food, up and down the mountains!!

Our first real drama began soon after we reached the army check post before Gurudongmar. All visitors require to have permits and ours were supposed to have been taken care of by our tour operators. We assumed it was and went about taking photos left right and center, reading all about the Gurudongmar Lake twice (one part of the lake never freezes…even in the coldest of winters. That is where Guru Nanak had once touched the lake.), having snacks at the little tea stall, buying souvenirs from the army run center but refusing to get our photos clicked by an annoying officer who was officially giving everyone their poloroids whilst standing next to a picture of the lake!! Everyone who had come after us had already moved on…..and the 3 of us had clicked all the photos we could and done everything we could. Karma and Jung Bahadur were by now running to and from the car and looking pale!! We decided to find out what the problem was and when we did, we wanted to throw Karma into the icy waters of the stream running alongside!! He had forgotten to get our permits along and worse, was using an old permit with different names to try and get us through!! The army guys were furious, we were furious, Jung Bahadur was furious and Karma was on the verge of tears!! Worse, apparently some Chinese spies had crossed the border just a few days before and the army was on the lookout for them…..Karmas antics didn’t please them in the least…..neither did his very Chinese looks!! Thankfully, he had only misplaced the documents and found them after turning the car upside down at least 10 times!! He had the most satisfied smile ever when we were finally allowed to go and in the car boasted about how brave he was in the front of the officers!! That was it!! All of us, including the till then quiet Jungie (Dipan had christened him that by then!!), started off on him and for the next 3 days, that’s all he heard from us!!

One good thing out of that incident was that it got us close to both Karma and Jungie. We learned that this was poor Karmas first ever job as a guide and that we knew more about all the places we were going to than him!! Poor fellow was the butt of all our jokes!!

By the time we got to Gurudongmar, Sai (who had gone through quite a few beers by then), was happily high!! He wanted to swim across the lake, wanted to balance on all the stones on the bank and was rolling on the grass along the banks when he was not trying to impersonate Sanjay Dutt for us!! But we should so have listened to him!! We, in our eagerness to show off our soberness, decided to go for a walk all round the lake…..from where we were standing, it didn’t look really long and Karma told us that it was a perfectly good idea. Little did we realize what we were getting into and we dragged Sai along too even though all he wanted to do was sleep there on the grass!!

We walked and walked and walked and finally when we were somewhere halfway did we realize that we couldn’t see the entire circumference of the Lake from where we had started!! And at an altitude of 17100ft with very thin air, our half drunk (and Sais fully drunk) bodies just couldn’t take it!! But having no options, we trudged along……and along for the next one hour till we finally got to the other side. While we were excited about going round the lake, we ran into a herd of deer on our paths (we should have realized something was amiss when we saw then looking at us they way they did!!). One of them was so brave as to come close and investigate as to what we were before expertly running off after the rest of the herd. And at one point, we passed a lot of rocks…..we could very clearly hear the sound of running water but could not see it……finally realized (our brains were extremely slow due to alcohol and the thin air!!) that there was water running under the rocks!! Sai cribbed all the way, Dipan and I made sure that Karma didn’t faint and fall and by the time we got to the end, we found the Indian Army waiting for us!! It seems they make sure that all visitors are away from the lake premises by noon and us going on the long walk didn’t please them at all!! Thankfully, we were in such bad states with humongous headaches that they didn’t dwell on us much…..told us to get into the car and leave as soon as we could and we did!!
We took off for our next stop. Lachung would be where we would stay to go to Yumthang Valley the next day…..after downing Saridons and Dipans hostel snack of crushed 2 min noodles mixed with masala, we tried our best to sleep…..Thank God Jungie had not come for the walk with us!!


  1. No words but to lace your boots will explain this amazing journey you have both been through. I have always maintained that you guys fail me for words.

  2. Great post. Sikkim seems to be a beautiful place and you captured that well in your pictures. Love the images of the snow peaked mountains, blue lakes and blue skies.

    Keep blogging. I, for one, will follow it.