Scintillating Sikkim (Part 2)

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Calm MG market in the morning

New day, new places to explore. There is nothing like walking your way through a beautiful hill station. Walking in Gangtok can be rejuvenating as the weather is lovely coupled with good roads. We woke up around 5:30 in the morning, got ready and went out to see the places around. I saw the calm market area where people were taking morning walks. After a quick walk in the City, we were back in the hotel to get ready for Nathula Pass expedition.

The devious Nathula Pass

Around 60 kms from Gangtok town, Nathula is the border point that separates India and China. The Nathula Pass is located at an elevation of 14,140 feet and ranks amongst the highest points that tourists can visit using motorable roads.

The day had started early for us, our cab was supposed to pick us at 8 AM and we were there right on time. To travel to Nathula you would require a permit which needs to be done in advance. We had already given two copies of passport sized photograph and a photocopy of ID with address proof each to our tour operator.

We started from Gangtok town at 8:15 AM. After 25 min journey, we reached check point for collecting our pass. This might take upto an hour with long queue of people. Since we had already given our documents well in advance, we had a smooth ride till Nathula.

You gain an immense amount of altitude in a very short span of time – the fastest way to get altitude sickness! Each one of us popped altitude sickness medicine and crossed our fingers.

We soon found ourselves ascending and getting more and more closer to the drifting clouds. The air just kept getting thinner and thinner. Apart from the continuous drizzle, it really wasn’t that bad.

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The view is breath-taking, we spotted many small waterfalls on the way. The roads are pretty decent maintained by Border Roads Organisation (BRO)
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One of the many army base on our way to Nathula
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Just before Changu Lake, we stopped at a market from where you can rent out warm clothes. If you do not have enough warm clothes with you then you must hire as you will surely need them. There are quite a few tea/coffee shops here and a hot cup of coffee is surely recommended. All the shops out here have attached toilets for its guests thus refresh up as much possible as the next stop will be directly Nathula Pass

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By now the roads are getting quite narrower and often getting covered in clouds. Sometimes there will be a bright blue sky with unlimited sunshine and the very next moment the sky would turn dull grey with clouds all around you

Driver advised us to visit Nathula pass first and then spend time at Changu lake while returning. We started our upward journey after refreshment. Finally, we reached an army checkpoint where we could see series of other tourist vehicles in front of us. Our driver took all the permits to the check post and got it cleared. Then we waited patiently, for the next twenty minutes there was no activity but just waiting. We were given the go ahead to reach to our final destination Nathula after half an hour.

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All the tourist vehicles park their vehicles at a designated spot and one must walk the steep roads and finally reach a spot where there will be a staircase that takes you to the actual Indo-China border

IMG_20170610_133805220_HDR_edited.jpgBy the time we reached the top of Nathula pass, some of us had started bearing the brunt of high altitude – nausea, throbbing headaches, breathlessness. I know I am not painting a very good picture, but don’t give up yet!

I would suggest to take it step by step, if you feel difficulty in breathing then do not rush take deep breaths and walk slowly, it’s not a race and the drivers give enough time for this stop. Take the stairs one by one and in no time you will reach the top.

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Other side of the mountain is China

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Photography is strictly prohibited on the top for security region. Nathula Pass is mainly an Indo-China border, consisting of barbed wire and gates heavily armed by army from both the sides . Just behind the red-shed center is the wire that separates us from  China

There is a war memorial located at top. I would like to put a quote written on the War Memorial, “When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave up our today.”

Also there is a cafe out there managed by the army and stopping by is a required and not optional since the cold temperature combined with high altitude will surely make you want to try some hot coffee. You can also get your certificates from here confirming that you have been to Nathula but this is a paid activity and you need to stand in the queue as many people line up to get their copy. I could not get mine though.

Baba Mandir

Next stop for the day trip was at Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir (Temple). By the time we reached here it was raining heavily. Our umbrellas came handy here. The shrine built in the memory of Baba Harbhajan Singh, an Indian army personnel who died near Nathula in 1968, is a popular sightseeing spot. It is said that while escorting mules carrying provisions, he fell into a stream and drowned. After a few days he reappeared in the dreams of one of his sentry colleagues and asked him to make a memorial here on his name. The local people are of the opinion that Baba Harbhajan Singh still guards the international boundary between India and China.

It is also to be noted that this is not the original Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple but the second and the new one. The original one is actually located on the Silk Route and not on the high tourist trail.

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Recently, Indian army has built at 12 ft long Shiva idol on a foot hill of Nammangcho hill at the height of 13000 ft from sea level.It was raining heavily so we could not go near it

Recently, Indian army has built at 12 ft long Shiva idol on a foot hill of Nammangcho hill at the height of 13000 ft from sea level.

Changu lake

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Tsomgo Lake or Changu Lake is one of the most spectacular landscapes of Sikkim. The lake is highly revered by the local Buddhists and Hindus as a sacred lake. With a depth of around 48 feet and spreading over 1 kilometre, the magnificent Changu Lake romances with its picturesque surrounding. The water of the lake comes from the melting of the snow of its surrounding mountains, which is why, this lake never dries up
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Imagine a leisurely ride on an animal you may have never even seen. Yak ride is a major attraction near lake which we could not do thanks to Rain God
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Yaks are heavily built animals with bulky frame which are adaptive to high altitudes as they have large lungs and heart compared to cattles at lower altitudes.

After spending some time, we started our downwards journey.The photos posted above were clicked while going towards Nathula Pass. It was raining nonstop, so we could not halt at Changu lake or Tsomgo Lake. The appearance of the lake differs depending on the season when you are visiting if its winter then this lake will be frozen else rest of the year you will see the clear water from the melted snow of the slopes.

Tourists usually stop at the market near Changu lake for lunch but we skipped that as we wanted to get back to Gangtok before evening.

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Visibility was poor on our way back
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Lonely mountain dog
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The way down to town was slushy. But by now we realized that the reason we were still able to traverse on this stretch was due to the outstanding BRO workers. Even under such harsh conditions, they were working relentlessly so that the army and people like us could pass. These are the real great men, not appreciated enough, not documented anywhere

By the time we reached back to Gangtok, it was evening and we were extremely tired but spirit was high. After relaxing a bit we decided to explore local cuisine in MG road. We ended our Sikkim trip with sumptuous dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Chopstick which served local cuisine as well.Service is slightly slow. But once the food comes, one forgets all about that.

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Mouth watering fried and steamed chicken momos
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Chicken Sekuwa is a classic Nepali skewered chicken BBQ marinated in a blend of Himalayan herbs and spices

If you eat pork and beef,you must try Sikkimese local delicacy.We limited our experiment to local chicken items and of course momos.

Next morning we said bye to scintillating Sikkim and started our journey towards Darjeeling.

I hope you have enjoyed travelling along with me through my blog to places around Gangtok in my previous blog and Nathula in this blog, see you in my next blog where I will take you to Darjeeling.

 

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