Monday, May 26, 2008

Day 8: 22nd March 2008

Dad woke me up at 6.30 am, he was thrilled about something and I hurried to get out of bed to see what it was. The weather was clear and there from the window we could see the majestic peak of Kanchenzonga and an entire range of Himalayas. They were hidden yesterday as it had rained and the fog covered the hill ranges making them invisible. It is an amazing and enchanting experience. We watched the clouds rise slowly and uncover the ranges. I frantically took pictures before the clouds shrouded them again.

Dad scolded me as I was getting late for bath, we had to get ready to leave Gangtok by 8.00 am as the vehicle would arrive to take us to NJP railway station. I quickly had bath and ordered breakfast of toast/ butter/ jam. I also ordered a packed lunch of Puri and aloo bhaaji and sandwhiches. While I had tea, I stayed close to the window. I was feeling the pangs of leaving Gangatok behind already and especially this Jade room from where i enjoyed the nature's dance in the Himalayas. Every moment had been captivating.

While we were having breakfast the car arrived and the reception informed us about it. I asked him to send the bell boys to move our luggage into the vehicle. Yet by the time we reached down it was past 8.00 am. The day time rules for traffic now had to be followed, the Tavera was asked to move to a different location and an environmental friendly taxi had to be called in.

Hammock Holidays and Heat flexi holidays had taken wonderful care of us. They definitely made our travel memorable. The drop to the NJP station by a Tavera too was a special touch.

The drive was torturous as we went downhill and we felt a churning in the stomach. It was a beautiful day with clear weather and I wanted to enjoy the beauty of the hills, the vegetation and the drive along the Teesta but was possible only for a short while. The uneasiness forced me to close my eyes and rest back until we reached the plains of Siliguri.

In the plains the weather was warm and sunny. The road to Siliguri was lined on both sides with Teak and Sal we drove by the Military base. I was feeling much better and a drink of sprite got me fresh. We reached NJP at 11.00 am itself.

We had booked the train tickets for Guwahati-Yeshwantpur express for second a/c coach and we were before time by almost 2hrs. So we went to the waiting room. Fortunately it was clean and had enough space.

My Dad hated the idea of travelling by train but I had convinced him as this journey was across 5 states of India, West Bengal, Orrissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and 45hrs as per schedule. This was a rare opportunity.

Somehow the train travel seemed jinxed right from start. As the train pulled in a good 2.45 hours late we found out that the 2nd A/C coach was converted to 3rd A/c coach. That meant that six people in one area, I shuddered. However when we found out that the entire block was ours I was very happy. We would enjoy the privacy of a cabin with that, Yay! The ticket collector however had a really bad time because of the logistics failure. Finally we settled down and had big cups of hot n fresh Nescafe and that brightened our mood.

Rest of the day was rather uneventful though I enjoyed watching the chugging, huffing of the train through endless paddy fields. In the evening we had an early dinner of dal, rice and chole aloo bhaaji and went to sleep in the rocking train.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Day 7: 21st March 2008

I woke up at 1.30 am and was taking in the views of the ranges. It was looking beautiful. The skylight and the huge window had won my heart. I went to bed again and woke up at 6.30 am.

We ordered breakfast of toast butter & jam with coffee and packed a lunch of Puri and aloo bhaaji.

Our vehicle was to arrive at 9.00 am, meanwhile I got two bags ready with coats, mittens and a shawl, some chikki and chivada for munching and an umbrella just in case we needed it. We had been informed that the weather at Tsomgo lake was unpredictable.

We started our drive through the hills and were to go to a height of 12,800 ft above sea level. The first sight of snow capped mountains made me scream out loud. I started taking pictures crazily. The driver told me that it is in fact our destination. As we neared the snow capped ranges we saw a checkpost we were to go through a security clearance. The driver was carrying our permits. Yes it is a military area and even Indian citizens have to get permits to visit Tsmongo lake.

All the vehicles lined up for it.

As we stopped a woman came to sell chewing gum. I bought all three types she had. It was from Korea. This is a border area and Chinese and Korean stuff is easily available here. It cost me Rs. 40. I also asked for a water bottle. She asked us to give her Rs. 60 of which Rs.20 was for the bottle. She was gone for a long time and we the city bred assumed that she had fleeced us. As our driver came we told him about it. He promised to look for her as we drove, we would not be able to recognize her face as there were all chinky eyed identical faces there. We were sure we would have to forget about the water but we were wrong, there she was waiting and handed out the bottle to our driver. We felt ashamed, uncle M always said Himalayan people were very honest and hospitable.

Once past the check post at the Hanuman Tok we drove past the military camps.

Initially the camps were is green scenic environs but later as we neared the snowy peaks with scarce vegetation, I was tearful just thinking of the hardships our soldiers have to go through in these hostile environs. I was silent all the way as we cleared 2 more checkposts. The military trucks running past us.

We turned around a curve and in front of us was a plateau of snow at a lower level. I gasped at the sight. WOW! the snow glistening in the late morning sun. It was the Tsomgo lake frozen hard and surrounded by mountains. The vegetation is very scarce and only conifers could be seen. The military kept a close watch on the tourists.

My first reaction at the sight of Tsomgo (pronounced as Tchangu) Lake

There were many Yaks available for rides. The charge was exorbitant for it.

We did not go for it instead we decided to walk around the lake halfway. Dad slipped on the snow so we did not go deeper into fresh snow. I was worried about Dad and did not really get to freak out in the snow. May be the next time I should join a group of youngsters so I can have more fun and get to roll in the snow absolutely carefree.

I did make a snow ball and my hands turned blue and black. I was wearing thermals inside but now I needed the mitten and the overcoat too. It was 1.0 pm and the weather now was turning dark due to clouds pregnant with rain covering the peaks. Our chauffeur warned us that we must rush back or else the roads would be closed. He said Himavarsha would start now! It sounded musical Himavarsha of course and it did. The fresh fluffy snow hit on us and we rushed to the car. It was fun to see the snow collect on our windshield. We started driving down fast. As we came down by 2000 ft the snow was left behind and now it was raining. It was an amazing to experience, the ways of nature and how height made the difference to weather. The rain had brought along with it a fog and we cloud barely see a few feet ahead. The fog lights were put on and our driver being a local was an expert at the roads. He knew them like the back of his hand. I was happy I had taken a few pictures while going up else there was no opportunity for any pictures while returning.

On the way back we saw an senior army officer and his wife being led through the mountain ranges, with umbrellas held over their heads by a man Friday. Army royalty I thought! The army officers and their wives enjoy such treatment and they reciprocate it by caring for junior officers families like their own.

We reached back to Gangtok at 3.30 pm, took rest for an hour and then went to check out the market. Our throats were aching as we had come from the snow peaks so we asked for a flask of hot water and made coffee. Dad cuddled under the blanket for a while.

On our way to the market we got the pictures copied onto the CD and since we didn't have change the shopkeeper took just Rs.50 from us instead of Rs.60. The market was closed and we wondered why, then we spotted some kids with faces colored with gulal, only at that point that we remembered it was Holi today. We chatted up with some local women returning from the temple after Holika puja. We didn't spot any Holi pyres though.

My dad was missing holi now, oh but just for the Puranpoli. The market places is named after Mahatma Gandhi, It is quite uninteresting and irks me to know all prime locations to be named after the Gandhis and Nehrus. Why is this lack of creativity when it comes to naming roads? Were there no local heroes? Anyways.

The Flori show had done a lot of good, all buildings on the MG road were painted sea green and the road was converted to a pedestrian only area and was newly paved.

Dad overheard an senior couple talk Marathi and enquired with them whether they too were tourists. We found out that they had come with a group tour by Kesari. The package had cost them Rs. 12,000 per head ex-Kolkata. It was a reasonable price considering it included food too. Kesari had served them Puran Poli and gulabjamun on the occasion of Holi so they were happy customers.

We returned to our Hotel and ordered dinner of garlic naans, made extra crisp, stuffed tomato curry and dal makhani with jeera rice. We loved the food at Chumbi.

We retired early to bed only to wake up at midnight to watch the full moon. The hill were moonlit and the lights twinkled. It was an amazing experience to see hill range bathing in the moonlight.

I loved Chumbi and the lovely window that allowed us to enjoy all the moods of the hills. Sometimes the fog covered hills looked dreamy and and at times the sun shone bright on the hill range.