…….. I did not want to write this post until I started….. Give me a topic, I’ll do a page…….
As my strange fever in Kalimpong held me back from my ambitious plans for Sikkim, the stakes once I arrived there were incredibly high: for whatever I wanted to do in this fairytale land I had 2 days: I had an important train to catch from NJP to Kolkata and then to make it to an super-important train from Kolkata to Mumbai. As much as I hate booking transportation in advance I had to due to the high season: even 10 days beforehand I got my ticket to Mumbai with much difficulty and using a small lie. In fact, getting tickets on a short notice in India is not a big deal if you are a tourist: in most of the instances you can apply for the Tourist Quota and you normally get it. Yet, those being in India longer than 6 months are not considered to be tourists any longer and therefore are not eligible for the Quota. Logic is there, but why do you try to charge me sky-highed entry fee to the historical monuments that foreign tourists are to pay? Consistency is never there in India.
Anyway, Gangtok, however nice, does not offer much to do and see. Sallies like going to the awe-aspiring Pemayangtse monastery looked too optimistic in the given timeframe. So, we took half an hour drive to Rumtek monastery which was a great experience I must say.
Yet, no trip is good without risky plans and some thrill. So, Nele and I agreed that however much we had already liked our journey we needed a concluding sally that would possibly become a gem of our North-East adventure. As humble as that our plan was. Quite a good candidate for the role was Changu lake, a beautiful place at 3700 meters up in Himalaya. The difficulty was that as a foreigner you need one more permit (on the top of the one you got to enter Sikkim) to go there and it takes at least a day to get it issued. Moreover, as a foreigner you can go only accompanied by a guide. Therefore, any travel agency in Gangtok offers this trip (including the permit) for a small remuneration (“Just this much pounds”, as one smart chap put it). So, getting permit ready, having it reasonably priced for two of us and most importantly – getting back on time so I jump into a jeep to NJP (no taxi, no taxi, baysab, I’ll go by shared jeep) and make it to the train on time. After roaming around the town we collected three and a half scenarios of the same little trip from various tour operators and it was up to our gut instincts to decide on which one to bet. We opted for Sikkim Holidays – a bunch of young guys who organize trekking and tours in Sikkim – and I am so glad me met them.
Next day we walked up so early that could not find any hotel serving breakfast. We walked in a dhaba and to the joy of all the guests there we had some aloo-puri and chai with sweets. On the agreed time our guide showed up with all the permits ready and the cab at the door. We headed off up in the mountains. I thought it was the most cloudy day in Gangtok and after some time we could see nothing but a grey mass all over – up, down, behind, to the left and to the right. I hoped for the best and expected the worse – what a misery it would be to arrive to 3700 meters all covered by fog. Me and Nele were both silent and is if frozen in the anticipation – we were driving higher up. At some point I saw a hole in the foggy mass around us and exclaimed, gradually the mass turned from grey to white and the sun appeared to be just somewhere nearby. Soon we stopped for tea: military camps all over did not look ominous and almost merged with the brown and orange hills. I was sipping warm tea, munching frozen (even better!) cashew nut Good Day biscuits, looking at the neighboring hill – all blue with black leafless trees touched by white rime and knowing the decision to come here was all right.
It took 40 more minutes to the lake and we found it in its best – sunlight being generously poured out on its surface, colorful prayer flags flutterring in the sun rays and the snow on the hills around dazzling cheerfully. Our guides hurried us up, “Quick, lets go for a hike while the sun is there”. I never knew how disastrous my shape has been in India until this little climb… how many of those I used to do and here right after the start I could feel strong beats in my temples…Half an hour of suffering was fully rewarded on the top of the hill – we took lots of pictures at the official 4000 meters – personal record for both Nele and me by far – and could not take our eyes off the snow-covered mountains spreading all directions without limits and…. we were at par with those formidable heights. We were facing Tibet and in the valley down along the shores of a narrow river was the border. Strong wind brought the clouds back, gradually hiding the sun; when we got back to the lake we found it grey and dull. I do not know whom we shall thank – the luck, the timing, our adventurous spirit, our guides or mountain gods, but I would bow to them all. These few hours high in the mountains with the clearest possible sky were the greatest reward for us after the ten days of omnipresent fog.