Sunday, April 12, 2020

Exciting trip to Gurudongmar Lake in Winter

Exciting trip to Gurudongmar Lake in winter

Teesta river originates from two sources: Tso Lhamo Lake (17490ft) of Zemu, Kamgtse/Pauhunri glaciers; and Gurudongmar Lake (17800 ft) of Kangchengyao glaciers situated in a high plateau area of North Sikkim near the International border with China. The Gurudongmar Lake freezes, the day temperature -25 degree Celsius and oxygen level of the area goes down to 2%, therefore, it is an adventurous tour for the tourists to make in winter. Uncertainty of weather with snowfall and high winds is another challenge the tourists have to face. Therefore, the entire route from Mangan to Lachen to Thangu to Gurudongmar keeps the tourists in guess whether they will make it or not. As the locals moved down to Gangtok, the companions of hope at the time of emergency are the army men located at regular intervals in transit camps. 

The journey starts from Gangtok at around 9-10 AM. As one needs permission of the police authority, the passes are collected by the agent/driver in the morning by submitting photos and photo ID. After 30 kms, the drive is along the river Teesta from Singtam. One may stop at the North Sikkim District HQ at Mangan or at the meeting point of two Teesta, one stream from Lachen and another from Lachung at Chungthang is a beautiful place to stop and take pictures. Thereafter, there is a drive upward where you watch the mountains covered with snow and the frozen streams making the environment decorative with their crystal clear looks. The Teesta to the left moves to right at the cross over bridge at Chautila valley. 

North Sikkim is famous for the cultivation of big cardamoms, the spicy flavour of non veg foods and biryans. It is the gold of north Sikkim, can be sold at a very high price in off season. 

It is a journey of watching plants, trees, and whites and colourful flags on the roadsides. They use flags of five colours to perform pooja for a new house or for other purposes. Flag Red is for Fire, Blue for water and river, Green for the flora and fauna, Yellow for the earth and White for the peaceful living of all. They do havana (yajya) and offer cereals etc, during pooja like Hindus. 

White flags over poles in long line are too common to see in Sikkim. They are for the deceased. Their death rituals are very lengthy, tiring and expensive. The Lamas perform rituals. They break the waist bones and knee joints of the dead body and place it in Buddhasana (sitting posture) and then packed it into a wooden box with ice and herbs. Then they check the astrological muhurta for the cremation and direction to move out the body from the house. The waiting time may be for a week. The family has to cook and serve meal to all present for all those seven days. The lama decides who can and can’t touch the dead body. On the day of muhurta, the dead body is moved out of the house, pulled out with a rope if the house is at upstairs, from the decided direction removing window or a wall if it is not auspicious to move out from the main door. The box of the dead body then taken to the top of the hill where it is placed upon a funeral pyre and then set on fire. The lamas will continue performing the ritual for the smooth travel of the Soul to the God. There are rituals for the 3rd, 7th, 21st, 49th days to be performed one after another. Total 108 poles with white flags are erected. The rituals will go on for a year and thereafter, to be continued for three years replacing the white flags yearly. Lamas are paid for their services. The money they spend on charity and Sada schools. The cost of funeral may vary from ₹70,000 to ₹3 lakh depending upon the economic conditions of the family.  

Studying the culture and enjoying the company of river flow, valleys, streams, falls and mountains when you reach Lachen at 4.30 PM, the hotel receptionist welcomes you with a welcome Cherry Brandy drink. A little seep of brandy surely gives some warmth in a cold weather of minus degree temperature. It becomes dark at 5 PM, outside temperature reaches -18 degree Celsius and waiting for Dinner till 7.30 PM ignite hunger, therefore, whatever is served, turns delicious. The room heater can’t heat the room but a double bed electric mattress is a great relief, provided there is electricity or a generator is on. 

Next day morning, one has to start at 5.30 AM as it is a day long journey of 9-10 hours to go and come back from Gurudongmar. The polite hotel staff serves you bed tea at call time and pack up breakfast to brunch on the way and keep your lunch ready when you return. 

Vehicle can go to the zero point upto the Gurudwara near the lake provided the approach road is not covered with snow. Crossing Kalep at 7 AM, Thangu (12000 ft, -19 degree) may be a spot to stop for a cup of tea at 7.20 AM, but in the absence of natives, Army transit camp only can serve, if you have some access to them. And if you are lucky to get a company of an Army Gypsy from Thangu, then you are surely in safe mode traveling to the last mile near the lake. 

As you travel high on the zigzag roads, somewhere covered with snow, it is a watchful and alert journey for the driver to perform till the end. Going upward, the vegetation reduces to nothing but still can see herds of yaks, few musk deers and few wild goats grazing around. Yaks graze yasagampu half grass half insect, that carries high nutritional value, increases longevity and stops ageing. Therefore, milk and meat of Yaks are expensive. Churpi made of yak milk is an expensive delicacy. 

The dogs of Himalayas are very bulky and scary. They can hunt human, therefore, beware, when stop for a natural call. The flowers of the State tree Rhododendrons are missing in winter. Frozen Teesta and mountains covered with snow are the common pictures all around. Golden rays of Sun over the mountains add strength and warmth to the journey making the pictures of nature HD. 

Chomo Yummo mountains to the left, mark the journey, from here, Lhasa is just 350 kms away. The MacMohan line (1914 Simla Convention) and 23 Cans are located to guard and patrol from both the sides. Indian and Chinese soldiers treat each other on national days. Chinese treat Indians on 1st January, 1st August and 1st October. Indians treat Chinese on 26th January, 15th August and Diwali. Indians are better host treat them with 2-3 varieties while they serve only burgers!

There is a helipad spot (16600 ft) just 6 kms before the lake for the VIP landing. Last 2 kms road to the lake is covered with snow, therefore, the vehicle with chain on wheels only can move further. One has to walk down the last mile watchfully of the surface covered with snow and guarding oneself from the chilled winds. It is an examination of one’s physical and mental strength together. Once reached to the lake at around 9.30 AM to 10 AM, it’s bingo. Weather, thereafter is very windy and risky with a very low level of oxygen (2%). Life may be on risk thereafter. South to the lake is the Kangchengyao glaciers, and east to it is the Dorjeela mountain.. The glaciers and the frozen lake shines white under the bright Sun, therefore dark goggles only can give comforts to enjoy the white beauty of nature at that height. 

Gurudongmar Lake is a religious place for the Buddhists and Sikhs. Buddhists in Sikkim are the followers of Vajrayan sect of Buddhism. Their Guru Padmashambhava (Guru Rinpoche) the incarnation of Lord Shiva has visited the lake and blessed the frozen lake to melt so that the locals get pure drinking water in winter. Shikhs claimed that Guru Nanakdev while returning from Tibet visited the lake and blessed it to water. They had built a Gurudwara near the lake but the matter then went into dispute as the Lamas objected their claim. The Gurudwara is closed thereafter. There is an old small structure of a monastery to the other side of the lake visible from the Gurudwara spot. 

After taking few pictures of the lake and glaciers, and watching the spot of Teesta river origination, one may conclude the exciting trip and start the return journey. The route is now familiar. Tourists generally move to Lachung and stay overnight to make a trip to Yumthang Valley and Zero Point next day. 

1 January 2018


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