Sixth of November, at 3am, lonely streets of Lachen in North Sikkim: While my fingers could tell the sub-zero temperature outside, I found myself strolling the streets of Lachen in solitude...and dreams of last hours in my mind.
"I knew I had dreamed but could not recall them, it happens...
The mind has a strange aftertaste in the waking state.
See,there are stars in the sky...so clear and so many...
The sky has cleared after all, and now so does my mind"
When you feel alone in your solitude, remember your home is in the Milky way galaxy. Man is the matter of the universe, contemplating itself, so when you star-gaze in lonely nights, you gaze deep into your own soul.
We come from the void and go into the void, and while we live...learn to make everyday count. Like getting up at 2:30am to visit a lake at 17800 feet altitude in North Sikkim.
It was a relief anyway, the weather had cleared overnight.
The spine jangling roads were upon us once again and the bleak outlines of surrounding mountains could be seen as the mass of stars abruptly ended at an edge. Gurudongmar lake lies in upper reaches of North Sikkim and is a four hour drive from Lachen through the military outpost of Thangu. The road climbs abruptly from 9000 feet to 15000 feet at Thangu in just 40 odd kms, and the sudden change in altitude can be visible in all passengers on the road. Half asleep and half jaded by the numbing cold outside, we looked at the singular road that was illuminated by the vehicle headlight. We would have to wait till daybreak to see how beautiful the landscape was around us. The anticipation kept us awake and alert.
The first light of the morning broke over a barren and beautiful landscape near Thangu, where we had stopped by a fire hearth in an Army Café to get some much needed warmth. Almost a prehistoric gathering of cavemen around a fire place. The pink & purple light of dawn,showed us a valley starkly devoid of vegetation and snow sprinkled on roads like fine powder. In the land of snow and mud,the lone military trucks could be seen from distance with their bright lights. Thangu at 6am, the bones were feeling the punishing temperature in the valley.
Bare rock faces with snow laden on them and the sound of river invading the eerie silence of the land.Suddenly the highest peaks in the horizon are lighted up by first rays of sun.A fire burns at the summit,the snow looks golden in the morning light.We were already more than 17000 feet in height,our driver could not light up his cigarette,due to lack of enough oxygen.
Was I losing my mind?Were we fish out of water in an Oxygen devoid environment?
We hit a serpentine black tarmac,that leads us to the shores of Gurudongmar Lake and another lake called Cholamu,still higher up around 18500 feet height.Further 5-6 kms lies the Tibetan frontier.
With each ray of the rising sun,the land was revealing itself to be something magical.I slap myself,I twist my ears...I wanted my mind to be alert,to take in every detail.
Gurudongmar is easily one of the most captivating places in Eastern Himalayas.Surrounded by icy peaks,stands a blue lake in crescent shape,half frozen,half shimmering with the morning mist that hangs over it.Guru Padmasambhava touched a portion of the lake that doesn't freeze in winters(he is a teacher who spread Buddhism in the Tibetan mountains and most of Himalayan country side).Even Guru Nanak is said to have visited the sight,making it holy for a wider range of travelers.The locals say that the water carries powers of fertility for childless couples and many other small legends are associated with the place as is usual.What were our reasons for making this pilgrimage,we ask ourselves?
On being asked as to why a man risks his life and everything to climb a mountain such as Everest,George Mallory,the avid mountaineer had stated simply..."Because it's there".
Profound and simple.
A lake with mist hovering on the surface,frozen in parts but patient enough to stay pristine blue in most parts.The water body is spread out at the foots of some majestic peaks,one of which looks a smaller replica of the great Kanchenjunga peak.Many locals confirmed this comparision.A mild wisp of cloud hangs in front of the mountains,adding an elegance to the fine morning scenery.What do these clouds and mountains have together anyway?They create some of the most amazing patterns in nature.
A short trek around the lake brings us brutally back to earth.Every step requires a war like effort on the body.The lesser oxygen levels put the mind and body to test precariously.I try to focus hard on the calm lake in front of me,nothing to disturb it,except perhaps my thoughts that dwell upon it.All your cleverness and wit melts away here and we understand that we can only be visitors in these realms.
As all beautiful things must be fleeting,we pulled back onto the road before the thin air creates hallucination in your mind and strains your lungs adversely.On the way back,we stopped again at Thangu for breakfast and the prehistoric fire in the cave of the Army Café.
There is something about life that you'll learn by sitting around a fire at sub-zero temperature,that you may never learn in any other way.
We had been upto 18000 feet height,walked around one of the world's highest lakes,saved our lives from the cold by the fire side...and all this before the day's breakfast.One of the best things I love about travel is that you learn to appreciate simple things in life...like a steaming bowl of noodles and egg in the morning.Things that we take for granted in everyday life,things that can save your life up in harsh conditions.
Back on the road to Lachen,and then towards beloved Lachung late in the afternoon.The roads had been bettered since last time we came here.
By early morning of 7 th November,we were hiking our way through Yumthang valley,around 20 kms from Lachung town.Early November snow was starting to settle down on the valley,but as the sun shone on them...they would melt away by noon.The permanent ice cover would come in December.But whatever the season of the year,valleys rarely come as enchanting as Yumthang in North Sikkim.Taking advantage of lesser ice,we hiked nearer the river shore where the freshly melted water was singing it's way through.The sharp leaves of pines and conifers were generously sprinkled with snow overnight.
Abandoned wooden houses that provide shelter perhaps to herdsmen in harsh climates are all over the valley meadows.The flagstaff prayer flags called 'Darchor' could be seen fluttering in the cold wind all over the valley.No better place to mutter a prayer from your soul.A chorten-stupa stands as testimony to the silence all around as a herd of mountain sheep walk briskly by us,the shepherd no where in sight.
A road cuts through the valley and goes upto a point commonly known as Zero-Point around 20 odd kms from here,where roads end on the Indian side and a no man's land ensues till the Chinese outpost.In local tongue this end part of the valley is called as Yumesamdong.How we wish we can walk the face of the earth without political borders.
The slanting rays of sun pierces through pines in the hills and falls on the river in the valley.I take a rest by a rock and look at the river,it's an old friend that I have met many times before and at different places.We do recognize each other...and it has taught me a lot,like to understand the world before judging it,to look closely at things and ponder...
"Slow down you gypsy man and sit by the river
for the roads are longer and woods are yet deeper.
For many have sat on the rock,that you see...
and thought deeply about life,whatever that be.
Neither am I old,nor counted among the very wise
But I know thee river is a old friend in guise
You talk in a tongue that I admire and need...
for if you recall,I was a chained soul once that you freed.
And so under the November mountain I return to you
to gossip in the forgotten songs ,only we both knew.
As the snow is still on the peak and the fire in my heart...
Two old friends sit by the rock at last."
The legs were tired but soul revived at hike's end.Egg and Maggie again in the huts by the side.Back at the guest house that evening,we discovered that our cook cum caretaker was a terrific singer too.The young generation in north-east have a case for music,right from Gangtok,to Guwahati ,to Shillong.
Back in Gangtok,the sky had cleared but it had got more colder in the day. The town makes you lazy, it really does, I discovered this time around. So long...and the memories we take with us.
29th November 2015
This blog was originally published on 'The Lost Hermit'