Abode of the Gods

The feeling of hopeless devotion does not grip a mortal often in a lifetime; there is something coveted about it. It is unconditional. The mighty Himalayas command that devotion — hopeless, selfless and limitless.

The more you love the mountains, the more inadequate the love seems. The mountains beckon and enchant you with a serenade that plagues your senses, and you want that relationship to last forever.

It was the autumn of 2014, and the festive nip in the air had just set in. Nature seemed to call out to us for a rendezvous, and the bunch of us, five friends in all, believed it was time to lose our souls in the Himalayas. We decided to explore the cryptic folds of North Sikkim.

Embarking on the first leg of our journey from Bagdogra to Gangtok, the brush of the first mountain breeze on our faces tickled our anticipation, much like bohemian clouds demystifying the desires of our thirsty hearts. It was a silent drive, with the dusk settling in amid our commune with shadows in the mountains.

It was much later, when the mountains were getting ready for a good night’s sleep that we checked in at our hotel. The night was still young though, as the wall clock in the reception showed 8.15pm on that cloudless Saturday evening of September 27.

Next morning, even before the sun could peek above the mountain range, we were awakened by an animated cacophony from somewhere in the clouds. From the balcony of our hotel room, we saw the Kanchenjunga smiling down on the hundreds of kids in colourful jerseys practising their soccer skills on the green velvety carpet of Paljor Stadium. This is a landmark that speaks much about the Sikkimese love for football, Bhaichung Bhutia, and Manchester United.

Our destination for the day was Lachen, a reticent hamlet in North Sikkim, where one had to sleep the night before embarking on a journey to Lake Gurudongmar the following day. Karma, our navigator for this silken route, reported on time, and over the next few days we came to marvel at his mastery behind the wheel, uncompromising discipline, caustic sense of humour and immaculately creased polo shirts and anti-wrinkle trousers.

The journey to Lachen was again a silent one, punctuated by a few exclamations at the green mountains, gushing waterfalls and the rivulets that meandered along the way. About two hours later we halted at a small wayside eatery in RongRong for lunch, and savoured the tastiest aloo-sabji and karela fry on green plastic plates, with the mountains casting their spell on us.

Post-lunch we resumed our drive through Mangan, the district headquarters of North Sikkim. Chungthang, one of the most prominent townships hosting a small hospital and numerous army barracks showed up around 4.30pm. The place also showcases the confluence of two rivers — Lachung chu and Lachen chu. The impregnable Teesta followed us at every nook and turn until we finally reached Lachen after sundown. We were expected to have an early night in order to start for Gurudongmar Lake before sunrise the following day.

We woke at 3am, bleary-eyed but excited, and drove through broken roads to ascend a considerable height in five hours. The bumpy ride was pretty disarming and we were quite relieved to halt at Thangu for a warm breakfast. The sky was grumpy and the onward journey from Thangu to Gurudongmar Lake was amid a cold desert — a no-man’s land, where one can hear the whispers of the golden mountains and the echoes of an azure blue sky with snow peaks playing peek-a-boo.

It was 9.35am when we reached Gurudongmar Lake, and the board showed we were at 17,100 feet. But for us it felt like the end of the world. In fact, there was not much of a world beyond those golden mountains. The crystal blue of the lake with snow peaks in the backdrop looked like it conspired with the smudged white clouds on the blue canvas above to hold us in a forever spell. If heaven was anywhere, a part of it indeed reverberated here, on this sombre, gallant, dignified and proud terrain.

At dusk on the same day we arrived at the twin village of Lachung, and were greeted by smiling Lachung-pas, who looked up with warm smiles at the end of another mountain-washed day of their lives. We checked in at the Le Coxy Resort, from where we could see the Lachung Chu sprawled towards the north, and a black lonely mountain on the south that loomed large and bowed to welcome us. The rooms were cosy, and we could hear the lively voices of men singing the melodious rhapsodies to the mountain gods as they prepared for bed.

Yumthang Valley was 26km off Lachung, and the drive to this lonely maiden valley was like penetrating the timeless grandeur of nature. There were no rhododendron blooms at this time of the year, and the earthquake of 2012 has left the valley crippled at places. But the entire place was replete with that unyielding and magical effect of a paradise regained and another in the making. The place was blessed with a divinity, making it a sensual and ideal abode of the creator.

Further ahead was Yumesamdong and thereafter the breathtaking visions of golden mountains and snow-clad peaks as we ascended to Zero Point. We were at the farthest edge of our country and we were perhaps at the furthest edge of our imaginations, too. With a light blizzard starting to take shape, we sought the refuge of Pema’s shop — a warm, hospitable and kind Sikkimese maiden, who served us mouth-watering Maggi, with a smile that drove out the cold. Pema accompanied us on our way back to Lachung and in a light-hearted conversation, we learnt that the meaning of her name was “lotus”. She was a lotus indeed – calm, serene, soft and ethereal, like the waterfalls and the mountains around, like the simplicity and the smiles of the people of this land, like the blessings of Mother Nature and the desires of an innocent heart. Pema was a true manifestation of them all.

Our North Sikkim journey had ended. Just then a blue-breasted bird whisked past whistling a mountain tune as if to say, “Oh come back again!”