It was a long, cold drive from Gangtok, but we were filled with excitement, eager to see what Sikkim had to offer. Mountains, waterfalls, gorgeous flowers, and of course, the never-ending expanse of sparkling white snow — this State is a delight to the eye. We wanted to go off the beaten tourist track and when our driver suggested Kala Pathar, we were more than happy to put that on our itinerary. So, we bravely got out of our cosy beds after just a short nap, dressed, and set out at the unimaginable hour of 3:30 a.m.
The temperature outside was around zero degree centigrade, added to which there was a light drizzle. We piled jacket on jacket, but no matter how many we wore, we didn’t seem to get warm enough. Snow covered the branches of all the alpine vegetation, looking as if someone had spread cotton-wool on them. As the sun rose, raindrops glittered along our path and the melting frost made beautiful patterns – Mother Nature is truly an artist!
We travelled on and on, over mountainous terrain. Since Kala Pathar is off the established tourist trail, cab drivers have to take a detour to reach the place, and ask for an extra `3,000 ($46). We passed Chopta and were going in the direction of Muguthang Valley when we were told that we were nearing our destination. When we reached, pristine white snow spread out as far as the eye could see. I have never seen so much snow! The picture remains imprinted on my memory. Located 14,850 ft above sea level, the name of the place —Kala Patthar — Black Stone — is justified by the black rocks on the snow-covered cliff faces. The motorable road stops here, so it’s a dead end. It is uninhabited, except for occasional settlements of nomadic Tibetans grazing their yaks.
After leaving Kala Patthar, we reached Thangu, the last Indian village on the Indo-Chinese Border, at around 7 a.m. The area is a military base, and it’s an awe-inspiring sight to see the armoured tanks, artillery and army personnel. I felt proud and humbled to see how the Army works, in temperatures going as low as -15° C, sacrificing their comforts and their family lives, to ensure that the rest of us Indians can go about our daily lives without interruption.
From Thangu, we went to the Gurudongmar Lake, one of the highest and most remote lakes in the world. It is about five hours from Lachen. The roads are practically non-existent almost throughout the journey, as the tracks are little more than gravel and pebble-covered paths. But the views more than make up for the discomforts of travel.
At 18,000 feet above sea level, it’s breath-taking, both figuratively and literally. The Lake is definitely one of the highlights of the visit to Sikkim.