Part VII in a series on Sikkim
9am: Gurudongmar Lake. One of the highest lakes in the world, at 17100 ft, it is barely 5 km short of the India-China Line of Control. Popularized by the Punjab Regiment, it is said that Guru Nanak himself, in one of his travels, passed through this place. Legend has it that when the local people told him that they are unable to find water that is not frozen at this altitude, the Guru hit his staff (dang) at a corner of the lake, and water emerged which flows freely throughout the year.
It is nothing short of a miracle that even when the lake remains frozen from November to April, it is always unfrozen on one end. This is where the River Teesta emerges to flow onward through Sikkim. Both, the lake and the river are considered sacred, not only by the Punjab and Maratha regiments posted at these heights, but even by Buddhists across Sikkim.
Oxygen, at this height, is thin and visitors are advised not to be reckless in their movements. We move around slowly, admiring the view. Two ladies, who had also arrived around the same time as us, begin facing breathing difficulties and have to be driven back to the last military camp for medical treatment. We, however, feel fine and are the only two people who descend a set of stairs to go down to the lake itself. We collect water from the portion of the lake that remains unfrozen, as it is considered holy like Ganga-jal. We will carry this water back to Delhi for our Grandmother.
During a short, slow walk around a part of the lake, we gaze endlessly at this exquisite sight. Even as we drink in the sights, we know that we will never ever see something like this again. We stand there, hold hands, and thank God for giving us the opportunity to come and see a sight like this with our own eyes.
The climb back up the stairs, about 45 minutes later, is very difficult. We are beginning to feel the lack of oxygen even though we gently ascend two stairs at a time. By the time we reach up near our car, our ears are ringing. We have started feeling faint and our heads are beginning to ache. A villager from nearby, who takes care of the Gurudwara here, is serving hot cups of tea from three large flasks. We have a cup of tea, pay him and leave. Khum-sum says we spent over an hour at the Lake, while most people stay between 5-15 minutes.
10am: We turn back for a last look, send a silent prayer of thanks to God once again and leave. Tired and overwhelmed, we are silent now, contemplating our surroundings, the white expanse of snow and the river Teesta, still by our side. Khum-sum, with his admirable knack of knowing when to speak and when not to, leaves us alone.
12noon: The road is as bad as ever. Having been knocked about since 4am, we start getting fidgety. At least on the way up, we were distracted by what lay ahead. Now we want to return to a hotel and get some rest, but the state of the roads doesn’t allow us to notch up a speed greater than 10km/hr.
1.45pm: Tired, with frayed nerves from the ride back, we arrive back at our hotel in Lachen for lunch and then the onward journey to Lachung. We don’t feel capable of getting back into the car and request Khum-sum for an hour’s break to recover. After a very light lunch of egg-curry, rice and dal (because we know how the food gets tossed around in the stomach on the road), we lie down for an hour, waiting for the food to settle.
3pm: We head to Lachung for our overnight stay. This is going to be our base for Yumthang Valley and Zero Point, which we will attempt tomorrow. The roads are as bad as ever and despite having waited for an hour after lunch, our stomachs feel queasy.
4.30pm After a short stop-over at Chungthang, we begin our ascent to Lachung. Don’t forget to make your phone calls in Chungthang, which is the last point where one gets signal. Both Lachen and Lachung have no connectivity and often, no electricity. We have been on the roads for over 12 hours now, subjected to terrible roads, endless bumps, cold weather and our patience runs out. Despite the utmost beauty we have seen earlier today, this is when, for some time, we almost hate Sikkim for its roads or lack thereof, our car and its absent shock-absorbers and the entire idea of having come to North Sikkim in the first place!
5.30pm: A huge waterfall by the name of Bhim Naga is our next stop. We are ill and tired by now and completely disinterested in the sight.
6:30pm: We finally arrive at our hotel, De Coxy, which is misleading in its looks from the outside. With the impression that this place looks better than Lachen View Point, where we stayed the previous night, we enter only to discover how mistaken we are. The place has no electricity and tiny boxes for rooms. We are too tired to care. The only thing we want is a little bit of hot water to bathe. Electricity is available on the ground floor only, and we refuse the room on the second floor they offer us, settling for a smaller room on the ground floor. A bath in luke-warm water and a few bites of their ordinary food and we collapse on our beds by 7:30pm.
Tomorrow is going to be a long day as well. But more about that in the next post. Check it out!
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PIyushi Dhir is the author of the romantic novels, 'In Search of Love' (2014), 'I'm Yours, The Next Time' (2015) and 'Enmeshed Evermore' (2015). A voracious reader, a keen traveler and an ardent dog-lover, Piyushi currently resides in Ivory Coast, Africa. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.