Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North

Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 1/15 by Soumya Jena
From East to North Sikkim
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 2/15 by Soumya Jena
The falls in crevices of the hills
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 3/15 by Soumya Jena
Near the entrance to Mangan
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 4/15 by Soumya Jena
At Dikchu bridge
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 5/15 by Soumya Jena
The road north near Mangan
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 6/15 by Soumya Jena
Playing with clouds
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 7/15 by Soumya Jena
The tea-stall at the falls
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 8/15 by Soumya Jena
Lonely roads and valleys
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 9/15 by Soumya Jena
near Lachen town
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 10/15 by Soumya Jena
down into Lachen
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 11/15 by Soumya Jena
peeking out of windows
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 12/15 by Soumya Jena
near Lachen valley
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 13/15 by Soumya Jena
from Chungthang to Lachung
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 14/15 by Soumya Jena
pristine North Sikkim
Photo of Sikkim Diaries-I The Road North 15/15 by Soumya Jena
flagstaffs in North Sikkim

The last of the plains before the Himalayan foothills, the town of Siliguri was already under clouds as we put our luggage down at New Jalpaiguri Junction. Known as the gateway to the north-east, this place is a gift for commerce, provided by geography.

Into a cab, then Sevoke, then Rangpo at Sikkim border and beyond.Days would be short in November, and as we approached Gangtok by the last light of dusk, the drizzle turned into a downpour and hung like an ominous sword over the itinerary in our heads and by late evening, we stood with wet backpacks on the charming MG Road.The road trip up to Lachen in North Sikkim would be up and running the next day provided weather gods gave a clear pass.Those who have walked the mountains will understand that weather can make or break a trip up there, and it is something that can change at the drop of the traveler’s hat.

Fifth November, a lesson in the morning: When you cannot change it, learn to enjoy it.As the vehicle warmed up from Vajra taxi stand, the visibility around was reduced to the nearest pretty girl walking on the road.The hills were shrouded in grey clouds, and we knew the road up north would be interesting in a different way, to put it mildly.When did you travel within clouds the last time, literally? The clouds that were a leftover of monsoons created a wonderfully interwoven pattern with the moist, green hills all along the route till we stopped over for lunch at Rang-Rang.There the drizzle began again as all of us munched rice & chicken.

I stood a long time watching and listening. A light rain drenching a green valley can be the best of things happening to you on a November morning. The heavy grey ones a little above and the moisture-less white clouds swirling closer to the Valley face a little lower. The rain fills the waterfalls to the brim; first you hear the sound of the fall somewhere near and then you see it cascading down from the hills as if it doesn’t want to be seen by any outsider. The falls join the rapids in the valley below. The sound of the roaring rapid is complimented by the flapping of prayer flags on old iron bridges all along the way.

As we crossed Dikchu and entered into the territories of Mangan in The North district, we knew we were gaining altitude and soon after Mangan, the vehicles on the roads were shuttling in and out of clouds regularly.
There, a woman was selling tea under a beautiful waterfall by the side of an old bridge.How can we not make an unscheduled stop?
“Drink up the hot tea and you’ll not shiver much”, said the old woman with a grin. It’s easy to forget the waterfalls behind; it’s difficult to forget the warmth of her smile in those tough conditions. Some details stay etched with you.

The eternal snow peaks in distant horizons were hidden from view by the temporary veil of clouds that hovered in a zen-like fashion over the wet and dripping green leaves.The same cloud will never dance over the same green hillside again; a different one may do so on a different day. Beauty is never repeated in the same pattern. It’s a moment to be gathered inside, a fleeting and transitory point never to return. It’s a bead that you thread in life’s necklace.

From inside the mechanical vehicle, I looked outside with a poet’s eye. Nature with all it’s selfless abundance was convincing me that here is the answer to many of our turmoils.What I see in the hills and clouds is just a reflection of my thoughts inside, the purest portion of my mind. Prose abandons me for the time being.

“There is no thunder in the sky and no hurry in the rain
The mist just hangs in there, like a chest full of pain…
It waits for something, perhaps for the hills to say
…let the world come to an end, and then we shall have our way.”

The heavy monsoon has faded, and winter shall arrive soon. This is the last bright flame of the rains in the hills. Each green tenderness was quivering with the wet excitement and dripping of rain water.
And yes! The sound of it all around you…
The soothing drizzle on the trees and the cascading rapids in the valley below. The bark of trees are dark and moist like the eyes of the happy traveler standing there. I knew me and the vehicle were intruders in this godly realm of nature.I try and whisper an apology to a bird that flew overhead in search of shelter.

And off course ! the colours…
Have you seen dew drops on the green moss over a rock? A valley dripping with rainwater all over.The source of all life and source of all happiness that we felt.There is no need to travel the whole cosmos, just contemplate a small green tender leaf on the mountains hidden behind the mist; it will tell you many secrets young and old.

Up North, up higher we go, and the river in the valley turns into a distant thread of silver.We intrude deep into the cloud-moot that has gathered in the high hills. I sing an old song among the clouds.
“All my lovers laugh at me from within the valley somewhere…
for once I wanted to own them forever.
Today I know, a thing of beauty cannot be possessed, it may crumple and die in my arms. I can only go and visit them in the misty mountains and sing paeans to them. Call for them, till they hear me and laugh”

This is November and snow is yet to settle down on the peaks. Mangan passed,t he headquarters of North Sikkim and then came the transit town of Chungthang, a place I remember from my last trip. It was late afternoon and the drizzle had followed us throughout. When you stop being a poet and see as a practical man on the road, the rain can be dampening. From Chungthang, the road bifurcates into two of North Sikkim’s major valleys- Lachen and Lachung. Both the towns, a three hour drive from here.

As the light faded for the day, we were on the road to Lachen.This is a pristine part of earth unlike many crowded valleys you will find. North Sikkim remains peaceful because the entry regulations put in place prohibits much crowding. It helps to avoid a Rohtang kind of situation if you know what I mean.

The Cascades nestled deep in the woods and winding roads hidden under the trees; the evening temperature plummeted sharply as we arrived at Lachen by late evening.The rain had not stopped yet.
Only after dropping off the bags at the guest house, we realized how bitterly cold we were.

While we sat at the finely spread out dining area of the place, we pondered over the next day and the cloudy skies.In North Sikkim, the permits are date specific, and you would miss a trip if the climate is bad enough. After a night of many hallucinatory dreams, we were ready for the trip to Thangu and Gurudongmar by 2:30 am in the morning.What the dawn had in store for us?

So long….the valleys of North Sikkim await us intruders.

This trip was originally published on THE LOST HERMIT