The mesmerizing atmosphere in some breathtaking landscapes, where on every turn you are embraced by the gurgling stream rushing down as a succulent waterfall or some gaping fathomless gorges or some mighty mountains blocking your way or the fragrant moist air carrying the scent of the wildflowers or the dense cloud, ready to pour down to unveil the warm sun or the tiny peaceful village with a handful of diligent locals or a small bridge over the agile young river or the snowcapped mountains standing high or the group of yaks foraging in the fields… it is Nature’s child – flawless and divine, it is North Sikkim.
To travel to this divine destination I had to reach Gangtok first where my friend was waiting for me. I wanted to save the time of the road travel from Bagdogra airport and also wanted to land in the new Pakyong Airport in Sikkim that was inaugurated recently in October 2018. It is said to be one of the five highest airports in India and evidently would be a beautiful small one cliffed on the hills offering some lovely views while landing.
With this lure in mind, notwithstanding any warning by my friend and others I purchased the ticket of the sole Spicejet flight flying to Pakyong once daily. The warning came is different forms – most of the time the flight is cancelled due to bad weather, sometimes the flight even takes off but cannot land again due to bad weather (to know the exact reason of the cancellation read this). In both the cases, there was a chance of me getting stranded either in Kolkata or in Bagdogra.
Unaware of the election dates I purchased my tickets which inadvertently fell on the day of voting in Siliguri. As an alternative option in case of cancellation, I was looking for vehicles to reach Gangtok. No vehicle owners were ready to drive on the election day which would again leave me stranded in Kolkata or Bagdogra with a day spoiled, travel to North Sikkim postponed and left with no extra day for any emergency unforeseen occurrence.
I checked in Kolkata Airport much early as my previous flight was such timed. Every moment since then was spent in speculation and enquiry in the check-in counters until I boarded the Spicejet 90-seater Bombardier flight to have the adventure of landing in Pakyong. Just minutes before take-off my friend informed about good weather prevailing there which gave me hope. As the flight entered a turbulent zone within the thick clouds there were butterflies in my stomach.
Finally, the turbulent area was covered and there was the ‘divine announcement’ from the Cockpit that we are supposed to land in Pakyong airport in a few minutes. The fellow passengers sitting on the left row (with seat series A-B) rejoiced looking at the snow-capped mountains below (possibly the Kanchendzonga) and me sitting on the ‘D’ window was perplexed and tried hard to find any snowy peak from my tinted and scratched window.
I did not get many outstanding views from my seat but was more than happy to land in Pakyong Airport ending all speculation and counter plan. A tiny stretch of a runway on hilltop cut flat with green surrounding and the peek-a-boo of the snowy peaks which I assume to be the Kanchendzonga. I maintained my composure but my heart was dancing in joy, it was like I climbed Mt Everest. I reunited with my friend who was waiting outside and finally I could literally throw up my excitement that was brewing within.
The weather was pleasant with the sun shining bright till we reached her residence in Tadong near Gangtok. It was a sunny day after consecutive days of clouds and rain but with the passage of time the clouds appeared of nowhere and then it was dark to darker and the thundershowers with strong gusts of howling winds followed. The weather instantly started cooling and then the heavy shower was followed by a hail storm. Who did speculate that such a bright sunny beginning of the day would lead to such inclement weather? “Welcome to Sikkim,” she said.
The incessant rainfall followed by hail was a sign of snowfall high up. The next day we were supposed to start for North Sikkim and the prevalent weather condition and the flying rumours of road closure were making us concerned. Next morning even our driver has no clarity before reaching the Toong check-post where we would get the final good-to-go sign to move ahead.
Again with hope in the heart and prayers on our lips, we started for North Sikkim. After crossing the comparatively busy Gangtok roads we were on the twists and turns where on every bent there were scenic surprises like lush and lofty mountains, deep gorges, swift-flowing river, pretty bridges and lovely flowers. The weather played along showing its various mood from sunny to windy to cloudy to rainy.
We cannot be more blessed to experience this all on our journey to North Sikkim. Nature has blessed Sikkim with bountiful natural resources and the best among them is the range of floral variety. Although the state exhibits a wide range of flora, the North Sikkim district owing to its gradual gain of altitude has a range of tundra to alpine forest cover.
The continuous winding road is good enough to churn your stomach but keeping the vision on the horizon and watching the peaceful cover of green on every side seems to ease out the discomfort and giving the best ever medication relieving the body and the soul. Along with these green cover, there are the milky white mountain streams bifurcating the continuity of the forests. At once I was reminded of a childhood poem – “यह लघु सरिता का बहता जल” (“Yeh Laghu Sarita ka Behta Jal”) by the poet Gopal Singh Nepali, which has a vivid description of a mountain stream. I recited the poem in my mind:
“यह लघु सरिता का बहता जल
कितना शीतल¸ कितना निर्मल¸
हिमगिरि के हिम से निकल–निकल¸
यह विमल दूध–सा हिम का जल¸
कर–कर निनाद कल–कल¸ छल–छल
बहता आता नीचे पल पल
तन का चंचल मन का विह्वल।
यह लघु सरिता का बहता जल।।
निर्मल जल की यह तेज़ धार
करके कितनी श्रृंखला पार
बहती रहती है लगातार
गिरती उठती है बार बार
रखता है तन में उतना बल
यह लघु सरिता का बहता जल।।
एकांत प्रांत निर्जन निर्जन
यह वसुधा के हिमगिरि का वन
रहता मंजुल मुखरित क्षण क्षण
लगता जैसे नंदन कानन
करता है जंगल में मंगल
यह लघु सरिता का बहता जल।।
ऊँचे शिखरों से उतर–उतर¸
गिर–गिर गिरि की चट्टानों पर¸
कंकड़–कंकड़ पैदल चलकर¸
दिन–भर¸ रजनी–भर¸ जीवन–भर¸
धोता वसुधा का अन्तस्तल।
यह लघु सरिता का बहता जल।।
मिलता है उसको जब पथ पर
पथ रोके खड़ा कठिन पत्थर
आकुल आतुर दुख से कातर
सिर पटक पटक कर रो रो कर
करता है कितना कोलाहल
यह लघु सरित का बहता जल।।
हिम के पत्थर वे पिघल–पिघल¸
बन गये धरा का वारि विमल¸
सुख पाता जिससे पथिक विकल¸
पी–पीकर अंजलि भर मृदु जल¸
नित जल कर भी कितना शीतल।
यह लघु सरिता का बहता जल।।
कितना कोमल¸ कितना वत्सल¸
रे! जननी का वह अन्तस्तल¸
जिसका यह शीतल करूणा जल¸
बहता रहता युग–युग अविरल¸
गंगा¸ यमुना¸ सरयू निर्मल
यह लघु सरिता का बहता जल।। ”
I could not stop myself to quote this lovely poem which has always been my favourite. It describes the beauty and nature of a mountainous stream that originates from the snow-capped mountains and flows down in its milky white colour. The swift-flowing stream making the gushing and gurgling sound happily rush down crossing numerous cliffs and isolated areas. In its path it carries along the pebbles and stones, sometimes facing some big rock blocking its way. It violently crashes on it and makes it way down. It is the water of the melted snow which is pure pristine which quenches the thirst of many so does it replenish the forest floor and thus the suffice the underground water source of mother Earth. It is the same holy water of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Sarayu that keeps flowing forever and ever.
Coming back to my journey through the meandering roads to North Sikkim, I came across many such streams and waterfalls like the Seven Sisters’ waterfall, the Naga Waterfalls, the Bhim Nalla waterfalls and many others which are not fortunate enough to have a name. I liked them all – the anonymous and even the non-popular ones. After all, they are the “Laghu Sarita ka Behta Jal”. 🙂
In this way we reached Chungthang. Chungthang is the junction or a small town from where the road bifurcates into two, one leading towards Lachen and the other to Lachung. It is also the confluence of the Lachen Chu and the Lachung Chu the two rivers coming from two different sides to merge and form the evergreen Teesta.
We took the route towards Lachen after having some delicious Veg Momos from the small and sole restaurant catering to all the travellers on this route. On the way to Lachen, the forest cover had a paler and a brighter shade of green, visibly marking the change of vegetation. The landscape was equally beautiful and the with the passage of time we could feel the nip in the air. By the time we reached Lachen, it was raining and we retired back to our room. To know more of the Lachen and Gurudongmar experience read my previous post.
After the extraordinary experience of being at a great height in Gurudongmar Lake, we were on our way to Lachung. Again through the same junction of Chungthang and relishing the delicious momos once more we drove towards Lachung. This route was even narrower than the other and the slope seemed to be steeper, the vegetation also was different from that on the way to Lachen.
Whatever change may be in the scene the beauty was a general Constant. We reached Lachung a pretty little town cliffed beside a mighty mountain with a tall narrow waterfall and the Lachung Chu flowing by the side. Our stay was across the river within the small locality surrounded by lofty mountains and a brook joining the Lachung Chu. Nothing can be more peaceful than staying in this blissful hamlet.
There were only a couple of hotels on this side so relatively fewer tourists with local homes and attached farms where they work throughout the day and retire while the darkness falls in the sky. A life of tranquillity away from the complexities of the cities, a life of simplicity away from the glitter and glamour of the demanding modern life and a life of happiness in the lap of nature.
While loitering aimlessly on the hilly roads and watching the plain lifestyle of the locals, a thought came to our mind. We both said together “What if we make a home here and stay in this peaceful abode forever?” The calmness and the ethereal beauty of the place took us to the world of fantasy which was far from reality.
Then we gave a thought and discussed what would be our mode of income if we stay here and we decided to join the daily wagers who clears the road blockage. The rest of the time we would devote to farming growing local vegetables in our kitchen gardens. Sometimes letting out mind roam free in the wildest of imagination is one of the best ways of relaxation. We felt so relieved and relaxed on sorting out the way of livelihood here. 🙂
We sat on the boulders beside the brook quietly visualising our life here as a local while the clear water was flowing downstream making the characteristic bubbling sound, the colourful prayer flags were fluttering in the wind carrying the written wishes along with it to heaven. The small suspension bridge was swaying with the mildest of the weight of any pedestrian passing by. The darkness was gradually falling in marking the end of the day, we came out of our sweet slumber in this dreamland to return back to our hotel.
We again ventured to our favourite spot near the brook by the suspension bridge early in the morning. The scene was again differently beautiful. The morning mists on the leaf blades of Jowar were like diamonds scattered in the farm. We at once got glued in the awe of the beauty when the sound of the cowbell broke our attention, a lonely cow was slowly walking towards the brook – a lovely scene from a page of some fairy tale.
We followed the cow to our favourite spot to watch the sun playing with his magic wand of rays from behind the hills. The tall waterfalls on the other side of the Lachung river continued its plunge from the high mountain above. This time we crossed the brook and reached the other side of and watched the stream rushing down sitting on another boulder in peace. We were in no mood to return from this dreamland but life is a reality beyond the flights of fantasy.
Now we headed towards Yumthang valley and here the landscape was again so different. A large part of the road was damaged by a massive avalanche in the recent past. A temporary passage was made through a diversion over the pebbles making the drive bouncy. The remains of the avalanche stay till date as massive sheets of thick soiled snow covering the area uprooting all vegetations and structures in its path. With the sun these sheet of snow is gradually melting to wash away the temporary road with a stream of water finally accumulating in the low land in a valley below.
Then through the Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary and the Ice tunnel from the remains of the avalanche we were in Yumthang also known as the valley of flowers. This is a popular and picturesque tourist destination with the river flowing by the valley with snowy glaciers on either side of the mountains. Hot spring and the zero-point is also very close to this lovely valley of flowers, again the weather conditions this year are to be blamed for late flowering.
We did see a few Rhododendrons and one of comparatively rare and pretty colour, there were other flowers in the grass too, frequenting the valley floor here and there. It was an extremely peaceful and wish-fulfilling trip, we were more than happy watching the natural wonder, tasting the local food, interacting with the locals and loitering aimlessly as vagabonds – we had nothing to complain about. We had seen more than we expected, we have experienced more than we hoped – a trip of ultimate peace where our soul attained divinity.