Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sikkim - A State of Mind: Day 2

Day Two
We're awake at 5:30 AM and it's bright daylight. Our first sight of Sikkim in the daylight shows a land bursting with greenery and flowers.


The valley is shrouded in fog. Occasionally the fog lifts to show glimpses of the mountainside. Everything we see is in  panoramic mode - sweeping hills, rolling clouds and the fog appearing suddenly shrouding the entire landscape in grey.

Before we have breakfast, we go for a quick round of birding - there are Mountain Bulbuls, Oriental White Eyes and lots of Mynas. We have a breakfast of Alu Parathas with yogurt and pickle, some toast and marmalade and the teas for which North East India is famous.

Our plan for the day is to leave after breakfast for the town of Lachung, in Northern Sikkim. Lachung is the gateway to the Yumthang Valley and Zero Point in Yumesamdong beyond. While it is just 129 km (80 miles) away, the uphill ascent and the bad roads mean that it would take us close to six hours to get there.

Our route will take us through the 7 Sister Falls, the towns of Phodong, Mangan and Chungthang and finally Lachung which is at an elevation of 8100 feet.

By 10 AM our bags are packed and loaded onto the luggage rack on the roof of a Tata Sumo. It appears that all drivers have sworn loyalty to teams in the English League - our vehicle is festooned with Arsenal stickers.

We've barely crossed 30 km when we hear a rattling sound from the roof. Our luggage rack has broken and we won't be able to make it to Lachung with the broken rack. Frantic calls are made to arrange for another vehicle to carry us for the remaining journey.

Luckily, we've stopped at the historic spot of Kabi-Lungchok where the Lepchas and the Bhutias signed the peace treaty over 700 years ago.

According to Wikipeadia the literal meaning of 'Kabi Lungchok', pronounced ‘Kayu sha bhi Lungchok’, is "stone erected by our blood."

Stone steps lead up to the place where the treaty was signed by the Bhot King, Khye Bumsa representing the Bhutias and the Lepcha Chief Thekong Tek.

Further down, life-size statues of the Lepcha and Bhutia 'blood-brothers' who signed the treaty have been erected.

A path surrounded by looming trees trails into the distance and in the wet soil leeches abound. Soon we are picking out leeches by the dozens as they cling to our shoes and try to burrow their way through to the warm blood which attracts them. We trace our way back to the road in an effort to stay away from the leeches.

In the meanwhile, our replacement vehicle has come and the driver is engaged in the process of shifting the luggage.

We're on our way again with our driver, Karma, and soon enter the North Sikkim district.

The recurrent theme here is mountain and water. Mountain streams are everywhere, rolling down the hillside, merging into larger currents and then gushing down the face of the mountain as waterfalls. Many of them crash on the rocks below, wearing them away before flowing across the road and joining the rivers that flow in the valley below. The roads are washed away by the constant flow of water and we rumble over the small boulders that have been left on the path after the road has been washed away.

There is a huge convoy of SUVs heading North, towards Lachung, but very few coming down towards Gangtok. One of the few vehicles traveling South tells us that there has been a landslide on the mountains after the rains and the Border Roads Organization has instructed authorities not to allow anybody proceed towards Lachung. This of course will impact our schedule which required us to reach Lachung by evening. However, we continue, deciding to see how much we can proceed.

We're already running behind schedule because of the unplanned vehicle change, but it's getting to be 1:30 PM and we're hungry. We stop at the Seven Sisters Waterfalls for some  refreshments.

There samosas are wrapped up ready to be fried and the cook serves it up steaming hot along with a warm cup of black tea.

K spots a Blue Whistling Thrush on the rocks while we enjoy the view.

We're off again, crossing Phodong which, for a short while was the capital of Sikkim., There's nothing left to indicate that this was once a state capital. There are a few traditional Sikkimese buildings but nothing else remains.

We're stopped when we reach the RangRang traffic checkpost, There's a huge pileup of traffic that has been stopped and not allowed to proceed.

Alister proceeds to the checkpost to request permission to proceed with an undertaking that we will stop at Mangan and not proceed further until we have confirmation that the roadblocks have been cleared.

We reach the  town of Mangan at 3 PM and proceed straight for lunch at Hotel Tamarind. Mangan is the headquarters of the North Sikkim district and the small town which had a population of around 1200 people in 2001 now has seen a boom due to the tourist influx.

Alister sets off to find a place for us to stay for the night and returns with the good news that we have rooms at The Planter's House.

We shift our luggage and settle down for a quiet evening, after five hours of driving on dirt roads. The drizzle which has been accompanying us for a few hours now turns into a torrential downpour. We have a hot dinner in the dining room where there are a few other travelers who have also been stranded because of the landslide.

After dinner, we watch the Mumbai Indians play Sunrisers Hyderabad in an IPL match. It seems curiously faraway - like traveling to another country and watching what appears to be a local sports match in the hotel television.

Day 1
Day 3


Manik Deshmukh said...

Very good blog Girish.

Manik Deshmukh said...
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Megha said...

Nice! Its like we are re-living the trip!!! Thanks Girish...