Gangtok looks simply picturesque by day and the roads not as terrifying as they seem at night. Or maybe a night’s rest, had made us braver .
“The mind is the greatest trap of all. You need to control your mind so that you don’t turn on yourself.” Wasn’t those the words that Hephaestus said to Perseus in the “Wrath of the Titans?”
Fear has a way of playing games with your head and making you imagine all kinds of bad things. If you control the fear,anything is possible. I had to keep this in mind every time we drove on those Sikkim roads.
A warm shower followed by breakfast, dressed in layers, we were all set to explore the city. Honestly, there’s not much to see in terms of sightseeing. Its the place that is beautiful and is a gift of nature to mankind.
Morning in the mountains
The earth is so clean and pure. The sky is a clear blue with fluffy white clouds that play hide and seek with the sun and the sun in turn play the game with us. The trees stand tall and go on an on forever, as if trying to reach the warm sun’s rays. There is a magic in the mountains that makes you carefree and light. They are the perfect place to unwind and start fresh and to get rid of any baggage you have been carrying.
The driver, a local, arrived at around 9.00 a.m. to take us on a city tour.
Bakthang Water Falls
The waterfall itself is rather insignificant. But it’s the location of the waterfall that makes it beautiful. As our hotel was located at the end of town, most of the tourist spots were close to the hotel and were at a walkable distance. The falls for instance are just 1.5 km from the Udaan Woodberry Rose Hotel. There is a zip line here for Rs. 200.00 but its not for those who wish to experience a zip line. Its more for those who want to say they’ve done it and click a picture as a proof. A few local women offer tourists the facility of taking pictures in local costumes here for Rs.50.00 per person. It was fun putting on the costumes and posing. It was only after we visited the remaining spots that we realized, that this can be done in any of the tourist spots. Across the falls, is a family owned restaurant where you can sit in and see the falls, the mountains on the other side and the valley below. You can have the local cuisine here.
The next place of visit was Gonjang monastery. Words fall short and hence I will not even try. Instead, here is a video of the place. The monks are taught English and Tibetan language at the monastery along with a comparative study of Indian and Tibetan philosophy.
Ganesh Tok, Hanuman Tok, Do Drul Chorten Stupa
Is a temple dedicated to the Elephant headed Hindu God who is believed to ward off obstacles. The temple is located close to Tashi view point and is 6500 ft above sea level and is really small. Hanuman Tok (temple dedicated to the monkey God) is managed by the Indian army and is at 7200 ft above sea level. From the temple, you get a good view of the Kanchenjunga mountains. As you climb up the steps of the temple, you find a variety of plants with their botanical names mentioned. Do Drul Chorten Stupa is a huge Buddhist stupa with 108 prayer wheels. The place was considered to be haunted by spirits before a celebrated Lama from Tibet came and built the stupa to ward off the spirits.
Lunch at The Square
We had lunch at town, at a restaurant called ‘Square’ based on TripAdvisor and honestly I totally second them. A chic restaurant that serves amazing food and strangely doesn’t burn your pockets. After a late lunch, the driver dropped us back to our hotel.
Evening on M.G. Road
Now that we knew the way to M.G. Road which was basically ‘town’, we took a taxi to the place. And thank God we did. The street was totally Christmasy; the road was lit up and filled with people and food stalls making the atmosphere extremely festive. Though the food at the road-side eateries looked mouth-watering, we did not try it out for fear of catching a stomach bug. Couldn’t afford a bad tummy! The coffee shop that we decided to try was perfectly decorated for Christmas and what better way to celebrate the festival than indulge in hot chocolate served in red mugs on which ‘Merry Christmas’ was written, hot cross buns, plum cake with rum and cookies; served by waiters dressed in red and wearing Christmas caps, to the sound to Christmas carols.
We had momos at ‘Rainbow snacks,’ a place known to serve the best momos again as per TripAdvisor and for dinner we had frankies or rolls from Roll-house. A small joint that’s supposedly the oldest and the best in rolls. We returned to the hotel at around 9.30 p.m., happily content with how the day had gone.
Day 3 – Tsomgo Lake
We had to wake up early to go to Tsomgo Lake. Approvals to go the lake and Nathula pass which is further ahead, is provided by the Army. We hadn’t received the approvals for Nathula Pass which is at 4310m above sea-level and is 5 kms away from China’s Tibet autonomous region and is a half an jour journey of 16.6 kms. It forms an off-shoot of the Old Silk Road. Only Indian citizens are allowed to go if weather conditions permit. One needs to have a valid ID proof and 2 passport size photographs.
The drive up-to Tsomgo Lake is the most harrowing, nerve-jerking, heart-in-the-mouth kind of drive. The mountain roads are narrow, steep have several bends and if you’re the one on the side of the car which is towards the edge facing the valley, then it’s not absurd if you hold on to your car seat and remember the Lord throughout the journey. At 4 degrees centigrade, my palms were sweating. After reaching a height of 11000 feet above, the roads are a little less precarious and the mountain slopes look less steeper and are inter-linked.
At the end of this journey which takes about 2 and a half hours one way or longer (imagine 2.5 hours of a roller-coaster ride),depending on weather, returning traffic (remember the road is fit for cars moving in a single file so if you have a car coming in the opposite direction, you need to twist and turn and twist and turn so that it can pass through and you don’t slide off the road) , what you will get to see is a slice of heaven. Strangely a lot of people inhabit the mountains even at the top, so washrooms and quick bites are not a problem. Thankfully toilets are extremely clean. Steaming hot momos taste heavenly at that altitude. There are also ladies selling popcorn on the way. Apparently chewing it helps in dealing with pressure up. Fortunately none of us had the problem but there were others who did. I happened to eavesdrop on a tourist saying how faint she felt at the lake. So if you do have a problem, speak to your doctor on what you must do, if you decide to travel to high altitudes.
Tsomgo lake is pure bliss. Snow covered mountains surrounding a frozen lake and pine trees dressed in white. There is a cafe’ there where you can go and you will need to go to take a break from the biting cold. On the way to Tsomgo lake, there is a place where they rent out boots to help you walk on the snow. The shoes are really just rubber boots more suited for the rain than anything else though they do help you walk in the snow. So if you can, wear warm socks and appropriate boots while starting on the journey, to keep the cold out.
As much as we wanted to stay, we had to leave in order to get back before dark and darkness falls at around 5.00 p.m. I left the place with a deep longing to come back. We had no idea then how fortunate we were to have made the trip on that day. A day later, there was heavy snowfall and tourists were stranded at the lake and the pass and had to be evacuated by the army.
Before I wrap this post up, I can only say Gangtok did this to me and I hope you enjoyed reading the post:
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