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It is surprising how sometimes we set out on paths that can lead us nowhere good but all that misery occasionally manifests into a life lesson and a surreal moment that forces you to wonder if all that happens, happens for good! So, when I missed out on seeing one blue lake, I was hell bent on seeing another blue lake – all of 1000 meters higher than the previous one that eluded me. Trouble was, I was still recuperating, it was pouring cats and dogs and I wanted to head straight into the eye of the storm in the heart of Himalayas!
|THE BACKSTORY: To cut the long story short, I made grand plans for a cool expedition. Fell sick, coughed up blood, couldn’t walk without support and made it out alive only thanks to much kindness from friends and strangers. All of this started from a campsite set a kilometre before the iconic Chandrataal in Spiti where I first collapsed in a heap and things unravelled rather unpleasantly from there. Arriving home with tail between my legs and a three-week unused leave, I was a bundle of sadness. Angry and miserable at having missed Chandrataal (and a summit climb the following week), I was furiously looking for equally grand lakes, if not grander. That’s when it struck me I could visit Gurudongmar Lake in north Sikkim – a turquoise blue jewel set in the surreal desertland bordering China. (I actually wanted to visit a lake further ahead of Gurudongmar called ChoLhamu that is supposed to be India’s highest but that was not going to happen, not that time.)|
It was the monsoons of 2011 and not a single person said anything good about traveling to Sikkim in July. Until then, few had ever travelled for pleasure to Sikkim in monsoons. Travelling in the rains wasn’t a fad then, as it is now. With stars in my eyes, I set out in pursuit of one of India's highest lakes at 17800feet – the holy Gurudongmar Lake.
With a whole lot of uncertainty and equal parts excitement, I arrived at Darjeeling to find weather gods were already playing havoc with the fickle mountain roads. Arriving at Gangtok after delays, I found out no one was willing to drive us, me and another friend who joined me for this stretch, to north Sikkim. They all laughed at our naivety in thinking Gurudongmar Lake, at 17800 feet, would even be accessible in this gnarly weather. All we could manage was a 20-year-old driver! His inexperience would come back to bite us but at that point, we couldn’t have passed upon this only opportunity.
North of the state is the wild frontier of Sikkim. While roads to east and west are considerably well maintained, the road forges higher up into the mountains in the north making maintenance a laboured process fraught with ever present risks. That the roads are nonexistent or pothole ridden at best and prone to frequent landslides made it only worse in the torrential downpour of Sikkim.
The driver, henceforth referred to as the ‘boy’, was already dreaming of cutting the trip short when we were informed of a major landslide on the way to the lake. His reluctance was growing by the hour to take us all the way till Gurudongmar Lake, which usually takes 3 days to reach from Gangtok. Hearing of the landslide, we were expecting one or two anyway, we tweaked the plan a bit to reach a day later at the lake. The rain was pelting hard, even stones fell on to the road due to the forceful winds and there were waterfalls that could only be heard behind the mist-covered slopes.
Without another tourist in sight, the offseason adventure was unraveling rather delightfully. The intimacy of a landscape shared only with you and no one else was a rare joy. The obscured mountainscapes and bone chilling weather was no match to the incredible beauty of the resplendent greenery veiled in a coat of grey mist. Driving along the flower filled grazing pastures of Yumthang and the desolate high grounds of Zero Point, we wished with all our might that the landslide would be cleared even as were being lambasted by relentless downpour without a single minute’s respite.
Arriving at Chunthung, the place where the road forks towards Lachung(Yumthang side) and the other towards Lachen(Gurudongmar side), the boy was raring to go back after he heard the landslide still hadn’t cleared near Chaten.