The land of mystique

Rugged mountain terrain and the allure of an azure blue lake draw Renuka Krishnaraja to explore the beauteous Northeastern hills

Tsomgo Lake. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

If the Himalayan range is like a crown to our nation, the Northeastern hills are its most elegant jewels. The region is blessed with serene, abounding natural beauty. We were genuinely spellbound by some of Mother Nature’s most marvellous creations there.

As we embarked on our journey from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok, we realised that we’ll have to crusade on the winding, rough and tough lanes that go uphill or downhill in the rugged terrains for the rest of our trip. And that we’ve left behind our straight, upright roads. At about 5 o’clock in the evening, it got pitch dark. On our way, we saw small lit-up towns upon distant hills that looked like stars descended on earth.

What a beautiful sight it was! I knew I could look forward to many such breathtaking sights that would make me lose myself in that exquisitely alluring land. “Crime is very rare in Sikkim,” claimed our driver, out of the blue, that dragged me out of my reverie, as we crossed the check-post between West Bengal and Sikkim.  

En route Tsomgo Lake
 En route Tsomgo Lake

 

A hub of diverse cultures

The next morning, we set out on a 40-km uphill drive to the scenic Tsomgo Lake
(Changu Lake) and Baba Mandir. En route, we briefly stopped by Ganesh Tok, a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha that also offers picturesque views of the surroundings. Moving ahead, I looked at how the sun, wind, clouds and snow can change the landscape of the rocky backdrop within a flash. At an elevation of over 3,500 m, we literally sailed on top of the clouds! Fringed by the snow-speckled brown, tall rocky
mountains, the glacial Tsomgo Lake was indeed a spectacle. The pristine waters, frozen at various spots, reflected the dark mountains clearly, and the vision seemed like an illusion. It was magical. Near the lake, we took yak rides.

Later, we visited the Baba Mandir, a temple dedicated to Harbhajan Singh who was in the Punjab Regiment and was posted here as part of border patrol force. It is believed that his spirit guards the soldiers in that difficult terrain. Although not peak season, there were many tourists there. It was overwhelming to see how all of them, just like us, were willing to brave the circumstances to revel in the boons of nature. Further ahead in this route lies the Indo-China border — Nathula Pass — but only military vehicles ply here due to the heavy snow on the road. “Soldiers on both sides share a friendly relationship and in fact Chinese soldiers also celebrate Diwali,” said our driver. 

Kanchenjunga golden glow at sunrise
Kanchenjunga golden glow at sunrise

Art & culture

The following morning, we visited the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, which is a museum, research centre, and a library dedicated to Tibetan art and culture, language and religion. The artefacts in the museum were interesting to watch and there was boundless information for a curious onlooker.

Do-drul Chorten is a stupa which houses religious books and objects. Around the stupa, there are 108 prayer wheels — revolving cylinders inscribed with Tibetan-Buddhist prayers. Their clockwise rotation symbolises the chanting of prayers. Also, all around the city, you can find prayer flags that are known to promote peace, knowledge and wisdom. We then took a ride in the Gangtok ropeway, which gives a bird’s eye view of the town built upon hills, and its convoluted streets. We also spotted varieties of rhododendrons and other wildflowers in the flower exhibition. Later in the day, we travelled towards Pelling.

On our way, near Namchi town, we took a detour to visit Char Dham, which is a replica of the Jyothirlingas and the Char Dham pilgrimage. Built atop a hill, the temple is immensely calm. The enormous Shiva statue can be seen towering from quite a distance. The winds and light showers make it extremely cold here. While
traversing ahead, little did we know what awaited us! To our pleasant surprise, little white fluffy light flakes of snow fell from the sky. We got out of the car and enjoyed the natural wonder, as this was an exceptional phenomenon for plain-dwellers like us. And after some time, another surprise awaited us. Snowfall became a bit more excessive and as night fell, the road to Pelling got blocked. In a single day, we had seen the good and bad of it! After waiting for hours in vain for the road to clear, our driver decided to take
the alternative route. The journey happened to be stretched out, tiresome and adventurous, but we managed to reach our destination late in the night.

View of Kanchenjunga from Batasia loop
View of Kanchenjunga from Batasia loop

At the base of Kanchenjunga

We woke up to a spectacular view of the gleaming Kanchenjunga hills right in front of our room. And as we drove towards Kanchenjunga falls, all along the way, the sky appeared like a picture postcard flaunting the stunning mountain range. It was heartwarming to see children lug their bags along the treacherous hilly areas to reach school early in the morning. Life is tough in the hills! Having seen the falls cascading down the rocks, we visited the colourful and artistic three-storied structure — Pemayangtse Monastery, which lies in a serene setting. Later in the day, we drove down to Darjeeling, which is by far livelier, busier and brighter even by the night as seen in the Mall Road where we took a walk and tried out a variety of street food, including momos. Being an old city, the roads are quite narrow with heavy traffic.

We woke up at 3.30 am the next morning to behold the famed sunrise at Tiger Hills. The enthusiasm was tangible even at that hour and the clear, starry sky surged our hopes further. On the eastern side, the horizon was tinted in red and gradually toned down to orange as the sky got brighter. Around 6.20 am, the sun came out, and the first rays shone upon the Kanchenjunga Peak.

Next, we visited the Ghum Monastery, which houses a 15-feet tall Buddha statue. The Batasia loop, a spiral route for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, offers a panoramic view of the Himalayan range. Despite the numbing weather and challenging trails whilst meandering on these diverse topographic landscapes, this trip offered the most awe-inspiring sights and fulfilling experiences.

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