Part V in a series on Sikkim
In this post, I give an hour-by-hour update of our journey into North Sikkim.
10am: After a quick shower and breakfast, we pack our bags and set off in the red coloured Sumo that is to be our friend and foe for the next three days. Driving it is Khum-sum (‘Khum’ meaning the elements; and ‘sum’ meaning three; hence, the three elements), who is to be our friend, philosopher and guide for the journey into North Sikkim and back. Heading towards Lachen, which will be our base to attempt Gurudongmar, we have to cover a distance of 130km today. One may think this distance could be covered in 2-3 hours. However, given the condition of roads in Sikkim, this is going to be a 6-7 hour hill-drive.
12 noon: We arrive at Dikchu, from where we view the dam built on River Teesta. One side of the dam is full with collected water, while on the other side, the mighty Teesta has been reduced to a trickle: a visible manifestation of human intervention playing truant with nature. We click a few pictures with the board that reads ‘Welcome to North Sikkim’ and hop right back onto the car. The route is dotted with myriad waterfalls along the way and the weather so far is pleasant.
1pm: We stop at a small place called Mangan for lunch and diesel. Mangan is the headquarters of the North District and the last point in your ascent up to North Sikkim where one gets proper quality diesel. The weather starts turning while we are here and as it starts raining, we need to pull out our jackets. Do make sure you eat light at Mangan because hereon, the road takes a definite turn for the worse. Broken and absent in most parts, the road is going to give a terrible time.
2:45pm: A short stop at Naga waterfall. As we chat with Khum-sum, who gives us loads of information about Sikkim along the way, we understand the significance of two of our stops, Lachen and Lachung. So ‘La’, he tells us, means ‘mountain’ in the Bhutia language. ‘Chen’ is ‘small’ and ‘chung’ is big. So Lachen and Lachung are ‘small mountain’ and ‘big mountain’ respectively. In the Bhutia language, Sikkim is called ‘Denzong’, where ‘den’ is ‘rice’ and ‘zong’ is fields. In fact, the Bollywood actor of Sikkimese origin, Danny Denzongpa, gets his name from there, ‘denzongpa’ meaning ‘of Sikkim’.
3:45pm: We arrive at the last big town before Lachen and Lachung, Chungthang. We stop for tea. It has been raining incessantly since we left Mangan. We ask Khum-sum if this will affect our plans for the next day, since we had heard that the road to Gurudongmar can become inaccessible in bad weather. His reply is non-committal, saying that it may be a good sign or bad… only time would tell. ‘Dekhte hain’ (Let’s see) remains one of his favourite answers throughout the way, which tells us that Sikkim is unpredictable and the best strategy to be followed is a wait-and-watch one! In any case, the route to Gurudongmar typically opens in the second week of April and we are slightly early in the season, so the anxiety of whether or not we would make it remains.
Our interest is piqued when we see a large Gurudwara with big golden domes in Chungthang. With Buddhism being the prevalent religion in Sikkim, the Gurudwara stands out. Khum-sum informs us that it has been erected by the Punjab Regiment posted in North Sikkim. Indeed, by this time, the presence of the Army has become conspicuous all around us.
6:30pm: We finally arrive at our hotel, Lachen View Point, in the evening and are cold and exhausted. The hotel is a tall gaudy building with dragons painted all over it and rooms spread over 3-4 floors. There is a life-size tiger and dog imitation at the entrance as one climbs the stairs, and we are startled for an instant when we cross them. The room we are given is reasonably large with pink walls and blue carpets. There are two single beds, which they bring together at our request. Each bed is provisioned with two large covered blankets.
We are very cold by this point of time. Glad for having carried heavy woollens, we don multiple layers and settle into the cosy bed. Electricity conks off soon after and we only awake at 8pm when we are called for dinner. It is a very domestic set-up and we ascend to the upper floor where they have the dining room. There is only one other couple. We eat a simple fare of chicken curry rice, potatoes and dal and crash for the night, as the next morning we are to rise at 3am.
Read my next post to know about the last leg of the journey up to 17100 feet and about how we managed to conquer Gurudongmar Lake despite all odds.
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.